Former book editor Chris Pavone draws on his experiences living with his family in Luxembourg for his first novel, The Expats .
In what way did your experience as a book editor affect the way you approached writing The Expats?
As a book editor, you need to pitch every one of your books again and again, dozens of times, for months on end. From a quick conversation with your boss or a letter that’ll be read by just one person, to a five-minute speech in front of 50 colleagues or cover copy that’ll be in front of millions of eyes. So when I was working on The Expats, I kept that eventual pitch in mind, helping me focus on what was most compelling about the story I was trying to tell.
After your wife’s job took you to Luxembourg, do you remember the moment when you realized that it would make a perfect setting for a spy thriller?
I was sitting in a playground, watching my kids, chatting with expat stay-at-home mothers; this was my life. These were people from England and Sweden and America, ex-programmers and ex-chefs and ex-therapists. But this one woman clearly didn’t want to tell me what it is she used to do. Maybe she had something to hide, some big secret? Everyone has secrets, and I think some people flee from home—far from home—to try to keep those secrets. Maybe she was one of those people. Maybe she was a spy.
During your time there, was the community of expatriates as tightly knit as described in the novel?
If anything, the expat community was more tightly knit than I describe. Expats are a self-selecting group of outgoing, confident people—if you’re not those things, you probably don’t choose this adventure—and the lifestyle is very conducive to making fast, close friends. And in truth I began writing a very different sort of book—quieter, more domestic—that revolved around a close-knit group of friends. But I didn’t find that story exciting enough, so I made it less happy, and much less straightforward.
How difficult was it to map out the labyrinthine story line with all the bombshell twists?
A detailed map of the story line was what made it possible to write such a labyrinthine book. I even maintained a numbered list of the bombshell twists, and as the book evolved I continually changed around their sequence. For example, the first major reveal in the final book is something that in an earlier draft the reader didn’t learn until the very last page.
Kate Moore, your heroine, was such a complex and endearing character. Will readers be seeing any more of her in future novels?