In this Amazon.com exclusive, author Jeff Abbott is interviewed by thriller writer Harlan Coben about Adrenaline, characters with dark secrets, and how films influence the writing process.
Harlan Coben: Let's get right to it. You’ve created a new, iconic (or soon-to-be iconic) character in Sam Capra with the plan to turn this into a series: Why?
Jeff Abbott: My last four novels were standalone thrillers, but I had readers asking me every time if the main characters in those books would launch a series. So I decided I wanted to take what I'd learned in writing standalones--interesting (I hope) characters and lots of action and high emotional stakes--and apply it to a series. Sam Capra is a bit different from other suspense series heroes: he's younger (at 26), he's a husband and about-to-be father, and he's an ex-spy who can now operate free of agency rules and find his own dangers and challenges.
Harlan Coben: Did you choose to have Sam own bars just so you could travel the world and call it research? Because if you did, you're an evil genius and I want in.
Jeff Abbott: Well, an ex-spy needs a job, and I thought: what if Sam owned a lot of bars around the world? He could be like a globetrotting Rick Blaine, from Casablanca. I can instantly put Sam anywhere in the world, and I can introduce an interesting new cast in each book--or I can revisit characters and settings from earlier books. Bars are perfect places for lives to collide and intrigue to arise. And bars give us a way to connect personally, face to face, not in the digital way we all seem to find each other now. Unexpectedly cool: my readers sent me over thirty suggestions when I asked them, via my blog, to recommend their favorite London bars, and I visited several of those fine establishments. A hardy band from my British publisher bravely accompanied me on this quest. It's great how everyone volunteers to help me with this kind of research.
Harlan Coben: On the surface, Adrenaline (apt title, by the way) may be an international spy thriller--but what sets it apart, methinks, is that it is really a novel about family. You agree?
Jeff Abbott: You and I have always written about family and the secrets they hold. I know we are both very close to our families, and there was a long stretch in crime fiction where it seemed to be required that the main character be alienated from family. At the beginning of Adrenaline, Sam's seven-months pregnant wife vanishes, and Sam is accused of being a traitor and has to go on the run to find her. All he wants is his family back, and to know the truth about his wife: did she betray him, or was she taken from him? He needs to know if his family is based on love or on a lie. There is no greater emotional dynamite than family.
Harlan Coben: You know I love the partner in series fiction--Sherlock-Watson, Batman-Robin, Spenser-Hawk-- and you gave Sam a very strong one in Mila. She's, um, intense. Can you fill us in?
Jeff Abbott: So often the partner is the best friend to the hero--but Sam knows virtually nothing about Mila except what whisky she drinks and that she can help him find his family. She's tough and smart but she seems very alone in the world. A big part of the series will be finding out about her and her past; I love writing her scenes, for me it's often like a blurred photograph slowly coming into focus.
Harlan Coben: Because I’m always interested in the answer, let’s do the writer's chicken-egg question--which comes first, characters or plot?
Jeff Abbott: Usually for me, it's character, because every decision the characters make drives the plot. But if I think of an interesting situation first, a 'what if' that grabs me, and then can people it with characters I want to know more about, then that's fine, too. I don't think it always has to be one before the other.
Harlan Coben: You and I love to discuss (argue?) movies. We are often asked about literary influences, so let me turn that around a bit. Do films ever influence your writing?
Jeff Abbott: I never imagine the books as films, but I do tend to build the story in three acts, the way most movies are structured. If I get stuck on a book, I like to watch a good movie: a Hitchcock film, or a classic suspense film like Marathon Man or Chinatown. The story can be vastly different from what I'm writing, but just seeing the strong structure underlying the movie's story seems to clear my head and then I'm ready to go back to work.