Ten years after his acclaimed novel Tijuana Straits, author Kem Nunn—whom our columnist credits for the creation of the "Surf Noir" genre—returns with a compelling new psychological thriller, Chance. Set in the foggy Bay Area, the story follows Dr. Eldon Chance, a neuropsychiatrist caught up in an affair with one of his beautiful, fractured patients, Jaclyn. When her husband's jealousy grows to sinister extremes, Dr. Chance finds himself in the middle of some serious danger.
In a 7 questions interview, Nunn explains why San Francisco is the perfect setting for a thriller, how he approaches writing in different formats, what he's working on next and more.
Describe your book in one sentence.
An alluring patient leads a doctor, in the midst of his own rather spectacular decline, into an affair of the heart that quickly becomes a one-way trip down the rabbit hole, where nothing is what it seems.
You show a dark and gritty side of San Francisco in this novel. What inspired you to set a thriller there?
The genesis of the story was there—a friend who happens to be a neuropsychiatrist. And then there was the city itself, the atmosphere of the place. It is, after all, the cool, gray city at the edge of a particularly turbulent sea, with its hills and valleys, its ever-shifting winds and fogs—a useful enough metaphor in a story about secrets and hidden agendas.
What do you love most about Dr. Eldon Chance?
I suppose it is the above-cited “spectacular decline.” Given what I take to be the general condition of the species, this serves, at least for me, to make him a kind of every-man. That he is able to stare all of this in the eye, and then to make it a transformative experience . . . I find that touching.
How does your writing process for a novel differ from your writing process for television?
First and foremost, writing for television is a collaborative experience. Writing a novel is a lonely experience, which is both its blessing and its curse. And then, of course, you have different tools in your bag. Screenplays rise and fall, for the most part, on their dialogue. Novel writing allows for the creation of a narrative voice. It is my preferred mode of expression.
Name one book you think everyone should read.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
There’s a saying among surfers—if you never go, you never know. I would say that applies to life in general, and certainly to the making of art, in whatever medium. Fear of failure can be paralyzing. So take the plunge. As William James said, it’s all about faith or fear. Choose faith.
What are you working on next?
At the moment, I’m writing for the FX series "Sons of Anarchy"—headed into its final season. And of course thinking about the next book, waiting to see which of several ideas will make the requisite case for itself.
Photo by Ulrike Nunn