"A Story is Always a Search for Meaning"
Judge Liberty Hardy interviews 'Before the Fall' author Noah Hawley
Liberty Hardy, Noah Hawley
Judge Liberty Hardy knows a good suspense novel. When she selected Noah Hawley's latest novel, Before the Fall, about a plane crash and the media circus that later ensues, written by the talented Noah Hawley, we knew we were in for a great read. Liberty interviews author and television producer Noah, below.
What was the first idea in this book that you built from?
A story is always a search for meaning. In this case it was a story I heard about a wealthy family whose two year old daughter was kidnapped. She survived and was recovered, only to be killed in a small plane crash years later. My mind struggled to attach meaning to the facts. What was the point of surviving one tragedy, only to be killed a short time later by another. This was the starting point for me, and Before the Fall, while not a direct adaptation of that story, was informed by it.
How much did the book change from your original idea, if at all? Did you toy with different endings with regards to what happened to the plane?
Mysteries demand solutions, but what made this book challenging was that Scott Burroughs, our hero, wasn't tasked with solving the principal mystery of why his plane crashed. That was the purview of another character, Gus Franklin, the NTSB investigator. The trick became to find an ending to Scott's story that had as much intrigue and emotional power as the book's central mystery. The solution to both the mystery and to this question came to me while writing the book, and once realized was never questioned.
Your portrayal of the media was (unfortunately) extremely accurate. Do you think that people are really that interested in every detail about a celebrity, or is the interest perpetuated by the media?
Once upon a time the main focus of our lives was on our lives, our personal journeys. Within this, we carved out a certain percentage of attention for world events and the lives of strangers. Recently, however, that balance has shifted. The volume of the world has increased, as has our ability to monitor it in real time. This sense that something important is always happening, that we're missing it if we don't check our devices constantly, is becoming a barrier to living. Click-throughs, page views and retweets are a siren song, tempting us to check out on our families, our work, ourselves.
Do you see any of yourself in Scott? Is lack of privacy just something to be expected when you're working in the entertainment industry?
The plus side of being a writer is '” there's only so famous one can become. The work is what matters.
This is your fifth book! Is releasing your fifth book as exciting as your first?
A book release is like a high school graduation. You watch the child you've raised, into whom you've invested years of work and worry. How can you not be excited? Hopeful, filled with pride?
Has how you approach writing a book changed over the years?
I've learned to trust the process, to let the book reveal itself over time. And yet even though a book is a marathon, it is written each day in a sprint. Ideas and inspiration come and I've learned to trust my instincts, to make fast choices without necessarily knowing how the day's work is going to pay off.
You are a screenwriter as well as a novelist. Are there a lot of similarities in your writing process? Do you consider one more difficult than the other?
A story is a story, and yet each medium is different. To write a great film you must be a filmmaker, tell the story with the camera. To write a great novel you must break open your characters and themes and explore them from the inside out. And yet, when a book is written it is done. When a script is finished, the hard work has only just begun.
Did you have to do a lot of research about plane crashes before writing the book? Has writing it changed your feelings about flying?
I did a lot of research both on how private jet companies operate and on the aftermath and investigation of crashes. To my mind, the enduring fascination with plane crashes comes from our lack of control. That said, statistically, flying is still safer than driving. Which is what I tell myself every time I fly.