An elderly woman hires a struggling Harvard graduate student to discuss philosophy with her in Jesse Kellerman's fourth novel, The Executor.

Where did the idea for The Executor come from?

I have a friend who for a brief while lived with an elderly couple. One of his duties as tenant was to take long walks with them and talk about the old days. I began to wonder what life would be like for someone whose only job was to make conversation. From that thought sprang my protagonist, Joseph Geist, the ultimate “man of inaction.” And from there I came to wonder what it would take to spur such a person to action.

In what way does The Executor differ from your first three published novels?

All my books deal with the effect of intent upon action, how our understanding of good and evil depends heavily on context. This pops up in all the books, but most explicitly in The Executor. It's a more reflective, internal book than its predecessors. Which is not to say that it lacks action, but rather that I finally feel comfortable slowing that action down, examining it microscopically, instead of rushing along to the next plot point. My hope is that this makes for a richer, more textured read.

As the son of bestselling authors Jonathan and Faye Kellerman, what have you learned about writing from your parents?

The most important lesson my parents taught me is that writing is a job, one that requires discipline and commitment. Most of the time it's a fun job, a wonderful job, but sometimes it isn't, and those are the days that test you. Five people read my work before its ready for publication, and I solicit opinions from all of them: my wife, my agent, my editor, and my parents.

Could you expand a comment you once made that using a literal mystery “prevents too much self-indulgence” on the part of the author?

Crime novels have a clear beginning, middle, and end: a mystery, its investigation, and its resolution. The reader expects events to play out logically and efficiently, and these expectations force the writer to spend a good deal of time working on macrostructure rather than prettifying individual sentences. In addition, the extreme nature of the events found in crime novels brings the most important questions to the fore, questions of life and death. This forces the crime writer to eschew adolescent whining, jejune sermonizing, and solipsistic arias of self-pity. Of course, even in a crime novel, there's room for reflection, and my career so far has been a struggle to balance those two concerns.