Is it true that your last Mitch Rapp book will be Code Red?
It is. In February 2023, I announced my departure from the series. For details, see my End of an Era blog post. I’ll be rebooting a character from my 2005 book Fade—a former Navy SEAL who I’ve been wanting to resurrect for a long time. Don Bentley will be taking over the Mitch Rapp series.
Which of your books would you recommend for Vince Flynn Fans?
Check out the page I created for Vince’s readers.
I just discovered Mark Beamon and want to read the series in order. Where should I start?
Mark debuts in Rising Phoenix. Next is Storming Heaven, then Freefall, and Sphere of Influence. He makes a long-awaited return in Darkness Falls.
What are five of your favorite books and why do you like them?
1984 by George Orwell is an incredible story of what might have been if history had made a few minor left turns. I’m fascinated with humanity’s dark side and no one has ever displayed it better in my opinion.
Holidays in Hell by PJ O’Rourke is similar to 1984 in that it (sort of) explores humanity’s baser qualities, but with laugh-out-loud humor. I never go anywhere without flipping through this book to see what PJ had to say about it first.
My Traitor’s Heart by Rian Malan is perhaps the most honest book I’ve ever read—so honest that it sometimes makes you want to look away. If you have even a passing interest in Apartheid era South Africa (or even if you don’t) I strongly recommend you read this.
Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice. Anne sets a scene like no one else. Creating a historical New Orleans and populating it so believably and elegantly with vampires is quite a feat.
Cardinal of the Kremlin by Tom Clancy. Perhaps the greatest thriller novel ever written. ‘Nuff said.
Where do you get the ideas for your books?
Basically, an overactive imagination combined with a strange world view. I have a pretty plodding thought process so I tend to start small with a general subject like drugs or terrorism or politics. Then I start researching it and looking at it from different angles until I come up with something that excites me. I’ve always wanted to be one of those people who are constantly flooded with great ideas, but unfortunately, I’m not. Coming up with an underlying concept for a book is the hardest part of the process for me.
How much of your writing is based on fact and how much comes from your imagination?
Probably about half and half. I start with an initial ‘what if’ like, ‘what if someone started dumping poison into the U.S. narcotics supply?’ Then I try to stay as factual as possible. How could this be done most effectively? What would America’s reaction be based on its history? What would the FBI do? The stronger the central premise, the easier the book tends to be to write—research does a lot of the work and you just have to occasionally nudge your characters in this direction or that.
Do you have any advice for people thinking about writing their first novel?
Sure. Obviously, my experience relates to popular thriller fiction. If you’re interested in other genres there are people out there who might be more helpful.
First, pick three novels that have done well and study them. Don’t just read them, study them. What worked? What didn’t? What compelled you to keep turning the pages? What made you want to put it down? I think I looked at Cardinal of the Kremlin, The Pelican Brief, and Kiss the Girls.
Second, read a few how-to books. I’d recommend Writing the Blockbuster Novel by Albert Zuckerman and Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King. They were both really helpful to me.
Third, keep in mind that all books are about people—even plot driven thrillers. Focus on well-rounded characters that feel real.
Fourth, don’t get overly technical. You wouldn’t believe how many first novels I’ve read where the author is trying to outdo Tom Clancy with minute detail. Don’t bother. I don’t care if you’re the former Secretary of Defense, Tom was Tom and you and I aren’t.
Fifth, never go back and make changes until you’re done with the entire novel. The editing process is completely removed from the writing process and going back before finishing can trap you in an endless and unproductive cycle.
Finally, don’t color too far outside the lines. Originality is desirable to a point but when you go past that point, you can get yourself in trouble. Thriller fiction follows a general framework that publishers and fans are more or less comfortable with. When you’ve got a couple of top-five New York Times best sellers under your belt and you want to do a five hundred page exploration of terrorism in iambic pentameter, go for it. Until then, keep your feet on the ground.
How long does it take to write a book?
Somewhere between eight weeks and fifty years. For me, it runs about twelve months.
Everyone has a different process here. I write really elaborate outlines—sometimes as long as forty thousand words. When I’m outlining, I can only work for about three hours a day. After that my mind is completely burned out.
With such a detailed outline, the actual writing goes pretty quickly. I generally target eight chapters per week and work as long as it takes me to achieve that. After my first draft is complete, I usually do two editorial passes before the manuscript goes out to my publisher.
You have scenes set all over the world. Do you travel to every place for research?
Generally, yes. In my first novel, I didn’t have the time to travel and I made some really embarrassing mistakes. Now, I try to go everywhere I write about. You just can’t get the flavor of a place without standing in the middle of it.
These days, I have to travel when I can schedule it and may go places that won’t appear in a book for another year or two. That’s taken me everywhere from Cape Town to Phnom Penh, to Istanbul.