Author Interview: Charlie Price (The Interrogation of Gabriel James)

Charlie Price, the Edgar Award winner for best Young Adult Mystery, 2011, shares his delightful moments of award winning and writing with his readers through his interview with Printsasia.com. He discusses his award- winning book The Interrogation of Gabriel James in detail in his interview, captivating the hearts of his readers.

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At first our heartiest congratulations to you on the occasion of your winning the Edgar award for your book The Interrogation of Gabriel James as the best Young Adult Mystery of 2011. So how your life has changed after achieving such a huge acknowledgement in the literary world?

Well, every time I think of it I grin and levitate! I could not be more honored and delighted. The Edgar has made it possible to attend more events and meet more readers and writers. It’s given me more opportunities to discuss issues like addiction, abuse, and domestic violence with a wider range of audiences. That’s terrific because when I decided to write in the Young Adult field, I hoped I would eventually have chances to speak with teens from a different perspective than a teacher, administrator, or therapist. It is easier to talk about a particular character’s problems and whether or not his/her coping strategies are effective, than to talk openly about problems we might have in our own lives, our own families.

Give us a brief plot description of your award-winning book.

Gabe, a junior cross country runner, learns that a girl classmate likes him but when he tries to pursue her, she shuts him out. Frustrated, he follows her home and discovers a situation that seriously disturbs him. He wants to make things better but he’s afraid his attempt to help might wind up ruining her life.  At the end, his involvement leads to two murders and he is called before the law to tell what he knows and account for his actions.

How did you come up with the idea of writing a psychological thriller novel?

Many of the most troubling stories I encountered in my at-risk school and psych hospital work were, by their very nature, psychological thrillers. My first book, DEAD CONNECTION, came about because a high school girl my daughter’s age was kidnapped in our community and never found. I wrote that book so I could sleep with fewer nightmares. My second book, LIZARD PEOPLE, mirrored events I witnessed or worked with in locked psychiatric units. The same kinds of teenagers and dangerous situations inspired the fourth book, DESERT ANGEL, and the one coming out next October, DEAD GIRL MOON. I write about real characters and the difficult, sometimes electrifying, problems they have to face, often without reliable adult guidance.

How did you unveil your character Gabriel through the sessions of interrogations and the flashbacks following the several crimes committed?

Once I got the inspiration to write the novel in the form of a real-time interrogation, the rest fell into place. I already knew Gabriel well.  I had written the entire book ten to twelve times over the past four years, sequentially, from Gabe’s and other characters’ points of view. Writing from the girl Ralene’s point of view was so sad, her brother’s point of view, too gruesome.

The quiet girl’s secret home life was a true story that had haunted me for a long time. Writing the book as an interrogation was akin to writing a striptease that ends with a card trick because each piece of information was revealed as the result of a deputy’s question that spurred Gabe’s memories. I didn’t try to force the detectives’ questions into any particular pattern. They asked whatever came to their minds as the day progressed. But to maintain the story’s tension, nothing could be told before its time . . . a literary card trick because the story had to be shuffled repeatedly, and at the end, the deck had to come out in ordered suits! Voilà?

Did the interrogation lead to self- discovery for Gabriel?

We may tend to think of ourselves as the primary player in the dramas we encounter. Gabe comes to understand that he is a part of his parents’ history, an important part, but not the only part.

He also learns more about the motives that drive his actions. Why is he so eager to help? Is he doing this for the girl, or for himself? Further, he develops a better understanding of his own limitations realizing that no single person has the power or understanding to “fix” another person or situation. We do the best we know how and then live with the consequences. Sometimes only with other peoples’ help do we gain a useful perspective.

What is your own description of your depiction of violence and action in the book?

I’m not interested in violence as subject matter. The violence is an organic result of the way some people live and the environments in which they find themselves. I am interested in writing fast-moving stories of substance. I’m interested in my characters and how they find internal resources to deal with the problems they face. I never try to steer my characters. I watch them through the computer screen and try to accurately report what they do. I am often surprised, several times a book actually, at unexpected decisions or strategies the characters invent. It’s a mysterious process and I see why people discussing creativity refer to the muse.

How much can one connect to the real life after reading the story?

Many of us have difficulties at home . . . situations that trouble us, that we are reluctant to talk about. My own father was a college dean and professor by day, a mean and often out-of-control alcoholic by night. No one knew what our real home life was like. The community thought we had an idyllic family. In a like manner, many of us have friends who are in trouble and we may be the only person our friend has told. We want to help but are not sure what to do. What if we tell someone and the whole thing blows up in public? What if we don’t tell someone and our friend winds up seriously hurt or suicidal?

What kind of feedback you have received to date from your readers regarding this book?

I hear through conversations and emails that adults tend to like Interrogation and my other books so far, as much as teenagers do. I think this is because of the mature style, universal content, and fast pacing. People tell me that once they start reading, they hate to stop. Sometimes they tell me anecdotes from their own lives that mirror situations in the book. Others say how much they enjoyed meeting Durmie, the mentally ill character. Still others have asked about Danny Two Bull and the kind of racism a Native American might encounter in some schools in the Western States. Growing up, I wondered what Larry Pretty Weasel, a great Crow athlete in Southern Montana, faced as he played high school games around the state and attended college in Billings.

Which mystery books are your own favorites?

I love authors like James Lee Burke for his atmospheric tales about Louisiana and Montana. I like Robert Crais and Michael Connelly for telling often funny and always moral detective stories set in the Los Angeles area. Chris Crutcher writes books that are like mysteries in that his characters face extremely difficult problems and the reader is never sure how the whole situation can resolve. I also like fiction that has a good blend of adult and teen characters: Red Sky at Morning, To Kill a Mockingbird, Peace like a River. Mostly I look for gripping stories with great characters that have an element of mystery. The quality of the prose is usually more important to me than the genre.

What message do you have for your readers?

We are all inescapably creative. Every day we choose how we fix our hair, what we wear, what interests us, how we spend our free time. Those are creative decisions and they all tell a story about us. We’re as individual as our fingerprints. No other human being can work with problems, see what we see, or think what we think exactly like we do. Will we keep track of our dreams, work on them, and do the things that help up feel proud? Will we spend time with people that give us heart? Do we have a responsibility to our self to use our particular gift or gifts? I think so. We have this one life to live. Tragedy teaches us to appreciate each day, value each opportunity.

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