10 Questions with Michael Elias
My guest today is Michael Elias, author of THE LAST CONQUISTADOR, a wonderful thriller. Please scroll down to enjoy the interview.
1. Mr. Elias, thank you for this opportunity to be interviewed for my blog. Your thriller THE LAST CONQUISTADOR came out in June. Tell us a bit more about this book.
That is a very hard request. May I just say that it is a combination thriller and meditation on dreams and generational connections? And I hear it is very exciting.
2. Who is FBI agent Adam Palma? Where did the inspiration for his character come from?
A haunted man who feels responsible for the death of his wife and wants to retire and look after his young daughter. The only thing that draws him back into the game is a distraught mother whose son has been taken. There is no one inspiration for his character—just a layering process that comes along with the writing and the rewriting.
3. What kind of research did you do for THE LAST CONQUISTADOR? Why the Incas?
I went to Peru as an ignorant tourist a long time ago. Two weeks of trekking—mountains, jungles, river rafting, Lima, Cusco, Machu Picchu, and other Inca monuments and ruins. It was Inca culture 101 and it must have stayed with me. It was when I got home that I began to read and try to understand where I had been, what I had so superficially seen. I remembered that our Peruvian tour guide and I played chess after dinner in the hotel in Machu Picchu. It was a Peruvian-themed set and his pieces were modeled on conquistadors and mine, Incas. White, by the way. He said, “This place gives me the creeps.” I asked him why and he said, “My last name is Pizarro.” I guess that was the first big “What if?”—the gift of the muse, or in this case, Gonzalo Pizarro. The rest was merely difficult.
4. Why do you write? Why thrillers?
When I hear that someone liked the book or had a really swell time reading it I think maybe that’s why I write. It seems—after it’s finished, of course—an act of generosity. That’s a nice feeling. Since this is my first novel, I can’t say “thrillers,” but I have written screenplays in that genre and others. I do so much research that I have quite a library now. There is my Inca/Peru section for The Last Conquistador, dozens of books on Christopher Marlowe for my screenplay of Anthony Burgess’s novel A Dead Man in Deptford, a collection of books about mazes and labyrinths for an adaption of Robert Silverberg’s sci-fi classic The Man in the Maze, and my collection of music, CDs, and books for my jazz film Lush Life.
5. A word of advice for new writers?
All you need is a pencil and paper. There are no other excuses.
6. What have you learned during the writing process for crafting a novel?
Being a vociferous reader all my life was crucial. Since writing fiction is a process of creating problems and solving them elegantly for the pleasure of the reader, it is important to read and see how better writers solved their problems.
7. What are your writing habits? How long does it take you to research and write a novel?
I have no habits. I try to avoid writing as long as I can by doing tasks, errands, repairs, and phone calls. Finally, when I am out of reasons not to write, I begin. Usually around four or five in the afternoon and I can go for three hours, tops. Some research is either as I go—I’d better find out about what an Inca soldier wore exactly, as I have to describe one—or it’s a book that can be read in bed with a pen and a packet of stickers.
8. How do you interact with your fans? What is their input about your novel?
It’s only one novel. I don’t have fans. But there are a lot of people who have said really kind things. My favorite is, “I couldn’t put it down.” I also cowrote The Jerk, and when people find out, they are pleased to meet me.
9. What are your favorite pastimes?
I practice Wing Chun, go to the movies, cook recipes from my sister’s cookbooks (the River Café in London), play chess on my iPhone, watch the Lakers, explore LA with my wife, Bianca—forty years later I still find “new” neighborhoods. And I read.
10. What is your next book going to be about?
I am thinking about the “calico” Indians in upstate New York during the anti-rent wars of the early nineteenth century. They were revolutionary farmers who came out of the woods armed, and disguised in their wives’ calico dresses. They drove off bankers and landlords attempting to foreclose their farms.