Q&A: Alex Dahl, Author of THE BOY AT DOOR
Berkley; July 24, 2018
I’m thrilled to welcome Alex Dahl to Crime by the Book today to discuss her totally addictive, genuinely unsettling summer suspense novel THE BOY AT THE DOOR - on sale tomorrow (7/24) from Berkley! I devoured THE BOY AT THE DOOR earlier this spring and have been so excited for its release ever since. CBTB readers will find this one right up their alley: set against a Scandinavian backdrop, THE BOY AT THE DOOR reads more like your favorite psychological thriller than your standard Nordic Noir—but it’s injected with the melancholy and atmosphere of the best Scandinavian crime, too. Fans of Clare Mackintosh and Fiona Barton will absolutely love Dahl’s sharp and engrossing story; readers interested in suspense novels that explore the darker side of motherhood will find much to chew on here as well. In short: I highly recommend THE BOY AT THE DOOR, and am so excited to share my Q&A with author Alex Dahl with you today!
Read on for all the details on THE BOY AT THE DOOR - including a snippet of my review of the book - and, of course, my Q&A with Alex! Many thanks to Alex for taking the time to answer my questions, and to Berkley for facilitating this Q&A.
About THE BOY AT THE DOOR:
Cecilia Wilborg has it all--a loving husband, two beautiful daughters and a gorgeous home in the affluent Norwegian town of Sandefjord. And she works hard to keep it all together. Too hard. Because one mistake from her past could bring it all crashing down around her.
Annika Lucasson lives a dark life with her abusive, drug-dealing boyfriend. She's lost everything one too many times and now she's got one last chance to save herself, thanks to Cecilia. Annika knows her secret--and just how much she's willing to do to make it all go away...
When someone forgets to pick up their little boy at the local pool, Cecilia agrees to take him home, only to find an abandoned, empty house. It's the first step in the unraveling of her meticulously crafted life, as her and Annika's worlds collide...
From CBTB’s Review:
Author Q&A: Alex Dahl
Crime by the Book: First things first - thank you so much for stopping by Crime by the Book to discuss your debut psychological suspense novel, THE BOY AT THE DOOR! Could you tell us a bit about your book?
Alex Dahl: Thank you! The Boy at the Door tells the story of Cecilia Wilborg, a seemingly perfect mother in the peaceful, wealthy Norwegian town of Sandefjord. Her world begins to crack and fall apart when a small, abandoned boy is randomly deposited in her care, unearthing secrets from the past…
CBTB: When did you first come up with the idea for THE BOY AT THE DOOR? Was there one moment when this idea popped into your head, or did it develop over time?
AD: It began on a morning run. You might not think that remarkable, but it was as I neither run nor do mornings.. It was an early autumn day with a crisp breeze and I ran along Sandefjord's picturesque harborfront thinking about the book I was trying to write at the time. I had wanted to try to write something lighter, a kind of suspense-romance, but I am endlessly drawn to the dark stuff and it just wasn't flowing. I thought about how many of the books I'd recently read and enjoyed centered around a disappearance, and that's when I had the idea of a little child just appearing out of the blue, dislodging deep, dark secrets. I ran home and wrote the first chapter in one sitting, which has remained more or less untouched throughout edits and rewrites.
CBTB: Scandinavian crime fiction is my personal favorite crime fiction subgenre - and I absolutely loved how your book blends a Nordic setting with a very modern psychological suspense plotline. Why did you decide to blend these two styles? Was it a conscious decision, or just something that developed naturally?
AD: It developed naturally. I think it was a result of the fact that I'm half-American and half-Norwegian and have had a very international upbringing, living in many different countries and being inspired by very diverse writers. I know Norway and its culture and geography like a native, but I can also observe it like an outsider.
CBTB: Tell us about the part of Norway where your book is set - Sandefjord. Why did you choose to make this picture-perfect town the backdrop to your suspense novel?
AD: I was living in Sandefjord at the time, and it instantly felt like a natural setting for The Boy at the Door. I am not from Sandefjord and grew up in Oslo, but really enjoyed Sandefjord and its beautiful setting. Most of the societal observations and cultural details are drawn more from an Oslo West perspective than from Sandefjord, as that is the world I know, but I found it really fun to imagine the two mixed.
CBTB: The experience of motherhood is put under the microscope in THE BOY AT THE DOOR. What do you most hope readers take away from the way your main character, Cecilia, deals with the expectations and pressures of motherhood?
AD: I definitely wanted The Boy at the Door, and Cecilia Wilborg in particular, to raise questions and invite discussion around the societal demands on women, and especially mothers. Sometimes it seems as though the message sent to women is: You have to have the perfect marriage, the perfect kids, the perfect body, and the perfect career, and you'd better make it all look effortless... I think Scandinavia has come amazingly far in terms of equality in parenthood, however, being expected to have a full-time career as well as children does place women under a lot of pressure.
"Sometimes it seems as though the message sent to women is: You have to have the perfect marriage, the perfect kids, the perfect body, and the perfect career, and you'd better make it all look effortless..." - Alex Dahl
CBTB: Cecilia is such a compelling character. How would you “introduce” her to readers meeting her for the first time? What is it about her that interested you enough to make her the centerpiece of your book?
AD: Cecilia is perhaps best described as a narcissist, but she is also somehow charming. I wanted people to hate her and love her in equal measures. She is entirely ruthless, but justifies her choices with protecting her family and the life she has carved out for herself, which I think a lot of people can identify with. I think it is easier to find some empathy for her if you think of her as she thinks of herself- as 'just another mother trying to keep it together at an astronomical cost.' I think we all work hard to keep it together, and I think many people can relate to the feeling of wanting it to look like we've got it all figured out.
CBTB: Let’s talk about writing routines. Do you have a specific writing schedule or routine that you follow?
AD: Not really, though I tend to write best early in the morning (in spite of definitely not being a morning kind of girl) I think it has to do with your consciousness being more open at that time, almost like being in touch with dreams and a deeper consciousness. I tend to edit relentlessly as I go along, and often re-read a chapter thirty times in a day. When a book starts to take on the shape of a full novel, I tend to work fifteen hour days for a couple of days, combing over the entire book several times- I find it important to stay fully immersed in the story to see the full picture. Interruption is the worst thing in the world!
CBTB: When you’re not writing crime fiction, do you read crime fiction as well? If so, could you share a few books you’ve recently read and loved?
AD: I do read a lot, though generally not when I am working on new material. While I enjoy psychological thrillers, I really want to develop my own niche and voice in the genre and don't want to become influenced by other writers, so I don't tend to read many of them. I recently read Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor and was blown away by it. It was beautiful, meditative, atmospheric- like a poet turned his hand to crime fiction. I also read The Forgetting Time by Sharon Guskin and How Far We Fall by Jane Shemilt- really enjoyed both. My favorite book of all time is Marilynne Robinson's Gilead. I like the sad stuff, and love writing that 'twists the knife in every sentence'.
CBTB: What are you working on next?
AD: I am just finishing up editing my next novel, The Heart Keeper, which tells the story of a woman who becomes dangerously obsessed with the little girl who receives her dead daughter's heart. It's set in Oslo and Paris, and tells the stories of the two mothers, one Norwegian and one American. It was a hard book to write- it gets pretty dark in places, but I really wanted to write a grief novel with the plotline and traction of a thriller. I'm very excited about it, and hope the end-result will be a creepy tear-jerker!
Many thanks to Alex Dahl for answering my questions! THE BOY AT THE DOOR is on sale 7/24/18 from Berkley.
Paperback: 368 pages
Publisher: Berkley (July 24, 2018)
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