What’s so exciting about Wall Street or a bond trader who is good at his job? If you have to ask, you haven’t read THE KING OF FEAR. Listed as a financial thriller, Drew Chapman’s novel is nothing like what you might expect.
For bond trader Garrett Reilly, the thrill ride begins when the president of the New York Federal Reserve is assassinated and he, Garrett Reilly, is wanted for the murder. It all comes back to money, economics, and a crisis that could result in total financial Armageddon. Hampered by being a wanted man with international enemies, his own dependencies, and a more than healthy paranoia, can Garrett stop the crisis in time?
THE KING OF FEAR is Chapman’s second novel featuring Garrett Reilly, following his successful debut, The Ascendant.
How difficult is it to take topics like finance and banking and make them thrilling?
For me the world of finance, banking, and numbers is totally thrilling. I find the flow of money through the economy to be endlessly fascinating—which I guess marks me as a geek—so I didn’t think it was hard to make those topics in the book fun for the reader. I suppose the hard parts are 1) making sure that the all the “finance” speak is comprehensible and not weighed down by jargon, and 2) ensuring that the reader understands the visceral consequences of a financial meltdown. Just reading that the American dollar might collapse in value doesn’t mean much to the average reader, but describing the panic in a supermarket as the shelves are laid bare of food by a credit freeze really gets to the heart of economic Armageddon. I want the reader to feel the fear in his or her bones.
Where did the idea for THE KING OF FEAR originate?
The book is a sequel to my first novel, The Ascendant, so the main character, Garrett Reilly, already existed. That book was about an invisible war between the U.S. and China. After it was published I spent three months in Eastern Europe, and living for a time in the shadow of Russia got me thinking about the wounded bear that is the remains of the Soviet Union. The citizens of Eastern Europe are terrified of Russia, of Putin and his territorial ambitions, and you can feel that terror—and the longing to escape from it—in every conversation you have with the locals. I wanted to bring that part of the geopolitics to play in the book. But I also have always loved Frederich Forsythe’s The Day of the Jackal, and wanted to weave a cat and mouse story between an assassin and his police pursuer. Of course for me, the assassin would have to be a killer of economies, not people, because that’s where my obsessions lie. The combination of those ideas—fear of Russia and a Jackal-like chase—gelled into the main plot of the book.
How real is THE KING OF FEAR?
I like to make my books as real and as grounded as possible. I am always sifting through the news of the day, looking for events or trends that might be fun to riff on in a novel. To me, the mark of a great modern thriller is the sense that it could really happen—or is actually happening right now. I spend a lot of time researching my books for that exact purpose, so that it all feels eerily plausible. The world of intelligence gathering changes by the day, so it is hard to keep up with the latest surveillance technology, but in my other job—as a TV show creator—I write a lot of spy dramas. The TV networks often bring in CIA and FBI consultants for verisimilitude, and their advice and information is priceless, so I use it in my books as well. I guess when you specialize in a genre you become a sponge of information.
What research did you do for THE KING OF FEAR?
I love doing research. In some ways, it is the most fun part of writing a novel. For THE KING OF FEAR I spoke to numerous economists, bankers, finance professors, and Wall Street traders. I sat with them, watched them work, listened to how they spoke. My favorite moment was interviewing Robert Solow, a hero of mine, who taught economics at MIT and won a Nobel Prize for his modeling of economic growth. He was so modest and genuine—and so excited to hear that I was writing a thriller with a numbers guy as the hero! I also talked to a lot of spy types: FBI agents, CIA analysts, people who work in tech and surveillance. They all have great war stories, most of which I can’t ever use because they are secret. I could listen to that kind of thing for days.
How did Garrett come by his unique ability to see patterns?
I am a math geek. I love patterns, graphs, charts. For example, I find prime numbers fascinating. To me, data shapes the world we live in. Before I created Garrett Reilly, I thought about all the thriller heroes I loved in books and movies. Mostly, they were middle-aged men who ran and jumped and shot their way to victory. They could kill the average person with their pinkie finger. The thing is, I’ve never actually met that person. But an arrogant 26-year-old Wall Street Bond trader who sees patterns, smokes too much pot, and is always hitting on pretty women… that guy I know. I wanted to create a thriller hero who was a real person, not a GI Joe doll, and pattern recognition was a big part of that.
Based on comments about The Ascendant, Garrett Reilly was an unlikeable person. What led to his personal growth in THE KING OF FEAR?
In The Ascendant, Garrett Reilly is still a boy. Yes, he’s 26, but he’s an immature 26, and not always the nicest guy in the world. I wanted to move past that, while still keeping the fun, subversive parts of his personality. In The Ascendant, Reilly loses people very close to him. In THE KING OF FEAR, I wanted to explore how loss shapes the way we move forward in the world, and how it can mold our personalities. Reilly has addiction issues as well, and that plays a big role in the book. I have a number of people in my life who struggle with addiction, and I’ve seen how that shapes them, and scars the people around them. That said, I didn’t want the book to be a moralistic treatise on drugs or bad behavior—I wanted it to be fun. Reilly is always subversive, no matter how mature he becomes, so his take on how to beat personal demons is always going to be a bit eccentric. I guess that’s where the fun comes in.
In THE KING OF FEAR, which character was your favorite and who proved more difficult?
I cut my teeth writing television, and if there is one thing you learn in the TV business, it is that character is everything. Without compelling, relatable, human characters, no one will watch your TV show. So I start every story I write not with plot, but with a character. For my books, it was Garrett Reilly first. He is the most fun to write, because so much of the action revolves around his obsessions and flaws—and he is very flawed. Another thing you learn in TV writing is that making characters “likeable” is not worth the time spent. Audiences don’t care if the character is likeable, as long as they are active. People who do things, who push the action of a story forward, are incredibly compelling and fun to follow. The bad guy in THE KING OF FEAR, Ilya Markov, is not likeable either, by any means, but he too pushes the action forward. He was harder to write because he is Russian, a dissolute ex-pat, something I personally have no experience with. I struggled writing him for a while, until I figured out exactly what he wanted. As soon as I had that, I knew who he was, and where he was headed. All great characters have solid, definable goals.
What do you like best about THE KING OF FEAR?
I love the cat and mouse chase between Garrett Reilly, the hero, and Ilya Markov, the villain. That was so much fun to think about, to plot out, and to write—there is something so satisfying about unraveling a mystery, trying to figure out a rival’s next step, and racing toward a final confrontation. I get just as caught up thinking about the mystery when I’m writing as I do when I’m reading, There is nothing I love better than a good old-fashioned page turner.
What excites you the most about writing the Garrett Reilly books?
The relationships between the characters. Garrett Reilly has a team around him—the Ascendant team—and the interplay between the team members is the most fun stuff to write. I like plot lines—in thrillers, mysteries, dramas, whatever—that stand in for family stories. Everything I write is really just an extended, dysfunctional family story. I guess we find our families where we can—in our friends, our workplaces, or sometimes, if we’re really lucky, in our actual family.
There will absolutely be more Garrett Reilly books. He is not done seeing patterns, hunting down criminals, getting into trouble, trying to find love, and generally making a mess of his life. I already have a third book loosely plotted out. I am finishing up a TV pilot for Amazon (I know they are the enemy of independent booksellers, but they make interesting TV.)
I sold the rights to The Ascendant to the Fox network, but they decided not to pick it up. (Sad, but not unusual.) Because of that, the rights to the book—and the Garrett Reilly character—reverted back to me. I think THE KING OF FEAR is probably more suited to being turned into a TV show, so I’ll be exploring that possibility in 2016.
Although his writing career keeps Chapman busy, he noted he is currently on a learning jag as his To-Be Read pile attests. It consists of papers and books on cellular biology. “Right now I am completely obsessed with CRISPR DNA editing techniques and the revolution those techniques are bringing to molecular biology. I can’t get enough of that. If I could find a way to weave cell biology into a spy thriller, I would, but I’m not that smart!”
THE KING OF FEAR was a serialized digital release prior to the publication of the print version. It’s an experiment aimed at reaching readers who might not look in conventional places for stories. Chapman did his part. “I used social media, my blog, and newsletters to tell my followers about it. I’ve also done a bunch of podcast and radio interviews to get the word out. I hope anyone who is interested will follow me on Twitter or subscribe to my blog. My feeling is that you can’t be too connected to your readers.”
Drew Chapman is a novelist and TV writer who splits his time between writing books and creating and running television shows. He was born and raised in New York City, and can’t seem to stop writing about the place. He went to college in the Midwest, then took any job he could get to support his writing habit. He’s worked as a waiter, a bartender, a location scout and a bicycle messenger. He currently lives in Seattle with his wife and children, but spends a lot of time in Los Angeles trying to craft TV shows that aren’t too trashy or painful to watch. The King of Fear is his second novel. He is already hard at work on his third.
To learn more about Drew, please visit his website.