Friday, April 6, 2007
His book HIGH CRIMES became a hit movie starrring Ashley Judd and Morgan Freeman.
Welcome to “Up Close & Personal.” For every interview I will be introducing a literary personality discussing his views and insights, as well as upcoming literary events around the world.
Today’s interview is with Joe Finder. He is a thriller writer, journalist, and member of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers.
Joe Finder is arguably one of the world’s most successful thriller genre writers. His most recent novel, Killer Instinct, made the New York Times bestseller list, as did his previous books, Company Man, The Moscow Club and Paranoia, all of which were international best seller’s, as well. Mr. Finder’s earlier novel High Crimes became a hit Hollywood movie starring Morgan Freeman and Ashley Judd. His later novel Zero Hour also has been optioned for film.
Killer Instinct is a masterful and complex story depicting the potential for corrupt opportunists working the corporate system infecting the lives of otherwise good people with their warped ambition. It postulates that even a decent person must still eat or be eaten in the corporate culture to achieve success. It explores the inherent darkness of the corporate world, the lure of success, and its poisonous effect on the individual.
Jason Steadman, a salesman and rising star in a large electronics corporation makes the story real and personal. The reader shares in Jason’s fears and anxiety upon realizing that his success is due in large part to his new friend Kurt, who is working behind the scenes to destroy Jason’s rivals. Like a predator in the shadows, Kurt first employs his ‘take-no-prisoners’ philosophy as a former Special Forces officer to garner Jason’s success. But when Jason’s moral compass gets in the way, he becomes a threat to Kurt’s plan, and a target himself.
Killer Instinct taps into the moral dilemma of those who question the institution of western corporate culture. In a time when the world perceives US unabashed nationalism as closely tied to corporate culture, it resonates with global implications, of which Joe is keenly aware. .
Joe Finder was born in Chicago and moved around the world, spending much of his early childhood in third world countries including Afghanistan and the Philippines. He returned to the States for high school then attended Yale majoring in Russian studies. He graduated summa cum laude, and later was awarded a masters degree from Harvard, where he also served on the faculty.
At the age of twenty-four in 1983 he published his first book, Red Carpet: The Connection Between the Kremlin and America’s Most Powerful Businessman. At the time it was seen as a brazen expose’ of multi-millionaire Dr. Armand Hammer’s, ties to Soviet intelligence during the cold war.
His new book due to come out this year is set in the aerospace industry. In addition to his fiction, Joe has written for Hollywood. Also he has written extensively on espionage and international affairs for a number of publications including Forbes, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The New Republic. Joe Finder is an ardent Boston Red Sox fan, and lives in Boston with his wife and daughter.
E. I. Would you please tell your fans a little about your writing background, and what it took to sell your first book?
Joe: I’d never studied writing — I taught myself. My first book was nonfiction, which tends to be easier to sell if you’re an expert or have done research into something as I had (it was a book about American businessmen and their private connections to Russia). It was much harder to sell my first novel. I gave myself a deadline of three years to sell it, or else I promised myself I’d do something else. So I read a whole lot of thrillers, took notes on how they opened and who their characters were, what I liked about them, what worked best. Then I wrote a draft, which was bad. And I rewrote it, and it was still bad. Then I did another draft, and I sent it to an agent who was a friend of a friend of mine — a big, powerful agent, in fact — and he turned it down. But he was nice about it; he made a lot of suggestions, which I took seriously. I rewrote it, sent it to him again, and he turned it down again. It took me a couple of years to teach myself how to write a good thriller (I’m still learning!), but eventually I found an agent who said he’d take me on if I made some MORE revisions. Which I did — and he sold it in the U.S. And to 30 countries around the world.
E. I. Was your first book written before, or after you landed the book deal? Did you or your agent approach a publisher, or vice versa?
Joe: I assume we’re talking about my first novel, right? I wrote it first. A first-time novelist can never get a book deal unless he or she has a finished manuscript. The hardest part is getting an agent, I think. Then the agent sends it around to publishers, and that can be a long, tough road too.
E. I. Do you let anyone read your manuscript, before you send it to your editor?
Joe: Yes — my brother, who’s a magazine editor, and my agent.
E. I. What line of work were you in, before you committed to writing full time?
Joe: I was teaching writing! In fact, I’d been a freelance writer, had done a bunch of articles, and managed to get a job at Harvard teaching writing (a job I loved, actually, since I really believed that nonfiction writing can be taught, and that it’s important to learn how to write — and I wished I’d had such a class when I was in college). But as soon as I sold my first novel, I quit teaching. I couldn’t do both teaching and writing at the same time — they’re both very creative jobs.
E. I. When your novel “HIGH CRIME” was adapted to film, where you involved in the casting process? Had you considered Ashley Judd and Morgan Freeman for the starring roles in the movie? And did you served as production advisor on film location?
Joe: I had almost nothing to do with it. I sold it, and the producer I sold it to hired the director and was involved in the casting. But I was very happy with the casting, because I had Morgan Freeman in mind when I wrote the Charlie Grimes character, and I thought Ashley was perfect for the Clair role.
E. I. What was your biggest challenge in developing the character, Claire Heller Chapman?
Joe: To make her both tough and tender — that is, both soft and maternal, and also a plausible, hard-charging attorney. Not that women like this don’t exist — my wife is like that, so I had a character model at home — but making the reader root for a character who goes back and forth between vulnerable and being tough is a challenge.
E. I. In your latest book Killer Instinct, Jason Stedman and Kurt Semco seems very realistic. Are these characters base on real people? And has the book been optioned for film yet?
Joe: Jason isn’t based on anyone, really. I met a bunch of sales executives while doing research, and I put bits of them into the Jason character. Kurt Semko is based on the IDEA of a real-life Special Forces officer who came back from war and did scary stuff, and I met a few Special Forces guys who helped me construct that character. My Hollywood agent tells me he’s recently been negotiating with a producer for a movie option, but no one’s told me anything concrete yet.
E I. Would you tell us a little about your editing and revision process, novel development? How long does it take you to write a novel including doing all your research?
Joe: It takes me about a year. Four months to plot and do research, and four months to write. The rest of the time I spend working on revisions with my editor, going over galleys, and doing publicity stuff.
E. I. What has been your favorite question or comment by your fans about all of your high crime suspense books?
Joe: I don’t have any favorite question, but my favorite comment by far is when someone tells me that they stayed up all night finishing one of my books and were late for work. I love knowing that I’ve brought someone that kind of pleasure.
E. I. Mr. Finder, Thank you for contributing to my blog. It has been a pleasure for me to get to know you, and your work a little better. Would you like to end your interview with a writing tip or advice for young aspiring writers?
Joe: Yes. Be stubborn. The most successful writers are not always the most talented ones — they’re the ones who have talent and also persistence, who ignored all the naysayers. That doesn’t mean to ignore helpful criticism: you want to listen to any suggestions that will make your writing stronger. But you can’t let others discourage you.
To learn more about Joseph Finder, please visit him at:
Official Website: http://www.josephfinder.com/
Posted by E. I. Johnson at 12:10 PM