Peter Swanson is the author of the new novel All the Beautiful Lies. His other novels include Her Every Fear and The Kind Worth Killing. His work has appeared in a variety of publications, including The Atlantic and Asimov's Science Fiction. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for All the Beautiful Lies, and why did you set it in Maine?
A: I've had the basic idea for All the Beautiful Lies running through my head for many, many years. I always thought it would be a classic whodunit in which a son discovers his deceased father's secret life. And I always pictured it set in a coastal town.
When I wrote The Kind Worth Killing, a portion of that novel is set in the fictional town of Kennewick, Maine. And when I began to finally write All the Beautiful Lies I knew that it would be set in that same town.
Q: The novel is told from a variety of different perspectives. Did you write the book in the order in which it appears, or did you focus more on one character at a time and then move things around?
A: I always write my novels in the order in which I think they will appear, although, after final edits, it's possible that things will move around a little. What is it they say on airplanes? "Warning: items may shift during flight."
In this case it made for an interesting writing process, because one day I'd be telling the story of Harry, a recent college graduate dealing with his father's death, and the next day I'd be writing about a high school teenager 20 years earlier.
Q: How was the novel's title chosen, and what does it signify for you?
A: When I reached the end of the book I realized just how much of the novel was about the lies we tell ourselves.
In the case of the novel's main character, Alice Moss, she is someone who has caused a lot of damage in her life, but she truly believes she is innocent, that the damage has been caused to her. The reason these lies are beautiful is because they cover up whatever ugliness might be really there.
Q: The book's early reviews mention Patricia Highsmith as a comparison. What do you think of that?
A: Terrible. I mean, she was such a hack, wasn't she? Just kidding. I revere Patricia Highsmith, so I'm obviously thrilled. She was the absolute master at writing cold, disturbing thrillers. She understood that everyone, in the right circumstances, could be a criminal.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: Just finishing up a novel about a married couple that move to a suburban neighborhood, and are invited to their neighbor's house for dinner. The wife of the couple sees something in the neighbor's house that makes her think she's solved an old crime.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: If you ever decide to visit the lovely coastal town of Kennewick in Maine you will find it doesn't exist. But it does greatly resemble another town, called York. And that town, along with having a lot less murders, is well worth a visit.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Peter Swanson.