By Julie Kramer
Jamie Freveletti – a trial attorney turned author – is the ultimate International Thriller Writers’ success story. She found an agent for her debut at Thrillerfest and went on to win the Thriller Award for Best First Novel.
This month she unveils a Robert Ludlum sequel, THE JANUS REPRISAL, which Kirkus said, “turbocharges tension to nonstop levels.”
Next month, DEAD ASLEEP, fourth in her series with biochemist/ultra marathoner Emma Caldridge hits bookshelves.
The Big Thrill had questions about how Freveletti changed careers, what it’s like writing a new adventure for a hero someone else invented, and disputing the myth that men don’t want to read action thrillers written by women.
You were relatively new on the thriller scene when you were selected to write the next book in the Robert Ludlum Covert One series. How do you think you landed the gig?
While the process was never revealed to me it’s my understanding that several different authors were being considered. I first learned of it after RUNNING FROM THE DEVIL won ITW’s Best First Novel award. At that point my agent told me that the list was down to three and I was on it. A couple of months later, my book had won the Barry award as well and after the ceremony I met with the representatives of the Estate and Grand Central in the hotel bar.
I never learned the criteria used to make the decision, but I think I was hired in part due to my action sequences and to the complex and international nature of my plot lines. Both were Ludlum hallmarks, so it’s a good fit.
What’s it like working with the estate of a world famous author? Did you feel the ghost of Robert Ludlum was looking over your shoulder?
It was a bit intimidating at first, of course. I deliberately shoved the enormity of his legacy to the back of my mind and focused on the great characters that he had created. Jon Smith is a bright and resourceful guy. He was a joy to write. Once I nailed down the premise, everything just seemed to flow.
What did you bring to the series in terms of characters or plot that made your book unique? How did you balance keeping consistency with breaking new ground in regards to protagonist Lt. Jon Smith?
I wanted to start with Jon Smith being in danger from the moment he opens his eyes and I wanted him to be faced with both a personal as well as a global, catastrophe. I actually wrote the first chapter in a hotel room in San Francisco after I’d met with the Estate and Grand Central. It was just a scene then, but while I was reading the books later I realized that it was perfect and it made my final cut.
As for consistency, that is really a matter of understanding the characters and their motivations. Smith is wonderful. A stand up military man and a Covert operative with a sharp mind. The other members of Covert One, Randi Russell and Peter Howell, are also unique, and I knew I’d use them as well as Marty, the computer geek with Asperger’s syndrome.
You also have book four, DEAD ASLEEP, in your own Emma Caldridge series coming out October 30th. How difficult was it juggling both deadlines?
The deadlines weren’t terrible because I had already submitted my third, THE NINTH DAY, several months early and so had lots of time to write the fourth that I normally would not have had. I’m also extremely aware of time and time management-probably from all the years as an attorney. In a law firm you are required to record your day in six minute increments and are judged each month by the amount of time billed. Believe me, in a law firm time is not squandered!
I think two books a year is becoming more common for a lot of writers, and while I think it’s certainly possible, it’s a lot easier for professional authors who aren’t juggling a day job as well. My novels, as well as THE JANUS REPRISAL, require quite a bit of research, so I need to factor in that time as well. It’s all possible, but I’m no longer working as a trial attorney, so that has freed up my days.
If Lt. Jon Smith and Emma Caldridge met – fictionally of course – how would they get along?
They would understand each other perfectly! Smith is a medical doctor working with infectious diseases and a covert agent and Emma is a chemist dealing with strange chemicals and taking dangerous jobs on the side from a contract security outfit called Darkview. These two are both people of action.
What I was really wondering was, would their relationship be purely professional? Or would they have sex?
In the first novel, RUNNING FROM THE DEVIL, Emma’s plane was downed in the jungle. The guerrilla group that downed the plane takes the other passengers hostage. In an area surrounded by land mines and with no idea of her direction, she decides to follow the guerrillas in order to disrupt their plans.
In the second novel, RUNNING DARK, she is asked to infiltrate a cruise liner that is under fire from Somali pirates. There’s a chemical in the hold that the pirates must not obtain.
In third, THE NINTH DAY, she’s collecting night blooming plants for analysis and comes upon a group of human traffickers. They grab her and drag her over the border to Ciudad Juarez to a cartel leader. His marijuana plants are being destroyed by a disease that kills. He gives her nine days to cure the plants or she, too, will die.
So, as you see, Emma is usually occupied with survival. Not sure that she has the time to hook up, but anything is possible!
Your debut, RUNNING FROM THE DEVIL, garnered great acclaim from the thriller world. There’s a theory in publishing that men don’t want to read books about women protagonists. What’s your experience been regarding male readers?
Emma is a female protagonist with a huge brain who is not afraid to pick up a rocket propelled grenade and fire it when it’s necessary. The books fall firmly into the thriller category and most of the men that email me love them.
Here’s a funny story that happened to me at this year’s Comic Con. I was signing books and a man walked up to me looking a bit stern. He scanned the covers of all of my books on display and said,
“I love thrillers, but I don’t just buy any book. Does it have an FBI team of a man and woman that end up falling in love?”
I said no.
“Does it have vampires or zombies?”
I told him no. At this point I was getting the idea that not much was going to pass muster with him.
“Does it have a precocious teenager?”
I told him no teenagers. He looked a bit puzzled.
“So what does it have?”
“It has a female protagonist that fires rocket propelled grenades,” I said.
His eyes lit up. “In that case, I’ll take one!”
I laughed. He reminded me that reading is such a personal thing that broad brush theories don’t really work. Perhaps it’s time to put this theory to rest.
The Emma Caldridge series started out as hardcover to paperback. For your third book, THE NINTH DAY, your publisher printed it as an oversized mass market original. What went into that decision?
I guess it’s no secret that formats in publishing are changing. I launched as a debut author during the biggest downturn in the last forty years and at the beginning of the e-book explosion. I guess the idea was that a premium mass market would have a price point that works for all in a tight economy and its shape, taller than a regular mass market, lends itself well to thrillers and distinguishes the book from other genres. However, there’s no guarantee that going forward the books will always carry that format because the industry has shifted again. We’ll see what the next few years and books bring!
You used to be a lawyer. What do authors and attorneys have in common? How do they differ?
I think attorneys, especially trial attorneys, are well suited for writing fiction. As a trial attorney it was my job to write a brief from my client’s point of view that put the facts into a “story” that the judge would be able to understand. I had to persuade the judge to see the facts from my client’s perspective. Likewise, as an author I have to persuade a reader to enter the world of a character. Pretty similar skills, actually. I think this is why you see so many lawyers that become fiction writers.
Also, both make for interesting dinner companions, because as a group lawyers are usually well read and informed on current events. What I liked about moving into the writing world was the discovery that authors are just as fascinating when sitting over dinner or a drink. They are brilliant observers of people and can put their observations into words-often in funny, insightful ways. I love both professions!
Learn more about Freveletti at her website.
Julie Kramer has moved from journalist to novelist and writes a series set in the desperate world of TV news. Her latest – SHUNNING SARAH, an Amish mystery – scored a Library Journal starred review and a thumbs up from James Patterson: “Remember Witness? SHUNNING SARAH is an even better suspense story.” Kramer has won the Daphne du Maurier Award for Mainstream Mystery/Suspense, RT Reviewer’s Choice for Best First Mystery, and the Minnesota Book Award. Her work has also been nominated for the Anthony, Barry, Shamus, Mary Higgins Clark and RT Best Amateur Sleuth Awards.
To learn more about Julie, please visit her website.