“That was my first novel,” Pessl replied with a laugh.
“Did the Excel spread sheet you used for your first novel come out of your PricewaterhouseCoopers experience?” Mason asked.
“It did,” Pessl laughed. “It was so my boss could like walk by my cubicle and actually think that I’m working. So I had a variety of sort of cloak-and-dagger ways of pretending that I was actually — working as a consultant when in fact I was writing.”
She was just 27 when that first novel, “Special Topics in Calamity Physics,” a mystery about the death of an English professor, sold for a reported $615,000.
“You get a six-figure advance,” Mason noted. “Were you in shock when your agent called you with that number?”
“Always in shock. I’m still in shock,” Pessl replied.
Some publishing industry observers wondered aloud whether Pessl’s looks helped her land the rich deal.
“There was some backlash in the blogs about sort of who is this woman to get this money?” said Mason.
“It was definitely disconcerting. I mean, I think I never thought beyond creating. So, of course, when there’s a backlash it’s hurtful and disquieting,” said Pessl.
But the reviews were glowing. An immediate best seller, “Special Topics” made the New York Times list of the 10 best books of 2006. Now “Night Film” is among the most anticipated novels of the summer. Pessl admits when she started the 600-page book, she wasn’t sure how it would end.
“Ending a book is a bit like landing a 747 for the first time. You just want to get everything down in one piece. But it was very bumpy and no one died and I did make it to the terminal,” she explained. “But there has to be something that drives you mad about the story ’cause what else will drive you to get up everyday and attack this story. So there has to be something that’s eating you up inside.”
“What’s eating you up on this one?” Mason asked.
“The desire to walk through a dark tunnel and find out what was on the other side,” Pessl replied.