It was very different from the first book I wrote, which was inspired by 19th-century literature and Dickens. These books scoop pretty deeply into a character's childhood and formative experiences.

One of my challenges was figuring out where to start the story. In a thriller, you want a more compressed period of time. You want the beginning of the book to be close in time to when the action really gets going, without that period being so brief that readers don't feel for the characters. So "The Preservationist" starts when Julia meets Marcus and Sam.

The killing part of the book is to me like a tiny light you might see off to the side. At the start, it's this thing that seems very small and far away. For most of the characters, murder isn't a very big thing in their minds. As the book gets closer to the end, the idea of killing gets bigger and bigger and overtakes them.

Was it difficult to channel a teenage girl's voice?

The way I deal with life is to angle it through a character to get some perspective rather than being confessional. There are some advantages to writing in the voice of someone who is a little bit different from you.

In real life, your face is right against the canvas. Going back and forth between different characters allows you to get some of the distance you can't get in the real world.

When you're a little different from the character, if you share a few traits, it's like having a backyard that's adjacent to someone else's yard. There's a border that you can touch. When you think about how someone else's experience intersects with yours, that common ground is the landscape of fiction.

George Eliot said that the purpose of fiction is to expand sympathy. Books don't save the world, but ideas can make you more human.

You've said previously that you want your writing to be better than you are in real life. What did you mean?

There's an expectation that a literary novel will offer perspective, wisdom, or insight. Life is a mess for everyone, but writing allows you to be thoughtful and put it into a perspective that isn't available at the moment it's happening.

Think of someone like [short-story master] Raymond Carver writing about alcoholism. He'd turn out these beautiful, sharp stories. But, I'm sure if you met him at most parties, he probably was drunk.

[Laughs.] I'm striving when people meet me to be the biggest disappointment possible. I want to present the largest gulf imaginable between my writing and my actual self.

mary.mccauley@baltsun.com

About the book

"The Preservationist" was released Oct. 10 by Pegasus Books. 336 pages, $19.

If you go

Author Justin Kramon will read from "The Preservationist" at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Ivy Bookshop, 6080 Falls Road. Free. Call 410-377-2966 or go to theivybookshop.com.