Gary Goshgarian

Goshgarian’s Latest Book Gets the Power of Amazon Behind it

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BOSTON — Author Gary Gosgharian, a professor of English literature at Northeastern University, is a prolific writer under the pseudonym Gary Braver. He has released many fiction and non-fiction titles under both names.

His most recent effort, Choose Me, a collaboration with longtime friend and fellow author, Tess Gerritsen, is a New York Times bestseller mystery. (Gerritsen, a physician by training, is the author of the successful Rizzoli and Isles series of detective novels, which have been turned into a long-running TV series on TNT.)

The book (see accompanying review) offers a cautionary tale of forbidden love while being a damned good page turner. It is about a college student in Boston, Taryn Moore, who ends up having an affair with her professor, Jack Dorian, and not too long after initiating the affair, dies under mysterious circumstances. The victim, a brilliant yet troubled young woman, at the time of her death, seemed on the verge of losing everything, including her longtime boyfriend, and thus had decided to pursue her professor as a sort of exercise in confirming her desirability.

“The idea came out of a conversation at a Christmas cocktail party at a bookstore in Needham,” he said, which he and Gerritsen were attending.

“It was the height of the ‘Me Too’ movement. Lots of people were being disgraced — Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer and Charlie Rose — and then Matt Damon had made a statement that sexual impropriety is on a spectrum from an uninvited kiss to rape and he got badly criticized. Tess and I were talking that it would be interesting to write a novel together that looks at both sides of an illicit relationship,” he said.

Finding the right setting was next.

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“I said how about a university setting, an illicit relationship between a professor and a student. That’s an old trope that goes back to Abelard and Heloise in the 12th century but we will put new wine in an old bottle and examine each side of the affair and make legitimate, layered complex characters out of them so we’re not totally condemning or condoning it,” Goshgarian said.

(Abelard was hired by Heloise’s uncle as a tutor in France in 1115. The two started a passionate affair, resulting in the birth of a son. They wed secretly but shortly thereafter, the uncle’s goons attacked and castrated Abelard. The latter decided to become a monk and encouraged his beloved to enter a convent. The two were frequent correspondents and their love letters have been studied and loved by scholars.)

The book, released on July 1, has plenty of four- and five-star reviews on Amazon.

“We got the mighty Amazon machine behind us. Starting June 1, they had a massive campaign behind us,” he said. “We had a quarter million downloads!”

A lot of interest is being generated to bring the book to the small or big screens, he said.

“I think the Jack vs. the Taryn chapters are distinguishable. Taryn is more needy and comes across as more aggressive and determined to get Jack. She is also quite wounded. Jack’s distinction is in his sense of guilt and regret, having crossed the line. I have a tendency to telescope the moment. Tess’s writing is much more incisive and direct. I had Jack think more about things in detail,” he said.

“When we finished the book, we went through it and tried to make it seem seamless, hoping you could still distinguish the voices. Frankie the cop is quite distinct, being a middle-aged mother of twins and more cop-ish,” he explained.

As crazy as the character of Taryn is, she has been drawn with empathy.

“We did not want to make this a ‘Fatal Attraction’ … where she is loony tunes. We wanted to make her flawed and obsessed and to give her a background of having been rejected by men, and used and abused by men. Her father abandoned her, her boyfriend abandons her, and then Jack, they become lovers briefly and then he says ‘I’m out of this and want to go back to my marriage.’”

He added, “I needed her to be a student of his and come up with a course that she would be in, small and intimate and I came up with the idea of Star-crossed Lovers and give it some kind of artistic unity.”

He continued, “There are two tropes in the novel: one is adultery, which is the oldest story ever told,  and the second is a student-professor relationship, which goes back to Abelard and Heloise.”

Goshgarian added that “You can go back to classical literature. Medea is wronged by Jason, Virgil’s Aeneid, Queen Dido abused, loved and abandoned by Aeneid, right up to Gone Girl. She’s like the characters she is reading about.”

Goshgarian stressed that this is strictly a work of fiction and not one of his experiences.

“When I started teaching half a century ago, professors dated students and would socialize with students, some married them and there wasn’t any kind of university rule against that,” he said.

Then Title XI came up, he said, which is an anti-discriminatory rule, including gender, putting an end to “trading sex for grades, and that had been done for many years. If you have an affair with a student, you give that person an A.”

“That has put the kibosh on all the free-wheeling romanticization that was going on,” he explained.

“We really worked to make the characters realistic,” he said. “Most people don’t like Taryn, but you can empathize with her plight. Jack, I wanted to make guilty. I didn’t want to exonerate him and I wanted to make the reader empathize with him.”

As for the police procedural end of things, Goshgarian said, “You can’t let yourself be influenced by cop shows but have to go to the real thing.”

As for designating a murderer, Goshgarian noted, “There are two kinds of unstated rules that writers know about. In the Agatha Christie school, take the person who is the least visible, the least suspicious and is always there, or take the one who is the most suspicious and clear that person and then, oh my God, he or she really did do it!”

Goshgarian and Gerritsen each decided to take a chapter on the characters of their gender to “get a balanced point of view.”

The two sent chapters back and forth for a year and a half, with each contributing suggestions and changes.

“It’s kind of an unusual and fun task to do,” he added.

As for the possibility of a sequel, it does not look good. Goshgarian said that Gerritsen has “several irons in the fire. I would love to do another one with her but it is probably not going to happen.”

 

Other Books in the Works

Goshgarian has been a professor of English at Northeastern for 52 years and will retire in December, to give himself more time to travel and write.

Goshgarian teaches courses in horror fiction, science fiction, modern bestsellers, and fiction writing. In addition, he has taught fiction-writing workshops in the US and Europe.

Asked where his ideas come from, he was not sure, though he noted that he has his antennae out for topics.

“I’m not sure where they come from,” he said. “I can narrow the genre to a mystery or a thriller, a whodunnit kind of thing, which is a puzzle, and thrillers which are driven by dread.”

The ideas can come from anywhere.

“I have a whole file of story ideas,” he said.

He stated that he writes every day. “I am a morning person. I usually get up at 4.30 and I start right in. I break it up by a bike ride. I usually read at night and that sometimes generates ideas,” he added.

“The first step is to constantly read. Read people you would like to grow up and be or emulate and have curiosity about other people, people who are not you, because we all have inner lives and empathizing with someone who isn’t you, gives you a capacity to create characters outside of yourself,” he said.

“Look at another person’s book the way a carpenter looks at a house,” he said. “Get an overall sense of structure,” he said.

“Come up with a 250-word synopsis of your story. It forces you to define the arc of the story and define the change in your character. The character at the end has to be sadder and wiser than at the beginning of the story,” he noted.

He said he often reads Michael Connolly, Chris Bohjalian (“a literary page-turning novelist”), Lisa Unger, Stephen King and Dean Kuntz.

“I think I have been influenced by almost everyone I’ve ever read or taught,” He said. “I don’t have favorite authors but favorite books by those authors.”

Among those he loves is King’s Pet Sematary, which he calls a “masterpiece;” Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge series of short stories “beautifully written;” and Ian McEwen’s The Children Act and Atonement.

He is working on two other books, Served Cold, about a writer who has just finished his third book and he and everyone hope and expect that this will be a big breakout book and be a bestseller. However,  he is shredded by a reviewer from the New York Times and then “he goes after this guy,” Goshgarian said.

“Anyone who’s ever gotten a bad review would like this storyline,” he laughed.

The other one is called Primitive, based on a biking trip he took to Sardinia five years ago. The island sits in the Blue Zone, meaning its citizens routinely make it to age 100.

“They have very old pre-Christian secret rituals and this gets into that. It’s an isolated island in the Aegean and some guy is recruited because he has ‘golden blood.’”

Both are ready to go based on the sales of the previous book.

Goshgarian’s previous novels have been more focused on a medical horror bent.

His first book was Rough Beast about medical progress gone wrong. “When Cathy [his wife] and I moved into this house 40 years ago, she was pregnant with our first son. We went through the house and got rid of all the lead paint, all the asbestos, we had a radon test done. We really scoured this place. The fear you have as a mother is what if something bad gets into your child.”

At the same time, he added, his father-in-law had a company in Woburn when Woburn “was a carcinogenic swamp.”

The ideas gelled into the medical thriller.

“The publisher said give us more of this, a high-concept thriller centered on the family, with some kind of breakthrough science with bad effects,” he said. That “became my most Armenian book,” Gray Matter, featuring Det. Greg Zakarian working on a cold case.

“I’ve always had an Armenian character in my books,” he said.

His other works of fiction include Skin Deep, Flashback and Elixir; he has several textbooks to his credit, including Exploring Language, The Contemporary Reader and What Matters in America.

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