Friday, February 26, 2010

Richard North Patterson

Thriller Guy recently read and reviewed the latest RNP thriller, Honor, due out in June. TG likes Patterson's books, particularly because he always weaves a compelling story around contemporary, difficult themes, in this case the war in Iraq and the damage PTSD inflicts on our returning service men and women. People often write to TG and ask for help in coming up with a good idea for thriller and TG's advice is always the same: read the newspaper. Patterson obviously does, then he thinks long and hard on how he can turn a Ripped from the front pages of the newspaper! plot (God, TG hates that line and will never use it in a review) into a thriller that will instruct while it thrills.

TG's favorite Patterson book is Eclipse, which is based on the real life of Nigerian human rights activist Ken Saro-Wiwa who was hanged by the brutal dictator General Sani Abacha. In Eclipse, Patterson's fictional hero Bobby Okari has been captured and imprisoned in the fictional country of Luandia. Bobby's American wife calls her former boyfriend lawyer Damon Pierce to defend Bobby in a dramatic show trial. The action is violent and riveting, the legal stuff fascinating, and the end is moving far beyond the effects of most thrillers. TG thinks this is an important book and urges you to read it. It is now out in paperback.

TG interviewed the accommodating Richard North Patterson, here's a bit of that interview:

Q. Your books seem intended to teach as well as entertain. Is this true and has this always been your goal?

A. That depends on my ambitions for a particular book. But I do believe that if you can deeply engross a reader with a dramatic story and vivid characters, you can enrich their experience by exposing them to issues they have not considered.

In the last decade, I’ve written about such issues as the viciousness of presidential politics, the law and politics of abortion, gun violence and the gun lobby, capital punishment, the tragic conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, and, in ECLIPSE, the geopolitics of oil, where the addictive needs of superpowers tramples any concern for human rights. What is gratifying to me is the volume of appreciative letters I get from readers, many of whom thank me for changing their mind or opening their eyes with respect to the most contentious subjects. While I don’t compare myself to these great writers, the wonderful tradition of such fiction includes novelists like Emile Zola and Upton Sinclair.

I think a novelist is free to write about whatever subject he or she cares about. I also believe that to combine the values of good fiction with a hard and realistic exploration of the challenges that face us is one of the finer expressions of the fictional art.

Q. Do you think novels can bring about change?

A. I can’t know what impact a book may have. I can only write a novel as if it matters, hopeful that if I care about a subject, others will as well. I do know that I’ve changed individual minds, and caused readers to look at some of our most visceral controversies in a different way. I also believe that when any individual speaks out—including a novelist—it sends ripples throughout a society. But in a country as complex and contentious as ours, there’s simply no way to measure the effect of an individual book.

One of my goals in writing issue-oriented fiction is to present different points of view, set out the complexity of a problem, and acknowledge the emotional and psychological aspects of public controversies, whether abortion, capital punishment, or the Israeli-Palestinian tragedy. Our media frequently simplify and vulgarize issues, turning what should be reasoned and compassionate analysis into vituperation which demeans the other side. While I have my own point of view, I try to make fairness a value of my fiction.

Q. What do you think of the term “legal thriller,” “political thriller,” or even just “thriller” in relation to your books?

A. I certainly like being known as a writer who imbues his books with considerable suspense—that’s part of my intention. But I don’t like at all the tendency to categorize novels, because it tends to type or diminish them in the minds of prospective readers. To me, I’m a novelist—period. My concerns as a novelist are to deploy the classic components of good fiction—an engrossing story, engaging characters, a vivid setting—to engage a reader’s mind and emotions.

Q. You have had a number of interesting jobs as a lawyer. What influenced you to give that up and write fiction?

A. One reason was to spend more time with my kids—the travel and hours for a lawyer can be brutal. But by far the most important reason is the wonderful freedom given a novelist. It is the ultimate in self-assigned work—you can write about anything you care about, and learn about any subject that intrigues you. For someone like me, curious by nature, it’s the perfect job.

1 comment:

  1. Good interview, TG. Makes me want to read more of Mr. Patterson.