Thriller 2.0


Best-selling author Barry Eisler, known for his John Rain novels, departs from that franchise to take a chance with new characters while revisiting many of his signature themes: the wisdom of solitude, the role of violence in our daily lives, and the delicate balance between our civil liberties and national security. In Fault Line, the former CIA operative turned lawyer turned writer introduces two brothers who must join forces after a long rift to keep the internet safe from an ominous new technology. Since a key plot point involves the judicious use of the power of the blogosphere, I wanted to ask him about the future of suspense novels in this new media era.

CS: I learned a lot about surveillance and counter terrorism by reading your books and learning from the caution of your heroes. Just entering a room requires several hours of provisions, security sweeps, even the setting of traps for potential foes.Today it seems I got here first (Eisler called to say he was stuck in LA traffic) but then again....did I really?

BE: I actually got here two hours ago to scope out the premises

So what do you look for?

If you are citizen your main concern is crime. So you look for crime precursors....the idea is: you think like the opposition-- in this case like criminals--so you tune up your alertness a notch so you can spot problems before you wander into them. If anyone is assessing you and sees you are a hard target--that you pay attention to your environment--then they will look for a softer target.

Does your background in intelligence serve you well on your book tour?

Everything you learn in any counter terrorism course with the government has great applicability if you just want to make yourself safer from everyday crime. It's actually an easy habit-- just do it as a game in your head and you'll get good at it and you'll be safer. I do that all the time on and off tour. I just have to hope I don't have as many enemies as John [Rain] and Ben [one of the protagonists in Fault Line]...

You have do, however, have fans both at your signings and many more on the internet.

I just have to hope I don't have as many.

It seems from the credits at the end of your books that you get story ideas from your many fans and that you also run things past them, like specialized scenarios or fight sequences. Your intelligence training seems to be at work here in cultivating sources and methods.

I've always liked realistic thrillers and I think the thriller is a genre that lends itself to realism so I've tried to get everything as realistic as possible drawing on my time working for the government. And the places: I've never written about a place I haven't visited specifically for research for this book. [You can find] a whole section of my website with contact info and photographs of places that appear in my books. When I make a mistake and eventually you always will, I put it on the mistakes page [of barryeisler.com].So, realism has become my brand... I want you to be able to trust me. Over the course of seven books, you start meeting people and it's easy. I get great email from undercover narcotics officers, doctors, gamblers, one guy who is a former navy seal... ...you get more offers than you can reasonably use.

It's very brave as the creator of a successful franchise to start with a new series of characters. What was the impetus?

This wasn't a really commercial move. I had an idea, I wanted to write it and I think that's the right way to do it. ...write the book that wants to be written and it will find a way. I came up with the idea for Fault Line after I finished Rainfall. Some people say it's a mistake to write a stand-alone and others think it's brilliant. Whether it does great or not I love these characters and it so satisfying to get those out on the page.

Towards the climactic finish, the protagonists realize they must disseminate some vital information as widely as possible into the mainstream. But instead of going to traditional print and broadcast media, your characters make a point to go straight to the blogosphere with their scandalous secret.

They realize they missed an opportunity where if some info is released a conspiracy is done. When they are discussing how to publicize it they all think of the blogosphere--Talking Points Memo, The Huffington Post... It's implicit that no one thinks to go to The New York Times.

So I'm interested in your take on the blogosphere's role in modern society and also how you are using that medium as a part of your book tour and your outreach to readers.

I'm hoping that the plot of the story and my promotional efforts will be life imitating art imitating life imitating art ...

I like it because it reflects reality and I also hope it helps reality along a bit. Anyone critically attuned to media recognizes that today's mainstream media comfort the comforted and afflict the afflicted. The blogosphere is an antidote to that. As a blogger myself I care a lot about society [and] about civil liberties, and if I can do just a gentle push that's great. I hope this gets a conversation going because the blogosphere is growing fast, as print is struggling, but there are still a lot of people out there who mistakenly get too much news from TV and mainstream media. And if this gets buzz for the book in blogosphere, all the better.

I would like progressive blogs to be a bit more attuned to this: the right is pretty clever about cross promotion, You get Glenn Beck introducing readers to Vince Flynn (conservative political thriller writer) and there are certain politics just implicit in Vince's books and they have to do with even the desirability of torture, for example. So with all respect to him, I don't want a situation where he is advising on the efficacy of torture and going unanswered. I would like to see the left in a sense return fire by cross promoting with fiction the way right wing media does.

What is the future of the thriller in our high tech/new media/ 2.0 world?

When the Berlin wall came down people would say: 'what will become of the thriller now?' and before that we had 'what will become of warfare after the bow and arrow?' It's always something. [Last week] someone asked me if it is hard to write thrillers in the age of Obama. He's an extraordinary man in many ways but he's also doing some things of extreme concern. For example the continued abuse of States Secrets privilege. From a thriller writer's perspective, Obama doesn't have much time before the crimes of the Bush administration because his crimes too. Frankly, I wish Obama would act in such a way that would he would give me less fodder for thrillers.

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The first of Eisler's John Rain novels, Rain Fall, is due to be released next month as a major motion picture starring Gary Oldman.