A Conversation with Richard Doetsch, Author of The 13th Hour
1. How did you come up with such an intriguing plot? What was the inspiration?
I had never seen a novel written backwards before and thought it would be a great challenge. I think we all have a moment in life that we would like to change, be it a decision at work, something we said to a girlfriend or boyfriend, or sometimes something greater like expressing our true feelings for a friend or family member before they slipped out of our lives or saving someone from a tragedy if we could only reach out our hand in that one fateful moment. I think it is something universal, something everyone thinks about at some point, something that bridges languages and cultures. How great would it be to act on hindsight?
2. When writing The 13th Hour, did you actually write the story forwards and then just reverse the order, or was it always a story told in reverse? Was it ever difficult to keep the continuity of the various story arcs straight?
Writing the thirteen hours was like playing five games of chess in my head at the same time. I wrote the story backwards in the same way the reader experiences it. In so doing, I had to remember the future and the past before they had even occurred. It was difficult but fun as it was like a giant puzzle whose every move reverberated throughout the story.
3. From loyal best friends to corrupt cops to innocent bystanders, The13th Hour has quite the cadre of characters. Are any of them based on people you know? Do you have a Marcus of your own?
Julie Quinn, Nick’s wife, is based on my wife, Virginia. Her personality, her mannerisms, intelligence and beauty, everything except her blond hair (Virginia has dark brown hair) are spot-on. In the same manner, Nick is based on myself. Marcus is actually an amalgam of friends. I’m very lucky to have such a diverse group of friends who not only are there for me but whose unique backgrounds and personalities are always food for fodder.
4. You keep readers turning the pages by having Nick fail each time he tries to stop both Julia’s death and the crash of Flight 502. He finally succeeds, only to be shot and almost die doing so. Was there ever a draft of The 13th Hour in which Nick did not save the day? Or was there always a happy ending?
The draft that is the final book is the only version. I actually wrote the story in thirty days as a personal challenge and found it to be the most fun I had ever had writing. I always intended to have a happy ending, to save Julia; it was only fair, after putting her through so much hell.
5. Your characters share their thoughts on the power that Nick has been given. What are your thoughts on the matter? What would you do if given such a power?
Revising history is so dangerous. I think that we learn from our failures, mistakes, and wrong choices. So often what we think to be a failure shapes our future and makes us stronger, a theme that is explored in various ways throughout The 13th Hour.
If there was one thing I would change, it would be going back to early September 2001 and making sure the FBI rolled up those men before they ever got near a plane. Think how different our world be: three thousand lives saved, two wars avoided. I don’t think you would find a single American that would disagree with that reach back in time. But ponder for a moment the potential impact on those who have remarried, on the children born, on elections, financial markets, and new jobs—the domino effect of that one change would be tremendous to many, yet devastating to many more.
6. As Nick travels through time, those he encounters seem to trust his knowledge of future events. If a friend presented you a note from a “future you,” how would you react?
I would be surprised but would embrace it; if we can’t trust ourselves, whom can we trust? Moreover, how do you think you would react to meeting a future version of yourself? I would listen to what he/I would have to say. We all learn from our falling down, our failures and mistakes; future me would have already done that, fallen down and failed, so I think it would be prudent to listen. Of course, if I acted on his advice, that future me won’t have had those trials and tribulations and therefore wouldn’t have the experience and knowledge to impart to present me, thereby negating the conversation. If you can follow that . . .
7. It is exciting news that The 13th Hour has been optioned by New Line Cinema. How do you think the story will translate onto the big screen?
The screenplay is finished and, unlike so many book-to-movie adaptations, came out great and very close to what you see on the page.
8. As well as being a novelist, you are the president of a New York–based real estate company. How did you make the jump from businessman to author?
Life is so short, I learned long ago to budget my time and self-motivate. I want to get as much out of this ride as possible. Who wants to get to the end of their life and say they tasted only one flavor?
My first novel was written mostly on the train to and from work and then from eleven till two in the morning. Now, without the burden of a commute, and the freedom that hard work has afforded me, I find the time to write four hours in the morning, two hours in the late afternoon, and four hours late at night. Some people drink to forget, play golf to get away, watch TV to escape; I get all of that plus much more when I sit down to write. I’m very lucky.
9. What advice do you have for a budding writer?
Everyone says to write every day. While I obviously agree with and do that, I actually go one step further and write a new story every day. Not a full story, usually just a page, an outline in three acts. I believe to be a good storyteller you have to hone that skill, you can’t expect to come up with a great idea, a unique idea on the spot when you have to pitch a new story to your editor. If you jot down an idea every day, that is 365 ideas, and while most might not be so great, if only one percent are, you have hit three home runs.
10. When you first released The 13th Hour, you held a contest to see if someone could identify the seven characters from other time travel stories that were woven throughout your novel. Since the contest is over, can you identify those characters and which stories they are from?
I would prefer not to reveal the characters so new readers could still enjoy the challenge. They can email me through my site with their answers and I’d be happy to reveal the answers.
11. What’s next for you? Will we be hearing from Nick and Julia again?
My next novel, called The Thieves of Darkness, will be published in August. It is the continuing story of Michael St. Pierre, a reformed gentleman thief who is forced back into his former career to save those he loves. It has that same edge-of-your-seat thrills as The 13th Hour, along with very rich characters you want to route for but it is on a much grander scale, racing about the world from London and Amsterdam to Istanbul and India.
An then in December, Atria will be releasing Half-Past Dawn, a stand-alone novel that is as unique as The 13th Hour. Regarding Nick and Julie . . . ? I have written an amazing sequel that goes in a direction no one will see coming, but just as a hint, imagine what can be done with two watches.