Books: Harlan Coben in Bollywood?
Here’s some news for fans of Harlan Coben’s dramas on Netflix. The prolific crime thriller author, who has signed a multi-million dollar deal to adapt his novels for the streaming platform, is serious about producing a show in India. “Or even a Bollywood movie,” he says. He has watched movies in Hindi, even though he can’t pronounce the titles. “I’m very bad at pronunciation of foreign languages,” Coben said, speaking over a video call from his home in New Jersey. “My books have been adapted into French films, I travel regularly to France, but I find it difficult to say hello.”
Coben’s last trip to India, which he describes as the typical tourist experience, covering Delhi, Varanasi, Agra, Jaipur and all the western traveler’s must-sees, was 30 years ago. But his memories are vivid.
“There is so much culture and color. Americans don’t understand diversity; how many worlds exist in a country. I see it as a vibrant, living place. I told Netflix that I wanted to do a show or a movie in India. I think our talents blend well and my stories would translate well into that setting,” he says.
One book at a time
It’s an ambitious plan for a writer who set modest goals when he started out 35 years ago. Coben’s first attempt at romance came after a summer job as a tour guide for Americans in Spain. “I thought to myself, this is a really weird experience, and I should write a book about it,” he says. So that’s what he did. He describes the result as terrible. So did the two novels that followed, he says.
“When I start playing basketball, do I expect to be really good at it? So why do aspiring writers think the very first book should be a hit?” he asks.
Coben ventured into writing with the dream of having a novel published by a real publisher. “Then I wanted to see two books published, just to know it wasn’t a fluke. Later I thought maybe, just maybe I could make a living from it. Can I expect to make it to the top 15 bestseller lists and then the top 10? »
His small steps led Coben, now hailed as a contemporary master of mystery, to write more than 30 books. His 35th, The Match, was released in March.
“We have to take care of it. [writing] like a job. A plumber can’t wake up in the morning and say, “I don’t feel like doing pipes today.” I treat writing the same way. This may sound remarkable, but it is not. That’s all I do. Great writers like Philip Roth expressed the same idea. There’s an old saying that amateurs wait for inspiration while others get to work.
He writes almost every day. ‘Two pages a day and you have 700 pages in a year. See, there’s no magic in it,” he says.
The “what if” concept
Coben’s writing routine is to have no routine. “I write in cafes and delicatessens. Once I realized I could write in an Uber, I started taking a lot of taxis. I write about flights as well. He knows the beginning and the ending of every story when he sits down to write, he says. But the rest unfolds as he types the chapters.
“Let’s say I’m planning a trip across America, from New Jersey where I live, to California. Route 80 would be the easiest route, but I could also choose to cross the Panama Canal or even make a stopover in Tokyo. So I know the beginning and the end of the story, but I have no idea how to get there until I start writing,” he explains.
The central ideas of his novels come from his “what if” speculations in various situations. “I was walking in the woods once. I really don’t like that. There’s a tree here, another tree there and it’s boring. I am a city walker. I love window shopping, people’s faces, cafes. And there, on a parallel path, a little boy wanders all alone. I’m thinking: what if he had always lived in the woods, and if he didn’t know how he got there or who his parents were? Thirty years later, there are still no answers. So who will tell the story? That task falls to Wilde, the protagonist of Coben’s latest novel.
Coben’s other now famous storyteller is Myron Bolitar, who appears in thrillers such as Deal Breaker and Drop Shot. The writer agrees that there is a lot of him in his character. “I created Myron Bolitar as me with wish-fulfillment. He’s funnier and smarter than me, he plays better basketball and he was ahead of me in life at first. But as time went by As I wrote, contrasts set in. His whole dream is to be married, to have children, plus the barbecue and the basketball court at home, but he never gets any of that. “I have everything. Then again, my parents died young. But the Myrons are there and I view her relationship with them as what could have been mine. So that struggle, the conflict, makes the novels stronger,” he said.
His novels are all about the secrets of the past shattering fragile places and people, murders and dark truths. How does it feel to constantly inhabit this space?
“It’s my therapy, I think,” he said. “I transmit the anxieties. And as Flaubert said: “Be regular and orderly in your life, in order to be violent and original in your work”. I have been married for many years, we have raised four children and have two dogs. It’s a normal suburban existence. My life is a calm pool and even a pebble can cause ripples. This, I think, allows me to be violent and original in my work.
Priya Bala is a senior writer based in Bengaluru who specializes in food, travel and lifestyle writing. She has edited several major consumer publications in the past.
From HT Brunch, April 3, 2022
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