MysteryPeople Q&A with Jeff Abbott
Last year Jeff Abbott launched his series character Sam Capra, a young CIA man with a lot of upheaval in his life, in Adrenaline. It was a great combination of a competent Jason Bourne-style professional with Abbott’s previous everyman-in-danger type of thriller. MysteryPeople welcomes Jeff to BookPeople to celebrate the release of the next Sam Capra thriller, The Last Minute, on Monday, July 9th. Jeff was kind enough to put up a few questions from us in advance.
MYSTERYPEOPLE: What makes Sam Capra the kind of character you want to write several books about?
JEFF ABBOTT: Sam isn’t the typical hero we see in suspense novels: he’s only in his mid-twenties, he’s only been a CIA field agent for three years, but he’s already lost the career and the life he thought he was building for himself and his family. He’s still in the process of becoming the man he’s destined to be, and that fascinates me. As well, he has a foot in two worlds: the world of trying to live a normal life and and be an owner of bars around the globe, and this world of danger and intrigue he cannot stay away from. So I always feel I have something new to explore with Sam.
MP: Both Adrenaline and The Last Minute set up the origin of Sam Capra. Did it feel like a luxury to set up a character in two books?
JA: Not so much a luxury, because I think we’ll learn a lot more about Sam, and his past, in books to come. But of course one of the comforts of a series, for readers, is spending time with a main character they know. And I hope in the course of the first two books readers get to know Sam well. I will say he has gotten the most enthusiastic, and sympathetic, response of any character I’ve created. I basically sold the series to my UK publisher, who bought it before the US, with a one-page bio of Sam. So his story started as a small seed of an idea, and just grew. Some seeds are shrubs, and some are oaks, and Sam feels like an oak to me.
MP: In Adrenaline you do a wonderful job of keeping both Sam and the reader in the dark about the truths of Sam’s life. How difficult is it to hold BACK information like that while maintaining the forward momentum of a novel?
JA: Well, thank you. I do think carefully about the structure of the book, and character motivations (and Sam is the most motivated character I’ve probably ever written). It’s really the central mystery of Adrenaline: Sam is wondering, was my life what I thought it was? And as he would find out a bit of truth, that discovery created more problems for him, which drives the forward momentum of the story. So actually I think they go very much hand-in-hand.
MP: With The Last Minute, you have several plot lines converge seamlessly. How aware are you of all the balls you’ve thrown in the air while writing?
JA: I think of those balls in the air, over time, coalescing into fewer and fewer balls as plot lines comes together, finally becoming one large cannonball which I fire directly into the reader’s chest. So I’m aware of the plot lines coming together, but they will only work if there is an emotional punch to them. Otherwise it’s just window dressing.
MP: You use a fair amount of humor in your books. Do you find that essential when writing about life and death situations?
JA: That’s interesting because people tell me that I am funny (like after seeing me with Harlan Coben at BookPeople last year) but that the books are not. And they’re not meant to be. I think Sam or Mila, his mysterious partner, sometimes are smart-mouthed to deal with difficult situations. But I never think, oh, this is funny or I need to stick in a one-liner. My books do very well in foreign markets, and humor often does not translate well, so I don’t ever try to “write funny”.
MP: Can you tell us anything about the next Sam Capra book?
JA: It will be out next summer, and I can tell you that the classic story of Faust — of that deal with a devil where you sacrifice all your integrity for success — was a key inspiration.