If you're looking for a novelist who knows how to create a scene and make it make sense, look no further than Vince Flynn, who's an expert hand in the thriller genre.
His newest release, Kill Shot, is the twelfth in Flynn's Mitch Rapp series. If you haven't read him yet, think Tom Clancy or Robert Ludlum, or just know that Flynn served as a story consultant for the fifth season of 24 (show co-creator Joel Surnow is a friend of his). Since he started the Rapp series back in the 90's, Flynn has proven that he not only knows how to engineer action on the level of those other names, but he also makes sure that all the pieces fit together. In essence, he's the anti-Michael Bay of literature; it's sound and fury, signifying something.
I recently connected with Flynn to ask him what it's like to be the man behind a successful book series that's gone on for more than a decade. Here's what he had to say.
What are you the most proud of with the completion of Kill Shot?
I was a huge fan of Robert Ludlum [and] John Le Carre back when I was in college, and I loved the Cold War espionage novels they wrote. I wanted this to have the same feel of the lone assassin on the loose in Europe. I hope that I did a period piece that did well by them.
It's the twelfth novel in the Mitch Rapp series. As you write each subsequent installment, do you feel a particular pressure to make each one bigger and better?
I feel that they have to be better. Sometimes the way you accomplish that is you write a slightly different book, like I did this time. This is more character-driven. Fans of the series get to learn a lot more about Mitch Rapp as a person.
This is the second novel that takes place in Mitch's backstory, the first being American Assassin, which Kill Shot follows. What made you decide to go backward and tell that history?
I always planned on doing it. When I created Rapp in 1995, he was a guy in his mid-thirties. I knew that I was at some point going to have to go back and tell that missing decade, with him being recruited by the CIA and how he became the American assassin. Going back a few books ago, I just felt like the time was right. I thought it was the perfect time to take a break and start that series. The next book I'm going back to Rapp in the present day.
How have you seen your writing process evolve over the course of the series?
If you work at your craft, you're going to get better and more efficient. Now I might throw away a half a page for every one page I keep. There's also a level of confidence. If you've turned out thirteen of these, you don't stress out as much. One of the toughest things is, I'd disappear to our cabin in the summer to write the novel, and I'd try to go to bed at night and I couldn't sleep. I'd be thinking, 'I have no idea what I'm going to write tomorrow.' Now I go to bed and I think 'It'll come to me when the time is right.' Some people can't.
I used to be huge with outlines, but I always threw those outlines away. What I do now is I'll outline the first quarter to the first third of the book and then I'll go and write the book. Once you get into the story, you're going to come up with better ideas. But if you're going to write thrillers, the stuff has to all tie together in the end. While I'm writing, I always kind of have a vague idea how I'm going to end the book, what characters I'm going to need in the end, so I don't kill them off.
Speaking of killing characters off, you've done that a few times by now.
[With] Mitch Rapp's wife, for instance. I knew that when I put her in the first book, they were going to get married, she was going to get pregnant, and she was going to die.
So we can infer that you were always intending for this to be a series of novels?
I wanted a franchise character. I wanted to create a Jack Ryan, one of those kind of characters. You don't do it with the intent of failing. You hope to succeed. When you do succeed, you're happy and you're grateful. All of your focus was to create this successful character, so you shouldn't be surprised when you succeed.
You've also been influential with other novelists. I'm a fan of Howard Gordon's work, and I've heard your name mentioned in the same sentence with his quite a bit.
Howard's a great guy. He's very talented.
What's it like for you to know that your work has affected other people's work?
It's very flattering. A lot of it is missed on me. Authors can, especially if you live in the midwest, you tend to live a pretty isolated life. I love my wife, I've got three kids, I'm driving kids to basketball, soccer. My best friend from the age of fourteen lives a mile from my house. I don't put a ton of thought into it. It's nice, but I get the biggest kick out of the men and women in uniform who are fans.
You've been writing the series for fifteen years. How much longer do you see it continuing?
I'm sure there's going to come a day and a time when I feel like I've worn out my welcome. I don't think it's imminent. But it's possible.
How does being an author shape any reading that you do?
It really ruined it for a number of years. I find when I'm editing or I've just finished editing a book, my mind is in more of a critical mode. I tend to tear apart whatever I'm reading, which is not good. Recently I've learned to relax. I don't know why.
My thanks to Vince Flynn for this interview! For more on him and his work, you can visit his official website and Facebook page, or sign up for his monthly newsletter. Read on for my review of Kill Shot...