PW: Although you've written some thrilling novels [The Good Son; Tornado Alley; Trombone; The Universal Donor; Wetware and now Cruisers], none have been bestsellers. Has that made approaching each new novel difficult?
Yeah, sure. That's what a writer lives for: an audience. That's something I've been fighting for. One of the difficulties over the years is that I've tried many new things, and I think that has confused people a little bit. They don't know quite what to make of me. In the postmodern age, novelists are in a position where they have to deal with the difficulties of reaching the popular audience: you've got to tell a story that gets progressively more intense. A story that won't stop.
Which writers do you admire?
I was trying to apply or use things I've learned from my favorite writers, Graham Greene and Albert Camus. They were both in my mind when writing Cruisers. Greene, in the sense of a story that won't stop. And my own personal life, I really believe, has a lot to do with Camus. How we [humans] are attached to each other, how we know the difference between right and wrong in the face of a universe that seems immense and pretty cold.
Was the novel inspired by actual events?
I think a novelist who has been inspired by an event is trying to describe not what did happen, but what should have happened. The difference between an [inspirational] event and a novel is the difference between the wreck of the whaling ship Essex and Moby-Dick. What I have done here in no way attempts to be an accurate portrayal of the details; however, there was an event that took place not far from here [Connecticut]. A guy went nuts and killed a bunch of people, trapping some police officers in circumstances somewhat similar to the ones I describe in the book. The son of a friend of mine was involved in this. And [my friend] wanted me to go up and stand with him where it had happened. I was in the middle of another book, but I kept thinking about that place and what happened there. So I finally decided I would write something about it.
Who or what inspired your protagonists?
I spent some time riding at night with a state trooper. He had an unbelievably difficult job, and he did it with consummate skill and bravery. He was good at what he did and liked doing it. It was an honor to spend time with him out on I-91. It made me realize the differences between his life and mine: in a writer's life, you have an infinite number of chances to make changes and revisions. But when you walk up to a car at night—as the state troopers do—you've got to do it right the first time. There's no second chance there.
Frank Kohler is a dense but likable antagonist. Where did the inspiration for that character come from?
Usually, in modern fiction, the depiction of somebody who goes nuts is kind of pro forma—going postal—which I think is incredibly boring. We've seen it over and over again. The challenge was to make somebody in these extreme circumstances almost empathetic, or understandable, certainly. That was the hard part. He's struggling, too; he knows he's coming up to the edge, to the abyss.