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By J. N. Duncan

I’d like to welcome Allan Topol to this month’s ITW bulletin. He is the national bestselling author of eight novels of international intrigue, which have been translated into several languages. He is a graduate of Carnegie Institute of Technology where he majored in chemistry and abandoned science. He also obtained a law degree from Yale University. A partner in a major Washington law firm and an avid wine collector, he has traveled extensively, researching dramatic locations for his novels. His latest novel, THE SPANISH REVENGE, comes out this month. So, let’s get right to it, shall we?

Can you give us the twitter version of THE SPANISH REVENGE?

In THE SPANISH REVENGE, Craig Page and Elizabeth Crowder confront the nefarious Ahmed Sadi who intends to retake a portion of S. Spain for Islam

There are a fair number of international thrillers out there on the shelves today. What do you feel sets your books apart from the others?

All of my books have a serious international background issue. Hence, they not only entertain the reader with a fast moving thriller, but inform the reader about an important international topic. So the reader comes away from the book having learned something, but it is not done in a way in which characters lecture the reader. Rather, the background issue is subtly worked into the plot.

International affairs are obviously an important part of your stories. Why the interest and how do you go about incorporating such a large scope element into your work?

I have always been interested in international issues and have written many op-ed pieces in the media over the years. I find fiction to be a good vehicle to deal with these international issues.  However, the issues must be incorporated carefully into the novel to avoid interfering with the fast moving pace of the story.

Do your stories develop from a plot or character perspective initially?

I develop my stories by first focusing on the issue and then I move up on both character and plot. I will develop a 40-50 page outline of the story at the same time I prepare detailed bios of my four POV characters in order that I can get to know them before I begin writing.

You’ve written eight novels now that primarily revolve around international intrigue and conspiracies. How do you do to keep it feeling fresh each time?

I keep it feeling fresh each time by focusing on different international issues and different international locales. I travel a lot and am interested in foreign locales and putting them into my novels. I find that those appeal to readers as well.

On element I find difficult as a writer (and a welcome challenge) is developing character within the bounds of a story that is highly action driven. What do you do to create effective character depth when they are constantly on the go chasing down bad guys and trying to save the world?

I focus a considerable amount of attention on character development. In order to create character depth, I prepare detailed bios of the characters before I begin writing so I can get to know them. I believe that in my novels the plot is character driven as opposed to the reverse.Plot is important; but characters even more so. This means serious characters, male and female, whom the reader will get to know.

Your day job is being a lawyer. Do you bring any of this knowledge/expertise to your writing?

I do not write legal thrillers in a conventional sense with the exception of DARK AMBITION.  However, my legal knowledge/expertise inevitably is useful on background issues. Also, I travel extensively as a partner in a large international law firm. The places I visit and the people I meet inform my writing.

Writers always have favorite parts of a book they write. What is your favorite scene from THE SPANISH REVENGE?

My favorite scene in THE SPANISH REVENGE occurs when Craig and Elizabeth, my protagonists, travel to the mountains of Morocco and confront Ahmed Sadi, one of the two villains of the novel. I like this scene not just because of the risk and dangers being confronted by Craig and Elizabeth, but also because the clash between these characters and their conflicting views of Western Europe lies at the heart of the novel.

Can you give me a couple of favorite authors that do/have inspire your own writing?

My writing has been inspired by Graham Greene and Leon Uris.  Both of these authors have written books dealing with international issues that are strong on character development. In TRINITY, Uris deals with the conflict in Northern Ireland while creating very real characters.  The same is true for Graham Green in novels such as THE HONORARY CONSUL, THE COMEDIANS, and THE HEART OF THE MATTER.

Being someone who really enjoys writing female characters, I noticed that one of your books has a female heroine. Given that the genre of international spy thrillers is a very male-centric one, what are your thoughts on writing a female main character in such a male-dominated venue?

Almost all of my books have strong female characters.  My readers are split evenly between men and women. I do this not only to attract women readers, but also because the modern world has strong female characters at the heart of international issues.

Readers who’ve enjoyed your previous books will obviously be picking up your new book. If you were a bookseller who found a reader with your book in hand, what would you tell them to convince them to pick up an Allan Topol book?

I would tell them that this is a fast-moving, action packed, novel which informs on one of the most important issues in the contemporary world, namely the conflict between Christians and Muslims, particularly in Western Europe.


Allan Topol is the national bestselling author of eight novels of international intrigue, including Spy Dance, and most recently The China Gambit, published in January 2012. His novels have been translated into Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese, and Hebrew. He is a graduate of Carnegie Institute of Technology, who majored in chemistry, abandoned science, and obtained a law degree from Yale University. A partner in a major Washington law firm, and an avid wine collector, he has traveled extensively, researching dramatic locations for his novels. You can join him on Facebook. Please let him know if you would like to receive his free newsletter. Allan is available for speaking opportunities on subjects of international affairs, dealt with in his novels.

To learn more about Allan, please visit his website.

J.N. Duncan
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