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JOE FINDER'S Power Play Interview

Written by Ali Karim

There's some big news today as one of my favourite thriller writers - Joe Finder has moved over to Headline Publishing. For those of you who haven't read any of the author’s works, click here for an interview I conducted with Joe on one of his many trips to London.

Let's start with a little history on Finder's thrillers. His first novel, The Moscow Club (1991) detailed a coup against Soviet Leader Mikhail Gorbachev, and was published mere months before the real coup occurred. His second novel, Extraordinary Powers (1994) detailed the hunt for a mole in the top echelon of the CIA, and was published days before real-life traitor Aldrich Ames was unmasked. His third novel, The Zero Hour (1996) tells of an FBI hunt for a terrorist in New York, while his novel, High Crime was filmed by cult director Carl Franklin and featured Morgan Freeman and Ashley Judd. Talk about uncanny timing.

Joe hit it big with a change of direction a few years back when he released Paranoia, which the CWA nominated for the Ian Fleming Steel Dagger. January Magazine nominated his follow-up novel Company Man [UK title No Hiding Place], in their Best of 2005. Last year Killer Instinctmade it onto the Best of 2006 at January Magazine and is nominated for best thriller novel by ITW with the winners to be announced at Thrillerfest in New York City this summer. Killer Instinct also won the Inaugural Barry Award for Best Thriller in 2006 as awarded by Deadly Pleasures Magazine. Last summer I spent some time with Joe at Thrillerfest, and I gained a sharp insight into his world and thriller writing. If you are one of the few who have not read a Finder thriller, I suggest you grab Killer Instinct fast, as it was one of my top thrillers for 2006. It proves why, in some circles, Joe Finder is referred to as the “CEO of corporate thrillers.”

Joseph Finder with Ali Karim

As soon as Joe had the OK from his US publishers, he emailed me the artwork for Power Play, his next thriller out later this year. I also received this little teaser:

POWER PLAY is a nonstop thriller that takes place in a single day. The top executives of a major corporation have gathered for an offsite retreat at a luxurious, remote lodge --- no phones, no cell phones, no BlackBerrys, no cars. A band of backwoods hunters crashes the lavish open-night festivities, and suddenly, the execs are being held hostage by hard men with guns... cut off from the rest of the world, their lives at stake. The only one who can save them is the one guy who wasn't supposed to be there --- a last-minute replacement and low man on the totem pole.

So with a new Finder novel about to be released, he flew into London to talk to his new British publisher and so I took the opportunity to say 'Hey Joe' in my best Jimi Hendrix impression.

Hey Joe, congratulations on the Thriller nomination, for Killer Instinct one of January Magazine's best of 2006; you must be coming to Thrillerfest NY in July, so what are your plans?

Thanks, Ali! It's especially great to be recognized by my fellow practitioners, talented thriller authors all. And if I lose, I know I've lost to someone really good. At least that'll soften the blow. I'll be at ThrillerFest in NY, and I'll be on a panel, but I haven't yet been told which one. And then I do the BackSpace Writers Conference and then BEA, so it's a busy couple of weeks.

I heard you were involved in the set-up of ITW, but what then happened?

Yes, I'm ashamed to say that I backed out. When Gayle Lynds came up with the idea for ITW, she asked me and David Morrell to help brainstorm, come up with ideas about how to organize it, how to get it started, and all that sort of thing. I loved it - it was a great break from writing, and I could sense that it was a very big idea in the making - but I also quickly found that it was taking up way too much of my writing time. And being on a book-a-year schedule as I am, I barely have time for anything else. So I told Gayle and David that, with regret and with the greatest respect, I had to get back to my book. So I'm one of the very few people who know how much time David and Gayle spent getting ITW off the ground. I'm still an active participant, and I was a founding member (and gave money to help finance it at the outset) but I don't run it.

I've read your work for years, but met you first time at Thrillerfest Phoenix last year, what were your highlights about this event?

Hot. Really hot. I think it got over 110 degrees most days. It was like stepping into a blast furnace. But it was a blast of another kind - got to catch up with a lot of old friends, meet a bunch of new ones, writers I've long admired. And to meet some of my readers as well. It's a really collegial bunch of people, and a great organization.

What does ITW mean to you as a writer?

I belong to several writers' organization - PEN, which is more literary (as a commercial crime writer, I'm a rarity there), MWA (Mystery Writers of America, which is oriented more toward mystery writers than thriller writers, though lots of thriller/crime authors belong), and ITW. ITW is like my own people - writers who do only thrillers/suspense novels. It's a great pleasure to spend time with people who do what I do. We writers tend to be solitary, so it's important to stay in touch with our colleagues, and ITW provides that opportunity for us. So I don't see it as a rival group to MWA. I see it as a more specialized group

What's this I hear about a new deal at St. Martins? And a new series? Tell us more!

Yes! I recently signed a four-book deal with St. Martin's, my U.S. publisher since Paranoia. They're paying me a whole lot of money, so they must have some confidence that my readership will keep growing. And it's a sign of their desire to keep building me. I couldn't be happier about them - they made Paranoia a bestseller and have managed to increase my readership quite a bit from book to book. They're great. For several years, my editor, Keith Kahla, as well as Sally Richardson (SMP's publisher) and Matthew Shear (who runs their paperback arm) have been very timidly suggesting to me that I try writing a continuing character. They know how much readers love bonding with series characters - I do, too, frankly, whether it's Lee Child's Reacher or Nelson DeMille's John Corey. But for a long time I'd resisted doing so, because I didn't want to do the same old gumshoe or P.I. or FBI agent that you see so often. Then I got to know a source who travels the world doing top-secret investigations into scandals and conspiracies and crime for powerful corporations and wealthy individuals, and I knew I'd found my character. I told St. Martin's my idea, and they went for it right away. And I can't wait to start it. (Actually, I really can't wait very long - book-a-year-, you know….)

What's happening with you in the UK?

Headline, the terrific publisher of Martina Cole and James Patterson and others, came to me and made a wonderful offer for my next three books. It was wrenching, believe me, leaving my long-time publisher, Orion, which has published me from my second novel onward and done so with elegance and enthusiasm. But it seems like a good move and the right time, and Headline is committed to building me in the U.K. the way St. Martin's has done in the U.S. I'm looking forward to working with my editor there, Vicki Mellor, and of course Jane Morpeth, the mastermind behind Headline's powerful fiction line.

I heard a few whispers about Power Play your book for 2007. Care to tell us a little more?

I think it's my most exciting novel yet - honestly! I've taken the sort of office-intrigue stuff of my last novels (Paranoia, Company Man and Killer Instinct) and moved it all way out of the office. The result is an action-packed story with a relentless pace. I was inspired by my favourite TV show, "24 - I saw how you could maintain a breathless pace but at the same time have well fleshed out characters, and I thought, Lemme try that! Basically, it's the story of a group of high-powered corporate guys - the top officers of an aerospace company - who go off on one of those offsite retreats to do "team-building" at a very high-end, luxurious lodge in the wilderness. No phones, no cell phones, no BlackBerries, no Internet. They're totally cut off from the rest of the world. They're also a company in trouble. Their brand-new CEO is a woman, and the whole leadership team is men, and they resent her. Plus, there are rumours of corruption going on, which the female CEO is threatening to uncover. And all of a sudden, a gang of backwoods hunters crashes in and takes them all hostage. And the hostages have no way to call for help. Among the hostages is one young guy, Jake Landry - a last-minute addition, who wasn't supposed to be there in the first place. And he turns out to be the only one who's willing to risk his life to try to save everyone else. I think it's a pretty cool story.

Your most recent works are set in the corporate world, what interests you about this world?

It's a world that's incredibly full of material - it's the place where most of us spend most of our days, and yet amazingly, novelists rarely write about it. (I think that's because most writers haven't worked in a corporation. Of course, neither have I, which allows me to see all the strange and fascinating things a regular would never see.) I also like the fact that it hasn't yet been done to death like law firms or police departments - it's fresh to most readers.

You populate these books with sociopaths as well as full blown psychopaths. Are you familiar with the work of Paul Babiak and Robert D. Hare and do you agree that the corporate world a good hiding place for these 'types'?

Ah - "Snakes in Suits," right? I haven't read it, but they're on to something, I think. There's something about the corporate world, with the stakes so high, that encourages certain people to get away with all the bad stuff they can. They're a real minority, of course - but they're fun villains. And as anyone who's worked in a company can testify, some of these snakes can achieve a great deal of power - and make your life hell. Which is why so many of my readers love it when my heroes finally get their revenge on these jerks . . .

I’ve also heard that you are penning a few short stories, is this true?

True. I've agreed to write a couple of stories to be published in two different collections. But man, stories are hard. Much harder than novels.

Are you still involved in your journalism?

No. Hardly at all. Once in a great while, I agree to review a book for the New York Times or the Washington Post. But I rarely have time anymore. And once in a while, when an idea grabs hold of me, I'll do an essay for the NYT Op-Ed page or the Book Review. But less and less often these days.

So what's new in your world?

Nothing. I work and work and work, tour or do bookstore appearances, and try to see my wife and daughter. People are always asking me what I do in my free time, and I say, "What free time?" Oh, wait. I have a new website - that's big news in my world. It should be launching any day now. Does that count?

And books that have passed your reading table?

I do make a point of reading whenever I can. I loved Jason Starr's new book, The Follower. Also Laura Lippman's latest. I've got a tall stack of books to read, including the latest by Barry Eisler, Dean Koontz, Michael Palmer, Tess Gerritsen, Chris Mooney . . . the list goes on. I got my hands on an advance copy of Lee Child's latest, Bad Luck and Trouble, and I was right in the middle of reading it, enjoying it a lot, and someone smashed the window of my Lexus and stole my briefcase, with Lee's book inside. So I've been left hanging. Oh, and they also stole my BlackBerry and my iPod.

Joe, thanks for your time and insight and see you this summer at Thrillerfest in New York

My pleasure and I look forward to it.

For more information on the world of Joe Finder - go to www.josephfinder.com and Shots interview 'The Paranoid World of Joe Finder

Power Play by Joseph Finder

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