1. Mr. Chapman, thank you for this opportunity to be interviewed for my blog. Your debut thriller, THE ASCENDANT, came out on January 7. Tell us a bit more about this book.
The Ascendant is a thriller about Garrett Reilly, a young bond trader on Wall Street, who makes his living spotting patterns in the financial markets. At the beginning of the book, he discovers that somebody is selling off enormous amounts of US Treasuries to attack the American economy. And then he realizes that it is the Chinese who are doing this, and that there is an invisible war – a cyber, economic, and psychological war – brewing between the US and China. After an attempt on his life, he gets recruited by the US government to help fight that war, only Garrett Reilly rarely does what he’s told, especially if the person doing the telling is an authority figure. Pretty soon, it feels like the entire world is out to get Garrett, and he’s got to stay alive while trying to stop World War Three at the same time.
2. Who is Garrett Reilly and where did the inspiration for his character come from?
Garrett Reilly is a young, arrogant, obnoxious—and yet charming—numbers savant. He sees patterns that no one else does. He’s a womanizer, a bit of a pot head, a half-Mexican, Half-Irish surfer from Long Beach, California. He likes to mix it up with people, and he really likes to stick it to authority.
In writing about Garrett I really wanted to update the modern thriller hero. I didn’t want to write another wooden, ex-Green Beret uber patriot. I wanted someone for whom loyalty and patriotism were flexible concepts.
The inspiration came from reading a newspaper article about the brothers and sisters of US military servicemen killed in Afghanistan and Iraq, and in particular one young man whose brother had been killed by friendly fire in Kandahar Province. The kid was a patriot, but his feelings about the military were very complicated. His brother was a hero, but the Army killed him. I wanted to explore where you go with that.
3. You work in television and you have also written and directed a feature film. How do you find writing when compared to working on a TV series or on a movie?
Writing a novel is the most wonderfully liberating thing in the world, especially when compared to writing for TV or film. Screenplays have all these arcane rules about structure—first act, second act, reversals, etc.—that novels don’t have. It was such a joy to write The Ascendant, without any guidelines on how to tell the story. Plus, not having studio executives give you notes on your work is practically orgasmic.
4. A word of advice for new writers?
Be persistent. Do not give up. If you really want to be a professional writer, then you are going to face endless criticism, obstacles and setbacks, and you have to not let them stop you. When I asked my very first agent in the movie business if he could sell one of my scripts, he said “No, you have to get your nose broken first. Then you can be a success.” Well, my nose is so crooked it is almost unrecognizable, but I’m still at it.
5. What are your thoughts on the latest publishing industry developments, mainly the rise of the self-publishing?
I have no problems with self-publishing. In fact, when I first wrote The Ascendant, I was planning on self-publishing it. Having that idea in mind—the idea that I could just put the book up on Amazon.com when it was done—was very freeing for me, psychologically. I just wrote to make myself happy, because I knew I would publish it myself, and I think I wrote a better book because of it.
6. What have you learned during the writing process of crafting a novel?
Well, as a screenwriter, I was always cutting stuff down, making my prose lean and spare. But when my editor at Simon & Schuster got her hands on the book, she kept telling me to write more. More and more. Longer descriptions, denser prose. At first, that was very hard for me—it went against all my ingrained experience crafting scripts. But she was right, and now that I am working on book two, I am much freer in my writing.
7. How did it happen that you ended up selling bootlegged T-shirts at the Madison Square Garden?
I was in high school and I had a friend who ran a bootleg printing press, and he needed someone to sell the shirts outside of concert venues. I worked at the Palladium, down in Philadelphia, up in Boston. All over the place. I made good money, but it was a scary job. People were always trying to steal your T-shirts or grab money out of my hand, and the police were always after you as well. I knew a guy who got stabbed doing it (he lived), but I quit soon thereafter.
8. What are your writing habits?
Up early, reply to emails, read the paper, drink lots of coffee, then write hard, hard, hard until lunch. Eat lunch, go to the gym (I am a diabetic, so daily workouts are a must for me), then try to get a few more hours of writing in before dinner. After my kids are in bed, I edit the day’s pages. Writing is my full time job, and I spend a lot of hours doing it.
9. What are your favorite pastimes?
The usual, nothing that eccentric. Reading, long walks with my wife, dinners with friends. Pick-up basketball, running, seeing a movie. I try to catch at least one episode of every new show on TV, so that takes up a certain amount of time.
10. What is your next book going to be about?
My next book is the sequel to The Ascendant. It is about Garrett Reilly and his team trying to stop the next global financial/economic/cyber disaster. It is full of geo-politics, mystery and action. I’m about halfway through.
Thanks for taking an interest in The Ascendant. Great questions, and I had fun answering them! Drew…