Photo by Eleftherios Kostans
Some may think that the summer is the perfect season for a spectacular thriller novel. But I think when the weather turns a bit more chilly and ominous is the proper time for some thrills and chills in both literal and metaphorical sense. At the very least, a book that gets your adrenaline going will help keep you warm. Local author Justin Kramon has written the perfect novel for to keep you up at night and turning pages ferociously.
The Preservationist is the riveting story of an unsettling love triangle centering around a college. At first you’re taken in by the subtle story and characters, but once a serial killer makes an appearance, the book ramps up in suspense. It is a tense and intelligent novel where each of the characters may not be what they seem. If that isn’t enough to get your warm blood flowing, then I don’t know what will.
Justin was kind enough to take some time out from promoting his brand new book and give us a little more insight into the life of a local Philly author.
When did you know you were a writer?
I’m still not sure. It seems like a big part of writing is doubting that you’re a writer. Sometimes I wonder if I should have stuck with bowling. I was pretty good as a twelve-year old. But it’s nice to have these books in the world that at least make a case that I’m spending my time the right way.
I actually played a lot of music when I was younger, all the way through high school and into college. Then in college, I realized pretty abruptly that I wasn’t good enough to make a career out of it. I started to get more serious about writing, because books meant a lot to me, and I think that any type of art shares in the process of expressing feelings that are inexpressible in life, of finding a place for them or a way to lift them above the fray.
Your first novel was a coming of age tale. What inspired you to write a thriller?
Both books were reactions to things I was reading. With Finny, I was reading all these big nineteenth-century coming-of-age adventures, filled with comedy and romance and larger-than-life characters. I missed that kind of big old story in contemporary books, so I wanted to write something like that, but contemporary, and to allow a female character to get involved in the swashbuckling, which didn’t happen as much in the nineteenth century.
The Preservationist came from a year in which I was reading a lot of thrillers, mysteries, crime novels, and books that focused on or orbited around violence. I was obsessed with these books, which probably concerned my wife a great deal. But they suggested a path for a book I wanted to write, one that focused more on characters than the procedure of solving a case, and one that treated all the characters equally, whether they were “good” or “bad.” I just love the way that thrillers can bring you very close to a kind of darkness that it would be impossible to approach in life, and strangely, there’s something comforting in that. It’s crazy.
The Preservationist has this growing tension seeded throughout the story. Was it difficult to keep up the suspense?
Yes. Writing is always difficult for me, and one of the particular challenges of this book was that I’d never written a thriller plot before. So I wanted to stay true to the genre, and satisfy the readers (like me) who love the suspense in these books, while also maybe bringing in from the side some oddball character stuff and ideas about loss. After I spent some months just writing about the characters, I spent a while figuring out how to arrange the plot, what to reveal in different sections of the book, how to nudge the suspense up at certain moments. I had to think about plot a lot, and I learned a huge amount from it.
How did you decided to write this novel with alternating character viewpoints?
For me, that was the key to the premise: that I would treat Julia and Sam’s points of view with the same respect. I wanted to find a somewhat isolated setting (which turned out to be a small college) where I could focus intensely on a small group of people involved in a situation that was leading toward violence. I wanted the action of the book to unfold privately, without police getting heavily involved, so that the characters’ actions and their reactions to the escalating tension would be the heart of the story. I hoped that dipping into the strangeness of these characters’ worlds would be a big part of what would make the book interesting for readers, along with the danger of possible violence.
Some writers work on their books while listening to music to help them set the tone. Did you listen to anything in particular while working on this novel?
I don’t listen to music while writing, but I do sometimes listen to music before writing to set the tone for a given section. For this novel, a couple songs that were particularly helpful for me were: Radiohead’s “All I Need,” Le Loup’s “Planes Like Vultures,” and Emily Haines’s “Our Hell.”
Who are your favorite authors?
I have so many, and like I mentioned before, it changes a lot. I have periods when I’m obsessed with a certain author, or a certain novel, or a certain type of story. Then the next week or month or year, my reading will go in a whole new direction. I think that’s why I’ve written books and stories that are pretty different from each other. A lot of my writing comes from just being an overall fan of books.
For The Preservationist, I read a lot of Stephen King, Ruth Rendell, Patricia Highsmith, Henning Mankell, and actually William Trevor. My first love, as a reader, was Alice Munro. She opened a door for me, not because I ever thought I could write like her, or because of the people she wrote about, but because of the type of situations and feelings she saw fit to bring into her work. I didn’t know that those complicated feelings were in literature until I read her.
Do you have any advice to aspiring writers? Any tid-bits of knowledge you’d like to share?
I never feel like I’m someone who should be giving advice. I always feel like I’m holding on by the skin of my teeth, and am just thankful to still be writing — that is, until I get my bowling game back up to snuff. But as far as things that have helped me (in case they might be helpful for other masochists who choose to spend their time alone in a room with imaginary people), here are a few things others have said to me that I’ve come back to often:
1) “Writers feel shitty a lot. It’s okay to feel shitty. It is, in fact, part of the job.”
2) “I’m not that smart. People write novels all the time. If I can do it, it can’t be all that hard.”
3) “As the commercial says, reading is fundamental. And it’s helpful to be honest with yourself about what you like, not what you should like.”
4) “It’s impossible to know what a book can be until you finish it.”