Today we're talking with David Tienter, author of Playing With Fire
FQ: The first chapter describes an escape of a prisoner of war, was this inspired by personal experience?
TIENTER: The first chapter was inspired by my experiences as a Corpsman attached to the Marines in Vietnam. I served three tours in country and my description of the land and animals was acquired first hand. The escape as a prisoner of war was drawn from the story of a friend who went down behind enemy lines and it took several months for him to return to friendly lines. I found Vietnam to be a place where every plant has a thorn and everything else bites. The Vietnamese have to be very tough just to live there.
FQ: Was it planned from the beginning to write the story from many perspectives and do you think something is gained by using different perspectives as compared to just one?
TIENTER: Yes, I planned on using the perspective of several characters right from the start of the book. I wanted to explore what would cause a Ďnormalí man turn into a monster and why an average man would pursue him. By seeing the thought processes of both, the pursued and the pursuer, I think the reader has a better grasp of the actions of both.
FQ: In a book centered on gruesome murders, how do you decide what to include and what not to?
TIENTER: A difficult line has to be walked in writing about the crimes. Almost everything is too violent for many readers and for some it canít be violent enough. I try to make my crimes heinous enough to justify the use of force in capturing the bad guys but still I am not writing to gross someone out. I certainly donít want to put anything in my books that would make some sick dude think about copying the crimes I write about. My victim is a strong character and maintains her pride.
FQ: The character of Harry, a psychotic serial killer, has some intense scenes. Was it difficult to write about these?
TIENTER: Once I pull the mantle of the monster over me, I find it easy to describe what I believe his actions would be. Since a monster can do anything, itís fun and easy to write. He just has to be twisted enough to take advantage of others. After reading my books, several of my wifeís friends have asked her if she is worried about sleeping with me. She tells them she keeps the big dog, who doesnít like me, sleeping between us and has a gun under her pillow.
FQ: How do you develop the story so that each event or clue leads to the next one?
TIENTER: At times, I feel like a juggler keeping six or eight characters suspended in mid-air while I shift the story to work in the right actions and the right place for each character to advance. When I get done with a dayís writing, I always read it over again to find out if my jigsaw puzzle has all the right pieces in the right places and to make sure the story is moving in the right direction. I make sure the monster is hidden under a bed while the hero is polishing his halo.
FQ: What research did you have to do about the Appalachian Trail for this book?
TIENTER: The Appalachian Trail is such an awe inspiring part of America, Iím always surprised that more books are not written with it in the background. Itís a vast wilderness area close to the major population areas of the country, totally wild and free. It speaks to the American Spirit that we have this resource free and accessible. I think it keeps us connected to our history and our inner nature. I have always been fascinated by it.
I wanted to hike it, but lost a knee in Vietnam and knew I could never make a through hike. When writing Playing with Fire, I drove to the Headquarters of the Smokey Mountain National Forest in Fayetteville, and hiked up to the Trail. I spent three days hiking and sleeping on ground, so when I talk about the rocks, trees, plants, and the Trail, itself, Iím talking from experience. By the way, mountains are made out of rock, a rather hard bed. For me, at least, three nights were plenty.
FQ: Without giving anything away, was the ending planned from the beginning or did it develop as you were writing?
TIENTER: The ending developed as I wrote the story out. Teddie was too strong a character and needed to be developed. That demanded that more story was needed after the bad guys death. Plus, I wanted to show that even monsters have people who love them and that heroes are not loved by everyone. Iím sure there are people who grieved Ted Bundy, thinking he was just misunderstood and surely innocent. Matt and Harry could have easily been friends in slightly different circumstances.