Dr. Waters, an organizational psychologist, turns sleuth in Permanent Press adviser Knopf’s You’re Dead (Permament, Dec.).
Where did the idea for You’re Dead come from?
It’s a pretty familiar what-if concept. You’re working in an office, essentially minding your own business, when suddenly your life is being threatened for no apparent reason. What makes this book distinctive is the target of the threats, an organizational psychologist—with an unconventional brain—who’s also an expert poker player and bodybuilder. Suffice it to say, the villains picked the wrong guy to mess with.
What did making your lead someone with Asperger’s allow you to do differently with a mystery plot?
Studying brain function is a hobby of mine, which has informed most of my books. Asperger’s was another angle on examining the mind that I wanted to explore. Mind you, autism is truly a spectrum disorder, from super high-achievers to terribly impaired. In my mind, it’s not an ailment, but rather a different sort of brain wiring. Dr. Waters thinks differently and behaves differently from familiar crime-fighting heroes, so it opens up fresh territory.
How did you research what being an organizational psychologist entails?
A very good friend of mine, and a colleague in business, is an organizational psychologist. I worked with him when I was a CEO through a lot of employee crises, and I’m forever amazed by how these professionals navigate such complex human interaction. He also had insights into how someone in his job who was also on the spectrum might approach a dangerous and perplexing situation.
You’ve worked for an integrated marketing communications agency. What did that teach you about storytelling?
As with journalists, advertising copywriters are working under constant, unforgiving deadlines. So you learn discipline and focus. We also write every day, so the writing muscles stay limber. And you don’t take yourself too seriously, since all around you are other very bright, talented people who work their asses off. Unlike journalists, we’re highly collaborative, I guess more like screenwriters, or a bunch of nuts locked up in a TV writers’ room. TV commercials make you good at conveying a lot of information in a very tight package. Writing radio spots makes you good at dialogue, where there’s no such thing as a wasted word. Art direction makes you sensitive to the visual importance of storytelling. It’s a perfect training ground, in my opinion. Seemed to have worked out okay for James Patterson.