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Author Harlan Coben Is a Social Media Anomaly

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Best-selling author Harlan Coben defies the current marketing logic and says Twitter and Facebook don't really affect his ability to sell books. He uses both both social media platforms (you can find him on Twitter and Facebook), but claims he hasn't seen much change in sales or even in his relationship with his readers because of them. "I question the whole relevance of, for writers especially, of doing Facebook and Twitter. I question if it helps at all or does any good in terms of marketing. It's easy to say that it does, but I haven't noticed it. Yes, you have more contact with people on an individual basis, but it's not face-to-face. That's where readings and appearances come in. I've always had a good rapport with my readers and the why and how of that haven't changed all that much over the years."

Social media has had even less of an impact on the way Coben writes. "There's certainly more contact [between readers and authors] than there was before but .... It hasn't affected the work in any way, shape or form. It hasn't affected my day to day. What I do in terms of writing hasn't really changed much."

Coben's latest thriller, Six Years, has just released a few days ago and it's already getting plenty of rave reviews from both critics and fans. "This may be the strongest reader response that I've ever seen," he says. "The early buzz and the early reviews have been as positive as anything I've ever seen in my career. It's my 24th novel, so I've come to expect some response but it's always gratifying and always nice to have people respond positively. All I can do is write the best book I can and then hope people like it."

Hollywood certainly took notice of the early buzz. A film adaptation of Six Years have been announced by Paramount with Hugh Jackman set to play the lead. Another of Coben's books is also being translated to the big screen. A French-language version of his novel Tell No One was made in 2006. Warner Bros. currently has remake rights; the project includes Ben Affleck as director and Chris Terrio as screen-writer.

A thriller, Six Years follows an ordinary man named Jake. The woman he loves, Natalie, marries someone else and breaks Jake's heart. Six years later, Jake sees an obituary notice for Natalie's husband and decides to attend the funeral (with thoughts of rekindling a relationship with her in the back of his mind). The dead man is the man Natalie married, but his widow isn't Natalie. It's another woman who was married to the man for 20 years. Jake sets out to find out what happened to Natalie and discovers he might be the only one who remembers her.

The genesis for the complicated thriller was a scene of a man watching the woman he loved marry someone else. "I wanted to write a love story, first of all. As well as a thriller. I started with that. I kinda had this idea for a scene with a man going to the wedding of the woman he loved and feeling tremendous heartache. The first line of the book is, 'I sat in the back pew and watched the only woman I'll ever love marry another man.' From there I start asking questions: What's going on here? Why is she marrying that other man? Can I find a way to get them back together? Or will they stay apart? Does he know what's really going on? Is he being fooled? Then the story starts rounding out."

Unlike some fiction writers, Coben doesn't have the plot completely set before he starts writing. "I know the beginning and I know the end. For this book, I knew the heartbreak scene. I knew the next part was him finding an obituary and then going to the husband's funeral. I knew when the wife appeared, it wasn't the woman he loved. No one had any idea where she was, what had happened. And I knew the answer, I knew what was going on. Now what happened in between the beginning and the end, I didn't know. How happy was the ending going to be, I didn't know."

Coben admits it's a rather roundabout way of getting from point A to point B. "I compare it to traveling from my home state of New Jersey to California. I may take Route 80 which is a direct road, but chances are I'll go via the Suez Canal and stop over in Tokyo. I'll eventually end up in California, it's just not a straight line."

Also, unlike some thriller writers, Coben has taken great care to make sure his protagonist is a rather normal, everyday guy and not a super spy or soldier with extra special skills. "I'm hoping that Jake's more of an everyman, that people can relate to him. I have a series of books with a guy named Myron Bolitar; he's a little more of a hero type, but not anything that's unbelievable.. Writing about flawless superheroes isn't particularly interesting to write about.

"In this case, Jake is in completely over his head. He has a few skills, like we all have, and that's what he has to use to get through this. I think that makes for a more exciting read. Hopefully readers want to follow him, want to get lost and confused with him, get heartbroken with him and eventually find an answer."

Harlan Coben appears at 2 p.m. on Sunday, March 24, at Murder by the Book, 2342 Bissonnet. For information, visit the bookstore's website or call 713-524-8597. Free.

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