10 Questions with Andrew Kaplan

My guest today is Andrew Kaplan, author of Scorpion Winter, a great thriller that came out today. Please scroll down for our interview.

Who is Andrew Kaplan?

Andrew Kaplan is a former journalist and war correspondent covering events around the world. He served in both the U.S. Army and in the Israeli Army during the Six Day War and worked in military intelligence. The CIA has tried on several occasions to recruit him. He has consulted with groups that advise governments and as president of a technical communications company worked on a contract basis with a number of leading U.S. corporations and government agencies. He is the author of four international best-selling novels: Hour of the Assassins, Scorpion, Dragonfire and War of the Raven and is best-known as author of the Scorpion series. His next two books, Scorpion Betrayal and Scorpion Winter are scheduled for publication as lead books by HarperCollins in 2012.

10 Questions with Andrew Kaplan

Mr. Kaplan, thank you for this opportunity to be interviewed for my blog. Your new spy thriller, Scorpion Winter, came out today. Tell us a bit more about this work.

Scorpion Winter, the third book in the Scorpion series, begins in the frozen wastes of Siberia when a silver artifact is stolen from a dead man. Meanwhile, in the Middle East, a carefully planned CIA strike on a terrorist goes badly wrong – two seemingly unrelated events that have placed the former CIA covert operative-turned-freelance spy code-named Scorpion, in a desperate position: joining forces with a beautiful woman to prevent the assassination of a powerful Eastern European leader, the consequences of which may be devastating to the U.S. and Europe.

Who is Scorpion, the main character of Scorpion Winter and how did you go about creating his personality?

My first book (Hour of the Assassins) was set in the Amazon jungle. I wanted a completely different landscape for my second and chose the Arabian desert. I was thinking of an American operative who was not CIA, but trained by them. An independent; a loner. But for the plot I had in mind to work he had to be completely at home with the language, religion and culture of the region. The only way to totally get inside that world is to grow up there. To follow him growing up would give me a chance to explore that world, so misunderstood by Westerners. But what would an American kid be doing alone in the middle of the Arabian desert? That led to the dead body in the desert (Scorpion’s oilman father) and the little boy saved by Bedouin tribesmen. But while the boy grows up a part of that world, he is also always an outsider.

You have served in the US Army and the Israeli Army and were almost recruited by the CIA. How much of these experiences are reflected in your writings of international thrillers?

My experiences in the service and in intelligence are reflected in the accuracy and reality, particularly regarding tradecraft, I bring to my books. Many knowledgeable readers have commented on their authenticity. For example, ex-CIA agent Reza Kahlili has written: “Andrew Kaplan has a masterful grasp of the inner workings of intelligence agencies and their fight against terror.”

How is Scorpion Winter unique and what distinguishes it from thousands of thrillers that are published each day?

With Scorpion Winter, I wanted to get back to the classic spy thrillers: Europe, winter, men in the shadows double and triple-dealing. Le Carré country. The “Winter” of the title, of course, is not just physical, but metaphorical as well. It’s Scorpion’s dark night of the soul. That was part of the motivation for me: to plumb the depths of the Scorpion character and the limits of friendship, patriotism and love. In this book, every major character is forced to confront their most fundamental beliefs and make a choice: friendship vs. country; love vs. duty; decency vs. fear, what is right vs. what is necessary; and in the process, define who they really are. Quite frankly, it’s not only the best book of the series, I don’t think there’s anything out there like it.

When did you know that you wanted to become a writer and what steps did you take toward that goal?

I knew I wanted to be a writer in high school. I read voraciously, went to college, then into the Army and afterwards, travelled the world as a free-lance journalist. Eventually, I tried writing stories and novels, but had years of rejections, although unusually, editors would often write long handwritten notes to me about much they loved my work even as they rejected it. For a long time, I thought I was the most popular unpublished author in America. Finally, disgusted, I decided to do a genre book and since I enjoyed spy thrillers, such as Ian Fleming, Len Deighton and John Le Carre, I decided to try one. It worked like a charm.

A word of advice for new writers?

Think about the kind of book you like to read strictly for fun. If you’re at the airport and you have to grab a book for an airplane, what type of book is it? What elements does it have that draw you in? What in your life or imagination has elements that uniquely resonate for you the way those elements do? That’s the book you should write.

What is your typical writing day?

I get up, exercise for an hour, clean up, have breakfast and get to work. I will take a break somewhere in the middle of the day and get back to work in the afternoon. Since I’m usually on a deadline these days, I try to move forward at least six days a week.

What other books are you working on at the moment?

I am working on the next book in the Scorpion series for my publisher, HarperCollins. It’s currently scheduled for publication early next year.

What do you like to read and what are you reading now?

I like to read other thrillers, classic literature (like Conrad, Tolstoy, Faulkner), general fiction and history. Top of the list for thrillers is probably John Le Carré at his best (it’s not all great). One of the reasons I started writing spy thrillers was that just as Conrad showed that sea stories could be literature, so Le Carré showed spy thrillers could be serious fiction. I’m a fan of some of the classic thrillers, like Eric Ambler and early Len Deighton. The late Tommy Thompson (Blood and Money, Serpentine) was a close friend and early mentor. Some, like Lee Child, Harlan Coben, Vince Flynn, David Morrell, make it look easy (it isn’t). A lot of writers get the technical stuff right; some get the tradecraft right; only a few get the writing and the compelling plotting all the way through right. I just finished Hemingway’s Boat by Paul Hendrickson, Jerusalem: The Biography by Simon Sebag Montefiore, The Increment by David Ignatius and The Brotherhood of the Rose by David Morrell. I am currently reading The Great Sea by David Abulafia, The Art of Intelligence by Henry Crumpton, Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for Bin Laden by Peter L. Bergen, The Cairo Trilogy by Naguib Mahfouz and The Book of Spies by Gayle Lynds.

What can readers expect to find in Scorpion Winter?

A book they will not be able to put down. An inside look at a fascinating and compelling world they don’t know in a locale few Americans have ever experienced. And a murder mystery and a love story wrapped inside a thriller that will grab them and not let go.


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