If there was one author you could co-write a novel with (they can be alive or dead) who would you choose and why?
I might say William Goldman. Marathon Man was a big influence on my first novel, and he’s had a part in writing many of my favorite movies going back to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. It’s hard to imagine a better guide on how to tell a great story.
You began your writing career working for The Atlantic, what prompted the change to writing novels? How did it help prepare you for writing fiction?
It's easier to jump when you get a little push. Print journalism has been having a really hard time, and when the economy crashed in 2008 I was let go in a round of cuts at the magazine. It was awful, of course, but it turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to me. I had been working on a novel for many years, and I decided to live off my savings and make a go of writing full-time. I still can’t believe it worked out. Reporting is great practice for writing fiction. Living and working in Washington, I picked up a ton of material about politics, foreign affairs, and high-level intrigue. The discipline of writing professionally and being whittled down by talented editors proved invaluable for writing books.
While writing for The Atlantic the resume of what you reported on was terrorism and gang crime types, why did you decide to write in what would be considered white collar crime? Do you see parallels between terrorism and/or gangs with white collar crime that has yet to be explored in fiction novels?
Interesting question. The white collar crimes were closest to the social and political worlds I knew pretty well, so that was a natural place to start. There is a healthy dose of non-white-collar criminality in the books, too, and that has been a lot of fun to research and learn how to do myself: sneaking into buildings, running a con game, picking locks. I’d love to explore those parallels you mention. Terrorism definitely has those facets—what starts or masquerades as politics or ideology in the end is about greed—that would make for a good theme for a book.
Your debut novel, The 500 would fall into the mystery/thriller genres which can be a hard genre to get a following in as there are many well-known and well followed authors within it. How do you think that your novels differ from other authors within this genre?
I like to think that they have a distinctive voice and humor, and I try to have my heroes react like real people would in these very dangerous situations: they’re not invincible supermen. I still have my reporter habits, and love doing research and adding authentic details to the books. For my book about the Federal Reserve, The Directive, I worked with security experts and even sneaked around the New York Fed. For my next book, I just came back from a training in LA where I was kidnapped and had to escape expert trackers who were hunting me down through the city. It gave me a lot of great insights for book three.
What do you think would be the hardest or most challenging genre to write a novel in and why?
Literary novels. It’s very difficult to make a compelling 350-page book out of fine-grained character observations and quiet epiphanies. I read someone like Tobias Wolff and I think A. This is amazing and B. I could never do this.
There are points within your novel The 500 that seem to ring true in which the few control the many or in this case the 500, how true do you think this is with Corporate America? Did you have to do additional research to make your book have a real feel to it?
I was fortunate with The 500 that I had lived and worked in Washington, DC for many years and seen a lot of that up close. I had friends who worked at the White House, or big lobbying shops, or Congress. One of the main problems in politics is that interest groups that aren’t representative of citizens’ desires wield outsized influence on the political process. If you look at the money in politics, it’s incredible how few people bankroll campaigns and how much time politicians spend begging them for money.
Mike has a very interesting skill set that he developed over the years watching his father and brother work as con-men, why did you think that these skills would be an asset to a lawyer?
The confidence games are really about understanding human nature, so I’m sure that would be valuable to a lawyer. The other, more criminal skills, like picking locks, aren’t helpful in the day to day legal world, but when Mike finds himself in a scrape, they prove to be very handy. Faking IDs, picking locks, stealing cars—it’s been a lot of fun to research the skills Mike picked up in his bad old days. Picking locks has come in handy in real life quite a few times!
You have had the opportunity to take Mike Ford from a stand-alone novel to a series, as an author what makes Mike Ford such a compelling character to write about? What do you think the benefits are between writing a standalone versus a series?
Mike’s life and background brings out some great themes: Sometimes those outside the law have more honor than those who write the laws. Mike lives by the law, but comes from a family of criminals. These ideas tie readily into contemporary political and financial corruption, and I love to explore them. Series are great, because you have this continuing exploration of characters and their relationships. And I like to do standalones, as well, because then your characters can really surprise your readers by revealing secrets about their pasts or their true natures.
I’m deep into my third book now. It’s fast-paced thriller about a special operations team at work inside the US. And I’ll be at Bouchercon in November 2014.
What is one book (other than one of your own) that you think everyone should read?
That’s a tough one. I’m looking at my bookshelves now, and a few leap to mind. How about Catch-22? I haven’t read it in a while but I remember it being by turns hilarious and heartbreaking.
I want to saw thank you once again to Matt for being part of my Blogoversary and I can't wait to get my hands on a copy of The Directive. Matt has very nicely provided a giveaway to go along with his interview so check out and fill out the Rafflecopter information below :)