Best-selling author Harlan Coben is the only mystery writer to have won the Edgar Award, the Shamus Award, and the Anthony Award. Last year, Coben dove into the world of YA with Shelter, the first novel in his “Mickey Bolitar” series (Putnam).
SLJ spoke with the Newark, New Jersey-born author about his new teen protagonist and his Jersey roots.
With 50 million books in print worldwide, you are definitely considered prolific. So why enter the YA market with Mickey Bolitar?
Several reasons. First, I’d seen a lot of popular young adult books dealing with vampires or wizards or dystopia, but I hadn’t seen any do what I do–stay-up-all-night thrillers based in the real world.
Second, I have four children, ages 11 to 18, and I wanted to write something that would appeal to them.
Third, I had a great idea for a story in which the hero was in high school. That’s the biggest difference between my adult novels and my young adult novels–the age of the protagonist. It would be a mistake to simplify or talk down to this audience. They’re simply too smart.
Tell us about Mickey and the second book in the series, Seconds Away, released in September.
High-school sophomore Mickey’s life is a mess. His father died before his eyes, his mother is in rehab, and he is forced to live with an uncle he doesn’t much like. When one of Mickey’s closest friends is shot, Mickey and the rest of his team need to solve the case–because the next victim may be one of them.
Mickey also learns more about the scary old lady who lives down the street and about the death of his father–if indeed his father is dead at all.
Myron Bolitar, the main character in your books for adults, happens to be Mickey’s uncle. How would you describe their relationship?
Tense, at best. Mickey blames Uncle Myron for what happened to his parents. Plus, while adults may think Myron’s sentimentality is nice, his nephew finds it cloying. But in the end, these two need each other, so the interaction between them gets pretty interesting.
Many teens read your adult books. Have you found that many adults read your novels written for teens?
Yes! I think that’s the best–when the parents and the teens can share and love the same book. It leads to some great family moments.
Have your own children given you any assistance in creating the teenage characters in this series?
A ton. The incident where Mickey first meets his buddy Spoon is word-for-word what happened to my son Ben on his first day of school. Here’s a good writing and parenting tip: Drive the carpool. It is amazing what you will overhear.
I see that you are active on social media, especially Twitter (@HarlanCoben). Do you consider tweeting a form of creative writing? What was your most creative tweet?
Oh, I don’t know. I have a love-hate relationship with all social media.
You are from New Jersey. Tell us about your friendship with other “Jersey Boys,” such as Governor Christie and others?
I grew up with Chris. We played on the same Little League team, coached by Chris’s dad, when we were 11. During our senior year of high school, he was president of the senior class and I was president of the student council. You’d have been able to guess which one of us would end up as governor and which one would make up stories for living.
You attended Amherst College during the same period as other notable writers, graduating in 1984. Was there anyone at the school whom you consider a mentor?
Dan Brown of The Da Vinci Code (Doubleday, 2003) fame was my fraternity brother. We still see each other often. He is really a terrific, funny, engaging guy. I lived on the same floor freshman year as David Foster Wallace, whom I miss in many ways, and Mark Costello, who wrote The Big If (Norton, 2002). Christopher Bohjalian (Midwives, Harmony Bks., 1997) was two years ahead of us. The Screenwriter Suzannah Grant was in my class, as was Bill Amend, author of the Foxtrot comics.
These are all great people, and I’m proud to be a part of this group.
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