Employee PensThriller Novel Packed With Mystery!
Elin Barnes, a Senior Program Manager, has a little bit of mystery in her life. Born and raised in Madrid, Spain, Elin started her career in aviation, then law to technology, pursuing her education in both Spain and the United States. To further keep us guessing, she is a writer as well and published her first novel, Justification for Murder, in November 2013. Her follow-up novel, Smoke Screen, will be released in the summer of 2014. “Now that I’ve started writing, I don’t think I’ll ever stop. I think writing is what keeps me sane (well that, and my long term therapist, of course),” she says. Here, Elin answers some of the mysteries as a published writer of thriller novels.
- When did you start writing?
I used to write short stories in High School. As an adult, I secretly wanted to write a “Chick Lit.” About 6 years ago, I tried, but it was horrible! It’ll be hidden in a digital drawer forever! About the same time, my mom (a published author in Sweden) invited me to come join her at the Thrillerfest Writers Conference in New York City. By the end of the week I was in awe. I never thought I would be able to write a thriller, so for a few years I didn’t even try. Then the idea for Justification for Murder came about and I knew I had to at least try.
- When you begin to write, do you have a finished product in mind?
Not at all. I start with a very high level idea. It’s actually more like a scene, something really visual that happens. Then I build the main plot of the story around it. With Smoke Screen, my second novel, I had a great first scene, but then I was stuck for a few weeks trying to solidify the rest of the book. It was really scary for a while, because I wasn’t sure that I was going to be able to make it work.
- Why do you think stories about crime are so interesting and popular?
I think people are intrigued by human behavior, and crime is the most aberrant. Reading what people are capable of makes us feel, in a way, a little safer because we think these things can only happen in fiction. I believe most of us have a little morbid curiosity of the dark, that’s why most people gawk at a car accident when they drive by.
- How would you describe your first novel, Justification for Murder, to someone who has not read your work?
In short, it’s a biomedical thriller set in Silicon Valley. The deeper story is about a person who really wants to do the right thing but, in desperation, chooses the wrong way to go about it.
- Will your next novel, Smoke Screen, also feature Detective Darcy Lynch?
Yes, absolutely. I decided to create a series because people invest time getting to know a set of characters, and they are curious as how their lives progress and change. And I actually really like Darcy, so it would feel like cheating to go in a different direction.
- Have your personal experiences (or situations) influenced your creative abilities? How?
Definitely. When I was in college, I volunteered for the Seattle Police Department, in the Victim’s Assistance Program. This was one of the most incredible experiences I’ve ever had. I was able to help people who had suffered horrible crimes navigate through the complicated justice system (from the time the crime was committed to the sentencing of the perpetrator). This taught me so much about people, their fears, their desires, their motivations. I think I’m able to write what I write because I was able to see these situations first hand.I chose to write about Silicon Valley for many different reasons. Living and working here is definitely a plus. It’s the innovative culture, the thinking outside of the box to create the unthinkable, the undoable, that is incredibly exciting. Many times I feel like we live in our own little sci-fi world, but it’s actually real. I wanted to be able to convey some of the things that happen here, but at the same time, make them accessible for people who are not that scientifically savvy.
Finally, going to Thrillerfest with my mom for 5 years in a row has given me many of the tools I need. Between not being a native English speaker, and not having a creative writing degree, I needed all the help I can get!
- What is the hardest scene that you have ever written?
Honestly, the romance scene. It is really hard to make it realistic and spicy without it being cliché or crass.Car chases are never easy. I have one in Justification for Murder and another one in Smoke Screen. They are difficult to visualize and hard to write without repeating words like “swerved” and “accelerated” over and over. If your heart is not racing when you are reading a car chase, you’ve failed as an author. But I guess this is true for all other action scenes as well.
Another scene type that is hard for me to write are fist fights. I took several years of martial arts and kickboxing, so I try to pull from that training as much as I can. It’s a hard balance to make them believable, yet ensure the pacing keeps the scene exciting.
- What distinguishes you from other artists in your genre?
This is a really hard question, because there are so many talented authors who are incredibly well known. I would say the setting. I don’t think a lot of people are writing about Silicon Valley and its unique culture in the mystery/thriller genre.
- What scares you the most?
That people won’t enjoy my books. When you write, you put yourself out there, even though my books are fiction, they are is in some way or another me.
- What makes a writer great?
I wish I knew! I think craft is very important. A good story is also vital, but if you don’t know how to tell it in a way that is compelling, it won’t matter how interesting the story is. Characters are definitely fundamental. If nobody cares about the characters, nothing else matters. I also believe that you have to have your own voice and believe in it. Finally, I think you need to write the book you want to write. Not go after a fad or what you think will sell, but have a story you really want to tell, then work on making it the best you can.