July 2, 2014

Author Interview + Giveaway: The Never List by Koethi Zan

I'm incredibly excited to be highlighting THE NEVER LIST by Koethi Zan! The book has just been released in paperback - so grab your copy! Today I'll be sharing an author interview with you along with a chance to win a paperback copy of your own!

The Never List: A Novel
Author: Koethi Zan
Genre: Thriller
Release Date: June 24, 2014 (Paperback)
Publisher: Penguin Books


For years, Sarah Farber and her best friend, Jennifer, kept what they called the Never List: a list of actions to be avoided at all costs, for safety’s sake. But one night, against their best instincts, they accept a cab ride—one with grave, everlasting consequences. For the next three years, they are held captive with two other girls in a dungeon-like cellar by a connoisseur of sadism. Ten years later, Sarah’s abductor is up for parole and she can no longer ignore the twisted letters he sends to her from prison. But when Sarah decides to confront her phobias and reconnect with the other survivors she begins unraveling a mystery more horrifying than even she could have imagined.

A blazingly fast read with eerie similarities to the recent kidnapping case in Cleveland, The Never List is a smart, riveting, and bold pageturner that will leave readers awake all night with the lights on.


This is one scary throat-grabber, about two best friends who make one stupid decision and pay for it for the rest of their lives. As twisted and terrifying as any novel in years.”

A perfect breezy thriller for a hot day at the beach.”
Entertainment Weekly

Thoroughly enjoyable nail biter.”
Wall Street Journal

“This summer’s most breath-stealing thriller.”
“This fast-paced, disturbing thriller boasts a chilling premise as well as a layered first-person narrative full of shocking twists and turns.”
Library Journal

“Zan’s first novel is a haunting depiction of the emotional scars left on women held in captivity.”
Kirkus Reviews

Zan’s debut novel is shocking and disturbing. The intense psychological thriller combines a horrifying plot, well-developed characters, thought-provoking psychoanalysis and some great phrasing. Read it if you dare.”
RT Reviews, 4 ½ stars: Top Pick

1. What made you want to be a writer? Did you always want to be a writer
when you were growing up?

I was raised in a family of scientists in a house that had only one small bookcase. And
unfortunately that bookcase was filled with chemistry and engineering textbooks. When I
was nine, however, I found at the bottom of a drawer my mother’s Norton Anthology of
English Literature, Volumes I and II, from her one required freshman English class. After
that I pretty much survived childhood by reading.

If you’d asked me at twelve, I would have said all I ever wanted to be was a writer, but
I lost my nerve somewhere along the way and opted for a steadier career path. I was
estranged from my parents after high school and ran out of money fast, so it seemed
important at the time to find a secure way to support myself. So I ended up at Yale Law
School, which was a pretty great safety net.

I was drawn to the world of writers, though, so perhaps it was inevitable. I married a
writer and as a lawyer I represented writers. My favourite New Yorker cartoon sums it up:
a little boy in a cowboy costume says to his father, “Well, if I can’t be a cowboy, I’ll be a lawyer for cowboys.” So now I’m finally a cowboy.

2. Where did the inspiration for The Never List come from?

The Never List was inspired in part by the amazing stories of captivity survivors:
Elizabeth Fritzl, Natascha Kampusch, Sabine Dardenne, Jaycee Lee Dugard. These
women have suffered through the absolute worst thing I can imagine and every one of
them has demonstrated incredible strength in the wake of such trauma. My own difficult
life struggles paled in comparison. I was—and am—in awe of them. I wanted to create a
character like that: a woman who was strong in the face of unfathomable horror, but who
needed to confront her past to figure that out.

3. How would you describe your book to someone you’d just met?

I like to say it’s a psychological thriller about girls held captive in a basement crossed
with a trauma recovery memoir—sort of as if the girl in that basement from Silence of the
Lambs ended up hunting down Hannibal Lecter.

4. Do you have a Never List of your own?

I don’t have an actual written list, but I do have a jumble of informal rules that my best
friend and I developed in high school. We didn’t need to write anything down because
we lived by them everyday as we navigated our way through our odd adventures: staying
out all night, going to unsavoury clubs, hanging out with strange characters. I have
written Sarah and Jennifer’s Never List, however, and expect to add to it, hopefully with
suggestions from readers.

5. The relationships between the female characters are crucial to The Never
List --who are your favorite female characters in fiction?

As I thought about this question, it struck me that the first names to come to mind were
all young girls: Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird, Matilda, Pippi Longstocking, Jo from
Little Women, Cassandra from I Capture the Castle, Catherine of the early chapters of
Wuthering Heights. These characters are all smart, tough and insightful individuals who
follow their own way.

It’s telling that so many of the strongest, surest female characters haven’t yet reached
maturity, while some of the adult characters I love are ruined or deeply flawed: Anna
Karenina, Isabel Archer, Lily Bart. Yes, they are more complex and challenging, but in a
way, my true heroes are the girls who haven’t been taught to doubt their strength yet. My
life goal is to get back to that place, and to keep my daughters there.

6. Did you do any research before you began writing your book?

I spent the past ten or so years researching it indirectly. My unofficial hobby—one I
would never put on my resume—was obsessively studying psychopaths, captives, and the
criminal mind.

Also, I took a brief detour from law in the early 2000s to go to graduate school in Cinema
Studies. There I studied Surrealism with the incredible Annette Michelson, who, let’s just
say, has a penchant for the dark side. So in many ways it was as if I was preparing for the
book for years without knowing it.

While writing the book, I did formal research into BDSM, abnormal psychology,
victimological studies, statistical analysis, you know – the usual. My computer got a
lot of viruses, and I saw a lot of disturbing text and images that are etched in my brain

7. Do you feel your own life experience has contributed to the book in any specific ways?

Definitely. Although I have thankfully never experienced what my characters went
through, the broadest themes were drawn from my own emotional life. Sarah, Tracy,
Christine and Adele each have a different response to the traumatic events of their
collective past, and I’ve experienced them all for better or worse: anxiety, anger,
repression, ambition. I’ve worked with a wonderful therapist on and off for a decade –
our relationship is definitely not the model for Sarah and Dr. Simmons—but my own
process helped me understand what it’s like to go back and face a dark past.

Specifics from my own life influenced many of the details of the book as well. My
relationship with my best friend was the model for the friendship between Sarah and
Jennifer. While the story is obviously fiction, the powerful, intense nature of their
friendship is rooted in ours, and their paranoia and obsession with precautions are
magnified versions of our own.

Also, I went to college in Birmingham, Alabama, and my friends and I spent many
weekends in New Orleans, wreaking all manner of havoc. We lived a pretty wild life—
hitting the club scene, dressing up in costume, crashing with strangers. We woke up one
morning to find we were staying with a guy who honestly believed he was a vampire.
That was a bit of a wakeup call.

While I was in college, I also had a brush with a spiritual cult. My roommate and I
went to regular meetings for a couple of months, where we were instructed in a bizarre
cosmology and taught to be ‘present to the moment.’ It was an interesting life experience
that we didn’t take very seriously. Then we reached the level where we were invited
to attend a weekend retreat in honor of a visiting guru from New York City. We had
to scrape the floors of a house we were renovating for the group, do special ‘sacred’
movements to music, and were expected to meditate for hours. I’m not ashamed to say I
feigned illness, got out of there fast, and never went back.

8. Which writers do you enjoy reading?

Mostly I read at either one of two extremes: nineteenth century/early twentieth century
marriage plot novels and dark psychological crime. My favourites aren’t especially
original: Tolstoy, Dickens, Austen, Wharton, Zola, Eliot, and Nabokov. And I always
recommend a couple of books I think are under-appreciated: Samuel Butler’s The Way of
All Flesh
and Lermontov’s A Hero of Our Time.

Some of my favourite crime writers (construed broadly) are Patricia Highsmith, Graham
Greene, Shirley Jackson, Henning Mankell, Ruth Rendell and Dorothy Hughes. I can’t
understand why everyone in the world hasn’t read We Have Always Lived in the Castle
because it is a perfect, perfect book.

9. Where do you like to write – and how?

I wrote The Never List down in a stonewalled basement, which was fitting. I got up at
five a.m. five days a week and wrote for exactly one hour before my kids got up. I gave
myself a minimum of five hundred words to do in that hour (which I later increased to
six hundred), so there was no time for writer’s block or self-doubt. I only knew the broad
strokes of the story, so each day was a new revelation, as I would find out what was
going to happen as I went.

Now I’ve moved to another house, so I don’t have that wonderful basement anymore. In
fact, I have a large, bright sunny office with a beautiful view of the Berkshires, where I
absolutely never, ever work. I end up at the banquette in my kitchen, mostly so I can sit

I’m writing two books now, and I do a thousand words on each a day. On the first draft, I
focus on getting the story down, knowing I will re-write each line a thousand times. For
one of these books I have a relatively detailed outline that I more or less stick to, but for
the other I’m letting it unfold as I go. I like to get my word count done first thing in the
morning, otherwise it hangs over my head. After every five hundred words, I get a ten-
minute internet break, then—provided I’m not traumatized by what I’ve found there—it’s back to work.
When Koethi Zan was born in the sleepy farming town of Opp, Alabama, the “City of Opportunity,” her mother was Valedictorian of the local public high school and her father the star of its football team.  Her parents named her after the homecoming queen of Lurleen B. Wallace Junior College, perhaps hopeful that some of that glory would rub off on her. But Koethi would never be a homecoming queen.  In fact, she spent most of her youth in her room, reading, listening to Morrissey, and avoiding everything connected to high school football—not an easy task in those parts.

After graduation, Koethi put herself through Birmingham-Southern College with scholarships and a small “cow fund” courtesy of Molly, the Charolais heifer she’d received as her third birthday present.  She used the money wisely, travelling to New Orleans on the weekends to hit the club scene, almost always in silver-sequined costume, surrounded by transvestites, Goth kids and her gay male entourage.  Perhaps, in some roundabout way, she had fulfilled her homecoming queen destiny after all.

Then, in what may have been a misguided fit of pique, Koethi threw away her all-black daywear and her thrift-store evening gowns, and went to Yale Law School, with some vague idea of becoming a film producer.  Afterwards, however, she unexpectedly found herself twenty-eight stories up in the Manhattan offices of Davis Polk & Wardwell, a prestigious white shoe law firm that represented mostly investment banks.  She regularly pulled all-nighters working on secured financings and revolving credit facilities.  She tended to wear demure black pantsuits, with her hair up. 

It didn’t take her long to realize corporate life wasn’t for her, and Koethi spent the next fifteen years practicing entertainment law both in private practice (at Paul Weiss Rifkind Wharton & Garrison and, later, Schreck Rose & Dapello) and in-house business and legal affairs positions (for the film producer, Ed Pressman, and, most recently, at MTV), with a slight detour along the way to study cinema at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. 

As an entertainment lawyer, Koethi attended glamorous premieres and openings, international film festivals and celebrity-filled parties.  She dealt with gritty production issues as varied as suicide threats, drug overdoses and sex-tape allegations.  She warred with Hollywood agents and befriended reality stars. 

Then, while Senior Vice President & Deputy General Counsel at MTV, she decided to fulfill a lifelong dream on the side, and in the early mornings she wrote a crime novel, THE NEVER LIST. 

Now, coming full circle in a way, Koethi, her husband, Stephen Metcalf, and their two daughters, live in an old farmhouse in a rural community in upstate New York.  Her husband occasionally watches a football game on television.  But her daughters have never even heard of homecoming queens.

Author Links:
Giveaway: The wonderful people at Penguin Books are allowing me to give away (1) paperback coy of the book! Open to US only!


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