Friday, June 4, 2010
Q & A with Steven Gore
We interviewed Steven Gore, author of Final Target...
Q: What makes Graham Gage different from other (unofficial) PIs?
His practice is international, he is understated, he’s married and he is not psychologically burdened. His character is based on the sort of people who succeed in real life investigation. I’m talking about investigators who are hired to investigate and find facts, in contrast to the type who are hired to lean on people and intimidate witnesses.
There is a constant tension as I write between what feels real to me and the expectations of the readers of the genre. The fact is that we write in the context of a genre that was developed before we arrived and unless we write something that readers can recognize as being part of that genre, it won’t resonate with them.
I hope I have found a middle ground.
I have been aiming to develop Gage into a Ross MacDonald-type character, the Lew Archer of his later novels, in which the investigator is the reader’s primary lens on the world. The difference is that MacDonald stays within Archer throughout, while I switch among characters and then slowly close in to a point where Gage is the reader’s point of view in the scene.
Also, too much real world experience makes it impossible for me to write a “tough guy” investigator for a whole book. Tough guy opponents aren’t so hard to write, because you can kill them off along the way—which is pretty much what happens to tough guys—either that or witness protection. A tough guy investigator wouldn’t survive the prologue if you applied to him the real world of laser sights and organized crime. Nobody is that tough.
I know that a reader’s suspension of disbelief is different than a former investigator’s suspension of disbelief, so I can appreciate that readers like to read about tough guys and other writers have the talent for writing them.
Q: How did you come up with the character of Graham Gage?
I spent a good deal of my career doing international cases: securities fraud, arms, sex, and drug trafficking, money laundering, political corruption, smuggling, etc. Following the advice that we write what we know, I came up with Gage.
Q: What's next for you and Gage?
The second in the Gage series, Absolute Risk, will be published in November 2010. Here is what may be the back cover text:
An FBI Agent, disgraced and dead. A Muslim economist, deported from the US and tortured. The world’s largest hedge fund, secreted off-shore. A Federal Reserve Chairman who suspects a dangerous connection among them. And private investigator Graham Gage, to whom he turns to learn the truth. From New York to Boston to Marseilles to Washington DC, Gage races to expose a economic terrorism conspiracy against the United States, his heart burdened and his work complicated by an uprising in western China in which his wife is caught, by an indecisive Acting US President under the influence of a politically powerful, but increasingly delusional evangelical minister, by ruthless and double-dealing Chinese business leaders, and by a PLA general gripping the largest army in the world with one hand, and Gage’s wife in the other.
Underlying each plot turn are questions about the vulnerability of the debt-burdened US economy, the use of mathematical financial models, market manipulation and insider trading, the use of rendition and torture, US corporate complicity in foreign corruption, and America’s commitment to its own values.
The third book, focusing on domestic political and corporate corruption with an offshore angle, will follow.
Q: How much of your work is inspired by your daily life?
It is less a matter of inspiration and more one of Gage knowing how to do certain things as an investigator because I know how to do those things. The characters and plots are entirely fictional.
I put Gage in places where I’ve worked (e.g., Final Target: Ukraine, England, Channel Islands, and Switzerland), to give the reader a sense of what it feel like for a foreigner to practice his profession outside of his home country.
Also, in real life I was hired by law firms on behalf of clients (individuals or companies) with whom I had no personal connection. For the most part, readers want that personal connection between the investigator and the victim or the person in jeopardy in the story and want to see the investigator drawn into the matter because of that connection.
Q: In the last century we've seen new waves of PI writers, first influenced by Hammett, then Chandler, MacDonald, Parker, later Lehane. Who do you think will influence the coming generation and in what way?
I don’t have a clue what readers will want to read in the future. In fact, it is just as likely that they will lose interest in the genre and that private investigator novels will go the way of westerns. There is no way of knowing. This was one of my concerns in making Gage a series private investigator and the reason why I developed a second series character, an ex-cop retired out due to injury.
The second series gives me a chance to work with a character who can have thoughts that Gage wouldn’t have and have inner conflicts that Gage doesn’t have.
My hope for Gage is that since he is an international private investigator, something that readers hadn’t seen much of, he might find a market.
Q: Tom Schreck came up with the following question: Describe how pathological your level of insecurity is about your writing. How many hours do you spend daily vainly trying to dispute the idea that every word you've written absolutely sucks.
I take the process seriously and there are occasions when writing is difficult, but I don’t fret over it that way. At the same time, I know that when I do my second and third drafts I will run across awful sentences and paragraphs and that even a year later I will find things I’ve written that make me cringe.
The main reason I don’t worry so much about it is that my writing about a private investigator is so much easier than my actually being one, especially working in places like the Golden Triangle or the Northwest Frontier Province of Pakistan and when the people on the other side of my cases were sometimes difficult and unpleasant.
Contrast two months on the road traveling from San Francisco to London, to Hong Kong, to Macao, to Chennai, to London, to Amsterdam, to Geneva searching for witnesses and for evidence, with making myself a cup of coffee in the kitchen and walking downstairs to write.
I’ll take the coffee and the search for the right noun or verb any day.
Another reason I don’t go pathological about writing is the fact that my being able to write and my being published is kind of a fluke. I didn’t think I had the talent for it and lucked out in making a connection with HarperCollins just when I was figuring out how to write the kind of book I wanted to write. A year earlier, and the book might not have gone anywhere.
Basically, I’m just enjoying the ride.
Q: What question should we ask every PI writer we interview and what is your answer?
Has a lot of graphic violence become necessary to the private investigator genre?
The influence of television and movies on the books that are being published at least in the thriller side of private investigator novels, sure makes it seem so. It sometimes seems that the role that technology now plays in fictional investigation reduces the need for an exhibition of skill in certain areas. Press a keyboard button and the answer appears: the layout of building, the location of a person, a financial transaction.
It also sometimes seems, when I look at the book shelves, that more and more publishers are marketing toward readers (also television and movie watchers) who want to jump past the labor—the slogging application of investigative technique—and get right to the combat. In the end, I hope readers will continue find the meaning of the violence in mysteries and thrillers to be more important than the violent action itself.