My guest today for a FAST FORWARD interview is author Gary Lindberg. As a writer and film producer/director, Gary has won over one hundred major national and international awards. He is the co-writer and producer of the Paramount Pictures feature film That Was Then, This Is Now starring Emilio Estevez and Morgan Freeman. His debut novel, a thriller called The Shekinah Legacy, was published in 2011. Gary is also the author of the Charlotte Ansari Thriller novels, The Shekinah Legacy and Sons of Zadok.
FAST FORWARD: Welcome, Gary, and thank you for participating in this interview. A story’s protagonist often reflects an author’s personality, or displays characteristics the author has chosen to explore. Can you please share with us some of the back story that defines your protagonist but isn’t included in the published novels?
GARY LINDBERG: Charlotte Ansari, the protagonist of each Charlotte Ansari Thriller, is a strong-willed woman who is the product of an extremely dysfunctional family. Her mother vanished when Charlotte was seven years old and Charlotte has held her father, a defrocked priest, accountable. Her husband, a Persian Jew, had ulterior motives for marrying her and their relationship is icy. Her son has Asperger’s Syndrome, a high-performing form of autism, for which she blames her poor parenting. or her genes. or both. Charlotte is the star international correspondent for a cable news channel called CCN. She is very good at her job, relentless in pursuing important stories, and (unfortunately) a mostly absentee mother.
All this information is in the first two novels of the series. My challenge with Charlotte is that she is damaged property and can be unlikeable. What has not been revealed in Charlotte’s past is her absolute rejection of religion, probably due to her father’s poor track record as a man of faith. It seems inevitable, then, that in a thriller this talented woman without a faith would be pulled unwillingly into a global conspiracy to find and protect relics that are of great religious significance.
FAST FORWARD: After writing the first novel in a series, it seems that subsequent novels would flow out fully formed. The author has the basics down: format for the storyline; a feel for the proper number of plot lines and chapters; techniques for creating a charismatic protagonist and supporting characters; secrets to making the antagonist likeable; and guidelines for adding conflict right up to and through the denouement. How has writing become easier for you; and what remains as difficult now as when you wrote the first novel?
GARY LINDBERG: Book one of the series, The Shekinah Legacy, took two years of research and writing. The second book, Sons of Zadok, took just seven months. This disparity is partly explained by my greater confidence as a thriller writer; Shekinah quickly became the most popular Kindle thriller on Amazon.com. But another part of the explanation is that I had previously worked out a template for the main characters and the handling of multiple plot lines and POVs as you suggested. In that regard writing the second book became much easier.
Some things, however, continue to be difficult. The books in this series are complicated, multi-layered, and filled with facts (some known, many unknown to readers) that must fit together precisely and support the story as it unfolds. As “thrillers,” the stories are a bit over the top with action and consequence (I think that’s what separates them from “mysteries”).
The researching of the facts that build up my stories—and, I hope, make the stories credible despite their fanciful plots—continues to be challenging and time-consuming. In the second book, Sons of Zadok, I struggled for months to make a theory of Isaac Newton fit precisely the distances between two geographic locations. You see, I live in fear that some reader will look up a fact that I have used and discover that it was not a fact at all, or was distorted to suit my fictional purposes, and then tell the world that I was a fraud. So I have set the very high goal of including many facts, but not changing them for convenience. This practice seems to be appreciated by my readers.
Using so many facts and historical references without bogging down a pulse-pounding thriller, of course, is always a challenge. And so is preventing the storytelling from becoming formulaic. I have a low threshold of boredom, so I find myself continually breaking the template that I unwittingly created in the earlier book.
FAST FORWARD: To hold a reader’s attention, a series protagonist must continue to grow or change in each novel. In Sue Grafton’s ABC series, Kinsey Millhone does not age (much), or get married, or acquire children, but she expands her knowledge of the job, begins to carry a gun, and discovers family relatives who are woven into the storyline. Without revealing any spoilers, how has your protagonist developed or changed from Book #1?
GARY LINDBERG: The time period in which each Charlotte Ansari Thriller book takes place is very important to the stories, and so Charlotte ages and changes accordingly. For example, The Shekinah Legacy had to be set in the year 2007, and Charlotte’s son had to be thirteen years old at the time, for the story to work. The second book had to be set in 2013 for astronomical reasons, and Charlotte’s son had to be eighteen years old, so Charlotte is five years older than she was in book one. How had she changed in those five years after the sudden departure of her son, who had been recruited by a secret society she had been battling?
In book two, Charlotte has begun to act out her bitterness and resentment. And she has been ordered by CCN to see a psychiatrist for anger issues. She has developed shooting skills on the local firing range. And she has learned what true loneliness is—now that her son is gone, her husband has been killed, the one man she may have loved has vanished into the shadows, and she has cut off all contact with her father.
Some of Charlotte’s problems are of her own making, but many have been piled on by external forces. The second book allowed me to examine how Charlotte would respond to a crisis that would reunite her with the man she loves, lead to a confrontation with her long-lost son, and demand that she seek help from her estranged father. For an author, this is the fun stuff.
FAST FORWARD: A series requires the presence of a continuing main character. Often, however, there is another recurring character. The almost infinite pairings of main characters with guy/girl Fridays or wingmen could claim its own category on Jeopardy. Who could ever forget Tom Hanks’ sidekick, Wilson? Two Mystery/Suspense series authors and their interesting (equal or supporting) characters that come to mind are Tess Gerritson’s Rizzoli& Isles; Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt and Al Giordino. Is there a recurring secondary character in your series? What is the purpose/role of that character within the plot?
GARY LINDBERG: As an author, I have a self-destructive tendency to kill off interesting characters who could have developed into a “Watson.” One recurring character, however, has survived the bloodletting of The Shekinah Legacy to take his position alongside Charlotte as they attempt to solve an ancient secret that has enormous potential for placing power into the wrong hands.
It is difficult to describe this “secondary” character without spoiling The Shekinah Legacy. His identity is one of the surprising reveals of that story. But his purpose in the second book is two-fold: 1) continue to evolve a personal relationship with Charlotte that readers loved; and 2) provide a specific set of skills that is required to solving the puzzle at the heart of the story. For many readers of book one, this character actually was the most likeable, even though his vocation raises many red flags. Many women readers fell in love with him. I must admit that this character has now become a co-protagonist, and in many ways has evolved even further than Charlotte. As an author it’s fun thinking about the potential of a spin-off series.
FAST FORWARD: Researching a new novel takes the author on a journey to many new places, whether through books, movies, newspapers, or physical travel. What did you most enjoy about the research process of your second novel, and where did your research take you?
GARY LINDBERG: I spoke a bit about researching this series in answering an earlier question. Research has become the energy source for these stories. I don’t know if I could have written these books without the Internet and Google Earth. Some of the information I needed, of course, could only be found in books that for copyright reasons are not available on the Web. Most important to my research, though, was physical travel. My wife and I have literally traveled around the world researching locations because of my obsession with naming actual streets that lead to certain buildings important to the story. And in knowing the exact travel time between two locations during rush hour in New Delhi.
I love the research part of the author’s job and find that, more often than not, the research process also provides important plot points, story ideas, solutions to traps in which I have ensnared myself, and inspiration for writing.
Where can fans of your novels find you and your books on the Internet?
The first two books of the Charlotte Ansari Thriller series, and my first historical novel, can be found in paperback and Kindle on Amazon.com.
Here are the URLs:
THE SHEKINAH LEGACY (A Charlotte Ansari Thriller, Book 1) http://www.amzn.com/B006IGV8I8
SONS OF ZADOK (A Charlotte Ansari Thriller, Book 2) http://www.amzn.com/B00AMSLI3I
OLLIE’S CLOUD http://www.amzn.com/B00BCCV3T2
My website/blog is at: http://www.lindbergbooks.com