A Q&A with Author Harlan Coben

The Ridgewood resident, who has a new book out March 16, talks character, creative process and writing during a pandemic.

Harlan Coben

Photo by Patrick Fouque/Paris Match/Contour by Getty Images

Win Lockwood, the central figure in your new book, has been a character on the periphery of your books for a while, usually as a sidekick in your Myron Bolitar novels. When did you decide he could carry a story?Harlan Coben
About an hour before I started writing the book. I started asking, “Who would be the person to tell it?” And Win just kind of came forward and said, “I’m ready. I’m ready for my close-up.” And it was a challenge. I was wondering how it would be to be inside Win’s head for an entire novel. He’s a very different character for me as a hero. Most of my heroes are more heroic, if you will; Win’s a bit of a sociopath. He’s darker. And to make that make sense and work in today’s world was going to be tricky, but it ended up going smoother than I would have thought.

Win has always seemed like an old-money cross between Batman and Jack Reacher from the Lee Child novels. He has all the toys and technology, plus the physicality to put you down in one swing.
Lee’s a close friend of mine. We’ve had fun arguments over the years of who would win a fight between Reacher and Win. Maybe I’ll talk to Lee and we can do some kind of Win and Reacher battle.

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When you start these books, do you have all the twists mapped out?
I know the beginning; I sort of know the setup. And I usually know the twist ending, so to speak. Who did it? And I know nothing in between. It’s like I’m driving from New Jersey to Los Angeles. I may go Route 80. That’s my plan, but normally I’ll end up going via the Suez Canal, or I’ll stop over in Tokyo or whatever, but I always pretty much end up in L.A.

A novelist’s life probably doesn’t change that much in a pandemic. How has the last year impacted you?
When it first hit, it was hard to write at all because there was such sort of panic. And when you’re unsettled, it’s hard to kind of go into these worlds that I go into and care. Then I reached the stage where I was writing really, really well, because I needed to want to get out of this world. 

Your books are popular worldwide, but you pepper them with all these New Jersey references. Do you like balancing the international accessibility with the treats for local readers?
The key, I think I’ve learned, is the more specific you are, the more universal the appeal. So in the case of the books, the more that I actually do make it New Jersey, the more universal that appeal will be. The mistake people make is, “Ooh, this is too New Jersey, I better make it Anytown, USA.” New Jersey happens to be fascinating. I always use the three S’s as the examples that were very specifically New Jersey that did super well: Sinatra, Springsteen and The Sopranos. 

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