Today I’m delighted to be hosting a tour stop on Tim Baker’s FEVER CITY Blog Tour. Tim’s dropped by the CTG blog to answer a few questions about this stunning noir thriller …
Welcome, Tim! Your debut novel FEVER CITY was published in January, can you tell us a bit about it?
FEVER CITY is a propulsive, seat-of-your-pants noir thriller set in the 1960s with an important contemporary component set in 2014.
There are three separate narratives, each with its own central mystery. As the novel progresses, these three stories begin to converge then intertwine, dovetailing at the end into a resolution of all three mysteries.
The first narrative features a private investigator, Nick Alston, who is brought in to assist the police in their search for the kidnapped child of America’s richest and most hated man.
The second concerns a professional contract killer, Hastings, who is recruited into an attempt to assassinate President Kennedy and who decides to risk his life to sabotage the hit.
And the third concerns Nick’s son, Lewis Alston, who is in Dallas in 2014 to interview JFK conspiracy nuts for a book he’s doing on the Kennedy Brothers and who stumbles across information that could connect his own father to the assassination of President Kennedy.
I’m a big fan of the noir thriller. Can you tell me about what attracted you to writing this kind of story?
I’m also a huge fan of the noir thriller. What I love most is the moral ambiguity and the elevated dramatic stakes, as well as the power of the genre’s central conceit – which is that we are all prisoners of the mistakes of our past. Noir is always character-based storytelling and so tends to occupy a richer, more emotionally complex terrain than ordinary thrillers; a landscape of nuance, despair and danger.
In FEVER CITY you blend historical facts – like the assassination of JFK – with the fictitious storyline. How did you go about researching the era and places featured?
It was very important for me to get all the background historical elements right – whether they were concerning JFK and the documented events leading up to his assassination, or portraying the real-life figures who appear as secondary characters, such as Howard Hughes, Marilyn Monroe or J Edgar Hoover.
Once I had that historical architecture in place, I set about shaping mood and nuance, often by withholding specifics and implying ambiance instead of trying to build it.
As far as place is concerned, I believe that tone is the best way to capture the kind of rich period atmosphere I was after, rather than merely layering factual details down one upon another.
How would you describe your approach to writing – do you dive right in, or plot everything out in detail first?
Normally I begin with a strong sense of place. I try to write a locale in as rich and as vivid a way as possible, so that I feel as though I have entered that terrain; as though I inhabit it.
Once I’ve accomplished that, a certain tone emerges, and with it a voice.
That’s the pivotal moment for me – when I discover that voice. Sometimes it never arrives, and I have to abandon the story, but when I do manage to find it, I get caught up in the voice and just start writing.
I never plot the story at the beginning. Instead I see myself as embarking on a voyage of discovery, knowing there will be surprises along the way and trying not to anticipate them.
After completing several drafts, I begin to step back and take a look at the plot from the point of view of story structure. This is when I try to sharpen details and ensure that the story is both coherent and structurally sound without being obvious. My editor at Faber, Angus Cargill, taught me an enormously important lesson about the power of keeping your writing implicit.
FEVER CITY is your debut novel. Can you tell us a bit about your route to publication?
It was in 2011 that I came up with the idea to combine a fictitious kidnapping with a momentous historical event, the assassination of JFK.
And I also wanted to layer in a contemporary domestic noir style narrative into the story that would give resonance to one of the themes of FEVER CITY, which was that the forces behind JFK’s assassination are the same forces that nearly destroyed the world economy in the 2008 Financial Crisis.
It was an ambitious and complex project, and the book took three years to write, after which I sent it out to agents on both sides of the Atlantic.
The first offer of representation came from a young agent, Tom Witcomb, at Blake Friedmann, and his offer put all the other agents on alert. Many came back requesting I give them additional time to consider the manuscript.
But in the meantime, Tom was already busy outlining his vision of the book and the kind of edits he would suggest, and I just found his enthusiasm contagious and knew he would be able to transfer that genuine passion to potential publishing houses.
Tom put the manuscript out to auction and less than three days, we were excited beyond words to accept Faber’s pre-empt. When I had seen the list of publishers Tom was sending the book to, the one I really wanted far more than any other was Faber and Angus Cargill. I was my dream choice and I was over the moon to find a home with them.
And, finally, what does the rest of 2016 have in store for you?
I’m just completing a thriller set in Mexico in 2000 about the battle for justice of two women aligned against the forces of corrupt political institutes, vicious sweatshop owners, and narco terrorism. I’m also working on a first contact novel set in 19th Century Australia, and the sequel to FEVER CITY. And if all goes well, one of my screenplays will be going into production in September in Brazil.
A big thank you to Tim Baker for dropping by the CTG blog today and talking about his debut novel FEVER CITY.
Here’s what the blurb says: “Nick Alston, a Los Angeles private investigator, is hired to find the kidnapped son of America’s richest and most hated man. Hastings, a mob hitman in search of redemption, is also on the trail. But both men soon become ensnared by a sinister cabal that spreads from the White House all the way to Dealey Plaza. Decades later in Dallas, Alston’s son stumbles across evidence from JFK conspiracy buffs that just might link his father to the shot heard around the world.”
FEVER CITY by Tim Baker is published by Faber & Faber and out now. You can buy it from Amazon here
Be sure to follow Tim on Twitter @TimBakerWrites
And check out all the other fabulous tour stops on the FEVER CITY Blog Tour …