Today I have on my blog author Evan Kilgore discussing his latest thriller Made in China.
About the Author
Do you write full-time? If so, what is your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
In college, at the University of Southern California’s School of Cinema-Television, I began interning at a variety of film production companies in LA. During the second half of my senior year, I transitioned those experiences into becoming a script reader and eventually a full-time story consultant and story editor at a Hollywood talent agency and for several independent production companies and individuals.
In the seven years since, I have read, by a conservative estimate, probably around 12,000 screenplays – everything from works by what I consider to be masters like David Mamet, Neil Labute, and Aaron Sorkin to Oscar winners, blockbusters, and plenty of fairly terrible scripts as well. It has been, and continues to be, to me, kind of a dream job. It keeps me stimulated and engaged, while seeing a constant torrent of both stories done beautifully and also stories done terribly has become in many ways a master class in helping me to shape and develop my own style.
What is the best and worst advice you ever received? (regarding writing or publishing)
I think some of the worst impulses that I have sometimes been told to channel, at least from my perspective, focus on finding what is hot or what is selling and then trying to tap into that market before it dries up. I think writing specifically in order to sell almost always produces books that read like machines. I cannot tell you how many somewhat mediocre vampire, zombie, wizard, and Satan screenplays I have read for my Hollywood consulting jobs, and in most of those cases – the ones that were subpar – it felt to me like the author clearly set out to try to sell the next Harry Potter, rather than writing because of an actual passion for a specific subject, or a set of real emotions, feelings, and ideas they wanted to communicate. Writing solely to satisfy someone else is, to me, almost never a good idea.
Along these lines, I think some of the best advice I have been given is to put myself into the stories I write – to inhabit the world of the book, to be the characters themselves, and to be unafraid of whatever you as the writer might expose in yourself, accidentally or on purpose, by exploring these elements in your characters. Sincerity, to me, is one of the most intangible and undefinable yet also one of the most visceral and important elements in any story in any medium.
Do you outline your books or just start writing?
I have, at times, come down on both sides of this particular debate. I think it really depends on the project in question, the nature of the story, and the intended overall tone, flavor, and delivery of it. My first published book, WHO IS SHAYLA HACKER, did not have a concrete outline. I knew the basics of the story, and I knew vaguely where I wanted it to go, but the experience of writing it was more of an edge-of-my-seat endeavor, following the intertwining plot threads and seeing how they slowly became more entangled with one another.
Conversely, MADE IN CHINA was heavily outlined from start to finish. I knew fairly clearly, when I sat down to write the manuscript, what every single scene was going to be, what it would accomplish for the story, what it would advance within the characters, and how it would slowly tap the back stories and the underlying groundwork that I had already put into place.
For screenplays, more or less across the board, I always outline, since as a format, I think you have so much less latitude for free exploration in that world. There is, compared to a novel, so little time in a script, and a studio or a producer will expect it to follow a much more rigid pattern and set of conventions. That is why, for some of my novel projects, I enjoy crafting a particularly interesting character and then simply letting him or her wander into the world to see what happens.
About the Book
Please tell us about your current release.
MADE IN CHINA is a fast-paced, character-driven thriller story that I would like to think is reminiscent of a blend of book/movies like Patriot Games (Tom Clancy) and The Andromeda Strain (Michael Crichton). The main character, John Grant, is a regular guy just trying to get by and raise his young son, Connor, while his marriage with his wife, Lynn, comes apart at the seams. Lynn is an executive at a major toy company, and John can hardly compete with all of the pre-release next-gen toys she is constantly giving to Connor.
After Connor brings one of them to a friend’s birthday party, all of the children fall ill. At first, everyone suspects some kind of viral outbreak, but with the doctors at a loss as to how to explain or treat Connor’s rapidly deteriorating health, John alone embarks on a search for answers. What he discovers propels him on a journey across the world to China, and right into the middle of what might become the deadliest terrorist attack against America’s children in history – unless he can stop it.
Did you base any of your characters on real people?
MADE IN CHINA is not based on one specific event or character, but the idea behind it did originate, through my collaborator and cowriter on this project, Sebastian Twardosz, from a string of news stories about situations similar to the one at the heart of our book. At the time, there were several breaking stories about tainted lead paint from China poisoning homeowners in middle-America, tainted rubber baby bottles leaving children sick, etc. We just took the idea one step further.
Although it features a terrorism element, though, the book is not by any means intended to be political. We were very careful to make sure that the story remains a character story. Each of the characters acts for their own reasons; there are heroes and villains on both sides. This is not and was never intended to be a paranoia piece about international relations (although, inevitably, some of these themes do crop up).
Which of your characters is your favorite? Do you dislike any of them?
I’m a fan of John Grant, the hero in MADE IN CHINA because he is a regular guy. He is no brilliant, bulletproof CIA agent or assassin. He is a dad trying to save his son and get his marriage back together – a blue-collar everyman with bills to pay, maxed-out credit cards, insecurities, flaws, and yet, at his heart, a dedication to his son and to his family that cannot be broken by anything in the world. John makes many mistakes in his life, but he would throw himself in front of a bus if it would save his son, and that is the sort of person that I like to spend time with.
His wife, Lynn, is a pretty strong person, too. Like John, she is far from perfect, probably the reason both of them have to work so hard to keep their family together, but, also like John, at her heart, Lynn makes her decisions for the right reasons. Connor, their son, is always her first and foremost concern, and she puts him above everything else. It is just that her methods and her outlook are different from John’s, driving them, often, to butt heads with one another.
I don’t know that I dislike any of the characters from an author’s perspective, although there are some particularly sleazy people in MADE IN CHINA that I think are fun to hate. I shy away from writing simple, outright “evil” characters. Even the so-called villains in this story do what they do for reasons that make sense to them – emotional reasons, logical reasons, desperation and problems of their own. I do not believe in archetypes, at least in my own writing; I want my “bad guys” to be as complex, understandable, and realistic as my heroes.
Just for Fun
Is there a specific place in the house (or out of the house) that you like to write?
I always write at my desk in my second-floor bedroom. I am surrounded by windows that overlook a large lawn, but apart from the occasional apocalyptic attack of gardeners, it is quite peaceful. I like absolute silence, as much as possible, when I write. Although I have a lot of respect for people who can get things done in coffee shops, I am certainly not one of them. I get far too distracted, listening in on other people’s conversations or getting caught up in the bustle, and if I try to listen to music, I wind up paying attention to it, rather than my writing. I always write at the same time every morning, and I more or less never take days off unless I am traveling. Habit and routine are huge parts of my writing style, and I cherish and fiercely protect them when other parts of life try to muscle in.
Do you have an all time favorite book?
That is an impossible question – I read so much, and I love a lot of what I read – but I will do a top five: The Road (Cormac McCarthy), Then We Came to the End (Josh Ferris), Music for Torching (AM Homes), The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (Haruki Murakami), Jurassic Park (Michael Crichton). But oh my gosh, Thomas Pynchon, Lionel Shriver, John Updike – there are too many, too many to list.
Treading water as a dead-end trainer at the YMCA in Santa Monica, California, John Grant can hardly compete with ex-wife Lynn when it comes to their son. Like any six-year-old, Connor loves toys, and Lynn works for the second largest toy company in the world. When Connor is invited to a friend’s birthday party, he brings along the latest pre-release model of an highly anticipated NextGen action figure, set to come out at Christmas. Two days later, all of the children from the party are in a coma with their parents in a panic. Is it some kind of outbreak?
With Connor’s health deteriorating fast, and his doctors at a loss to explain what is wrong with him, John alone plunges into a desperate search for answers. His journey takes him to China and what he uncovers may be the deadliest terrorist attack in history – unless he can stop it.
Evan Kilgore graduated from the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts with a fine arts degree in Writing for the Screen and Television. Who is Shayla Hacker, his debut novel, was first published by Bleak House Books in the following year. His second novel, The Children of Black Valley, was released one year later, followed by his third, Made in China, in 2013.
Evan has also written or co-written a variety of motion picture screenplays, including shorts such as MJMW and feature films including The Butterflies of Bill Baker. In 2011, he was honored as a Semifinalist in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Nicholl Fellowship. He lives and works in Los Angeles.