Your output is prodigious: as well as producing a string of bestsellers you write for screen, TV and comics including Wolverine and Batman. So how did you find time to write Orphan X? Do you think sleep is for cissies?
I definitely think sleep is overrated. But I will also say that when you love what you do – and I love writing thrillers – you never feel overworked. Just grateful.
Which came first – the idea for the story or the central character?
Evan Smoak, aka Orphan X, came first. To start a series, I’d have to commit to living with someone else for the foreseeable future. Have him talking in my head nonstop. Spend more waking hours with him than I do with my wife or kids. In other words, someone who I find interesting and compelling and funny and just and true.
Fifteen novels in, I finally found that character. Orphan X is the culmination of decades of writing and research. It took a lot of years for me to find my way to Evan. And fair enough. He’s a hard guy to find. He was yanked out of a foster home at the age of twelve, raised in a covert black assassin programme buried so deep within the US government that virtually no one knows it exists.
And I didn’t want this to feel like nonsense Hollywood training, you know, where he’s catching flies with chopsticks. So I spent months doing research. Off I went to Vegas to visit one of my consultants, a world-renowned sniper and armorer, who got me on to every gun I write about, from Benelli combat shotguns to custom 1911 pistols. I trained – badly – in mixed martial arts, familiarizing my face with the training mat. I talked to guys who have led operations that you’ve seen on CNN, who have gone into hostile territory, under deep cover, and played offense in some of the most dangerous theatres in the world. All in an effort to show the process by which a skinny, scared kid from an East Baltimore boy’s home could plausibly transform into Orphan X, a legendary figure in the shadow service.
Once I had a handle on who Evan was, I knew that this adventure would follow. And many more.
You’ve had fabulous reviews for Orphan X from your peers – which thriller writers do you enjoy most, and why?
I became a thriller writer because of how much I love reading so there are more authors I admire than I can list here. But to name a few? John le Carré, Megan Abbott, Dennis Lehane, David Baldacci . . . I could really keep going for ever. Stephen King was a big inspiration to me growing up. I remember reading Salem’s Lot under the covers late at night with a flashlight when I was supposed to be asleep and hearing footsteps crunch the gravel outside my window. To this day, I’ve never figured out what that was. And hiding in my bed, I was struck by how this Stephen King guy who I had never met was controlling my emotions across distance and time. Here I was, terrified and excited, and an author had DONE that to me. I vowed that one day I would try to inflict similar thrills on readers. So here I am, hoping you are thrilled as I was.
And for your next trick . . . ?
Evan Smoak will be back in The Nowhere Man. I don’t want to give too much away about the story, but I will tell Richard and Judy readers that Evan will find himself in the tightest spot – emotionally and literally – he’s ever been in.