What do you do to enjoy your free time?
As you probably know, I love skydiving. I always wanted to fly and it's the closest thing to it. Wreck diving is a great passion, particularly when the ships are nearly intact, it's dangerous but thrilling. On land, it's been a summer filled with triathlons. I love to compete, I've been doing mostly Olympic distance but will be doing a half-Iron Man later this month and if I survive that, I plan on doing a full Ironman in 2012.
Looking at the writer's desk on your website, we found nearly everything on your list, but we have two questions: first, is Istanbul a place you'd like to visit? Why? Second, why all the pictures of bugs?
I would love to go to Istanbul; it is one of the main locations of my last novel, The Thieves of Darkness. While it is filled with legendary palaces, mosques, and churches it is also the literal place where east meets west, where you can literally step from Europe into Asia. It had been the center of the world under so many different empires, it was the seat of Byzantium, the eastern Roman Empire, and for over 400 years it was Constantinople from where the Sultans ruled over much of Asia and Africa.
Ah, the bugs. It's a personalized collection of some of the largest in the world, mostly from Asia, with a couple from Africa. They're very inspirational to look at especially when I'm doing character descriptions. I actually have a large collection of weird artifacts from tribal masks and carving, to swords and muskets, to teeth, jaws, bones, and fossils. Needless to say, they are only in my office as my wife won't allow them anywhere else in the house.
Checking out your photographs . . . do you consider yourself a daredevil? What's the scariest thing you've ever done and would you do it again? If yes, why?
I have always been a daredevil. I met Evel Knievel in the mid-70's, he was playing golf, and I got to hang with him for a while. The man was riddled with scars and talked about growing up, risks, and living life to the fullest. I guess he left an impression as I began jumping garbage cans on my Schwinn then mini bike. The scariest thing I ever did was when I was 12 and I jumped off an abandoned train bridge a 75 foot drop into a reservoir. Looking down terrified me, but somehow I reasoned it out, took that first big step and my addiction to adrenalin became full blown. And yes, I did it again, but from 100 feet. I've since gone on to bungee jumping, skydiving, scuba (wreck) diving, rock climbing, downhill racing, luge, pretty much anything that gives a thrill. And point of note: It is always scary, that's what makes it so thrilling. I always tell me kids if you truly want to taste life and get the most out of it, you have to face your fears, don't be foolish, always be prepared, and remember everyone is scared.
I never thought all that fun would ever serve a career, now when I try something new, I just call it research for my next book.
New York Times bestselling author James Rollins said, " This novel left me breathless and awed by the scope and scale of this story," about "The Thieves of Darkness." What's that like to be validated by such a huge talent?
How awesome is that? I'm truly lucky to not only have him read and blurb my novel, The Thieves of Darkness but he wrote a substantial review on Amazon. He is such a great guy and a phenomenal writer, the fact that he took the time out of his busy life to do it meant so much. Beyond his doing that, he is really a great person, genuine, talented, and real. It's nice to see that there are people like him in the world.
When writing "The Thieves of Faith" how much research did it take regarding the Kremlin and the things surrounding it?
So much of the story takes place not only in the Kremlin but below in a vast series of tunnels, caverns, and hidden rooms which were dug nearly 500 years ago. I needed to know every square foot so when Michael St. Pierre was running about it was in my mind's eye. I poured through books and articles but found my greatest source to be through a friend that played in the NHL. His close friend and teammate from the Devils and Red Wings had since returned to Russia and worked in the ministry. He provided me tremendous access to files and knowledge that much of the world had never seen. There were hidden libraries where the riches of Byzantium were stowed, torture chambers of Ivan the Terrible, rivers, escape tunnels, and forgotten prisons. It was the most distracting research I had ever done, but it really paid off in the book.
It's always interesting to hear where characters come from. Where did Michael St. Pierre come from? Is he modeled after someone you know? Perhaps even a bit of yourself?
He is very much modeled after myself, his skill set, the things he does (climbing, Scuba, skydiving, breaking into places J etc.) comes from my experieinces. In addition, and more importantly, his emotions and relationships come from my life. They say write what you know, well I have lived a very full life, I know love, relationships, heartbreak, loss, death, tragedy, triumph, trivia etc. coupled with a strong memory this allows me to make Michael a very three dimensional person, something I do to all of my characters. Of course, I made Michael stronger, a bit taller, faster, and handsome. Why not? I'm his creator.
"The Thieves of Heaven" is supposed to be a major motion picture. Are you worried about it being compared to Angels and Demons since they're both about the Vatican and finding secrets, etc.? What is so different about yours so that no one will ever confuse them?
While there is a theft from the Vatican that takes place over several chapters, The Thieves of Heaven also takes place in Jerusalem, Germany, and NY. Neither I nor the studio worry about it at all. The books are so different on every level. While The Vatican railed against the Angels and Demons novel, The Thieves of Heaven was actually liked by people within the church as it didn't depict the church in an unfair light. This is a major factor as they will allow us to do exteriors on sight. An interesting sidebar: people forget Mission Impossible 3 had pivotal scenes at the Vatican.
"The Thieves of Legend" sounds like a never-ending thrill ride for the reader. What little tidbit can you give us to get us even more excited about its debut?
In a world of balance, in a world of dark and light, where East meets West, a horrific act propels former thief, Michael St. Pierre hurtling into a mystery that began with the death of emperors and admirals upon palaces and ancient vessels five hundred years ago.
Michael and his girlfriend, KC Ryan, are blackmailed by a U.S. Army colonel to travel to opposite ends of China, each responsible for stealing a piece of an ancient puzzle: a book and the compass that will unlock the secret to one of history's greatest mysteries. With their lives depending on each other's success, they face off against the complex underworld of the Chinese triads, a twisted female assassin, and a madman whose only desire is to possess the secret held within the pages of the book, a secret that would give him enormous power and lead to the downfall of nations.
Moving from the glittering casinos of Macau to its dark and dangerous backstreets; from an underground palace at the heart of China's Forbidden City to the medieval castles of Spain; from the seaside mansions on the Amalfi Coast, to an uncharted pacific island where a cache of treasure conceals a long-lost secret, Michael is in a race against time for he has less than five days to uncover a five hundred year old mystery that is the key to saving KC from certain death.
Tell us about your VOOK "Embassy." Is it a novella/video? How does it work?
Actually it's this whole new concept of combining the intimate experience of reading with the visual sensation of sight and sound. A Vook combines the best of parts of a book with video vignettes that illustrate the story in visceral, exciting clips that take reading to a whole new level.
It is not meant to replace books but rather be a different medium to enjoy a story.
I wrote a novella called Embassy and in a partnership between Simon and Schuster and Vook they created an amazing product which you can download on your I-Pad, your computer, etc... that allows you to experience reading in a whole new way. You get to read an exciting new story but on top of the reading you get these little scenes, these small montages that help to illustrate the story, help bring it to life, all the while adding to the overall thrill of the tale.
Embassy is a fast paced thriller that kicks off with a woman being taken hostage in the Greek Embassy in New York City, but as with all of my stories, so much more is going. From high stakes stand-offs to hidden agendas, from magic and mystery to a woman and her children sailing into a disaster, from hidden legends beneath the embassy to ancient artifact shrouded in myth.
Personally, I love the non-fiction Vooks, the instructional ones where you can see things demonstrated. They're great for kids and learning, and enhance books where illustrations can be taken to a whole new level.
If you could interview Michael St. Pierre, what would you like to ask him? What don't you know about him yet?
As so much of Michael being drawn from me, I'm kind of like his all-knowing press agent. I suppose I would want to know what he is planning once he gets back from China. I know the allure of breaking into forbidden places and worlds is so tempting to him and he finds it difficult to resist. I know that Simon has been begging for his help in both London and Prague and that KC has run off to Europe in search of something from her past but he has been wrapped up trying to piece together a mystery from years early, from his first job. A job I have no idea about. So Michael, tell me about your first job.
Tells us about Half-Past Dawn.
My latest novel is a thriller that is a bit different than my other novels. While it combines the suspense and thrills of The 13th Hour (which will be in theater in late 2012) and the rich character's similar to my Thieves characters, it brings in a puzzle element, a deeper mystery element that pulls the reader through the story. Writers have a responsibility to readers to always bring a great ride to the table, a story that holds their interest while being original ensuring they are getting their money's worth.
Jack Keeler wakes up one morning to find his family missing, his face and body riddled with injury, a bullet wound in his shoulder, and most troubling a large intricate tattoo written in a strange language covering his entire left arm. But what sends Jack over the edge is the mistaken newspaper headline that he has been killed. Now, Keeler has only until dawn tomorrow to uncover an ancient mystery hidden in the depths of one of the country's most heavily guarded prisons.
It's a thriller about an Asian people out of legend, an assassin who will stop at nothing to avenge his death sentence, and a diary whose contents may foretell the future, Half-Past Dawn is a race through the boarders of life and death, insanity and reason, and dreams and reality.
I wrote Half-Past Dawn in late 2009 as a personal challenge to see if I could keep myself guessing while creating something new and different. As with all of my stories, it's never going where you think it's going though it does travel upon a break-neck rollercoaster and promises as much fun as The 13th Hour. And it has an ending that will make you think.
1) How do your athletic endeavors influence your writing?
I'm a skydiver, skier, a scuba diver with a love for exploring shipwrecks, a triathlete, and a fan of the more riskier sports that get the adrenaline going. When adrenaline is flowing through your veins, for me at least, my senses are heightened. The colors are richer, the sounds more acute, you can smell the wind and time seems to slow. Action scenes flow the easiest for me as all I have to do is tap into some memory whether it be leaping out the open door of a plane, jumping off a bridge, a two hundred foot crane or being in the bowels of dark ship 90 feet below the surface with a six foot shark between me and the exit. When Michael St. Pierre is running away from danger, when he is facing his fears those are my memories of the experiences from my life. I have very strong image and sense memory and can translate that into my material. The feeling as your falling through the air with nothing to stop you but chute on your back or a rubber band around your ankle is pretty spectacular and applies to so many thrilling moments in my stories.
2.) Your series character is a master thief. What drew you to this type of character? Were you inspired by other thieves in literature, or do you look elsewhere for inspiration?
Eight out of ten thrillers revolve around a cop, an ex-special forces/military type, a private investigator, attorney, or an academic fish out of water. It was important for my main character to be unique. I have always been a fan of the anti-hero whose deeds came about as moral compromise. It makes the character deeper and far more interesting. There are the rules of society, the rules of man, the rules of God but sometimes, to do the right thing, you have to violate those rules, compromise even your own beliefs. It makes for a richer, more conflicted character who has to not only battle outside forces but the moral compass within himself. Michael St. Pierre is a reformed thief forced back into the world he left behind in order to save those he loves. His greatest skills were as a thief and if he is to succeed he must resurrect not only his former skills but his former self all the while facing the risk of prison, death, and, worst of all, if he fails, the loss of those he loves.
3.) As to your educational background, have you taken any formal writing courses, participated in any writers' conferences or workshops?
I came to writing very late in life. I've never taken an actual writing course, instead, my schooling came from the books I loved to read, the movies I liked to watch. I have always had a good sense of story and a grasp for rhythm and pacing much of it coming from my background as a musician. You need to know when to build up tension, when to release it, and when to breath. All three aspects are key to music and key to a taught thriller. I did participate in one writer's group through NYU where eight authors got together and critiqued each other's work. It was a fun experience and helpful to get varying opinions on my material but ultimately time did not allow me to continue.
4.) What did you learn writing The Thieves of Faith?
As much of the story takes place in Moscow and within the Kremlin, I found a place that most of the western world never knew existed. We all have these cold, dark images of the military parading in Red Square and the iron hand of the USSR, but since the fall of Communism, their hidden mysteries have been gradually exposed. We think of the Kremlin as political yet it contains enormous museums rivaling the Louvre, The Vatican, and The Smithsonian. In an odd dichotomy, you'll find the world's highest concentration of churches within the Kremlin walls, a place where religion was forbidden for seventy five years. And most alluring, it sits atop a labyrinthine system of rooms and tunnels that contain Ivan the Terrible's torture chamber, the lost library of Byzantium, and scores of hidden sanctuaries and vaults. The most amazing fact is much of it has been lost to time and though the Russian government has sought to rediscover these historically documented places, they have yet to reveal their actual locations.
5.) How long did it take to write?
My first novel, The Thieves of Heaven, took me about a year, my current novel, The Thieves of Faith, took about nine months and I just finished The Thieves of Darkness in about six months. I should note that this includes re-writes, research and the obligatory sticking it in a draw to ferment period. I generally write, on average, two thousand words a day, everyday. I usually end up with around nine hundred pages which I then whittle back. It's on the second pass that I approach my story like a chess match: twisting it, shifting characters to make it more suspenseful, and lopping off all of the fat so I have a tight, compelling page turner. My process turns a normal day upside down. I have always been a night owl as that's where my creative juices seem to flow best and life is free of distractions. My first novel was written mostly on the train to and from work and then from 11 till 2 in the morning. Now, without the burden of a commute, I write from 10 pm until around 1 am. And I do my research in the more respectable hours of the day. I do an outline including the major plot points, character points, historical facts, and a very specific ending so I know where I am going. But since so much of my writing flows from the ideas that hit my mind as my fingers fly on the keys, the journey veers from the outline as I discover things about the characters and they end up taking me to some great places via a far different route than I initially intended.
6.) How do you do your research?
I love research and find myself overly absorbed in amazing, rarely heard facts. I have to consciously pull myself back and stay focused otherwise the night can become a bust. I'm a voracious reader of science, medicine, and global mysteries. I love researching the history of the world and the little known stories that float beneath the surface. They are all seeds with the potential for great stories. I am a huge fan of libraries. If they don't have the book, they can probably find it for you. I also access a great deal of research papers which are generally available through colleges and universities. For example, one Ivy League school had a thesis on the Parisian catacombs while MIT had a great paper on lock picking. A good resource that I avail myself of is the consulate system. Once someone within a consulate hears you are writing a book about their country, they are usually happy to put you in touch with their experts and provide you access to various resources. I do find it interesting in this Google reliant world that while you can find some interesting facts buried in the internet, so much of it can prove to be wrong. The word expert is used far too loosely; now, anyone with a PC can proclaim themselves an authority postulating theory's and sighting fictional facts. There should be a warning sign on all internet home pages to students and writers, "Beware, the facts contained within may have no bearing on reality. "
7.) Where did you get the ideas for your novels?
My inspiration comes from all around. I love when we see humanity at its best: the seldom told individual tales of heroism in the war(s) by people who love this country; the firefighter who runs into a burning building to save a child; the man who dives on the subway tracks pulling a little girl to safety under the train platform as the train races by inches from their heads. I love reading about the lost worlds that exist under our noses, the artifacts whose mythic tales have grown legendary, the conflicts that exist when both sides believe with all their heart that God is on their side. My greatest inspiration though is the love for my wife and how far I would go to protect her, it is what helps me to fill my stories with heart, it is what I draw on to give my characters their emotional weight.
As to the plots, I love to find a compelling quest one where the object in question ties thematically to the emotional journey of my characters. I choose world where I know next to nothing so the research is fresh and interesting, worlds that I would like to go and take my readers along with me.
I actually have a file that I call My Everyday New Story File. I force myself to write the basic outline of a new story everyday. I find it very easy to come up with new topics daily; the only problem is I have outlines for hundreds of stories some of which will sadly never see the light of day unless I discover the elixer of life and live to be 500.
8.) When you create a character, how much of that character comes from your personal experience? Are your characters just an extension of your own life and are their experiences from your own life, or are they completely fictional?
Much of the emotional journey of my characters is drawn from personal experience such as the love for my wife, my children, my father, but the action, particularly the crimes, are pure fiction. I do draw upon situations in my youth. I was not a true delinquent but with my brother, cousins, and friends I was involved in some mischief where we usually ended up on the run with hearts pounding and nervous laughter pouring from our mouths. Without going into detail, many of those experiences are hinted at and greatly embellished in my stories. So when you read about Michael St. Pierre climbing up a building, or sneaking into some place he shouldn't be you could probably tie it back to my childhood in one way, shape, or form.
9.) Who are the writers whose work you most admire, and who perhaps have influenced your writing?
I love Ian Fleming, Charles Dickens, William Goldman, Stephen King, Clive Cussler, Robert Ludlam, Steve Berry, and Alistair MacLean. I love screenplays, you can read them quickly, the prose, by virtue of the genre, is tight, the dialogue flows and you can get a full three act story read in less than an hour. I love William Goldman who can convey so much with so few words. I also love Frank Darabont, his adaptations of Stephen King are some of the best reads out there.