Between the Lines Interview with Jeff Abbott by Anthony Franze

downfallBy Anthony J. Franze

Just when Sam Capra thought he was out…

Jeff Abbott is back with DOWNFALL, another amazing book in the bestselling Sam Capra series. The first Capra novel, ADRENALINE was a breakaway hit and the second, THE LAST MINUTE, won a 2012 Thriller Award. In this third installment, the Austin, Texas writer delivers once again.

By the end of the first two books, Sam Capra’s been through a lot. He’s been kicked out of the CIA, wrongfully accused of treason, betrayed by his young wife, and had to rescue his infant son. He’s also been recruited to work for The Round Table, a secret organization that fights evil in the world and that has placed Capra undercover as the owner of several bars located around the globe. So when we meet Capra in DOWNFALL, all he wants is a quiet, normal life for himself and his son. But the white picket fence is not to be.

It all starts when a beautiful young woman hurries into Capra’s San Francisco bar and whispers two words to him that will change everything: Help me. And help her he does, intervening as two men rush into the bar and try to abduct the woman. Capra kills one of the assailants and the woman escapes. Were the men really there for the woman? Or had Capra’s past come back to haunt him? Capra soon uncovers that the woman, Diana Keene, is being sought by a network of evil-doers—a network whose members (including Keene’s own mother) have pledged allegiance to the group in exchange for money and power. Six days and several dead bodies and betrayals later, Capra must confront whether the network has a connection to those whom he trusts the most.

DOWNFALL is an action packed page-turner with a compelling protagonist and a story grounded in the love of family and good versus evil. The book confirms why the ASSOCIATED PRESS called Jeff Abbott “one of the best thriller writers in the business.”

Jeff was kind enough to answer a few of my questions:

DOWNFALL is the best in the Sam Capra series yet. But given that ADRENALINE and THE LAST MINUTE were so well received—critically and commercially—did you feel any pressure writing the latest installment?

Thanks very much! There’s always pressure, but more I think from myself. I’m very conscious of the gift of time a reader is giving to me. I always want them to feel they’re getting a good value from me.

What’s your secret to keeping the energy and speed going in the series three Capra books later?

I feel I could spend a lifetime writing about Sam. He has a very rich history and backstory that I can mine, and given his ownership of bars around the world he’s a character ripe for new situations. He himself has enormous energy, so I guess he fuels me as well.

What does the title ‘DOWNFALL’ refer to?

In the book, it’s the name of a file containing names of people who had promising careers that were suddenly destroyed. The bad guys in the book are an Old Boys Club taken to its logical, murderous, and cold-blooded extreme. They think nothing of ruining strangers’ lives for their own benefit; Sam is someone who will save a stranger, because he should. The bad guys in this book are really, truly the opposite of Sam. And they were great fun to write, as awful as they are, because of course they believe they’re the heroes of the story.

adrenalineHas Sam Capra changed since we first met him in ADRENALINE?

He thinks he’s shifted into a more normal mode of life from the first two books, where he was obsessed with saving his family. He’s less trusting, with good reason. He’s tougher in his view of the world. He’s trying to adjust to his new role as a father. But his core need to help people is still there. That is part of what defines him.

Does he really want the picket fence and normalcy, or does he just think he does?

Spending his childhood wandering the world, working for the CIA, being framed for treason—he’s never, ever had a normal life. Especially what we think of as the normal American life, suburbs and shopping centers and backyard barbecues. That’s alien territory to him. But he’s been told it should be what he wants. He wants a better life for his child and he thinks this is it. But he also loves the danger and the excitement of what he does. He’s an adrenaline addict. That’s going to continue to create conflicts for him.

Sam’s not your typical hero in a spy-based series; he’s pretty young for a protagonist and had only a short tenure at the CIA. Was there a reason you chose to make him so young and less experienced?

I am so glad you noticed that, because yes, it was entirely a conscious decision on my part. So many suspense protagonists are in their 30s, 40s, 50s, they’re fairly settled into their lives, they’re at the prime of their careers. Sam is in his mid 20s, still a person who is discovering who he is. The career and the family he thought he was going to have are gone. His future isn’t at all what he believed it would be. He has skills but he’s still a kid in many ways. And I think that makes him interesting. He has no “set way” of how he should handle danger, or his son, or his life. He is going to have to learn as he goes.

In DOWNFALL there are two important women in Sam’s life (Mila and Leonie). Will his (currently non-romantic) relationship with them evolve into something more as the series progresses?

I think given the events of the first two novels, he’s not ready for a relationship. But these two women represent the conflict he’s facing: Mila is adventure and danger. Leonie is the normal life he says he wants. That tug of war might not be over any time soon. But I love writing both these women, they are very interesting to me, so we’ll see how it plays out. I never could have predicted how much readers would love Mila. We learned more about her backstory in THE LAST MINUTE and a reviewer said, ‘she’s not mysterious any more’ and I thought: I have hardly begun to tell you about Mila.

When writing ADRENALINE you spent a lot of time in London and Amsterdam where the book is set. Did you do the same for the locales in DOWNFALL?

Yes, I find it helpful to study the locales. Especially with San Francisco, where much of DOWNFALL is set. For instance, I knew there was going to be a car chase scene. The film BULLITT has the definitive San Francisco car chase scene and I knew I couldn’t do something like that, I had to be true to Sam’s character and not just go over ground that’s been covered before. You can only get that sense of how you can be unique by going there. Fortunately with Sam owning bars in the great cities of the world, I can set the books wherever I please.

Do you think readers will need to read the past books in the series to get the most out of DOWNFALL?

Not necessarily, but some readers are sticklers for reading books in order and they probably should start with ADRENALINE. There are elements of the story in Sam’s history that carry over from book to book, but I try hard to make it easy to start anywhere in the series.

You dedicated DOWNFALL to Mitch Hoffman. Why?

He’s a wonderful editor. We’ve now done six or seven books together and he’s never steered me wrong; his guidance is excellent. People who say books are not edited anymore have never worked with Mitch.

What are you reading right now?

I am just starting 11/23/63 by Stephen King, which won a Thriller Award last year, as did THE LAST MINUTE. And after that I’m going to read VAN GOGH: THE LIFE by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith. Van Gogh is my favorite painter. I just turned in the new book, and I’ve been saving both those big books to read as a reward.

Other than writing, what do you do for fun?

Spend time with my family, read, and travel. I binge-watch television shows and I love old movies. And I enjoy football (New Orleans Saints) and college baseball (Rice Owls).

You live in Austin, which is known for the South by Southwest festival, so I have to ask:  What’s on the frequently played list on your iPod?  

Mostly it’s going to be movie soundtracks (like the ones for INCEPTION, OBLIVION, and the Bourne films) and music I listen to while writing. I’m a big fan of Massive Attack, Radiohead, LCD Soundsystem, M83, Sigur Ros. Or classical, such as Phillip Glass or Mahler.

Can we expect to see Mr. Capra or any of your other characters on the big screen any time soon?

Three of the books, including ADRENALINE, have been optioned and are in various stages of development. I am not involved in the projects except to wish everyone good luck. Readers tell me constantly they want to see a Sam movie. From their lips to God’s ear, I say.

lastminuteWhat’s your best advice to writers—both those who are trying to get published and those struggling on the midlist?

Keep your head down, avoid all the distractions of being a writer today—all the shifts in the business, all the drama, all the debating about where publishing is going—and write the best story that you can. It sounds a bit glib, but I think this is advice a lot of people are having trouble following right now. It is so hard to focus. But that is the single key to success.

What’s the worst piece of advice that you’ve heard dispensed to writers?

That you must be a constant presence on social media, promoting your work. There are authors who are brilliant at it—John Green, Margaret Atwood, Jennifer Weiner—but 95% of the time they’re not talking about their books. I see authors who seem to spend all day on Twitter and I don’t understand how they get books written. Social media can be very seductive with its promises of reaching readers; but there are only so many hours in a day, and nothing can replace the time and care you spend on a book. I can think of two authors who had their first big bestsellers this year who are barely active on social media. So don’t consider social media a cure-all, use it wisely.

Is there another Sam Capra novel in the works? Another standalone? What’s on the horizon?

I’ve finished the fourth Sam novel as of two days ago and sent it off to my agents and editors and we’ll see. I want to write Sam for as long as people want to read about him. I have some other ideas for books, but right now my focus is on growing this series. Grand Central is bringing my backlist now in beautiful new paperbacks and first-time-ever ebook editions, so hopefully people who discovered me through the Sam books will explore the other novels as well.

*****

abbottJeff Abbott is the NEW YORK TIMES bestselling author of thirteen novels. His books include the Sam Capra thrillers ADRENALINE and THE LAST MINUTE (winner of an International Thriller Writers Award), as well as the standalone novels PANIC, FEAR, and COLLISION. Jeff is a three-time nominee for the Edgar award. He lives in Austin with his family.

To learn more about Jeff, please visit his website.

Anthony Franze

Anthony J. Franze is a lawyer in the Appellate and Supreme Court practice of a prominent Washington, D.C. law firm, and a critically acclaimed thriller writer with novels set in the nation’s highest court, including The Advocate’s Daughter (St. Martin’s Press, 2016), and The Outsider (St. Martin’s Press, 2017). Franze is a board member and a Vice President of the International Thriller Writers. He lives in the Washington, D.C. area with his family. Learn more at www.AnthonyFranzeBooks.com
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