A Between the Lines interview with Christopher Reich

by Andrew Peterson

What is a thriller?  And why are they so popular right now?  I think it’s fair to say Christopher Reich has a handle on the answers.  His eight titles have been translated into
20 languages with total sales approaching three million copies worldwide.  Christopher also has the amazing distinction of reaching the New York Times bestseller list with his debut novel!  NUMBERED ACCOUNT opened at #13 and stayed on “the list” for six weeks, peaking at #9.   To date, over one million copies of NUMBERED ACCOUNT have been sold.

As you read the following interview, you’ll get a deeper look at the man behind these incredible espionage thrillers and some of the forces that shaped his life. 

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Did you experience a pivotal moment or event that made you want to be a novelist?

The idea came to me over a period of months.  At the time, I was working in Switzerland running a watch company in Neuchatel.  I wasn’t terribly happy in my job and the owners had recently insisted I fire my (just married) wife, who was heading up our marketing department.  No married couples allowed!  A few weeks later, as I was sitting in Istanbul airport waiting for a flight back to Zurich, I took out a piece of paper and started writing the outline for what would become my first book, NUMBERED ACCOUNT.  I quit my job three months later and decided “that’s it.” I’m going to become a novelist.

How long did it take you to make your first sale?  Can you tell us where your were and what you were doing when you received the news?

I really started writing NUMBERED ACCOUNT on May 1, 1995.  I found my agent, Richard Pine, one year later with the help of James Patterson (a friend of a friend) or as we call him in my household, “St. James.”  Together, Richard and I re-wrote the book for nine months.  Richard sold it at auction to Delacorte in January 1997 for publication one year later.

I’ll never forget the moment I learned Delacorte had bought it.  I was at my old home in Austin, Texas, pacing in my office waiting to hear from Richard.  It was late Friday afternoon, literally minutes before the auction was to officially close.  The phone rang.  I grabbed it and practically knocked myself out bringing it to my ear.  The conversation went something like this:

“Hello, Chris.  This is Richard.”

“I know who this is.  What happened?”

Lengthy pause.  (Did I mention my agent is a cruel man?)

Finally.  “We sold your book to Delacorte.”

“You did!  Oh my god, that’s fantastic!”

“For  $X00,000.”

Cue: screaming.  And later: drinking. And more drinking!  We had done it!!!

Did a fellow author mentor or help you on your journey?

No one except for Jim Patterson, as mentioned above, who took the time to read the first portion of the manuscript and was so kind as to recommend me to his agent.

Generally, writers conferences aren’t ideal places for authors to sell large numbers of their books.  What are your thoughts on that?  What do you hope your students will take away from your workshops and classes?

Writers Conferences are wonderful venues for aspiring and established authors alike to get together, share their work, and hone their skills.  You can never stop learning.  I teach a class called “How to write a thriller.” (What else am I going to teach?) Anyway,  I stick to the fundamental building blocks…most of which I learned from the Scottish novelist, John Buchan, author of THE 39 STEPS and a master of the genre.   We always have a great time!!

Do you try to write on a schedule?  Once you dig in and start writing in force, how long does it take you complete a novel?

I write five days a week for most of the year and ramp up to six or seven days as the novel comes to a close.  I know it’s a good one if I can’t wait to get back to my desk and discover just how the thing is going to end!  I have progressed from needing two years per novel to just about fourteen months.  It’s amazing how having a family and two active daughters inspire you to earn that paycheck!!  Can you say “Horseback riding?!!”

Some authors don’t outline at all.  Since your novels are plot intensive with deep characters, do you use a basic road map or a chain of scenes for your stories?  How much do you allow yourself to go “off-road” with your books?

Aha…the dreaded outline question!!  Yes, I outline…to an extent.  First I research. Then I stew and think about everything and jot down tons of ideas.  Hopefully somewhere in there is the diamond I’m looking for.  Once I find it, I’ll outline the first act of the book and have in mind how the story is going to end.  I like to say that ‘all hell breaks loose in the middle.’  I don’t allow myself to “off-road.”  It just happens.  That’s the beauty and the tragedy of the creative process.  Sometimes you have to write 25 pages of junk to get to the good stuff.  Just remember, nothing happens until pen touches paper.   The best advice my agent ever gave me is the most simple:  “Just write.”

Do you write linearly, or can you skip forward to future scenes and write them first?

I write in chronological order.

What is the most rewarding part of being an author?  Conversely, what is the most arduous?

Bottom line: the work better be the reward or you’re not going to be in this game very long.  I enjoy being my own boss.  It’s nice to get a rave review.  And, of course, there is no feeling like landing on the New York Times Bestseller List.

Likewise, the most arduous can just be doing the daily grind.  You can’t wait for the muse to land on your shoulder.  That rarely happens. Writing is work.

You’ve written several books with Dr. Jonathan Ransom as the main character.  Ransom works with the humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders and yet your background is in the financial world.  Did you find that transition difficult?

It was a natural transition.  My research had put in contact with many ranking members of the intelligence community.  It was a case of following my interests.  That’s why I’m taking a break from Jonathan and Emma Ransom for a while and going back to the world of high finance for the next one.  There is so much crazy stuff going on right now – the figures are so astronomical and the stakes are so high – I can’t resist!

The complex personal relationship in your RULES series is masterfully woven.  Will we see more books with Jonathan and his estranged wife, “Emma” a.k.a. Lara Antonova, a Russian spy?   The end of BETRAYAL certainly has sequel written all over it!

I am halfway through book four in the Ransom series, but am taking a break (as mentioned above) to write a crackerjack financial thriller.  I have a yearning to get back to Wall Street!

Can you tell us a little about your television appearances?

My first interview was on the Today Show.  I followed Hillary Clinton after she was on to defend her husband in the Monica Lewinsky scandal.  I think we had double the normal audience.   Timing is everything.  I’ve also appeared on CBS “This Morning,” Tom Snyder, and more recently, Glenn Beck.

Glenn is a great fan of thrillers.  He is a warm, personable, and very intelligent individual.  I always have to be on my toes when I visit him.

And a question I ask of all featured guests:  What advice would you give to authors who have yet to get an agent and break into this difficult and often exclusive industry?

You only make a first impression once.  Make sure your work is as good as you can get it before showing it to an agent.  And remember, a seasoned agent can tell in two pages if you can write, and in five pages if you’ve got a story to tell.

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Sounds a little concerning for aspiring authors, but Chris is dead on.  An author might get two or three minutes of an agent’s time.  The goal is stretch that time frame.  Ideally, the agent loses track of time altogether!  The biggest mistake new authors make is rushing the process.  They’re impatient.  They think, I’ve finished the book, now I need to share it with the world. What they really need is a freelance editor.  Let’s face it, breaking into the thriller genre is tough, especially during a less than stellar economy.  And the publishing industry often moves at glacial speed.

Chris’s latest novel RULES OF BETRAYAL is the third in a series with a unique hero, Jonathan Ransom, a trauma surgeon working with the humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders.

Although the RULES books are freestanding, it’s probably best to read them in order:

RULES OF DECEPTION (2008)

RULES OF VENGEANCE  (2009)

RULES OF BETRAYAL (2010)

Each adventure delivers a deeper understanding of the complex relationships between the key players.  Reading them out of order won’t spoil anything, but I think each book nicely dovetails into the subsequent book.

Here’s a super quick snapshot of DECEPTION’s story line—a terrific read!

After his wife Emma is killed in a Swiss Alps mountaineering accident, Jonathan’s world is turned upside down.

Twenty-four hours later, Jonathan receives an envelope addressed to his wife containing two baggage-claim tickets. Puzzled, he journeys to a remote railway station only to find himself in a life-and-death struggle for his wife’s possessions. In the aftermath of the assault, he discovers that his attackers—one dead, the other mortally wounded—were, in fact, Swiss police officers. More frightening still is evidence of an extraordinary act of betrayal that leaves Jonathan stunned.

Suddenly the subject of an international manhunt and the target of a master assassin, Jonathan is forced on the run. His only chance at survival lies in uncovering the devastating truth behind the secret his wife kept from him and in stopping the terrifying conspiracy that threatens to bring the world to the brink of annihilation.

Christopher Reich also writes thrillers with financial themes, interwoven with international intrigue and espionage.  THE RUNNER takes place in post WWII Germany with a harrowing pursuit across a war-torn country.  THE DEVIL’S BANKER dives into the nebulous world of terrorist money—how do they get it, but more importantly, how do they transfer it around the globe without being detected?   They’re all fast paced books with twists and turns that you keep you guessing.

NUMBERED ACCOUNT (1998)

THE RUNNER (2000)

THE FIRST BILLION (2002)

THE DEVIL’S BANKER (2003)

THE PATRIOTS CLUB (2005)

So back to our question:  What is a thriller?   There are varying opinions on what defines a thriller, but I think Chris would agree that it needs at least two key elements:

High stakes and lots of action.

Sounds easy, right?  Anyone can do it.  How many times have authors heard the words; I’ve always wanted to write a book, or I’ve got this great idea for a novel….   With all great endeavors, veterans make it look easy.  After all, if Christopher Reich can do it, why can’t I? Watching Ernie Els swing a 3-iron and drop a golf ball four feet from the hole looks effortless.  What people don’t see is the decades of effort it took Ernie to develop that graceful swing.  Just as Ernie has hit millions of golf balls refining his craft, Chris Reich has written millions of words.  There is no secret recipe for the talent and drive needed to craft commercial thrillers.  Those skills are acquired the old fashioned way.  Can luck play a role in a writer’s career?  Yes, of course it can, but Chris knows there’s no substitute for grinding it out over countless, lonely hours in the chair.

When you watch a really great movie, it’s seamless.  You don’t notice the directing.  The scene changes, camera angles, lighting and sound all become invisible.  The same can be said for a great book, you don’t notice the writing. Chris Reich does this like a seasoned pro.  I was halfway through RULES OF BETRAYAL and literally said, “Damn, it’s past midnight, I need to put this book down and get some sleep!”  The only fault I found with BETRAYAL was that it ended!  I really want to know what Jonathan Ransom’s wife, Emma, is going to do next.  I’m completely hooked.

I encourage you to check out Chris Reich’s website www.christopherreich.com where you’ll find detailed information on all his books and more biographical info.  There’s an in-depth article on Chris’s journey to selling NUMBERED ACCOUNT here. It’s an inspiring and eye-opening look at the process Chris undertook to break through as a thriller novelist.

Bottom line?  If you love espionage adventures with high stakes, tons of action, and memorable characters, then Christopher Reich is your guy!

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Christopher Reich was born in Tokyo in 1961 and currently lives in Carlsbad, CA.  When he’s not writing, he’s big into endurance sports – running, biking, strength conditioning.  He also enjoys an occasional round of golf with friends.  Chris keeps trying to summit the Matterhorn—hopefully, next summer!  He loves Italian, Chinese, and Mexican food, but good Swiss cuisine is his favorite.  “Give me wienerschnitzel mit pommes frites and I’m a happy man!!”

Andrew Peterson

Andrew Peterson is the author of First To Kill, the debut in a series featuring Nathan McBride, a former marine sniper and CIA operations officer.The next McBride novel, Forced To Kill, will be available early next year in exclusive audiobook format from Audible.com.Andrew works as a volunteer firefighter, enjoys scuba diving, target shooting, flying helicopters, hiking and camping, and an occasional sad round of golf.

Visit Andy at: www.andrewpeterson.com.
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