Robert Swartwood is the USA Today bestselling author of The Serial Killer’s Wife, The Calling, Man of Wax, and several other novels. His work has appeared in The Los Angeles Review, The Daily Beast, ChiZine, Space and Time, Postscripts, and PANK. He created the term “hint fiction” and is the editor of Hint Fiction: An Anthology of Stories in 25 Words or Fewer. He lives with his wife in Pennsylvania.
We recently sat down with Robert to talk about his latest release, The Killing Room, a bone-chilling thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat.
“If you’re craving nonstop action, multiple high-speed chases, all kinds of lethal weapons, and surprise plot twists galore, pay a visit to The Killing Room by Robert Swartwood. And bring your bulletproof vest, just in case.” – Jason Rekulak, author of Hidden Pictures
TFx: Where did you come up with the idea for this book, and what can you tell us about the plot?
Swartwood: From the start, I knew the opening was going to be a man waking up in a hotel room that wasn’t his and finding a dead woman in the bathtub. A pretty standard crime thriller opening, sure, and when Chris Bohjalian’s The Flight Attendant came out back in 2018, I thought: Oh well, I was too late on that one.
Because it happens all the time: writers come up with ideas we think are great and then find out that some of those ideas have already been done in one way or another. Mark Twain even said that there’s no such thing as a new idea (at least according to the internet, and you know how reliable the internet can be). But then I got around to reading Chris's book—and watching the really fun and very different TV series—and realized that besides the opening of someone finding another person dead in a hotel room, my idea was MUCH different, and I felt comfortable moving forward.
I've always loved books that lead you in one direction and then suddenly go in an entirely different direction. Many times with thrillers, you know where the story is going after the first few chapters. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing! I’ve definitely written books like that. But for this one, I wanted the reader to get caught up in what they think they know and then pull the rug right out from under them—so it’s difficult to go into much of the plot without giving away major spoilers.
TFx: What draws you to writing in the thriller genre?
Swartwood: I was in the sixth grade when the first Jurassic Park movie came out, and it forever changed my life. From there, I read every Michael Crichton novel I could get my hands on, and from Michael Crichton I started reading Stephen King, and it was after my first Stephen King novel (the almost 800-page tome that is Insomnia) that I realized that’s what I wanted to do with my life: I wanted to be a writer.
And since I’d begun reading every King novel and story collection I could find, I thought I wanted to be a horror writer. That’s why a lot of my early short stories and novels leaned more toward horror and the supernatural. But despite that, a thriller thread also shone through (tight writing and fast-pacing and twists), so much so that I remember being at a writer friend’s birthday party in New York City and two other close writer friends pulling me aside and asking me what I was doing writing horror.
At the time, I was insulted, though I realized even then they had the best of intentions. Because since I was a huge Stephen King fan, I felt that I had to write horror. But then I embraced the fact that my stuff leaned more crime/thriller, and I never looked back.
TFx: How did you choose the setting(s) and time frame?
Swartwood: The one thing that took a while to settle on before I started this book was where the story should take place. Once more bits and pieces of the overall plot had begun to crystalize in my head, I was split between two settings: Las Vegas or some Caribbean paradise vacation spot—Virgin Islands, St. Barts, Turks and Caicos, etc.
Had I settled on the latter, I’m sure many beats of the story would have stayed the same (especially the first fifty or so pages), but it also would have been a completely different book—because as the story progressed, I was able to take advantage of the setting of Las Vegas, which then directed much of the action and choices the characters made.
TFx: What is the significance of the title?
Swartwood: I love titles that can have more than one meaning, and the title to this book is no exception. Only … it’s difficult to discuss without giving away major spoilers. But my first working title for the book was Blackout, which also had a double meaning. And then the title we shopped the book out to publishers under was Sleeper. Which sort of had a double meaning too. Again, hard to explain without spoiling some of the book’s twists!
Get Robert Swartwood’s latest release, The Killing Room, out now on Amazon
From USA Today bestselling author Robert Swartwood comes another bone-chilling thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat.
While on vacation in Las Vegas, a businessman wakes up in a strange hotel room to find a dead woman in the bathtub.
Panicked, he runs. But before he can get far, a pair of detectives stop him.
Desperate, he tells them that he’s innocent. That there’s no way he killed the woman. That he’ll do anything not to go to prison.
That’s when they offer him a way out. But there is no way out—as the detectives will soon learn. Perfect for fans of Lee Child, Michael Sloan, and Robert Crais, The Killing Room races readers from one revelation to the next at breathtaking speed.
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