It's a cautious step when you tell a writer you've just met over the phone, no less that you don't like something about his book. But when I tell Paco Ahlgren, the author of Discipline, that his cover, which chops up the title of his novel, bothers me, he responds, "It bothers me, too."
Apparently, though, that's exactly what the publishers were going for.
"It annoys you the way a puzzle does," Ahlgren says.
Not too many authors would willingly accept a cover that was intended to "annoy" potential readers. But then again, Paco Ahlgren's not like many authors.
He lives in Austin, Texas, half of the year, and in Durango the other half. He wrote the first draft of his debut novel, Discipline which clocked in at a whopping 750 pages in just three months. And at the back of this psychological thriller, readers will find a bibliography, unusual for a piece of fiction.
Even more unusual is the actual list: The Tao of Physics, The Futures Games: Who Wins, Who Loses and Why, The Road to Serfdom and The Complete Chess Course are just a few of the more than 50 suggested readings that indicate this isn't just another suspense novel.
The 38-year-old also uses technology in a way not often seen in the fiction arena. His Web site is pretty smooth for a first-time author. He has a YouTube video trailer for the book and a link to a well-visited MySpace page. When he attends booksignings, Ahlgren says he always meets someone who is registered as a "friend" on MySpace.
It was Ahlgren's background in technology as a financial analyst that pushed him to use the Internet as much as possible with the book.
But it wasn't all just about making money, he says: "I want[ed] a way to connect with my audience."
And Ahlgren's been connecting with a lot of people he didn't expect.
"The people we thought wouldn't enjoy [the book] are enjoying it more than anyone else," he says.
Of the 200 e-mail messages Ahlgren receives each day, he says the majority come from women 25 to 40.
Ahlgren says that many of these women really like his troubled main character, Douglas Cole. Douglas is a man who is being hunted and haunted, and, unbeknownst to him, protected, all at the same time. An intriguing guy who plays cello and chess, he swears like a sailor, drinks and does drugs. Oh, and, you know, he has to save not only himself early in the book, he sees a vision of his impending death but the entire world during the course of Ahlgren's novel.
Where did Ahlgren get the inspiration for Douglas? In a revealing twist, the author says many of Douglas' traits came from his own life.
"Douglas and I have had a lot of the same experiences," he says. "We've seen a lot of the same things. A lot of his reactions are mine. I kind of laugh at myself now, just the way Douglas laughs at himself as an older narrator."
Given the context of Douglas' story, one has to hope Ahlgren hasn't seen everything that Douglas has. But, to Ahlgren's credit, if he has, it only makes Discipline, already the intense psychological journey of a disturbed hero, that much more compelling.
Discipline booksigning with Paco Ahlgren
Borders at Chapel Hills Mall, 1710 Briargate Blvd., #209, 266-1600
Sunday, Oct. 21, 2 p.m.
Free; see pacoahlgren.com for more.