Andrew Kaplan is best known as the author of two spy thriller book series: SCORPION and HOMELAND. A former journalist, war correspondent and businessman, he covered events around the world and served in both the U.S. Army and the Israeli Army. The CIA has tried on a number of occasions to recruit him and he has consulted with think tanks that advise governments. He is the author of eight international bestselling novels, including DRAGONFIRE and WAR OF THE RAVEN in addition to the SCORPION and HOMELAND series and his works have been translated into twenty languages. Recently three of Amazon’s top 20 thrillers were his SCORPION books. His film-writing career includes the James Bond classic, GOLDENEYE. He is the author of the highly anticipated, HOMELAND: CARRIE’S RUN, an original prequel novel based on the award-winning hit television series, HOMELAND and is currently working on the next book in the HOMELAND series.
HOMELAND: CARRIE’S RUN
In this original prequel novel to Showtime’s award-winning hit series HOMELAND–“the best thriller on American television” (NEW YORK POST)–CIA Intelligence Officer Carrie Mathison is sent on a mission to Beirut and Iraq that will radically transform the course of her career and her life.
CARRIE’S RUN is both complex and tightly drawn. Your skill at building a plot is admirable. Which leads me to ask about your writing style. Are you an organic writer (i.e., a pantser) or a plotter? If you are a plotter, how detailed and extensive are your outlines?
In this instance, the kind of writer I am naturally was irrelevant. Because I was working on a book based on a hit TV series, it was part of the contract that there be an outline that had to be approved not only by the publisher, HarperCollins, but also by the studio and the showrunners (three separate corporate entities; that was fun!). That said, the outline is only to give people an idea of where you are going. But outlines aren’t chiseled in marble. I’ve always worked on the premise that if the result is good, no one will give a damn whether you did or didn’t follow the outline. That was certainly the case with CARRIE’S RUN. By the way, thanks for appreciating the plotting. I knew the book couldn’t succeed as a fanzine; it had to stand on its own as a top-notch edge-of-the-seat spy thriller or it wouldn’t work at all.
How did you go about writing this book? Did you approach Showtime or did they approach you? How much license were you given to create Carrie’s backstory?
The deal was cooked up between the publisher, HarperCollins, and the studio well before they approached me. I knew nothing about it. At that point in time, I had never even watched the show. HarperCollins did it with the idea that they would use one of their own authors for an original novel prequel. That said, I think they had me in mind all along. I was the only author they approached. In the past, I’ve always turned these kinds of offers down. For example, many years ago I was offered the Ludlum franchise (Bourne and Covert One before there was a Covert One) and turned it down. This time, my editor and my agent talked me into it. Also, I watched episodes of the show and really liked the Carrie character. I thought writing from the POV of a woman with bipolar would be a fascinating challenge for a male writer, but I set conditions before I would agree. They were: 1) I was to be the only writer, my name was to be the only one on the book; 2) I would create a completely original story, no one else would have anything to do with it; 3) the showrunners and writers on the series and I would coordinate so that the facts I would create in the book and the facts in the TV series would be consistent (this last proved the most challenging).
As for Carrie’s backstory, bits and pieces existed, but less than you might imagine. For example, she went to Princeton (I think because that’s where Alex (Gansa) and Howard (Gordon), the two creators of the show went to college). On the other hand, I decided that she would be born in Dearborn, Michigan. I then had the family move to Maryland because her father lost his job at Ford because of his bipolar disorder which she inherited from him. Again, I decided she and her sister Maggie would go to Holy Trinity High, and so on.
Your descriptions of field craft were well done and engaging. Where did you learn these techniques?
I’ve written eight spy novels, including the Scorpion series. I’ve been a journalist and war correspondent around the world, served in Israeli military intelligence and consulted with think tanks that advise governments. The CIA tried to recruit me on a number of occasions and I’ve gone through their CTP process. I suspect my background is one of the reasons Harper and the studio wanted me for Homeland.
Educate us about your research into the geography and culture of the Middle East (and the CIA for that matter). Your details really placed me in the scenes. Have you traveled to the countries and cities mentioned in the story? What are the challenges in making the story credible when you may not have all the information available?
I lived in the Middle East for four years. I speak Hebrew and passable Arabic. I’ve been to many of the cities I describe (I was most recently in Cairo). Indeed, in this book, Beirut, a city that is at once fascinating and can break your heart, is almost a character. I personally know people in the region. Jews, Muslims, Druze, you name it. I’ve also written about the Middle East in many of my books; this isn’t my first rodeo. For me, the hardest to do were places I hadn’t been and where there was limited information, like Ramadi in Iraq during the height of the war in 2006. In those cases, I dug into first-hand accounts written by Marines who had served there during the fighting. Hopefully, that comes through as Carrie experiences it in the book.
Your bio mentions that you were with the Israeli army during the Six-Day War. What did you do for them? What kind of work did you do in military intelligence?
During the Six Day War, I served in a SAYERET, a Special Forces-type unit on the Golan Heights (Syria). My work in AMAN, Military Intelligence, dealt with counter-terrorism.
Your mention of the NSA intercept of the Israeli spy transmission is especially timely given the recent revelation about eavesdropping that the NSA and other American security agencies are claimed to have done on friendly governments. Was it a lucky guess or did a “friend” tip you off?
There was no luck involved. And no one tipped me off. I’ve written about this before. For example, in SCORPION BETRAYAL I included things about the NSA, whose very charter is dealing with COMINT worldwide, so these kinds of intercepts, given our capabilities, including the most recent revelations about snooping on the emails of American citizens should not come as such a surprise. As for the revelation that the NSA and other US agencies spy on friendly governments, it’s like the line in the movie CASABLANCA when Claude Rains is shocked, “Shocked!” that there’s gambling going on at Rick’s café while someone is handing him his winnings. The reality is, ALL governments spy on all other governments, including “friendlies”. That’s why, for example, Jonathan Pollard is serving a life sentence for spying against the United States for Israel, an ally of the U.S. But if people do want to know what’s really going on, HOMELAND: CARRIE’S RUN is as good a place to start as any.
As I read this story, I had to set aside my cynicism about how smart and capable the community of spooks actually is. In his Mitch Rapp novels, the late Vince Flynn often harped on the lack of accountability in the American security and defense arenas. When was the last time anyone in the security and counterintelligence services got in trouble for guessing wrong or missing the signals? What comes to mind are the underwear bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, and one of the Boston Marathon Bombers, Tamerlan Tsarnaev. In Umar’s case, his father had notified the US government that his son was a terrorist. In Tamerlan’s case, the Russians had alerted the US–twice–about his involvement with Islamic terrorists. In both cases, the warnings were unheeded and whoever made the call to ignore the intelligence was never called into account. So I have a hard time believing the spies, the spy watchers, and their bosses are that effective when they let the obvious clues go whizzing by their heads. Your thoughts?
Wow! It never fails to amaze me at how wrong politicians and the media always get this. How could they have missed this, those bumbling idiots, they howl? Well, here’s how the real world of intelligence works. The great majority of the time you get a bit of a piece of partial intel from a source. Guess what? People lie. Or it’s a rumor. Or they may only know a part of what’s happening. And then you try to confirm. How reliable is the source? Where did he get it from? How reliable are his sources? What are his motives for telling you? How much did you pay him? Is someone paying him more? Or squeezing him more? Oh yeah, Tamerlan. The Russians told us. Twice. Should we check it out. Sure. But who does the checking? How? And what about the source? The FSB, who used to be the KGB? Because the Russians never gave anybody bad intel ever, so we should just accept it at face value? Sorry. The reality is, most of the time, you are never never never working with certainty. You are working with bits and pieces and probabilities of things that have to be checked out and you don’t always have the time or the resources. The clock is ticking, only unlike the movies, you don’t have a big red digital visual ticking down the seconds for you. You don’t know when the bomb is going to go off. And you don’t always have that asset inside the SVR in Yasenevo to double-check something the FSB is handing you because some Congressman has cut your budget because that’s the flavor of the month. And to complicate matters even more, every agency has a different charter and a different agenda. The FBI’s job is to prosecute criminals. That means they have to treat evidence very differently than does the CIA which really doesn’t care about making a criminal case stand up in court, only about the information. So they don’t play nice together. Plus there’s not just that one piece of data from somebody’s uncle. There’s a blizzard of data, every day. How do you find the one “clue” of all of them when you don’t have the resources to go through a tenth of them and your budget keeps getting cut?
And worst of all, as you go up the food chain in Washington, often even very accurate intel assessments get altered so they blow according to the prevailing political winds. So to answer your question, clues that seem obvious after the fact, aren’t always before the fact – or may not have been clues at the time. And yes, there are some people higher up, who need to be held accountable.
What’s the next project?
The reaction inside publishing and at the studio to CARRIE’S RUN has been astonishing. Translation rights for more than a dozen countries have already been sold and more are pending. I truly did not intend to do another Homeland book, but it turned out so well, after additional discussion, I am now working on the next one. This one will also be an original novel prequel, but will be a sequel to the events in CARRIE’S RUN.
Anything else to share?
Andrew Kaplan is the internationally known author of the bestselling Scorpion spy thriller series, including his latest, SCORPION DECEPTION. A former journalist and war correspondent, he covered events around the world and served in both the U.S. Army and the Israeli Army. His books have sold millions of copies and have been translated into twenty languages. His film writing career includes the James Bond classic, GOLDENEYE. He is the author of the highly-anticipated, HOMELAND: CARRIE’S RUN, from William Morrow; an original prequel novel based on the award-winning hit television series, HOMELAND.
To learn more about Andrew, please visit his website.