RM: Good morning, Claude. It's been two years since we did that interview – Claude Bouchard Unchained – and I hope this time around we have as much fun.
CB: We had fun the first time around? Oh… Right. Yeah, uh, we had a blast. (Nodding and smiling to hide my confusion and bewilderment.)
Seriously, I much enjoyed our previous interview and I’m pleased that you invited me to do another.
RM: We've decided to try something different this time: focusing on one standalone book, ASYLUM, that's wildly divided your readers. Could you begin by telling us a bit about the book – avoiding any spoilers – and the range of readers' reactions?
CB: For the sake of accuracy, expediency and spoiler avoidance, I’m copy/pasting the actual book description below:
As Managing Director of the Montreal Hospital for the Criminally Insane, Doctor Matthew Russell has always put his professional responsibilities ahead of all else. That is, until he one day realizes that he is losing his wife, Cassidy, and his two children, Stuart and Jennifer.
With only his family in mind, Russell takes an adventure-filled, impromptu vacation of indefinite duration, leaving all else behind and stopping at nothing to show how much he cares for his loved ones in an effort to win them back. But, will he succeed… Or, will it prove to be all too late in the end?
As for the range of readers’ reactions, of 56 reviews received on Amazon.com, 21 are 5 star, 18 are 1 star and the remaining 17 are scattered in between for a 3.2 star overall average – not quite a perfect bell curve, but close. Comments ranged from “Brilliant” to “uugghh”. :)
RM: This sounds like a classic case of seeing what we expect. Some fans of the Vigilante series went into Asylum expecting more of the same, only more so? That's ironic, to say the least – because Asylum's as heavy on action as any of the Vigilante books. Help me stretch my memory here. The hero stages several daring rescues – including one in a fire, one in a pilot-less air balloon and one in the Grand Canyon. He also battles muggers, carjackers, thieves and even a rattlesnake. Hard to imagine anyone expecting more from a thriller. But there is a difference, isn't there? Can you tell us – without any spoilers?
CB: Thrillers involving daring rescues and victorious battles against violent criminals and deadly wildlife often, though not always, have a protagonist who is somehow trained or experienced in dealing with such situations or adversaries. Think Jack Reacher, Jason Bourne and countless others. Rarely is the hero a middle-aged, psychiatrist bureaucrat, even if he’s in decent physical shape. Perhaps, due to his position, Dr. Russell had received training over the years in dealing with crises and dangerous individuals, though this is not described in the book… Or maybe it’s something else.
RM: One of the recurring charges against the book was its reading like a 'travelogue'. The hero and his family do cover a lot of ground: starting their vacation in Vancouver, proceeding down along the Western coast of the U.S... driving on to Florida... and flying on to Rio. That's a terrific vacation. But once again irony rears its devilish head. Your third-person descriptions of the travels do read as if they came from travel books. But, based on my second reading, I'm certain the descriptions were deliberately done this way. Am I right about this?
CB: You are right about that, though, as some reviews made clear, not everyone liked it. The objective, which proved to be successful with some readers and obviously not with others, was to present a picture-perfect family vacation, even though it was temporarily marred on occasion by mishaps and conflicts. Put another way, if Asylum was a film, the vacation sequences would seem almost Disneyesque in nature.
RM: One other thing. Vigilante fans with blinders on may have been fooled by the pacing. You took your time getting us to the action-packed vacation. Anyone who's read your best-selling series knows that you know how to hit the ground running, action from the get-go. You seem to have felt the importance, this time, of building slowly, piece by piece.
CB: An appropriate introduction of Dr. Russell’s life and problems was required before we could think of jumping into the action-packed vacation. This is what Part I of the book was, spanning over six chapters which represented under 14% of the entire novel. Hardly a huge block of reading to get through before the pace quickened and quite necessary to establish the events leading to Russell’s subsequent life-changing decisions and actions.
RM: You must have known going in that readers would regard the book as a real departure. What prompted you to take the chance, along with the risks it involved? Did you anticipate the blowback Asylum received from some quarters?
CB: I’ll begin by sharing the Author’s Note which I included at the beginning of the book from the get-go:
For those of you who have already read some of my work, I wanted to let you know that ASYLUM is not a crime thriller. In fact, I had a hard time determining what genre I should consider it to be. Following much mulling and category searching, I hesitantly settled on “psychological thriller” though there were other possibilities.
ASYLUM has aspects of action and adventure as well as of love, family and emotion. It deals with the struggles which many have had to deal with when attempting to balance professional and personal responsibilities. It reflects the turmoil one may be faced with when too much emphasis is placed on the workplace to the detriment of one’s family.
ASYLUM is different from anything I had written to date but I enjoyed writing it and I’m pleased with the final result. I hope you will be too.
So, yes, I was aware the book was a real departure but what prompts any writer to tell a story? I don’t have to research very far to confirm that I wasn’t the first author to ever step away from my usual genre because I had something else I wanted to work on. As to anticipating the blowback Asylum received from some, one never knows how something will be received and should realize that it’s impossible to please everyone. Of my ten novels out to date, seven have at least one 1 star review. Ratings for my nine Vigilante thrillers range from 4.1 to 4.8. Such is life. In all fairness, when I consider Asylum and its 56 reviews, 29 are 4 or 5 stars which means more than half of the reviewers gave it an 80%+ rating.
RM: I've avoided the next question in all of my interviews so far. But this time the question really asks itself: Could you tell us a little about the writing of Asylum? Did it take less or more time to write than the average Vigilante book? Did you write it in longhand, using my beloved #2 pencils? (How the hell'd you get my pencils?) Did you breakdance between drafts? That sort of thing, please.
CB: There was nothing markedly different with writing Asylum versus my works in the Vigilante series. It was the usual ‘develop as I write and research’ I always do. A manuscript can take me anywhere from two to ten months to write and Asylum was done in seven so, it was right in there with the average. I’m confused with part of your question when you mention longhand and pencils. What are those things? Seriously, my use of longhand is reserved almost exclusively for grocery lists which are always composed using a ball point pen. Lastly, I’ve long given up breakdancing, having progressed to more emotion inspiring genres such as krumping, popping, turfing, locking and the occasional dunno move when it’s the least expected. However, I never ever polka.
RM: We've talked about readers and what they expect. Writers may not have the right to expect anything from readers. But surely we're allowed to hope. What are your hopes for the diehard Vigilante fans approaching this standalone title?
CB: I’ll respond to that with a personal example from my reading past. I became a Baldacci from his first release, Absolute Power, back in 1996. His four novels which followed, though all standalones, were also all pure Baldacci suspense thrillers. Then came his sixth release in 2000, entitled Wish You Well. Murder, power, schemes and conspiracy from previous books were replaced with a 1940 story about two kids moving from New York City to go live in the mountains of Virginia on their great-grandmother’s farm. Was it what I expected from Baldacci? Far from it. However, having recognized the man’s impressive writing talent, I was more than willing to read his latest tale and to do so with an open mind, knowing this would not be his usual fare. I didn’t regret my decision.
More succinctly, I would hope that diehard Vigilante fans would approach Asylum with a similar open mind – some have and others not – oh well.
RM: Asylum, for my money, delivers at least as much bang for our bucks as any of your other books. But it also delivers a few other kicks that are all its own. What can you tell any reader who may still be on the fence – about what they'll get from this baby that they won't find anywhere else?
CB: I thought long and hard about this one and even bounced it off a friend who had just recently reread the book. In the end, the feedback he gave me made me realize that some reviewers who had really ‘got’ the book had already answered the question for me. Here are some excerpts of what they had to say:
“I knew that there was something more to the story of Dr. Matthew Russell and his family...something that was just beyond my reach, something that I knew was there – ready to pounce – but I just could not put my finger on it.”
"You get the feeling that something's off, almost like there are hints laying around, but it’s not something you can put your finger on..."
"I examined Asylum every-which-way because I love mysteries despite nothing indicating Asylum is a mystery. But there were clues."
"If you like an action packed book, then this book is for you. However, it operates on different levels according to the reader."
RM: Thanks for your time, Claude. And thanks for taking the chance on this book. I promised you ten questions – so please add a last of your own.
CB: Thank you for inviting me for a second round, Reb. As for taking a chance with Asylum, I had a story to tell so I did. Considering there are almost 17K copies out there to date, I really can’t deem it a failure.
And now for a question of my own. I wanted to come up with something different which had never been asked in any interview I’ve done, something deep and revealing which would give readers some personal insight about who I am and what makes me tick so, here it goes:
Question: What are your five favourite cheeses?
Answer: In no particular order, aged cheddar, mozzarella, provolone, parmesan and feta… Damn, I wish I had asked for ten…