Do you tend to outline before you write or come up with the plot as you go?
I am a meticulous outliner. When I studied screenwriting at American Film Institute, we were trained to outline scripts before drafting so we were certain our story was fitting into the three-act structure of American cinema. The logic was that you didn’t want to get stuck with the “what happens next?” question along the way because that could impede your ability to write great scenes. For me, this makes sense for book writing as well. When I am actually composing a passage, I need to be clear about what is happening next so I can concentrate on prose and dialogue. Also, knowing this helps with writing transitions that keep things flowing.
Many of the high profile targets in HOSTILE TAKEOVER are more than just mastermind criminals - they have serious fighting skills. Do you research fighting styles and build some of your characters around their skills? Or do you come up with a character, their crime, and then add a combat skill as you see fit?
The latter. When I incorporate a fighting skill into a character, it is usually when I am composing the fight passage. In my mind, most of the characters in my books should know more than one style. So, I tend to throw in a style based on the scene. For instance, a grappling style (Kung Fu or Jiu Jitsu) often works best in a one-on-one fight or in close quarters, like a small dive bar. More open styles of fighting, like Capoeira or Silat, or even White Eyebrow Kung Fu, might be more apropos with multiple fighters in a larger space. Often times, I just come up with it in the moment, which is a lot more fun than planning!
John is incredibly vulnerable--a new side for his character--when he's with Alice. What inspired this vulnerability in such a volatile character?
In The Intern’s Handbook, John is looking for normalcy and, more importantly, love—even though he might not openly admit that last part. The end of Intern’s was not in my original outline. That’s the one thing that came about after I lived with John and Alice for the time it took me to write the book. The more I wrote, the more I fell in love with their twisted love affair and the more I wanted to delve into it. So, I wrote the ending like I did to show that John’s character arc at the end was defined by a need for love that transcended even his desire to live. That carried over into Hostile Takeover, which had a narrative that is actually driven by their love affair versus having that be secondary to plot. I think we all desire this kind of love on some level, the visceral, animal kind of love that makes us take leave of our senses and give everything to someone else.
If John and Alice were rock bands, which bands would they be?
Great question. John would be Nirvana. He is such a lost soul, like Kurt, and he bleeds honesty all over the place and makes a big beautiful mess. Also, his life is a roller coaster ride of dynamics, dipping down into emotional angst (Dumb), blasting vertically into blind rage (Tourette’s), and plunging into the abyss of nihilistic misery (Negative Creep). Alice is one of those bands whose next moves would be impossible to predict. But she is also a sexy, seductive band that can lure you into her web and then tear you head off and suck out your life juices. For her I would choose Radiohead. Their music is so incredibly addictive yet wildly unpredictable from album to album. They can be heavy and grind you out (Bones), drip honey on your tongue (Subterranean Homesick Alien), or tear your heart out with guilt (Thinking About You) and do it all with perfectly transcendent arrangements.
If you were to assume the role of an assassin right now, what kind of internship would you want to be in to complete your mission?
I would want to be an intern for the Donald Trump presidential campaign. But I wouldn’t want to assassinate him, I would want to assassinate his character by cutting it open and allowing people to see the snot-nosed, primitive alien brat some extraterrestrial race impregnated him with (through tainted Steak Diane) in a fiendish, yet hopelessly misguided, attempt to take over the world.
Why did you write your new book?
I fell hopelessly in love with John Lago and Alice and could not imagine breaking up our literary threesome. Writing Lago Thrillers is so much fun I can’t wait to get back to the typer (Buk reference) and wail like I imagine guitar players wail on their Les Pauls. And I’m going to keep rocking this until the characters tell me “enough already!”
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
My dad used to say, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” He taught me how to suffer well, which sounds awful but it’s actually an excellent skill. We would go hunting for hours in the freezing cold so I had to learn to be patient and just deal with numb feet, sore muscles, and boredom. This helped me to form a strong work ethic and it really takes a lot of hardship for me to even think about complaining, let alone quit. It’s kind of like A Boy Named Sue – he knew he wouldn’t be there for me forever and wanted me to be able to deal with the harshness of the world.
What question do you wish people would ask about your work (that they don’t ask)?
I love it when people ask me about what they see under the surface of the plot. When you read Intern’s and Hostile, the plots are dense and full of action. For some people, it’s easy to get lost in that and miss the deeper character narratives. So, when someone recognizes Hostile Takeover as a love story, and asks about that, I jump for joy because then I feel they can really see who I am in the pages.
What are you favorite kinds of characters to write?
Characters in desperate need of a change in their lives. A character has to have an arc to be interesting – as in, they need to start the story at a certain definable point and end it a changed person in some way. The more profound the change, the better. So, if they are seeking change, that makes the arc more powerful because their motivation is clear throughout the story and you’re reading and wondering if they will make it there of if they will learn they actually wanted something different.
What scares you as a writer, and why?
Bored readers. When I write, I am ALWAYS thinking about readers and what they might like to experience in my books. They are spending good money and taking even more valuable time to read my work and I want them to feel like it was time and money well spent. In that way, I guess I am really motivated to entertain people, just like musicians and filmmakers. I want to immerse readers in a great escape (their escape) for a few hours and hopefully make them happy. I am always terrified someone might read my work and yawn and fall asleep. That would suck.