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Interview: When AJ Finn aka Daniel Mallory Revealed Why Journalists Make Him Uncomfortable

Interview: When AJ Finn aka Daniel Mallory Revealed Why Journalists Make Him Uncomfortable

A few weeks ago, when Mallory sat down for an interview with on the sidelines of Jaipur Literature Festival in India, one could have hardly imagined that Mallory had spun so many imaginary tales about his life, which seems as fascinating as his book.

A few days back, a shocking investigative piece in The New Yorker about 'a trail of deceptions, and lies' that Daniel Mallory used, to climb up in his career, completely altered the author's public image.

The article said that Mallory, who goes by the pen name AJ Finn and is the author of the number one New York Times bestseller, as well as 2018's bestselling debut novel -- The Woman In The Window -- is a liar, who not only made false claims about having two doctorate degrees but also lied about his mother being dead and fabricated stories about his brain cancer to garner sympathies from his co-workers.

The article by Ian Parker, in fact, read much like Mallory's novel, with an unreliable narrator at the center of it all. Since the publication of the article, Mallory has publically accepted that he may have made people believe that he suffered from a physical ailment, namely cancer because he didn't want them to know about his mental health issues back then.

A few weeks ago, when Mallory sat down for an interview with on the sidelines of Jaipur Literature Festival in India, one could have hardly imagined that Mallory had spun so many imaginary tales about his life, which seems as fascinating as his book.

Mallory though may have been aware of this upcoming article or some other expose that could have maligned his public image because he voluntarily mentioned an unnamed journalist who was 'trying to rummage through his past.'

"One aspect of an author's life that I find really challenging, and I hope that it doesn't make you feel uncomfortable, is interacting with journalists," said Mallory during the interview.

"...Right now, for example, I am dealing with a particularly unpleasant journalist in the US. I say he is particularly unpleasant because I have been on the record speaking about mental health for two and a half years; it is very important to me, and most journalists listen and ask appropriate questions," said the author.

"This particular journalist and there have been a few others, hear that I or someone else has a mental health issue, and he is like, 'Oh! I am going to find out what is wrong with you, and rummage through your past and see what you did. It's a little concerning, especially because you don't remember what all you did when you weren't acting like yourself. So, when someone says to you, I remember, or I have been told that in 2009 you did this, and you are like, 'did I?'. That can be a bit troubling, " Mallory added.

Here are a few more excerpts from Mallory's interview:

There are so many psychological thrillers in the market right now. Were you afraid that your book might get lost in a sea of books based on the same topic?

Absolutely! When my agents pitched the book to the publishers, I was reasonably uncertain that it will not be acquired, simply because, there are so many psychological thrillers on the shelves right now. I don't think that the world needs too many more, but I am very fortunate that editors around the world decided to take a chance on mine.

If you, as a publisher, were to give a piece of advice to you, the author, what would it be?

As a publisher as opposed to as an author, I would advise authors to remain market conscious. Authors should write what they want to write, but presumably, they are writing because they want a readership and to that end, it is a good idea to remain aware of what is selling, what you see in bookstores. So, for example, if an author were to say today, I want to write a romantic comedy about a cannibal [Actually, I would probably read that book (laughs)], as a publisher, I would say, 'okay, I want you to enjoy your writing process, but I just want you to know, that you might not sell it' and as an author, I think I will advise authors to read. I think that's the best preparation for any writing. One must read because it exposes that person to different tricks, techniques, and voices, that can also be instructive and demonstrative of what not to do. So, those are my two pieces of advice.

What is the one thing about being in the publishing industry that you miss the most?

The social stimulation. I am a very introverted person, but I miss my colleagues a lot. I also miss the structure that a job imposes on one's day. I would get to the office little late, but I would still get to the office, and I used to leave the office pretty early, but I would still leave the office. But now my days are either frantically busy, because I am touring or pretty desolate because I am at home. This has changed in recent months, in that I got a puppy, and she has imposed a lot of structure on my life. I have to get up at 7 to feed her and take her out. At 10 am I have to take her to daycare and so on and so forth. She is one of the best things that has ever happened to me.

What is the most difficult thing about being an author?

Storytelling, to my surprise, comes very readily to me and I say that it is a surprise because I have never told a story before. Stringing a sentence together in a way that I hope is interesting, and memorable is tough, that takes time, and effort.

How many drafts did you write for your novel, The Woman In The Window?

One, that is it. I did cheat a little. I wrote the novel in a sequence that comprises of different chapters. I wrote the first chapter, switched into the editor mode, and gave myself some advice and then switched into author mode, and took my excellent advice, and rewrote and done. So, essentially, I was revising and redrafting as I wrote.

Why did you pick the pseudonym AJ Finn?

The idea wasn't to deceive the readership, because every article about me features my stubbly face. My agent, in her submission letters to publishers, noted that the author worked in publishing, and there are about five men in the publishing industry because it is a very female-oriented industry. So, if I had given myself a male pseudonym they would have figured out who I was very quickly. I didn't want to give myself a female pseudonym because that to me is pretty disingenuous, so I chose a gender-neutral pseudonym. And, I kept it because it had already been announced and I didn't want to see my real name everywhere. Another thing that I liked about a gender-neutral synonym is that it doesn't bring with itself any associations.

How did Hitchcock's films influence The Woman In The Window?

What I like about Hitchcock is not only his elegance but also his restraint, which is not a word we typically associate with him because everyone thinks of Psycho, and it's infamous shower scene when they think of Hitchcock. But, Psycho or Vertigo aren't particularly representative of Hitchcock, for most parts - he was optimistic, and again he practised restrained. So many books, and films aim for cheap scares and shock tactics by overwhelming the audience with gore... But Hitchcock's films have taste, in the Woman In The Window too, there is very little explicit violence; I wanted to emulate Hitchcock's understated style in the book."

Any new projects in the pipeline?

I have a second book that is due next march, provided I finish writing.

Are you very involved in film production? How does it feel to see the characters in your head become real?

No, I am not actively involved, although the filmmakers have been incredibly accommodating. They welcomed me onto sets multiple times. I got to meet the cast. It was quite a surreal experience. For me, the strangest moment was not when I saw Amy Adams, although she looks perfect. It was when I heard her rehearse a scene. During the rehearsal, she was on the phone, and she said, 'I am Anna Fox' and I thought, ' I made you. I am your god'... I feel I have told the story I wanted to tell, it is out there in the world, I don't want to see a literal translation of my book on the screen, that would be redundant, I want to see someone else's vision. "