March 12, 2012 at 3:31 pm , by Ladies' Lounge
The Expats, a first novel by former book editor Chris Pavone, is an international espionage thriller that’s invited comparisons to Graham Greene, John Le Carré and Robert Ludlum. The protagonist, Kate Moore, is (as was Pavone for a time) an expat and stay-at-home parent living a typical expat life in Luxembourg. But she’s also guarding a tremendous, life-defining secret—one that slowly begins to unravel her neat routines. As she begins to uncover secrets about the people around her, she finds herself buried in layers of deceit so thick they threaten her family, her marriage and her life. This expertly crafted story will keep you guessing until the very last page.
In this guest blog, Pavone explains how a mysterious woman on a park bench inspired him to write the book. Plus, find out how to win your own copy of The Expats at the end of the post!
We stay-at-home parents had all arrived via roughly the same path: our spouses got interesting/exciting/lucrative job offers abroad, and we thought it sounded fun (or at least different). So we packed up everything we could bring, and left behind everything we couldn’t. For many of us, the latter included the jobs, the careers, the selves that we’d spent our adult lives defining. Now we had to become other people.
For all the fun of constantly traveling around Europe, and for all the newness of this adventure, it was hard for me to embrace the routine. Taking the kids to their international school, attending class-parents meetings, going to the gym or French lessons or the supermarket. Driving around a city I didn’t really know, ignoring traffic laws I didn’t entirely understand, in a language I didn’t properly speak. Looking for the things that my family needed, or wanted: underwear and raincoats, DVDs and sticker books, a vacuum cleaner and a toaster, a cordless drill and a metric measuring tape. Food that I could pack for the kids’ lunch that they wouldn’t reject.
Plus it took me a month—a month!—to figure out how to throw away the garbage. No kidding.
And every time I got to the end of the to-do list, I had to add something new. When I’d finished the household chores, it was always time to start them all again, and again and yet again, cleaning and tidying-up, cooking and washing-up, grocery-shopping and dog-walking, bathing the children and putting them to bed, then waking them up again.
I chatted with other stay-at-home parents—mothers, rather, because 99 percent of the people who led this life were women—at school drop-offs and cafés, at tennis courts and playgrounds. One day there was a mother at the playground who didn’t want to chat. She possibly thought I was hitting on her; or perhaps she was just shy; or she had secrets . . . Maybe she had something dreadful to hide? Maybe she’d done something horrible, back wherever she was from? And she’d come to Luxembourg to escape it! Maybe this woman was a spy!! My imagination got away from me, as it tends to do when I’m bored.
That’s when it began to dawn on me, that even though my everyday life was often dreary, there was material for a novel all around me—in fact, any number of different novels, in different genres. I could write a fun lighthearted romance centering around the hyper-social world of expats—the extramarital affairs with Swedish tennis coaches, the recreational shopping. Or an introspective literary work about the soul-crushing tedium of tending to little children and a household, every single today a stale repeat of yesterday. Or what about a sexy legal thriller set in the European Union Court of Justice, featuring constant travel to glamorous locales? Or a corporate intrigue in the world capital of private banking, with an international cast of devious financiers whipping around town in their Lamborghinis?
There were many ways to re-imagine this world around me, this life I was living.
So that’s what I did: started re-imagining. I set to work on a novel about a woman reinventing herself, about a marriage under strain. I was writing about my life, the things I did, the people I knew. But before long, I began to lose interest in the manuscript. Then I remembered that secretive woman from the park bench, and I livened up things by introducing secrets and lies, spies and thieves into the story . . . a story that morphed into an espionage thriller.
Every day, I carved out a couple hours to sit in a café with my laptop and a large coffee. When I got hungry, or ran out of ideas, I left. Three, four pages a day, sometimes a bit more. At this pace, before a half-year was out, I typed “The End” on a first draft of a spy novel whose main characters are an expat couple in Luxembourg. This week, that novel was published by Crown, a division of Random House, and soon will be launched in a dozen languages around the world.
The core plot of The Expats is completely made-up. But much of the rest of the book—the situations, the conversations, the atmosphere, the life of the story—were drawn from my everyday experiences in a place, and a situation, where I didn’t quite belong. That was the nonfiction foundation upon which my novel was built.
And that same foundation is available everywhere, to anyone who wants to write a novel. You just have to pay attention to the interesting stuff that nestles in between all the boring bits.
Intrigued? We’re giving away 10 copies of The Expats! Just post a comment below and you’ll automatically be entered to win!
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