A short while ago, I was perusing through Netgalley– this awesome site where you get free advanced copies of books in exchange for your opinion. Which in my opinion, is the greatest thing since sliced bread. However, I’m biased because my love for books in unequivocal.
I love all fiction–but within the last year I felt like I’ve read so many Gone Girl-ish type thrillers and I was looking for a change. I wanted something new and original–something different in general. So here I am scrolling my life away when I stumbled upon the cover for Peter Manus’ FICKLE. The cover is minimal-esque yet it caught my attention. The black and red had me thinking that it would be some sort of crime drama with murder and suspense. (I ALWAYS judge books by their cover and I am not usually wrong.) I clicked on over to Goodreads and surprise–it’s been published before and most of the reviews were decent.
FICKLE is told primarily through blog posts and comments–definitely with the times’. I have tried to read a book that was told in a similar fashion, think Where She Went, and had to put it down because I couldn’t make sense of it. This was not that.
FICKLE is the definition of noir. I don’t think the story would be as intriguing if it weren’t told through blogs. Each character (there are a lot of them) has their own voice and personality. The usernames are comical but also practical for each personality. It didn’t feel like I was reading a book. It felt like I was reading a blog that I just couldn’t add my own comments on.
You can read my original review here on Goodreads. This was the review that got the attention of the wonderful people over at Diversion Books, which has republished Peter Manus’ FICKLE. I was fortunate enough to be offered an opportunity for a QA with the author. Please be warned–there are some slight spoilers. But not enough to spoil the whole thing.
Finding Fenix: I noticed that FICKLE was originally published in 2008. Were there changes to the storyline and/or characters during the production of this new edition?
Peter Manus: Yes, I took advantage of Diversion’s incredible offer to put out a second edition and whittled down some elements of the book. In 2008, the kind of clubby blogging that fickel and her blog friends are into was pretty new, and so I had a lot of expository stuff in there to explain the whole phenomenon. So, I weeded and streamlined it. But the essential storyline — girl witnesses train suicide, girl blogs about it with her blog buds, girl attracts cyber-psycho — and the primary characters — l.g.fickel, Mysterious Hottie, Burly Bear, Full Frontal, proudblacktrannie, chinkigirl, etc. — are all intact.
FF: How did the popularity of social media help you decide to tell the story using this device? How do you think this influences the plot?
PM: Social media wasn’t quite as much everywhere when I wrote FICKLE, so my idea was more a case of experimenting with this new, potentially dangerous form of socializing than making a comment about the social media we know now. The format — everything’s written through fickel’s Life Is Pulp blog or Full Frontal’s Existentialism Engorged — is essential to the plot and the whole reading experience. It’s about the freaky world of internet friendship, flirting, stalking, and eventually terrorizing. Without the blog device, it would be a nice retro mystery about why some stranger dropped himself in front of a train at this particular girl’s feet.
FF: How were you able to keep track of so many different personalities and still maintain the flow of the plot?
PM: The bloggies — these are the eight or nine fans of fickel’s blog who chat with her through the wee hours about her increasingly scary situation — essentially wrote themselves. I let them come to the blog in whatever way seemed natural to them. It was a strange experience, to be honest, having these full-fleshed people in this increasingly intense, panicky, obsessive relationship that consists solely of them all typing back and forth in a comment section. But I didn’t really give a thought to the fact that I was channeling all these diverse voices, and maybe that’s why I didn’t have any trouble letting them do their own thing.
FF: Our online personalities tend to differ from our everyday personalities. How would you describe l.g.fickel’s everyday personality?
PM: I mean, that’s really the question about her, right? She’s certainly the ingenue of the plot — this slightly snarky, self-deprecating, booky type who’s bravely trying to play detective and figure out what this Mr. Suicide guy was all about. But we get increasing glimpses of this other girl — tougher, darker, more fierce in what she’s after and what she’s protecting. And then there’s the kinky thing. As those hints come from the blog of a guy who seems to be stalking fickel, they’re not necessarily reliable. The reader gets to feel out where the real woman is amid all the verbal crosscurrents.
FF: The conclusion of FICKLE is a bit ambiguous and is open to interpretation from the reader. What was the purpose behind that? How do you think it affects the story for each reader?
PM: I knew from the start that if I’m writing a book about how internet socializing can screw with people, I had to be true to that. And that meant that the ending had to throw some contradictions at the reader. You don’t know which ending is the real one because when you chase along a story via the internet, you only have other people’s word for it that what’s happening is happening. It’s the ultimate unreliable narrator scenario. That’s part of why I pitched it as a noir, because those old noirs played with the cheating narrator concept a lot. Hey, I just almost wrote that the noirs introduced the unreliable narrator, but I think it was Agatha Christie in MURDER OF ROGER ACKROYD. I understand she got a lot of press, and also flack, for it. I thought she pulled it off kind of brilliantly.
I want to close by thanking you for these questions, which demonstrate that you really got what was different and daring about FICKLE. It’s pretty gratifying for an author, especially with a book like this one! I’ve got another book coming out — FIVE DEAD GUYS AND A GIRL — which Diversion is publishing (with my eternal gratitude!) 5DG&AG is also pretty different — a seemingly placid woman inveigles herself into the lives of five men and has some success in her plot to exterminate them, but a scrappy Boston cop out to prove herself starts honing in on her method. So, a bit less challenging as a concept than FICKLE but still plenty offbeat. I hope you’ll try it when it’s available.
The bottom line is that FICKLE is a must read for anyone who enjoys a good twisty mystery and suspense. You can grab your copy today in stores and online!
A quick shout out to Peter Manus for taking time out of his busy day to answer these questions, and to the publisher Diversion books for this opportunity!
I can’t wait for FIVE GUYS AND A DEAD GIRL to come out!