Andrew Kaplan is a former journalist and war correspondent covering events around the world. He served in both the U.S. Army and in the Israeli Army during the Six Day War and worked in military intelligence. The CIA has tried on several occasions to recruit him. He has consulted with groups that advise governments and as president of a technical communications company worked on a contract basis with a number of leading U.S. corporations and government agencies. He is the author of several international best-selling novels including HOUR OF THE ASSASSINS, DRAGONFIRE, and WAR OF THE RAVEN, though he is best-known as author of the Scorpion series. His latest novel is the stunning SCORPION DECEPTION, coming this June from Harper Collins.
Who is Scorpion?
Scorpion is an American ex-CIA agent turned independent intelligence contractor. He is hired for missions – often the most difficult – by organizations like the CIA. His code-name, “Scorpion,” is derived from an incident in his childhood in Arabia. Although there’s plenty of action, unlike the Mitch Rapp/Scott Horvath types, Scorpion is a loner whose missions have more to do with real international espionage than the slam-bang stuff. Agencies have to think twice before they hire him because he’s a man with his own moral code; a knife that can cut both ways.
Tell us about SCORPION DECEPTION.
A brutal hit squad attacks the U.S. embassy in Switzerland (written before Benghazi), stealing highly classified CIA files and leaving no one alive. There are no clues to their identity. Congressional leaders demand military action and the CIA turns to Scorpion. But Scorpion is unwilling to get involved . . . until he learns his name is at the top of the stolen list. The story rockets from the refugee camps of Africa and across Europe to Tehran’s ruling inner circles. With war hanging in the balance, Scorpion must survive a manhunt while trying to outwit a brilliant spymaster known only as “the Gardener”.
Is the villain of the piece, The Gardener, based on any real political figure?
The Gardener is a very complex character. He’s not based on anyone real, nor is he an off-the-shelf villain, but rather an amalgam of a character I had originally thought about for a completely different non-Scorpion book combined with a kind of ruthless master spy (think Le Carre’s Karla), plus someone completely brilliant. A Mozart of espionage. As one character says of him: “They’d all been doing arithmetic; he’d been doing calculus.”
This is the latest entry in an ongoing series. Can readers jump in here or should they start with an earlier book?
Readers should feel free to jump in anywhere; the water’s fine. To be sure, there are occasional references to events from past books, but nothing that should stymie the new reader or slow him or her down. They’ll understand perfectly.
Your own backstory would make for a good thriller character. You served in the U.S. military and also fought for Israel in the Six Day War, and you’ve been a journalist. How much of you is in your books?
The part of me that’s in my books is the authenticity of locales, espionage/intelligence tradecraft and foreign cultures. I get emails and letters from all over the world, including parts of the Middle East you’d think might be upset by my portrayals as well as from ex-military and intelligence types. They connect with my books not because I color them with a rosy hue, but because it’s real. They recognize themselves and their world in the work. As you suggest, my own backstory helps me do this.
A lot of thrillers are built upon solid nonfiction elements. What forms the framework for SCORPION DECEPTION?
Turn on the TV. With Syria in the news and both Israel and the U.S. contemplating military action against Iran that could expand into war, frankly, I can’t think of a book that will give readers greater insight into what’s happening today in the undercover world of espionage and more importantly, what’s going on inside Iran, posht-e pardeh “behind the curtain”, than SCORPION DECEPTION. This book describes not only what’s happening now, but what – unless something changes – is already on the drawing boards.
What’s your process from “I have an idea for a novel” to “it’s in the mail.”
These days, my books are typically sold before I write them. So the process isn’t: “I have an idea for a novel” but rather “I’ve got to come up with a new idea for a novel”. For SCORPION DECEPTION, I was banging my head against the wall trying to come up with a new idea. I had an old idea from years ago, but it wasn’t a Scorpion story. Finally I figured out a way to make it a Scorpion book. The next step – both for me and my editor – is to write a first chapter and an outline. For me, the first chapter is always the hardest. Where to make the first and most important cut in the diamond? I’ve been known to write a dozen first chapters – each one completely different. When I have a knockout first chapter, I submit it and an outline for my editor’s go-ahead. While the outline can be a route map, I never feel obligated to follow it religiously. If the story comes out great, even if you stray quite a bit from the outline, no one, including your editor will care. I work every day. I have a delivery date in my head that’s ahead of the contractual date, so I know I need a certain number of words each day to meet the target. But if some days I write less, I don’t beat myself up. The key thing for me is: is the story moving? Is there suspense? If not, I’m ruthless. I will go back and tear chapters up until I’ve got the momentum where I want it. If either I – or the reader – can put the book down, I’m doing something wrong.
The publishing industry had been rocked by the economy. What will save it?
It’s not just the economy, but the technology and a business model that dates from the 18th century that has rendered publishing as we know it to some degree obsolete. Publishers are twisting themselves into pretzels trying to adapt. Part of the problem is that books are only a sliver of the entertainment dollar. Publishing’s business model needs updating. That has to change. How about eliminating returns? No other business except publishing does all its selling essentially on consignment. Also, although things are in flux, content is still what matters. The delivery mechanism may change from today’s paper books and e-readers to something even more whiz-bang, but the communication from the writer to the reader, mind to mind, even when the writer is long dead, is still the most direct and instantaneous form of communication ever invented. It’s still pretty futuristic when you think about it.
What keeps writing fun for you?
Surprises in the writing. Sometimes a character or a scene that you hadn’t planned on suddenly pops up. For example, in SCORPION DECEPTION, there’s a scene I love near the end of the book when the head of the Israeli spy agency, Mossad, the Deputy Director of the CIA’s National Clandestine Service, and Scorpion, all meet on the Galata Bridge in Istanbul. Among the things they talk about, looking out over the Golden Horn, is what the city must have been like in Roman times when it was Byzantium. That meeting, their talk about Byzantium, none of that was planned. Or in my new book, HOMELAND: CARRIE’S RUN, an original prequel novel tie-in to the hit TV series, HOMELAND that’s due out in September, there’s a scene in Baghdad, when a Marine captain that Carrie, the CIA agent, is working with, comes to her hotel room door, that’s one of the best and sexiest scenes I’ve ever written. Never planned. Not in the outline. I love when that happens. Hopefully, the reader does too.
Andrew Kaplan is the internationally known author of the NY TIMES 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.