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J.K. Rowling Explores Perils Of Fame In New Robert Galbraith Novel 'Career Of Evil'

Author Robert Galbraith just loves the band Blue Öyster Cult — in fact, lyrics from the band are all over his latest book, Career of Evil, the third novel in the Cormoran Strike series.

"To be honest, it's the guitar hook. I'm a real sucker for guitars," laughs Galbraith — otherwise known as J.K Rowling. "I've had a crush on many, many a guitarist."

A few years ago, Rowling wanted to start writing crime novels, but didn't want people to know it was her, and so she hid behind the name Robert Galbraith. It worked, for a little while. She was outed after the first novel came out in 2013. Which means, among other things, she can now actually do interviews.

She tells NPR's David Greene that it wasn't easy to dig into the subject of her latest book — a serial killer with a penchant for body parts. "This is the first time ever that a book has literally given me nightmares. And it wasn't the writing of the novel that gave me nightmares, it was the research."

Interview Highlights

On researching real-life murderers

I thought it was really important to understand the mindset, because some of the chapters are written from the point of view of a psychopathic killer. So what do those men say about what they feel about what they do? ... What do those men feel is a very interesting question, because I think their capacity to feel is very blunted. So researching all of that was simultaneously fascinating and incredibly disturbing.

J.K. Rowling says researching serial killers for her Robert Galbraith novel <em>Career of Evil</em> gave her nightmares.
/ Mary McCartney
Mary McCartney
J.K. Rowling says researching serial killers for her Robert Galbraith novel Career of Evil gave her nightmares.

On deciding to start over under a pseudonym

I think that Potter was incredible, and I am so grateful for what happened with Harry Potter, and that needs to be said. The relationship I had with those readers, and still have with those readers, is so valuable to me. Having said that, there was a phenomenal amount of pressure that went with being the writer of Harry Potter, and that aspect of publishing those books I do not particularly miss. So you can probably understand the appeal of going away and creating something very different, and just letting it stand or fall on its own merits.

On Cormoran Strike and discussing the oddities of fame

It's at a remove, because he himself, when the series starts, is not famous, but he's the son of a famous man — so he has all of the drawbacks of being associated with fame and none of the advantages. So I look at the effect that an individual's fame has on their family, for example, and the limitations that places upon your life to an extent — of course, it brings marvelous things too, but it brings them mainly to the individual. The people around the famous person often pay a price without reaping many of the rewards. And I find that an interesting area, and obviously, yes, that very much comes from my own experience.

On her relationship to Strike

It would be wrong, wholly wrong, to suggest he's an autobiographical character — he's a disabled veteran, he's a man, obviously. ... However, there are things that I like in him, and that I would like to feel that we share. He has a very strong work ethic. He is a tryer, in all circumstances. And at the point where we meet him in the very first book, he is absolutely on his uppers, in a way that I too have experienced, in that he is as poor as you can be without being homeless.

On keeping her family private

There's going to be debate around this as long as there are writers. Some readers and commentators really want to scrape your insides out to make sense of your work. Others say, there's the work, it speaks for itself. Personally, I fall somewhere in the middle. I think it's difficult to be honest about certain aspects of my work without acknowledging that I have experienced or felt or questioned certain of the themes in the books. But at the same time, I don't feel I owe my readers details of my family's private life, for example. So I'm happy to talk in general themes, but when we get down to specifics about my family, for me that's always been off-limits. Of course, if my kids grow up and they want to write memoirs about what it was like, then that's their right, and they should feel free to do it, and we may yet see J.K. Dearest! But until then, I'm going to protect them.

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NPR Staff