by Betty Dravis
Since world-renowned author Joseph Finder is heading “across the pond” to the UK to participate in the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival and has limited time before leaving, instead of asking him too many questions, let me share a little of his background.
This extremely talented, Boston-based author penned nine best-selling, stand-alone novels: Red Carpet, The Moscow Club, Extraordinary Powers, The Zero Hour, High Crimes, Paranoia, Company Man, Killer Instinct and Power Play (all from 1983 through 2007). High Crimes became a movie starring Ashley Judd and Morgan Freeman.
I’m also pleased to announce new developments in the adaptation of Finder’s book Killer Instinct to film. Film development is a long process, but the project took a major leap forward recently with the announcement that Bruce Beresford would be directing the film for Chockstone Pictures and De Fina Productions. Beresford will also work on a revised screenplay with David Murray, who wrote the original screenplay adaptation. Beresford is best known for winning an Academy Award as director of Driving Miss Daisy.
I regret that I didn’t discover Finder’s outstanding works until the High Crimes movie was released. I quickly grabbed a copy of the book and will be the first to admit I became an instant, die-hard fan, following his career with interest. Since then, I have read and reviewed many of his subsequent novels, including Vanished (2010) and am in the process of reviewing Buried Secrets (2011).
Those two novels are the first of a thriller series that Finder plans to write for a very long time. His new hero is the popular, dashing Nick Heller, a private spy who is as handsome as he is clever and exciting. In fact, Heller has been described by many as “the James Bond for this generation.” And since Finder writes about CEOs and businesses, he’s often called “The CEO of Suspense.”
This popular author is also a founding member of the International Thriller Writers Association and has won so many awards there isn’t room to list them all. If you’d like to learn more about thrillers and Finder’s writing style, check his recent interview with Artful Hatter at http://artfulhatter.com/2011/07/06/artful-interview-joseph-finder-the-art-of-the-thrill/
Betty Dravis: I think that’s a pretty fair introduction to your works, Joe, but now it’s my pleasure to welcome you to Dames of Dialogue. Since I’m a long-time fan, I’m honored that you granted this email interview, especially since I caught you at one of your busiest times.
The logical place to begin is with your childhood. This is not a highly original question, but pertains to something that readers always want to know about their favorite authors: When did you decide to become a writer? And do you remember the first thing you ever wrote?
Joseph Finder: I have to give credit to Eleanor Cameron, author of The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet and other books for children. I read those books as a kid and loved them so much that I wrote to Miss Cameron–and to my amazement and delight, she wrote me back. We corresponded for several years. She was tremendously kind to me, and her letters were my first real understanding that books came from real people who wrote them. From there came the idea that maybe I could write books, too. . . I can’t remember the first thing I wrote, but I can tell you that I originally wanted to be a cartoonist, so I drew a lot more than I wrote. Those dreams died during my freshman year of college when I got a D in drawing. A D! (laughs)
I started reading the great thrillers and espionage novels as a teenager–Ian Fleming, Eric Ambler, then Robert Ludlum–but rather than wanting to be a writer, I wanted to be a spy. I was recruited to the CIA after school, but to my dismay, I found the life of an intelligence analyst was very different from James Bond’s. A career in a cubicle reading crop reports wasn’t what I had in mind. (laughs) So I taught for several years, wrote a nonfiction book and gave myself a certain amount of time to write and sell a novel. I barely made my self-imposed deadline, selling The Moscow Club not quite three years after I’d started it.
Betty Dravis: That’s fantastic, Joe. You were lucky to meet your deadline. I tried for eight years to get a New York publisher or a good agent. That was in the days when they wouldn’t accept multiple submissions, so I had to wait at least three months to get the dreaded rejection slip before submitting to another. Thus, in eight years, I could only submit it thirty-two times. I have no idea where I got that patience, but what kept me going was that every editor, including Random House, said I had talent (one even said “enormous talent”)…followed by the inevitable BUT we can’t take you on right now. Ouch! That’s when I went to small Indies. I’ve had two good publishers and one bad one, but… Well, that’s my story and my readers are here to read yours. (laughs)
I’m delighted that you met your deadline, Joe, because the literary world is much richer because of you and your writing. And I’m not surprised to learn you were with the CIA for a time because I had read that in your biography. That helps understand why your plots are so exciting and realistic.
Joseph Finder: It would be more accurate, Betty, to say they recruited me; I was not an agent. But thanks for noticing the research. I spend a lot of time on it, and it’s important to me to get the details right.
Betty Dravis: That accuracy is evident in your work, Joe, because your scenes are so realistic that when I read them I feel like I’m there and the action is happening all around me… So real… So frightening…
I understand that you just ended a book tour for your latest thriller Buried Secrets, but before running off to the UK, please share how it came about that you allowed yourself to be buried alive in order to make your book more realistic? That scares me to death just thinking about it. In fact thinking about the poor girl in the casket is what made the book so gripping to me. I turned those pages faster than I’ve ever turned any, holding my breath until the final outcome. Wow–talk about thrills! (laughs)
Joseph Finder: Well, Betty, I discovered a few years ago that claustrophobia is one of my own fears. So when I had the idea for Buried Secrets–of a young woman held captive underground in a coffin–I felt I couldn’t do that to one of my characters, much less a teen-aged girl, unless I was willing to see what it was like for myself.
It was harder than I expected to find a funeral director who was willing to let me “test drive” a casket (that’s the term of art; funeral directors don’t say “coffin”). It’s not exactly an everyday request, and I can only imagine what some of the people I talked to must have thought. But I found a very nice funeral director, Dennis Sweeney in Quincy, MA, who agreed to lock me into a casket.
The first thing that surprised me was how comfortable it was. That’s a real mattress in the casket; I almost thought I might be able to take a nap. But it didn’t take long before I noticed how stuffy things were getting. I don’t know whether a casket is actually airtight, but I quickly became aware of how little air I had.
Then, to my horror, I realized I hadn’t set up any kind of signal with Dennis to let him know when I was ready to come out. I started knocking on the inside of the lid, but at first they didn’t hear me. Needless to say, I was relieved when they finally opened the lid. I probably only spent about ten minutes locked inside; it felt much longer. I sincerely hope I never have to do that again while I’m alive.
I made a short video about the experience; you can watch it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YXNsL4vG6Xw
Betty Dravis: OMG, Joe… I know that feeling. My brother and I used to “play-fight” on the couch at our childhood home and once he held me down with a pillow over my face. Talk about panic; I panicked big time, and ever since then I’ve been a tad claustrophobic. But you’re much braver than I. In fact, I’m beginning to think Nick Heller is patterned after you. He is everyone’s idea of a great protagonist: smart, handsome and oozing with courage.
But moving on, I’m guessing that you’re currently working on the third Nick Heller book. If so, can you tell us a little bit about it? Just enough to intrigue us, but not enough to give anything away… And the title, if you have one yet…
Joseph Finder: I’m not ready to say much about it yet, except that Nick goes international in this book, and the story involves identity theft. Most people have no real idea of how easy identity theft can be, or how badly it can wreck someone’s life or business.
Betty Dravis: I’m impressed that you’re choosing identity theft as a plot line, Joe, and I know second hand how it wrecks lives. I had a friend whose identity was stolen and he had to work with his creditors, hire an attorney and it took several years for him to regain his own identity. That not only took its toll on his finances but on his health too.
But the third in your Heller series sounds like a high concept story and I can’t wait to go on another exciting adventure with Nick.
At this point I would ordinarily ask about your favorite authors, but since your time is limited today, our readers would much rather know the answer to this: If you could spend an entire day or even a weekend with anyone besides your wife (living or dead) who would you choose and why?
Joseph Finder: That’s a really tough question, Betty, and on any given day you’d get a different answer from me. Robert Ludlum, whom I had the pleasure of knowing, was great company, and I’d love to spend another day with him. I’d also very much like to meet Nabokov, who was so brilliant on so many different topics. But expand it to anyone, living or dead, and I’m paralyzed by choice. Thomas Jefferson? Helen of Troy? No, my wife would probably object to that one. (laughs)
Betty Dravis: I don’t blame her there, Joe. Helen of Troy was an alluring beauty. (laughs)
I’ve seen photos of your office and I would love to write in that atmosphere, but can you also share with us what you generally wear when writing and what a typical working day is like for you? Do you listen to music while writing or do you prefer absolute quiet?
Joseph Finder: Yes, I have an office, and keep more or less regular office hours, although I’m often up very early writing, especially toward the end of a book. Since my office is a few blocks away from where I live, I dress “business casual” to go to work, much as I’d have dressed when I was teaching. Once in a great while I might need a jacket or tie, but not usually.
As for music, yes, absolutely I listen to music, but it all depends on what I’m writing. I find that individual characters often have their own theme songs, and sometimes the book itself will have a particular soundtrack in my head. I listened to a lot of gospel music while I was writing Company Man. For Vanished, Nick Heller’s song was Johnny Cash’s “All I Do is Drive.”
Betty Dravis: Oh, I remember that from Vanished, Joe. In fact, I’ve always enjoyed country/western music and am a fan of Johnny Cash too. In fact, knowing Nick liked Cash, made me relate to him even stronger. Thanks for refreshing my memory about that.
Since you have to pack and do a million other things before leaving, I’m going to cheat a little and ask a question that might entail your giving away more than one secret in one question. I’m not nearly as clever as Nick, but I try hard… (laughs)
Give us three unknown little facts about you. Be creative. This could be a sport you enjoy, your favorite coffee, or even a clever anecdote about how you met your wife (our readers love romance) or what strange critter your child brought home. Well… whatever comes to mind.
Joseph Finder: This is hard, Betty, because I don’t know what people don’t know. I mean, my life isn’t exactly an open book, but I’m not a hoarder of secrets, except in fiction. Let’s see. . . English was not my first language. I spoke Farsi first, because my family was living in Afghanistan while my father taught there. Second, I once had to get out of Russia before the KGB arrested me; I’d been talking to people they didn’t want me to talk to. And third, I got to sing with Ella Fitzgerald once while I was in college, as a member of the Whiffenpoofs at Yale.
Betty Dravis: Wow, that must have been cool, Joe; singing with the great Ella! All three of those are interesting tidbits about you. I find them pretty amusing and I bet now that you’ve mentioned the Whiffenpoofs many of our readers will rush to Google for more about them. It’s been a long time since I’ve heard of them… (laughs)
I have many more questions to ask you, Joe, but I know you’re in a hurry and doing this as a favor to me, so out of consideration for your schedule, I’ll reluctantly end this session, hoping you will return again when you’re back in Boston. I really would love to chat with you about the changes in our industry, especially your feelings on electronic publishing. But I will have to wait.
Before leaving, I hope you don’t mind if I share something that author Lee Child said about your character Nick Heller: “If Jack Reacher met Nick Heller in a dark alley, my money’s on Reacher. But it would be ugly. Or would it? Actually, I think they’d go for a beer together and set the world to rights – because Joseph Finder has given me a terrific new hero to root for. This is an action-packed, full-throttle, buy-it-today-read-it-tonight series that you definitely shouldn’t miss.” —Lee Child, author of the Jack Reacher novels
Wow, Joe, that’s impressive! What a wonderful compliment from an author whose Jack Reacher character is loved by all. That says more for your new series and Nick Heller than I could ever say.
Joseph Finder: I’m glad you found that quote, Betty. Lee is great, and probably the most generous author I know. Nick Heller would be honored to have a beer with Jack Reacher.
Betty Dravis: In my opinion, the time has passed much too swiftly, but I’ll have to say farewell for now, Joe. Please keep us posted on what Nick Heller gets up to and on all your writing. I appreciate your sharing your time with us. Best of luck with Buried Secrets. I’m reviewing it soon, but can tell you now that it’s the most gripping story I’ve read this year. I recommend it unconditionally. Farewell for now and I hope Nick Heller has a long, long run. He’s my new favorite serial character.
I’m not the only one who feels that way. In closing, I’d like to share your first official review of Buried Secrets: “Highly recommended not only for Finder fans but for mystery lovers fascinated with digital surveillance. Crisp, clipped chapters and numerous cliff-hangers propel the action at a breakneck pace. Finder’s outstanding writing and engrossing plot twists embellish a captivating summer read.” – Library Journal
Joseph Finder: Thanks very much, Betty! It’s been a pleasure. Hope to see folks at Bouchercon in St. Louis. Before then, you can find me online at www.josephfinder.com, on Facebook as Joseph Finder, and on Twitter. Happy reading!
ENDNOTE from Betty Dravis: By the time you read this, Joe will be back in the States, preparing for more exciting author events. As you might know, Bouchercon (that he mentioned above) is the biggest event of the crime fiction year. Finder is on the program that will be held this year in St. Louis, September 15-18. In addition to the link Joe supplied, please check the following links to learn more about the fascinating, multi-talented Joseph Finder: