Tuesday, July 05, 2011
Jeff Abbott Talks about ADRENALINE
International best-selling author Jeff Abbott's latest thriller, Adrenaline, became available to U.S. readers last week. Already garnering rave reviews (Starred Review in Publishers Weekly, a Good Morning America Summer Read an Entertainment Weekly Book of the Day, and an Amazon Best Books of July pick), Adrenaline is an absolute page-turner from beginning to end.
First in a new series, Adrenaline introduces CIA agent Sam Capra, a young man who has it all—great beginnings of a new career, a post in Paris, a beautiful wife, and a baby on the way. Suddenly, with just one phone call, he loses everything—everything except his life and the skills he will employ trying to find out what went wrong.
After spending hours on the edge of my seat with Sam in his horrific quest, I spoke with Jeff about Adrenaline, Sam, and Sam's future.
You've always written stand-alone thrillers. How did you decide to let Adrenaline be the beginning of a series? And why did it debut first in Britain?
Two years ago, I switched publishers. I've always wanted to write series and take what I learned about suspense and apply it to series characters. The new publisher didn't have a spot available in the U.S. last year. It came out in Britain in 2010.
Did you plan the arc for the series before beginning to write?
Before I wrote a word, I though about it a lot. I didn't want to write to a market. I wanted to differentiate this from other thrillers. Trust me, it serves readers bests if the author knows what a character is going to be like over different books. I sold the book on a one-page proposal: Sam would be young, ex-CIA, and I knew he would own bars.
Then, I had to decide how he could get this way. How could someone this young be so focused, so comfortable owning businesses. So, I gave him parents who'd worked at relief agencies around the world, a nomadic childhood where he picked up languages, friends, skills (he learned how to pick pockets in China because he was bored). His brother followed in their parents' footsteps, was kidnapped and killed.
I wanted Sam to have the connection, the comfort of having been a spy—but I wanted him not bound by bureaucracy. I wanted him to have baggage but be taken into a world where he would find his own quests. That's why I centered on finding his wife and child. He had a good life, but I had to strip that away.
Your characters are always so well defined readers don't have trouble knowing who is speaking. Do you have a special gift for this?
Anything I do is a result of work, not nature. Alternating first and third person narrators helped. And I tried to make every character very distinct. Because in future books, Sam will be based in different bars in different countries, there will be different characters in each book—but that will also allow me to bring back those characters who resound with readers.
Sam himself has two sides—and we'll see more of both sides as the series goes along. If you can describe a character in one sentence, it feels like you've struck gold when folks react, so it's interesting that some people are already referring to him as Jason Bourne meets Rick Blaine from Casablanca. He owns a bar where interesting things happen, yet he has to fight his way out of situations. Of course, the bars are the ticket to further adventures.
Sam's workouts take running to an extreme level. What exactly is parkour?
It's actually a popular sport in France, and there are runs in London. It's fascinating because you don't have to go to a special place. The city is the arena. The whole point is to make a run using the least amount of distance—not running around a building but through or over it to accomplish the goal. It's both graceful and dangerous. I wanted Sam involved in parkour because it's a good metaphor for going over seemingly impossible obstacles. He's young, green—just starting his life rather than being settled. He's still discovering the person he's going to be. I became interested in the sport when it was featured in Casino Royale and then I saw it live. It's now in programs in schools to help kids develop confidence.
You've chosen great cities as locations in Adrenaline. How familiar were you with them before writing?
I'd been to New York and London often over the years, but I'd never been to Amsterdam. I not only went for research, but my Dutch editor actually told me about some real dives after I asked "what's an awful bar?" I found places so gross I couldn't have made them up—and they still had karaoke!
Fortunately, I already knew what kind of action Sam would be involved in, so it was easy to recognize the place once I saw it.
How far do you think this series can go?
The Brits have already bought books three and four. Three is due in a month. I know what number five will be. Sam is a character who seems to be generating ideas for me. The settings and characters will change and give lots of openness. Ideas are simply frothing up with me. Hopefully I'll keep writing them as long as people want to read them. He's fun to write.
Judging from personal experience, I'd say it's even more to read about him!
I have a copy of Adrenaline for someone who convinces me s/he's interested in burning the midnight oil with this fantastic new thriller. Just email me at mysteryheel @ mac.com and tell me. I'll pick the lucky winner next Tuesday evening, July 12.