Author Chat: AJ Finn

Photo from bookpage.com

Daniel Mallory was a senior publishing executive at William Morrow/ HarperCollins. In January of 2018, he released his debut novel The Woman in the Window and it quickly took the literary world by storm.

A contemporary thriller, it follows Anna Fox, a young woman who lives alone in her New York City home. She spends her day drinking wine, watching old movies, recalling happier times, and spying on her neighbors.

When the Russells move into the house across the way, they seem like the perfect family: a father, a mother, and their teenage son. But when Anna sees something she shouldn’t, her world begins to crumble, and its shocking secrets are laid bare.

We chatted with Daniel about his book, its upcoming film adaptation, and more. See the full interview below:

Your Filipino fans want to know you better. Can you give us 3 things you love to eat, three things you can’t live without, and three places you look forward to visiting one day?

Let’s see. I love to eat steak (medium-rare), ice cream (mint chip), and raspberries. (I’ve got a sweet tooth.) I can’t live without books, dogs, and ready access to a swimming pool or body of water – I love to swim. And I’m eager to visit Eastern Europe, Australia, and of course Southeast Asia!

How about the top 3 books you wish you wrote?

I wish I’d written Case Histories, by Kate Atkinson; In the Woods, by Tana French; and any one of Arhtur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories.

What’s the most exciting thing about being a writer?

I love the opportunity to hear from and speak with readers all around the world. It’s very strange (but hugely pleasing) to think that they’ve read words that I tapped out on a laptop in my small Manhattan apartment!

You’ve shared before that you read a lot of mysteries, thrillers, and detective novels growing up. Which authors were you most fond of, and what aspects of their writing inspired you?

There’s a beloved children’s novel called The Westing Game, by Ellen Raskin, that I loved – and still love to this day! I’m very fond of Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie, of course, and have re-read those stories with pleasure time and again. Amongst Christie’s contemporaries, I particularly love the (largely forgotten) Golden Age doyenne Josephine Tey.

Of today’s writers, I’m particularly fascinated by Gillian Flynn, Tana French, and Kate Atkinson – all of whom write sophisticated, intelligent novels of suspense that feature three-dimensional characters and evocative, memorable writing. These books have more on their minds and in their hearts than the average thriller, and that’s what I sought to create in The Woman in the Window: I wanted to write a story that would make an impact on the reader.

‘A.J. Finn’ is actually a pseudonym. What made you decide to use one, and why that name in particular?

Until the end of 2017, I worked in publishing – so when it was time to submit my novel to publishers back in the summer of 2016, I was eager to keep my name out of the equation; I wanted editors, many or most of whom would have known me, to judge the book on its own merits (or lack thereof!), without taking into account the authorship. And I kept the pseudonym for two reasons: In the first place, I thought it might be disconcerting for the authors I published to see their editor’s name on a book; and second, I’m quite a private person, and I didn’t (and don’t!) want to spot my name everywhere.

A.J. is the name of a cousin of mine – Alice Jane is her real name, but she goes by A.J. I admire her, as I do many of the women in my life; she’s smart, tough, and accomplished. And Finn is the name of another cousin’s French bulldog. I love French bulldogs. They’re so unattractive, yet so cute.

You previously worked in the publishing industry. How did it feel to leave it to pursue being a full-time author?

Not as scary as I would have thought! I’m very cautious by nature, but even I could appreciate that it was the right time to begin a new adventure. Besides, I simply couldn’t continue to hold down my publishing job whilst promoting The Woman in the Window and writing a second book – there just aren’t enough hours in the day.

Let’s talk about your debut novel, which has gained a lot of hype and will soon be adapted into a feature film. How did the premise for it first come to your mind?

One night in the summer of 2015, whilst parked on my sofa watching Rear Window, I clocked a light in my peripheral vision: my neighbor across the street, switching on a living-room lamp. In accordance with New York City custom, I watched her for a moment as she settled herself in her armchair and aimed a remote at the TV. Behind me on my own TV, Thelma Ritter spoke up: “I can smell trouble right in this apartment,” she chided Jimmy Stewart as he spied on Raymond Burr across the courtyard. “You look out the window. You see things you shouldn’t. Trouble.” When I turned back to the screen, she was glaring at me.

Interesting, I thought, how — sixty years later — I’m spying on my neighbors exactly as Stewart did his. Voyeurism is a primal instinct; we humans are programmed to feel curious about our environments and those who inhabit them. In any event, this chance glance inspired The Woman in the Window. The story came together very swiftly. And at the same time, Anna Fox strode into my brain.

What was the most challenging part of writing a contemporary locked-room mystery?

Going in, I assumed that the ins and outs of sentence-level composition — the writing — would pose no problem; it was the characterization and plot-work that intimidated me. To my surprise, Anna took shape very quickly, like a figure approaching through mist, dragging her story with her pretty much intact. And it was the writing that proved challenging!

The book also touches on some sensitive issues, particularly mental health. As someone who has struggled with bipolar disorder his entire adult life, I found it both challenging and rewarding to incorporate mental illness into the story. And I’m proud of having done so.

Why do you think the book has become so successful in a fairly short amount of time?

I think that readers are responding to the emotional depth of the novel – they seem to feel it’s more than ‘just another psychological thriller’: a story with genuine dimension and resonance. I suspect they also appreciate the central character, a woman who – unlike many women in fiction – is capable of taking care of herself. (Indeed, this is one of the reasons I was eager to refer to her as a woman in the title, and not as a girl. I don’t want to condescend to women by treating them as children; they deserve better.) And finally, many readers seem to enjoy the writing, which (according to their Amazon reviews!) they find elevated and distinctive. Those are my guesses, anyway…

Have you interacted with your Filipino fans before?

I have not! But I’m very keen to do so!

Will you consider visiting your Filipino fans anytime soon?

I’d absolutely love to. I enjoy travel enormously, and I’ve long been interested in Filipino culture (and cuisine!). My hope is that I’ll be able to visit the region in September, after my trip to Australia.

Do you have any advice or suggestions for Filipinos who will be reading your book?

I’d advise readers to stick with the story throughout the first 100 pages. The pace of these chapters is slower than that of the rest of the book; this is because I want to adjust the reader to the rhythms and routines of Anna’s life – before the story disrupts that life.

What’s your message to all your fans in the Philippines?

I’m so delighted to know that my book is available to Filipino readers. The Philippines is a nation with nearly universal literacy – an extraordinary achievement, even in the 21st century, and a testament to Filipinos’ sophistication and cultural curiosity. It’s an honor to be published into such a community of readers. I’d love to hear from readers in the Philippines.

Can you tell us something about your upcoming books?

I can say that my next book is another psychological thriller, unrelated to the first; it’s set in San Francisco, probably America’s most romantic and mysterious city.

What’s next in the pipeline for you?

After I complete my second novel, I’ll likely be working on a film or TV project for a little while, just for a change of pace. But novels will form the backbone of my career, so as soon as I come up with an idea for a third one, I’ll begin writing!

Grab your copy of his book today!

The Woman in the Window is available for NBS for P799 (paperback). You can shop online here. Special thanks to HarperCollins for making this event possible.

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