Joseph Finder had already finished writing “Guilty Minds” – his newly published thriller about a scandal involving a Supreme Court justice and a prostitute – when Justice Antonin Scalia died and the Internet was soon awash in conspiracy theories about the jurist being murdered…by a prostitute.
It’s not the first time life has imitated art for the best-selling author, who will be at The BookMark in Neptune Beach July 24 at 3 p.m. for a book signing with fellow author Steve Berry.
“That happened in a big way with my first novel, ‘The Moscow Club,’” Finder said in a recent interview with The Recorder.
Published in February 1991, “The Moscow Club” recounted a fictional coup inside the Kremlin.
“I recall a reviewer saying the plot was far-fetched,” Finder said. “And then in August 1991, there actually was a coup in the Kremlin.”
Despite the parallels with the Scalia situation, the inspiration for “Guilty Minds” actually came from another high-profile scandal: the public fall from grace of New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who resigned amid a prostitution scandal.
“I read the story and kept thinking that while I believe he did what they said he did, there had to be some sort of a set-up – there was no way they would have discovered that without someone dropping a dime,” Finder said.
He also began thinking about the role of the Internet in advancing scandals – including those that turn out to be false.
“I thought about the Duke lacrosse case, where these guys’ lives were completely turned upside down by what turned out to be a completely fabricated charge of rape, and how once a story is out there, it’s really hard to take back,” he said. “So then I began thinking about scandals where someone’s character was involved and I thought about a Supreme Court justice.”
Nick Heller returns
The resulting novel – Finder’s 13th – brings back the character of Nick Heller, a “private spy” who has appeared in two previous Finder books. Revisiting the character after a five-year hiatus was like getting reacquainted with an old friend, Finder said.
“It was such a pleasure – I slipped right into it,” he said. “It’s nice because you don’t have to create that whole extended family of characters again. You know who they are.”
Finder admitted, however, to rereading the previous two Heller novels just to make sure he got the details right. “I realized I’d forgotten so many of the details, and I knew if I got something wrong I’d get hundreds of emails from readers about it!”
Maintaining the character’s continuity is important to Finder, who believes that series protagonists should remain true and consistent across multiple novels.
“Nick Heller does not evolve – the character is who the character is,” Finder said. “We may learn more about him in each book, but he doesn’t change from book to book. Nick isn’t going to get married and have kids.”
Nor does Finder have any immediate plans to sell the rights to his Nick Heller novels to Hollywood, as he has done with two previous stand-alone books, “Paranoia” and “High Crimes.”
“I learned from friends of mine in the movie business that once you sell the rights to a series character, the studio owns every book that character appears in,” he said, adding that a Hollywood producer may have a different take on a character than the author. “I don’t want a competing Nick Heller out there, so I haven’t sold the rights yet.”
Crafting a thriller
Once Finder comes up with an idea for a new novel, he spends a few weeks brainstorming and researching the topic. In addition to using the Internet, he often turns to sources such as homicide detectives to answer specific procedural questions.
“Eventually I get to a point where I know enough about the subject that I’m comfortable writing about it,” he said. “And I always continue to do research while I’m writing.”
While some authors prefer to do a highly detailed outline prior to writing a book – and others prefer to just sit down and start typing away – Finder favors a middle-of-the-road approach.
“In thrillers, the plots are important and often complicated, and it’s difficult to write them without an outline at all,” he said. “But using an extensive outline is boring; you’re no longer discovering things as you’re writing.”
Instead, he sketches out a broad, overall outline. “Then I leave it to myself to discover each day how that’s going to play out.”
Occasionally, Finder said, he gets ideas from readers who share them via social media.
“What I get most often is, ‘This thing happened to me – you write the book and we’ll split the profits!’” he said with a laugh. “But (social media) is both a blessing and a curse: it allows you to directly engage with readers – and there are readers who really love to engage – but at the same time, you have to save your creative energies for the book.”
One way that Finder connects with his readers is through live video chats on Facebook.
“I just sit there and talk to my readers, show them my workspace,” he said. “That was completely unheard of even a few years ago.”
He also enjoys meeting with readers at local book signings such as his upcoming visit to The BookMark.
“For me, it’s a nice change because most of the time I’m sitting in my office by myself and only my editor and agent have read (my book),” said Finder, who’s currently working on a new stand-alone novel set in Boston and Washington DC. “So it’s very cool when you meet people who have read your books and have opinions about them.”