On Fridays right here, writers talk about their books, their process, where they’ve been, and where they’re going. Today Alex Dolan shares his insight and experience with the launch of THE EUTHANIST, an auspicious debut in which 'he announces himself as a virtuoso of psychological suspense and a rightful heir to masters of the genre like Gillian Flynn and Megan Abbott.'
They know her as Kali, a young woman who helps to end the lives of people with terminal diseases, her reasons her own. She is there to see them off into the afterlife with kindness, with efficiency, and with two needles. She’s been a part of the right-to-die movement for years, an integral member, complicit in the deaths of twenty-seven men and women, all suffering, all dying.
When Kali helps the wrong patient, she is roped into a plot to gain vengeance on behalf of dozens. Her journey will make her question everything she ever thought she knew about herself.
And the last life she ends may be her own.
- You've been busy since THE EUTHANIST came out in June 2015. I managed to catch you on radio and at Book Passage in the Ferry Building in San Francisco. How much promotion have you done since the novel launched and can you share some of the highlights?
As a debut author, I’m grateful that a number of bookstores have been willing to host me. The highlights so far have included Thrillerfest in New York in July, an annual conference run by International Thriller Writers (ITW). During the conference, they staged a sort of “coming out” event where Steve Berry introduced debut authors like me.
I was also excited to join two episodes of The Narrative Breakdown, which is my favorite writing podcast. The hosts are charismatic and thoughtful, and they provide insightful tools for writers who want to hone their craft.
- Can you tell us a little about your characters?
My main character is a death-with-dignity practitioner who goes by the name Kali. Until writing this book, Jack Kavorkian was the face of the movement, so I wanted to create a character that would be his complete opposite. She’s young, physically formidable, and a little coarse.
Because of what she does for a living, she’s an outlaw. So the primary conflict unfolds in the relationship between her and a character named Leland, who represents law enforcement. He’s strong-willed, supremely confident in his abilities, and his personality resembles Kali’s, which makes it easy for them to clash. They’re similar types of people with divergent values. Kali believes in mercy, and Leland believes in revenge.
- What were the most challenging aspects of writing this book?
The book covers some delicate subject matter, and I wanted to approach it with respect. It was challenging to find a balance between telling a compelling story and not feeling exploitative. I hope readers think that I pulled that off.
The research around this book also took an emotional toll. Not to dramatize my role in this, because I just wrote about it, but it was taxing to learn what happens to people during end-of-life decisions. It gave me a stronger sense of my own mortality, and that wasn’t always pleasant.
- What did this book teach you about yourself as a writer?
That I needed help.
Part of my breakthrough in this book was finding an editor to help me during the formative drafts. That editor was, of course, you, Jennifer Skutelsky. And I’ll shamelessly plug your services here.
(If anyone’s reading this and hoping to move toward the next stage of his or her career, I’d highly recommend working with Jenn. She’s one of the best editors I’ve ever met, and a pleasure to work with. Alex, thank you. This book, and your writing, was a revelation, a wonderful project to work on.)
There, my plug is over. But that was seriously one of the major milestones for me as a writer—finding a mentor who could coach me and help me define my weaknesses and improve.
I think there’s a misconception that writing is a completely solitary craft. Like any other creative medium, it helps to collaborate with the right people. From the time I scribbled the concept in a notebook till the time I held the finished copy, I worked with three main editors, and took the book through about 8-10 drafts.
- You get to the end of your life, and there to escort you through the tunnel to the light beyond and show you around is a philosopher / author / artist / scientist / celebrity you've always revered. Who is it, and why him/her?
That’s a good question. It would probably change depending on different stages of my life. For a while it might have been Frank Stella (who’s alive, by the way), because his art inspired me throughout my childhood. I loved how he transformed the space for traditional two-dimensional wall-hanging art into a three-dimensional experience. These days, I might want Patton Oswalt or Hannibal Buress because they could soften the blow. But it would be great to see my father again too.
- Tell us about your other books, past or in the pipeline.
I’m close to an announcement for my second novel, THE EMPRESS. It’s a much different kind of thriller, set in the art world, but it shares a similar tone.
We look forward to good news and more from Alex.
Feel free to connect with him here and find him through the links below.
Alex Dolan is a writer and musician based in California. His first book, THE EUTHANIST, represented by the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency is published through Diversion Books. He is also an executive committee member of the San Francisco Bay Area’s Litquake festival, and a member of the International Thriller Writers Debut Authors Program and Sisters in Crime. He has recorded four music albums, and created The End of the World festivals, which combined philanthropy with artists in music, fashion, film, literature, and the visual arts.
Buy THE EUTHANIST and find out more about Alex at: