By Jeremy Burns
Jack Soren may be a new name to thriller readers, but he’s no stranger to the genre. A lifelong aficionado of the genre, Soren has finally thrown his hat into the ring with what looks to be a blockbuster debut. On the eve of THE MONARCH’s release, Soren sat down with THE BIG THRILL to give readers a sneak peak at a thriller master in the making.
Tell us a little about yourself.
Growing up, my favorite movies usually starred either Jerry Lewis or Vincent Price. This explains a lot. A LOT. My headboard was usually stocked with The Hardy Boys, Star Trek novels and comic books. And my head was usually full of science, bad jokes, and girls. Luckily, some of this has finally started to leak out.
Before becoming a thriller novelist, I wrote software manuals, waited tables, drove a cab, and spent six months as a really terrible private investigator.
I recently signed a multi-book deal with HarperCollins for my debut thriller series. The first book in the series, THE MONARCH, is due out December 2, 2014. The second book—Dead Lights—is scheduled to follow next summer.
I live in a Toronto area dungeon where my girlfriend tosses meat and beer over a curtain for every ten manuscript pages I manage to finish.
Tell us about your new book, THE MONARCH.
Imitation is the deadliest form of flattery …
When Jonathan Hall walked away from his career as an international art thief to be a father, he thought he’d made a clean break—from crime, from life as The Monarch, from an early grave.
But when The Monarch’s signature symbol resurfaces, carved into the mutilated bodies of New York’s elite, Jonathan realizes his retirement may have been short-lived. Someone is framing The Monarch for horrific slayings. But Jonathan and his former partner, Lew, know this isn’t just murder—it’s a message.
Now caught in a deadly game against a fanatical madman whose reach penetrates the darkest corners of the globe, Jonathan and Lew have no choice but to play along. But when Jonathan’s daughter becomes a pawn, all bets are off. To win this game, Jonathan and Lew will have to accept one final task as The Monarch—a job that could change the course of history forever.
What was your initial inspiration for THE MONARCH? How did the story’s premise develop through the early days of your writing process?
I guess the initial inspiration was an idea that came to me one day where someone was on a killing spree, using priceless masterpieces as their weapons of choice. An early draft of the book was even called Priceless, but I wasn’t ready to write it and it didn’t end up going anywhere. Mostly because nobody wants to read a novel about a guy wandering around whacking people with Monets for no reason.
It was some time after that when the other elements came together. I love globe-hopping, international thrillers, and so I wanted to do that. But I’m also a huge Michael Crichton fan, and with my everyday interests I knew science had to be a part of it. I’m a pantser—I don’t really outline until deep into the writing process—so with those meager goals in mind, the premise, as it is now, grew and developed as I wrote the early part of the book.
From international art thievery to conspiracies and framing for murder, THE MONARCH hits some big thriller high notes. What are some of the ways you’ve conducted research for this novel? Any interesting stories there?
I used the Internet for most of my research, but I try not to depend too heavily on Wikipedia, at least not without corroborating things with other sites. But I try never to use any single source for anything, really. I think that comes from my Journalism training in college. I made extensive use of both the FBI’s and Interpol’s art theft databases.
If I had my choice, I’d visit all of the locales I use in my work, but that’s just not feasible. I’ve traveled a lot in my life, so I do draw on those experiences when I can. But the real handicap I had with this book is that I’ve never been to New York and there are several fairly detailed scenes around the city. For these I relied on Google Streetview. I’d go to the locations I wanted to write about and then drilled down to the Streetview and just look around. It was incredibly helpful and contributed to a significant plot device later on in the book.
You have an eclectic and intriguing professional bio, including working as a cab driver and, as you note, a six-month stint as a “really terrible private detective”. Did any of your experiences in your various professional lives inform any scenes, elements, or characters in THE MONARCH?
Most people refer to it as not being able to hold down a job, so thank you. And yes, my experiences and the people I’ve met in such diverse worlds definitely helps me when I’m creating my characters and worlds. Some of the characters I’d pick up as a cab driver were so over-the-top I’d have to tone them down to put them in a novel, but they all go into the smelting pot.
Working as a P.I. showed me first-hand what I’d only imagined—and things I hadn’t imagined at all. Like, it’s really HARD to tail someone. Most of the time you’re so worried about being spotted you end up losing them in traffic or at a light. Trust me, your bosses *hate* that.
How much of yourself do you put in your characters? With which character in THE MONARCH do you most identify?
It varies. Some of my characters are who I wish I could be or that I know I could have been in a different life. Others are definitely who I am, to varying degrees. I think it’s kind of impossible not to put some of yourself in all of your characters. You’re looking through their eyes, sure, but it’s still you doing the looking.
Which character was the most fun for you to write? Why?
Lew, hands down. He’s just so uncensored and impulsive and pragmatic. He’s also the funniest. I usually have to dial-down my sense of humor or ignore the sarcasm that is constantly bubbling up in my writer-brain. With Lew I took the cruise-control off and just had at it. It seems to have worked, because everyone seems to love him.
BTW, a little trivia about Lew: his last name is Katchbrow. That’s an anagram for Throwback. He’s definitely old-school.
What is your favorite book by another author? Why?
Wow. That’s a hard one. I try to read a wide variety of books, both in and out of my genre, but I guess if I had to I could narrow it down to Crichton’s Sphere and King’s The Stand. But even as I said that I thought of twelve other books I wished I’d said.
What is your favorite travel destination? Why?
Earth. I’ve traveled a lot but I’ve only scratched the surface of the places I want to go. Antarctica to Egypt to Fiji, there’s no limit.
If you could have dinner with any one person, dead or alive, who would it be and what would you talk about?
Probably Neil Armstrong. I’d love to talk to him about what it was like to be a test pilot and astronaut back when no one had ever done it before. And of course what it was like to be the first man on the moon. But I’d be just as interested in how he dealt with those experiences in the rest of the life. What was like in 1979 when he was taking the garbage out on a night under a full moon. How does a person deal with that?
What is your favorite period in history (get as specific as you want, e.g. country, reign of King X, etc.)? If given the opportunity to time travel there, would you go? Why or why not?
Egypt when the pyramids were being built or maybe the American west coast for the first settlers. And no, I wouldn’t go. I would not do well in a place without Playstations and sonic toothbrushes.
If you had the opportunity to freely explore any secure location (palaces, bunkers, secret bases, corporate headquarters, abandoned sites) from anywhere in the world, where would you go and what would you do?
Area 51, Hangar 19. I just want to know, you know?
What do you find most rewarding about writing?
Being able to play in worlds I’ll never go to, or being people I’ll never get a chance to be. A lot of people say the best part of writing is having written, in other words they only enjoy it when they’re done. And that is awesome, but when you’re in that moment of creation and moving from moment to moment—your characters both obeying you and surprising you—with no idea what’s going to happen next, it’s about the best thing in the world.
What is one thing that would surprise your readers about you or your writing process?
About me? I was an extra in Police Academy III.
About my process? I don’t really have one. My process is more write when you can and figure it all out in revision. I find if I play around with methods or charts or software or whatever (and I’ve done it all), it just eats up time I could be writing. At the moment I’m writing in a text editor called Vim on a Linux laptop, but only because I know those things from when I wrote software manuals. It’s quick and lean and doesn’t get in the way of me writing when I want to. And that’s the most important part.
What advice would you give to new or aspiring authors who look up to you?
Don’t give up. Tenacity is as important as ability. And never stop learning the craft. Read voraciously and widely and rip what you read apart and figure out what they’re doing. Yes, it’s okay to bend and even break some rules, but you need to know what they are first.
But above all, write. There’s only one way to learn to write in the end, and that’s to write.
What can we expect next from you, and where can readers go to hear the latest news?
From the mind of Jack Soren, THE MONARCH hits bookstores December 2. Don’t miss this intriguing debut of an epic new series and a fascinating new voice in the thriller world.
Jack Soren was born and raised in Toronto, Canada. Before becoming a thriller novelist, Soren wrote software manuals, waited tables, drove a cab, and spent six months as a really terrible private investigator. He lives in the Toronto area.