Interview with Tom Savage, author of Mrs. John Doe
07 Oct 2015
Nora Baron, an American actress in Europe, stumbles onto a deadly conspiracy and runs for her life. This novel is a first for me in several ways. It’s my first spy/espionage thriller and my first book to take place outside America, in England and France. I grew up reading Helen MacInnes and Robert Ludlum, and my favorite movie is Hitchcock’s North By Northwest. Mrs John Doe uses their classic plot: an innocent bystander thrust into danger. Nora Baron starts running on page one and doesn’t stop until the end. I don’t want to spoil anything, but let’s just say her acting training comes in handy along the way. As an actor/writer, I loved writing this character.
Which books would we be surprised to find on your shelves?
The Century by Peter Jennings (a wonderful reference book). Linda Goodman’s Sun Signs (ditto). A lot of books on theater (my first profession). And the complete works of Mary Stewart. I frequently reread her brilliant suspense novels, and her brave heroines inspired Nora Baron in Mrs. John Doe.
What was your favorite role you’ve played on the stage?
Anton Schill, the doomed hero of The Visit by Friedrich Duerrenmatt, was my favorite dramatic role. But dying is easy–comedy is hard! My favorite comedy role was Flute the bellows-mender in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Everyone thinks that play is about mismatched lovers and a war in Fairyland, but it’s not–it’s all about a bunch of tradesmen who get to perform at the palace for the king’s wedding. The guy playing Bottom and I had to stand there “holding for the laugh” at every performance, waiting for the audience to get up off the floor so we could continue with our next lines. It was the most fun I ever had on a stage. When it’s done well, Midsummer is probably the funniest play ever written.
Ever had to solve a mystery when you worked at the Murder Ink® bookstore?
Yes. I call it The Mystery of the Vanishing Customers. Everyone who worked at Murder Ink® was a mystery expert–between us, we knew every book in the store. When people shopped there, they got personal attention from us, and we’d find titles that fit their reading tastes. Then two things happened–a Barnes & Noble superstore opened down the street from us, and Amazon began selling books on the Internet. People started coming into our shop with notepads and pens. They’d ask us about the books and write down all our recommended titles. Then they’d leave without purchasing anything and buy the books we recommended to them from the chain store or online. When this finally forced us out of business, there was a huge public scream of despair–“Where will we get our recommendations now?!!”–and articles in the New York Times and elsewhere asking why this wonderful, world-famous bookshop was closing. I think we solved that mystery.
Say you’re the host of a literary talk show. Who would be your first guest? What would you want to ask?
If you mean living writers, my first two guests would be Stephen King and J. K. Rowling. I wouldn’t ask them anything; I’d just thank them for turning so many young people into avid readers. If I could have any writer in history, I’d invite Agatha Christie and tell her the same thing.
What’s something you’re truly terrible at doing?
Interviews. (Hold for laugh.) But it’s true–I don’t like talking about myself.
What’s your favorite quote from Mrs. John Doe?
There are several scenes in the novel that were a lot of fun to write. They’re all “Hitchcock sequences”–I’m a Hitchcock fanatic, and I borrowed the idea from him. They begin quietly, normally, but they don’t end that way. Early readers have told me how shocked they were when they read those scenes. That’s because I shocked myself when I wrote them. I love the element of surprise.
Do you have a motto, quote or philosophy you live by?
I write thrillers, but in real life I hate violence of any kind, particularly war and terrorism. My favorite quote is from H. G. Wells: “The first man to raise his fist is the man who has run out of ideas.” I think peace is always the best idea.
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