Author Interview: August Norman
August Norman is thriller writer from Los Angeles. His debut novel, Come and Get Me, was released in April of last year and has been called a “fast-paced, propulsive thriller.” In December, Come and Get Me made Suspense Magazine’s Best of 2019 list. August has been gracious enough to take a few minutes to talk to me.
MB: Let’s start by talking about the new book. Come and Get Me is being heralded as being “tight, enticing, seductive with its taunts and twists.” No spoilers allowed, but can you tell us something about the book that we won’t find on the book jacket or PR material?
AN: Set on the idyllic campus of an American university, a location many across the world consider safe enough to trust with both their money and their children’s futures, Come and Get Me looks at the transitory nature of big college towns and the victims of abuse that often go unreported, or worse, are reported but ignored.
MB: The protagonist in Come and Get Me is a journalist named Caitlin Bergman. What's the most difficult thing for you about writing characters from the opposite sex?
AN: I consider writing from a female point of view, let alone touching upon the types of trauma that women of all ages have had to endure, a great responsibility. While empathy and research go a long way, I concentrated on making Caitlin the best and worst elements of women I knew personally, rather than trying to speak for the entire female experience. Once I had a finished manuscript, I shared it with triple the number of beta readers than I had with previous works, getting the perspective of women in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, and 70s (Sorry 80s and up – I’ll get you next time!).
MB: At last year’s ThrillerFest, you had the opportunity to participate in ITW’s Debut Author program. What was that experience like? What was your biggest take away from it?
AN: While several of the year’s major conferences highlighted debut authors, the International Thriller Writers debut program included networking events that taught about the realities of the publishing industry - almost a Scared Straight for authors. Ultimately, I walked away with a deeper understanding of the industry and the knowledge that no matter the size of the advance or publisher, the author’s best hope for success and longevity is to take the business side into their own hands. No one will care about your art as much as you.
MB: Let’s talk about you for a moment. You’ve lived in Los Angeles for two decades. In that time, you’ve written for movies, television, stage productions, and even commercial advertising. Was it difficult to make the transition from writing for visual media to writing a novel? What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in making that transition?
AN: Since screenwriters are restricted to only what can be seen by a camera, one of my challenges – or should I say opportunities – was to get to play with inner monologue. It’s still a show-don’t-tell world, but the novel offers far more emotional leniency than a screenplay. On the other hand, the TV/Film world’s reliance on high concept, one-line pitch-able stories armed me with great tools regarding story beats, pacing, and imagery.
MB: Every writer has specific nuances when it comes to writing. Some have special places where they write. Some plot every detail before writing, while others fly by the seat of their pants. Talk for a moment about your writing process.
AN: My process has evolved with each step of the career. The first manuscript I wrote began as the novelization of one of my screenplays, so in a way I had started with a hundred-page outline complete with dialogue. After that, Come and Get Me began from a single sheet of notebook paper outline and flowed seat-of-the-pants style until I reached an ending. To cut that epic tale down to size, I adapted the manuscript as a screenplay, which helped me distill my story into the essentials, then rewrote. For the next book in the series, I started with major story beats and a flexible outline, no adaptation necessary. With each project, I try to identify what’s worked for me, understanding that I’m getting faster, and hopefully better. As far as where I write? I tend to create first drafts in public – where I can’t be pulled away to do laundry or dishes – and rewrites at home. My wife and I are expecting our first child this year, so who knows what the future will bring?
MB: Let's shift gears for moment and talk about reading. Many writers say that reading is just as important as writing. Do you have a specific genre that you tend to frequent when selecting a book to read?
AN: When I’m in the middle of a draft, I reach for non-fiction that teaches me about the world, such as A History of the World in 6 Glasses by Tom Standage, or How We Got to Now by Steven Johnson. After that, I read books written by people I know. Besides my launch into the debut world this year, I regularly attend at least one writers conference a year, and have stacks of signed books to prove it. Getting to know an author, even for a limited time, helps me make the choice whether to commit, regardless of genre.
MB: What is your favorite under-appreciated novel?
AN: It’s hard to pick just one under-appreciated novel. As well-read as I like to consider myself, the shelves are full of amazing characters waiting to be brought to life, and most mystery and thriller fans have ten times the knowledge that I do. Trust No One by Paul Cleave stands out in my memory as the perfect example of a high-concept thriller that scared the hell out of me – What if a mystery writer with Alzheimer’s starts confessing to crimes his characters committed? Beyond that, 2018’s Black Swan Rising by Lisa Brackmann not only predicted a current rise in domestic terrorism, but extrapolated the trend to a logical and terrifying conclusion that still makes me scan every crowded room.
MB: What are you currently reading?
AN: I’ve just finished The Bottoms by Joe R. Lansdale and am still sitting in awe. Once I recover, my stack includes Lost Tomorrows by Matt Coyle, If She Wakes by Michael Koryta, What She Gave Away by Catharine Riggs, Disgraced by Gwen Florio…honestly, that’s just the tip of the stack.
MB: Finally, what can we expect from you in the future? Are you working on any new projects?
AN: The second Caitlin Bergman novel, Sins of the Mother, is set for release in September 2020 and deals with Caitlin’s relationship with her birth mother, a mass grave, and a cult in Coastal Oregon.
Thanks for taking the time to talk to me today. Good luck with Come and Get Me.
You can learn more about August and his books by visiting his website at www.augustnorman.com. You can also follow him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/augustnormanauthor and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/augustnormanau1.