Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Interview with Koethi Zan

There were four of us down there for the first thirty-two months and eleven days of our captivity.And then, very suddenly and without warning, there were three. Even though the fourth person hadn't made any noise at all in several months, the room got very quiet when she was gone. For a long time after that, we sat in silence, in the dark, each of us wondering what this meant for her and for us, and which of us would be the next in the box.


For years, best friends Sarah and Jennifer kept what they called the 'Never List': a list of actions to be avoided, for safety's sake, at all costs. But one night, they failed to follow their own rules.


Sarah has spent ten years trying to forget her ordeal. But now the FBI has news that forces her to confront her worst fears.


If she is to uncover the truth about what really happened to Jennifer, Sarah needs to work with the other women who shared her nightmare. But they won't be happy to hear from her. Because down there in the dark, Sarah wasn't just a victim.


Hardcover, 320 pages
Published August 1st 2013 by Harvill Secker (first published April 25th 2013)  

You can check out my review of The Never List here 
About this Author (Taken from Koethi's Goodreads profile page)
 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.
What inspired you to write The Never List? 

I was inspired by the stories of real captivity survivors, such as Elisabeth Fritzl, Natascha Kampusch, Jaycee Lee Dugard, and Elizabeth Smart. I was in awe of their strength and resilience, and wanted to understand how they could survive what was my own worst nightmare. Their stories gave me the idea to write a crime thriller that was also a trauma survivor memoir with a feminist perspective.

There is a lot of darkness in the story. Was it difficult to write any parts in particular?


Certain scenes were very emotional to write. The first time Sarah goes upstairs, for example. I write in an immersive way—so for me, I had to imagine being there, experiencing those things. That made for some very intense writing sessions.

How did you distance yourself and relax after writing a really tough scene?


I didn’t really have time to relax. Because I was writing from 5 am to 6 am, as soon as I finished my writing session, I had to go into parent-mode and get the kids ready for school. And right after that I had to start working full-time as a lawyer for MTV. In a way, it was good that my life was so busy. I had no choice but to compartmentalize the difficult parts.

Do you have a favourite quote(s) from the book that you would like to share with us?


I like the line:

 “It was hitting me now, really for the first time, how being fucked up can turn into a form of narcissism.” I am definitely a believer in the examined life, and working your way through the past, but I also know how it can become obsessive and can dominate your life. You have to deal with hardships and think through it all, but at the same time have to learn that if you wallow in the darkness too much, you can end up shutting out the rest of the world, including people who are there to help you. It’s a hard balance, and to me, speaks to the difficulty and inner conflicts inherent in integrating the recovery process into the rest of life.

All 3 victims have dealt with their dark pasts in very different ways. Why do you think their aftermaths were so different?


Based on my research and relationships in my own life with people who have experienced trauma, I know there are many different ways in which people respond to these situations. In the book, I tried to give enough of the backstories of the characters’ lives so that the reader can understand what would lead each one to deal with their experiences the way they did. Anxiety, anger, and repression are just some of the ways people handle trauma, but they are the ones that seem the most common to me.

Do you think many people out there have a 'Never List' or something similar? 


I certainly know a lot of women who do. Not necessarily any sort of formal list, but a set of rules they follow automatically. And we all have our particular fears. For example, I have a deep fear of parking garages. I will never enter one, ever. Probably because too many scenes from movies and television are set in them, and the camera always ominously tracks from behind.

Describe your typical writing day.


When I was writing The Never List, I had one hour a day to write, from 5 am to 6 am. After that, I had to get the kids to school and go to work. I set myself a minimum word count of 500 a day, five days a week. And I had an incentive plan: if I hit 10,000 words in any calendar month, I could take the rest of the month off. I kept finishing earlier an earlier each month.

Now that I’m writing full-time, I still stick to my early morning writing routine and the word count requirements. I’m conditioned to write in the early mornings now, and I love starting my day with my word count in the bag.

What would you like to write about next? Can you share anything with us? 

I am writing a second book now--not a sequel, but a different stand-alone book. I continue to be interested in the same themes: power, psychological disturbances, dealing with a dark past. My goal is to write a book that builds suspense but also deals with complex issues.

Which books would you most like to have with you if you were stranded on a desert island? 

Pale Fire, because I could read it over and over and find new meaning each time. The complete works of Shakespeare. Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley series. All of Charles Dickens and Jane Austen. War and Peace and Anna Karenina. Ulysses and Remembrance of Things Past, because a desert island would actually force me to make it all the way through them.

I would like to thank Koethi for taking the time to do this interesting interview, I know she is a super busy lady! :)


  1. She does sounds like a super busy lady! It's amazing that she was able to fit in all the writing and research in between everything else. I really couldn't do it myself. :) Great interview!

  2. Great interview! This book sounds so mysterious! I'm really excited to read it now. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Wonderful interview! I think it would be really tough to write a story like this but it's fantastic that the author did plenty of research into this subject.

    And I think Austen's books would be perfect for a desert island!


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