Today, Norm Goldman, Editor of Bookpleasures.com is honored to have as our guest New York Times best selling author, Joseph Finder. Joe is the author of six works of fiction[actually, 8 including KILLER INSTINCT] and two nonfiction books. [actually, one nonfiction book.] In addition, he writes extensively on espionage and international affairs for a wide range of publications, including The New York Times and The Washington Post. Joe’s latest novel, Killer Instinct, will be launched in May 2006.
Good day Joe and thank you for agreeing to participate in our interview.
Thanks for having me, and thanks for helping to spread the word!
When did your passion for writing begin? What keeps you going?
I’m one of those writers who wanted to write ever since he was a kid. Then I grew up and realized I’d have to make a living at it, so in college I decided I’d at least go to grad school and get what my practical-thinking grandfather called “a real job.” But when I got to Harvard and realized that I wasn’t cut out for academia – or for the intelligence business, either — I decided to take a stab at writing. I wrote a nonfiction book that was published when I was 24. It got a lot of attention (and attracted a lot of controversy) but it didn’t make me any money. So I was lucky enough to get a job teaching writing at Harvard while I taught myself how to write a novel. I gave myself a three-year-plan: if I didn’t sell a book within three years, I’d try something else. I made it . . . but just under the wire.
Was there anyone who really influenced you to become a writer?
When I was in third grade I fell in love with a series of boy’s adventure books by a writer named Eleanor Cameron — titles like The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet — and I wrote her a letter. To my shock, she wrote back. We wrote back and forth for years, with me asking all sorts of questions about how she wrote and how she came up with ideas. The breakthrough for me was realizing, at the age of nine, that behind published books is an actual human being who has to think long and hard about the stories we read so quickly. Maybe, I thought, I could do that some day . . . Wouldn’t that be cool . . .
What challenges or obstacles did you encounter while writing Killer Instinct? How did you overcome these challenges?
This book was lots of fun to write. They aren’t all. It also went fairly quickly. But there were plenty of challenges. I had to make the life of a high-tech salesman real, and dramatic, and interesting, and that required interviewing a number of salespeople at length. I had to steer away from the David Mamet “Glengarry Glen Ross” portrait of salesmen — which I loved — and make it less cartoony, less satirical, more real. I also worked a lot on the relationship between Jason and his wife, Kate — this was one of the most important parts of the book, and it had to resonate with the reader. It had to make sense, emotionally and dramatically. I struggled with that a lot — how to make her more ambitious than Jason, yet not unsympathetic. My sense, based on the early readings I’ve gotten, is that it works now.
Did you initially have a difficult time in fleshing out characters in Killer Instinct?
I wouldn’t say I had a difficult time of it, but it’s always the thing I work hardest on — making the characters feel real to me, so that they’ll feel real to the readers.
How did you create Jason Stedman in your book?
It took me a while to “get” Jason before I could start writing. I wanted him to be a regular guy who’s not terribly ambitious, but of course not a loser. Sometimes when I’m having a problem fleshing out my characters I think back to people I’ve known. In Jason’s case, I thought of the sort of guy in high school you might not have noticed — not a jock, not in the cool crowd, not rich — but who always stuck up for the kid other kids make fun of. And then I got him. He’s a good guy who didn’t grow up with all the advantages the other kids did, but he always sticks up for people whom others mock or deride.
Kurt Semko is a real handful. How did you approach writing this character? Did you plan him out or did he evolve as you wrote the book?
Kurt was the most fun to write — a macho, incredibly bright guy who’s also charismatic and winning. I talked to a number of Special Forces officers who’d served in Afghanistan and Iraq to get a sense of the texture of their daily lives, but Kurt wasn’t based on any of them. I did plan him out in advance, but as I wrote, I refined his character, his voice. By the time I finished a draft of the book, I had to go back and tweak some of his lines and descriptions.
Who are your favorite authors, and why do they inspire you?
My favorite writers are always the ones who not only know how to tell a gripping, fast-paced story, but also tell it elegantly. There’s a bunch, but the ones who come right to mind are Nelson DeMille, Ira Levin (“Rosemary’s Baby”), Peter Abraham (“Oblivion, “The Tutor”), Daniel Silva, and Lee Child. These are all elegant writers who write with a spare, elegant style.
But I also love other writers who aren’t anywhere near as polished in their prose, such as Frederick Forsyth and Robert Ludlum. No one else can do the authoritative, documentary-feeling thrillers that Forsyth does. And no one else can suck you in to a basically preposterous story the way Robert Ludlum does. I discovered Ludlum in college, traveling around Europe with my college friends on trains. One by one we’d all disappear into, say, The Matarese Circle or The Bourne Identity, and then swap wih each other. I loved that feeling of just getting lost in a story.
How much real-life do you put into your fiction? Is there much “you” in there?
All my tough, sexy, charismatic heroes — they’re me. Can’t you tell? In reality, I put aspects of myself into all my protagonists, even if they’re very different. More often than not, it’s the emotional/psychological components that come from me or my background. Not the family backgrounds or upbringings. I grew up in a comfortable middle-class family of five kids, both my parents being college professors. Nothing at all like the family lives of Jason Steadman or Adam Cassidy.
What is the biggest reward of life as an author and writer?
The biggest reward has to be getting paid to make up stories. There’s nothing cooler than that. And when my work’s going badly or I’m frustrated, I just remind myself that no one put a gun to my head to force me to be a writer. On the contrary, I’m lucky enough to have this job. It’s tough, requires lots of discipline and lots of self-confidence. But everyone’s job is hard.
The other great reward is running into people who tell me they couldn’t put one of my books down, that they had to stay home from work or whatever. How great to be able to provide entertainment for people like that. What a privilege, ultimately.
Many writers want to be published, but not everyone is cut out for a writer's life. What are some signs that perhaps someone is not cut out to be a writer and should try to do something else for a living?
It’s easy. If they have an “idea” for a book but can’t actually sit down to write the thing, that’s a sure sign that they’re not cut out for the writing life. Being a writer doesn’t mean getting a contract, selling a book. Being a writer means actually wanting to write, most of all.
How do you want the world to remember Joe Finder when you are no longer with us? Although I do hope you are here to stay for a long time!
I’ve never given that a thought. I guess I’m just too busy thinking about the next book.
But now that you pose the question, I guess I’d like to be remembered as someone who wrote popular fiction, mainstream entertainment, that does more than entertain — it also teaches you something, brings you into a new world. I’d like to feel that when you’ve finished reading one of my books you leave it still thinking about something in it, or having learned something you didn’t’ know before.
Is there anything else you wish to add that we have not covered?
Joe: No; great questions.
Thanks once again and good luck with Killer Instinct.
Click Here To Purchase Killer InstinctFrom Amazon After The Rain Author: Joseph FinderISBN: 0312347472Killer Instinct, the 6th work of fiction from Joseph Finder tells a chilling story about a young sales executive trapped in the rat race of the corporate world where to survive you must have the killer instinct.As the novel opens, we find Jason Stedman, who works for an electronics company in Framingham, Ma., conversing on his cellular phone with his wife Kate. Unfortunately, his car runs...
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