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John Le Carré Had It Easy
by Russell Andrews, author of Midas (Mysterious Press)
In his heyday as the best and most intelligent thriller writer putting pen to paper (he was writing before it was putting computer key to screen), there was a cold war. And there were well-defined countries with even better defined clashing ideologies. There was international intrigue that had the potential, when explored in fiction, for insight and nuance and character conflict as well as tension and suspense. When the Berlin War fell and then Russia turned into a capitalist society and America became the only true Super Power, we thriller writers were...well...screwed. We had to turn to history or we had to turn away from politics. It was a long dry spell and the genre suffered for it.
One of the nastier elements of writing thrillers for a living is that the worse the world gets the better we like it.
The world's a mess right now - ideologically and politicallyso thriller writers around the globe are happy. One of the things we have to do is come up with a plot that is based in realityif we don't make it seem real, all is lost from a fiction standpointand then twist it into something more. More dangerous. More paranoid. More invasive. More almost anything that will entertain and possibly even instruct.Midas certainly follows this formula.
The idea sprang from two things that absolutely, truly happened. First was that I was lucky enough to be invited into the private Senate chambers of a Senator who was on the Foreign Relations Committee. During our conversation, I said, "Why do you think there are no suicide bombings in America? Why aren't we being attacked in small-scale, disruptive ways?" I expected him to tell me all about a lack of terrorist infrastructure and how impossible it would all be but instead he said, "We don't have any idea. And to be honest, we're all terrified that it's going to happen."
As a person, not what I wanted to hear at all. As a novelist, the adrenalin kicked in and my brain started racing.
The thing a writer has to do is make connections between things, linking events so they build into something that actually makes sensemuch the way a cop has to think when trying to solve a crime. Writers, however, also have to stay one step ahead of their readers and be a little deviousmuch the way a criminal has to think when planning a crime. The second event that got this novel rolling was, I think, my best connection. It is something that happened that was basically unrelated to everything elsebut, in my mind, it caused everything to fall into place. A friend of mine was, several years ago, on a beach in the Hamptons. She turned to her left and there was Salman Rushdie, the writer who was then supposedly hiding out from a worldwide fatwah and being hunted by Muslin Fundamentalists who were looking to kill him. And yet there he was, hiding in plain sight in one of the ritzier locations imaginable. If he could hide there, I thought, anyone could hide there.
The third and final thing that made the wheels roll on this book: After one particular color-coded terrorist warning that turned out to be completely false, someone said to me, "The more afraid we are, the better off the government is. It lets them do whatever they want."
The last thing left to do, as the plot developed, was to do the necessary research. I did plenty of that - into the economics of the oil business, into the political system, into various current political events that eventually were incorporated into the story.
So without spoiling the suspense, I'll tell you that Midas opens with a suicide bombing in the chic Hamptons. My hero, Justin Westwood, begins investigating what appears to be an unrelated event a small place crash in which the pilot is killed. The events, of course, are related. And then my imagination and paranoia kick in and away we go.
Welcome to the mind of a thriller writer, taking advantage of the mess we're all in and, in his own way, trying to figure out how to deal with it.
Copyright © 2005 by Russell Andrews.