Sunday, August 4, 2013

Author Koethi Zan: The Never List And A Giveaway

One of the perks of what I do is discovering new authors and fascinating new books. I’ve found such an author and book in Koethi Zan and her gripping debut, THE NEVER LIST.

This is one of those books that grabs you at the beginning and doesn’t let go until the very end. It will make you think about sleeping with the lights on, that is if you can sleep. Thanks to Koethi and the lovely Jane at Viking/Penguin, I have 2 copies of this tantalizing thriller to giveaway. Please see the end of the post for details.

This is a story that could be tied to today’s headlines. It’s about a woman who, ten years after the incident, is still struggling to cope with major trauma - being held captive in a sadistic man’s basement. When Sarah’s abductor is up for parole, she is forced to revisit her chilling past - only to find a story more disturbing than she ever imagined.

Koethi joins us today to talk about her writing and new novel. She also shares the Spotify play list of songs that inspired her during her writing. You can click on this link to hear them. Koethi’s protagonist, Sarah, is reminiscent of Thomas Harris’ Clarice Starling of Silence of the Lambs—and Koethi herself is proving to be one of the most relentless thriller writers today.

Here’s a brief synopsis of THE NEVER LIST:

    For years, best friends Sarah and Jennifer kept what they called the Never List:  a list of actions to be avoided, for safety’s sake, at all cost.  But one night, against their best instincts, they accept a cab ride with grave, everlasting consequences. For the next three years, they are held captive with two other girls in a dungeon-like cellar by a connoisseur of sadism.
    Ten years later, at thirty-one, Sarah is still struggling to resume a normal life, living as a virtual recluse under a new name, unable to come to grips with the fact that Jennifer didn’t make it out of that cellar. Now, her abductor is up for parole and Sarah can no longer ignore the twisted letters he sends from jail.
    Finally, Sarah decides to confront her phobias and the other survivors — who hold their own deep grudges against her. When she goes on a cross-country chase that takes her into the dark world of BDSM, secret cults, and the arcane study of torture, she begins unraveling a mystery more horrifying than even she could have imagined. Sarah must ultimately move through her own terror to protect and preserve herself—and others.

Koethi joins us now to talk about how she turned to writing.

A little over a year ago, I was a Deputy General Counsel of MTV overseeing the business and legal affairs for series production on shows such as The Hills, The City, Teen Wolf, True Life, Buck Wild, and Catfish. Now, switching gears mid-career, I’m a full-time writer with my first novel, THE NEVER LIST, published in the U.S. on July 16. 

The process of going from professional executive to a creative type has been a strange one. In my eight years at MTV, I dealt with issues as various as suicide threats, stalkers, nudity, plastic surgeries, and sex tape scandals. I negotiated and re-negotiated talent, production company, and rights deals with big-time Hollywood agents. Before that I worked at a boutique law firm, two major law firms, and as head of business affairs for an independent film producer. I went to parties, premieres, openings and festivals and represented writers, directors, actors, and playwrights. From the outside anyway, it seemed pretty glamorous, and in truth it was about as fun as a legal career can be. But last June, after sixteen years as a lawyer, I walked away from it all.

I grew up in a tiny rural Alabama town in a family of scientists. I was the black sheep, obsessed with literature and film, not chemistry compounds and electrical engineering. And I wanted to get out of there, so I worked hard. I was on the student council, the math team, the scholar bowl team, and ended up Valedictorian. But I was also a “Goth kid” who dressed in black, moped in my room, and listened to Morrissey, the Cocteau Twins, and Psychic TV. I stood out in a high school that had a parking lot filled with monster trucks decked out with rebel flags. 

And then I went to college. Estranged from my parents by that time (a whole other story), I supported myself with scholarships and a small “cow fund” from my grandparents. (When I was three they’d given me a Charolais heifer named Molly. Every year, her spring calf would be sold and the funds put into an account for me.) In college, I hung out with the art students and we spent weekends in New Orleans, partying in the gay clubs. I wanted to be a filmmaker or a photographer. But I didn’t quite have the nerve. The cow fund was all used up and I was afraid I could never be financially stable in a creative field. And so I ended up at Yale Law School.

But I had this brilliant idea: I’d be an entertainment lawyer. I’d be close to the creative process. I’d be surrounded by artists. It would be practically the same thing! Ha. It was just like my favorite New Yorker cartoon: a picture of a boy dressed in a cowboy outfit, looking at his father saying, “Well, if I can’t be a cowboy, I’ll be a lawyer for cowboys.”

I didn’t get to start out as even a lawyer for cowboys, though. My first stop was at a major white shoe law firm in Manhattan. I was in the banking group. I worked on secured financings and revolving credit facilities. I spent nights sending out two hundred page documents to eighty banks for a syndicated loan transaction. And I cried in the ladies room almost every day.

coverI made it into entertainment law after a year, and learned that the “lawyer” part of “entertainment lawyer” was definitely first and foremost. But I can’t complain. Over the years I worked with many wonderful people and I have a lot of great stories to tell. Or at least I would have them, if it weren’t for attorney-client privilege.

Then two and a half years ago, I started writing a crime novel. I had never written anything before except some pretty bad high school poetry, but I was a huge reader and I had an idea that was nagging at me based on my long-held obsessions with, and fears of, sado-masochistic dungeons (that’s yet another story). I gave it a try, using the Graham Greene method, more or less. I assigned myself the task of writing five hundred words a day, five days a week, with the caveat that if I finished ten thousand words in any calendar month, I could take the rest of the month off. I kept finishing earlier and earlier each month. 

While writing the book I was working full-time at MTV and renovating a house. I had to wake up at 5 a.m. every morning so I could squeeze in one hour of writing before my kids got up. I believed that if I ever missed my word count requirements, I wouldn’t finish. So I kept going. 

And then somehow the fairy tale came true for me. My husband, a writer, gave my manuscript to his agency. They liked it, gave me comments, I revised it, and then we sent it to publishers. It sold and then there I was with a second career. I still sort of don’t believe it.

Then I had to make a decision. My boss, who was General Counsel of Viacom Media Networks, overseeing MTV, VH1, CMT, Logo, Spike, TV Land and Comedy Central, was leaving the company for another high-powered job, and I was in the running to step into his shoes. It was a major fork in the road. I knew if I pushed for the top job and ended up getting it, my life would change completely. It would be impossible to write a second book under those circumstances. And yes, I could have stayed in the same position, writing books on the side, but this dilemma forced the issue for me. The universe was telling me the time had come to choose: was I a lawyer or a cowboy?

Lawyers, however, aren’t known for taking big risks, and I was scared. Financially, I could justify taking a break from the law, but it meant I would have to make the writing thing work. Would this book be successful? And could I write another one? 

Only time will tell. But I took the plunge. I left MTV last summer and have been writing full-time ever since, finishing the edit for the first book, and starting on the second. Maybe I’ve given up a lifetime of steady paychecks and employer-provided health care, or maybe one day I will go back to it. But for now I’m just happy to be out here on the range.

Koethi, thanks for joining us today. I, for one, am glad you decided to become a cowboy. Nothing wrong with lawyers, but it’s good to have another author that spins tales like you do.

Now let me give you a bit more background on Koethi:

When Koethi Zan was born in the sleepy farming town of Opp, Alabama, the “City of Opportunity,” her mother was Valedictorian of the local public high school and her father the star of its football team. Her parents named her after the homecoming queen of Lurleen B. Wallace Junior College, perhaps hopeful that some of that glory would rub off on her. But Koethi would never be a homecoming queen. In fact, she spent most of her youth in her room, reading, listening to Morrissey, and avoiding everything connected to high school football — not an easy task in those parts.

After graduation, Koethi put herself through Birmingham-Southern College with scholarships and a small “cow fund” courtesy of Molly, the Charolais heifer she’d received as her third birthday present. She used the money wisely, traveling to New Orleans on the weekends to hit the club scene, almost always in silver-sequined costume, surrounded by transvestites, Goth kids and her gay male entourage. Perhaps, in some roundabout way, she had fulfilled her homecoming queen destiny after all.

Then, in what may have been a misguided fit of pique, Koethi threw away her all-black daywear and her thrift-store evening gowns, and went to Yale Law School, with some vague idea of becoming a film producer.  Afterwards, however, she unexpectedly found herself twenty-eight stories up in the Manhattan offices of Davis Polk & Wardwell, a prestigious white shoe law firm that represented mostly investment banks. She regularly pulled all-nighters working on secured financings and revolving credit facilities. She tended to wear demure black pantsuits, with her hair up.

It didn’t take her long to realize corporate life wasn’t for her, and Koethi spent the next fifteen years practicing entertainment law both in private practice (at Paul Weiss Rifkind Wharton & Garrison and, later, Schreck Rose & Dapello) and in-house business and legal affairs positions (for the film producer, Ed Pressman, and, most recently, at MTV), with a slight detour along the way to study cinema at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts.

As an entertainment lawyer, Koethi attended glamorous premieres and openings, international film festivals and celebrity-filled parties. She dealt with gritty production issues as varied as suicide threats, drug overdoses and sex-tape allegations. She warred with Hollywood agents and befriended reality stars. Then, while Senior Vice President & Deputy General Counsel at MTV, she decided to fulfill a lifelong dream on the side, and in the early mornings she wrote a crime novel, THE NEVER LIST.

Now, coming full circle in a way, Koethi, her husband, Stephen Metcalf, and their two daughters, live in an old farmhouse in a rural community in upstate New York. Her husband occasionally watches a football game on television. But her daughters have never even heard of homecoming queens.

For more on Koethi and her writing, you can follow her on Twitter and connect with her on Facebook and her website.

To enter this giveaway, please send me an e-mail ( with the subject line, “Win The Never List.” Your message should include your name and mailing address. The contest is open to residents of the U.S. only and no post office box addresses can be accepted. The deadline to enter this giveaway for a chance to win 1 of 2 copies of THE NEVER LIST is 8 p.m. (EDT) on Monday, Aug. 12.

Here’s what others are saying about THE NEVER LIST:
    “This is one scary throat-grabber, about two best friends who make one stupid decision and pay for it for the rest of their lives. As twisted and terrifying as any novel in years.”Parade    “This fast-paced, disturbing thriller boasts a chilling premise as well as a layered first-person narrative full of shocking twists and turns.”Library Journal
     “Zan’s first novel is a haunting depiction of the emotional scars left on women held in captivity.” — Kirkus Reviews
     “Zan’s debut novel is shocking and disturbing. The intense psychological thriller combines a horrifying plot, well-developed characters, thought-provoking psychoanalysis and some great phrasing. Read it if you dare.”RT Reviews, 4 ½ stars: Top Pick

Thanks for stopping by today. Do you enjoy thrillers that keep you awake at night?


  1. wow. A fascinating woman! A fascinating book!

    Mason, I may not always post, but I'm always here, and am pointing my finger your way whenever my TBR stack topples over. Thank you for this introduction to Ms. Zan and her work.

  2. Mason - Thanks for hosting Koethie.

    Koethie - Thanks for sharing your journey. I give you a lot of credit for having the courage to do what you really want to do. I wish you success.

  3. Such a cool book and a generous offer. Thanks.

  4. You're right this could be out of today's headlines. She has an interesting background and I'm sure will be able to pull lots of stories to incorporate into future books.


I'd love to hear your thoughts on today's post. Thanks for dropping by.