Brad Thor Talks "Black List", Playlist, and More
Wed, 25 Jul 2012 10:41:29
Brad Thor pens thrillers that move at a rock 'n' roll pace.
The New York Times best-selling author captures a distinct rhythm with his Scott Harvath series that's similar to an album. The books are immediate, infectious, and impressive, seamlessly encompassing explosive action and social commentary. Thor manages to paint a cinematic picture that's locked and loaded with twists and turns, while exploring palpable tension involving our 21st century "digital" vulnerabilities.
His latest novel, Black List [available now, see his web site], sees counterterrorism specialist Harvath thrust into a conspiracy of epic proportions, involving the eponymous list and the countless emissaries dispatched to kill because his name landed on it. Black List is one of the best books of 2012 and another landmark for Thor. Buy it now! [here].
In this exclusive interview with ARTISTdirect.com editor in chief Rick Florino, Brad Thor talks Black List, how important music is to him, his playlist, and so much more.
As a writer, you balance this atmosphere of paranoia and nonstop action masterfully. That's not easy.
The pacing is a real big part of that. Music is a part of my writing process. I'm not a musician so I wouldn't know what it's like laying out an album. However, I really do feel like you have to give people the crest of the wave and the trough in which they can catch their breath. The crest of a wave is climactic. It's exciting. You know you're at the top, but you also get that rollercoaster rush where your heart leaps into your throat. To be able to pace something and keep people on the edge of their seats is tough. You have to work hard at it.
There's an underlying fear created by living in a world where we're constantly connected and monitored. The fear seems heightened in Black List, but you've really just captured the society we live in.
Absolutely! You've nailed it. I really am trying to carve out a very specific space in the book world. I want to be the "fact"-ion guy. One of coolest pieces of email I get is when people say, "Brad, I loved your book. It was a white knuckle thrill ride. I had to read it with my laptop open, because I couldn't tell where the facts ended and the fiction began. There's more fact in it than anything else." The readers say, "I can't believe this! I looked up this stuff, and it's real." I want to give you an edge-of-your-seat story. That's my job as an entertainer, but I also love that people are learning stuff in the book. When I'm writing, I'm mining for these diamonds and nuggets of gold because I want to bring them to people. They look forward to the books because they're fun, and they walk away with stuff they can talk about to their friends. That's my two-fold process.
What resonates with you the most about Scott Harvath?
First and foremost, Scott Harvath is my alter ego. He gets to do the things that I don't get to do [Laughs]. Whenever I say that in front of my wife, she's like, "Well, I did let you go to Afghanistan." That's true, but he's my alter ego. Like Jack Ryan was for Tom Clancy or even more a propos James Bond was for Ian Fleming, that's me in those books. When you're reading and it's unfolding in your mind, it's cinematic. As I'm writing, I see this on the big-screen of my mind's eye. I really relate to that character. In essence, he's the man who I hope I'm even half of.
How did you construct that first action scene in Paris?
I went to school in Paris for a while. I remember those old Parisian apartment buildings. All of them have the lights on a timer. You only get so much light before there's a loud sound and the timer turns off. Invariably, I'd get distracted, and the light would go off before I could get to my door. I always wondered, "What's going to happen when the light comes back on?" Writers are people who have trained their minds to misbehave. I always had this fascination with dark hallways in old apartment buildings in Paris. I thought, "Wouldn't that be an awesome place to set a scene?" Lights come back on and, all of a sudden, the hallway was empty, but now there are three guys with guns pointed at you. What's that feel like? How do you put the reader right there in the moment? Robert Frost was famous for saying, "No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader." The book unfolds for me like it does for the reader. I'm sitting down and being led on this fantastic adventure. You can't let the inmates run the asylum. You have to have some control as an author. This is how I'm wired. It flows out of my fingers, and I'm going on this great adventure as I'm writing it. I absolutely love what I do. I'm blessed to be able to do it and get paid for it.
What were you listening to while writing Black List?
If I've got to do an action scene, there are a handful of things that get me pumped up. There's a lot of action in the back. One of the songs which totally gets me amped up is the track at the beginning Blade during the rave scene. It's perfect for those scenes where the bodies are hitting the floor. I've got a playlist with it. Drowning Pool's "Bodies" is another one. Then, there's The Prodigy's "Firestarter". AC/DC's "Back in Black" is on my action playlist. I'll either have the headphones on or it will be on my laptop. That will really get me going for those action scenes. I listen to that handful of songs over and over again. I'm setting the pacing of the book to that kind of music. Everyone asks, "When your movies are getting made, do you want to be the screenwriter?" I just say, "No, I want to pick the music for them!" [Laughs] For me, that would be cooler. Music can evoke such a mood in people. It can create feelings and bring out different types of energy.
Who are your favorite bands?
I'm across the board! I live in Chicago. I like George Strait and Dwight Yoakam, but I also like stuff out of The Great American Songbook. I've got the soundtrack from De-Lovely. Alanis Morissette and Robbie Williams both sing on that. I love Robbie Williams. I'm a big funk music aficionado. I love Parliament, George Clinton, and all of those guys. I really enjoy funk. I like the old standards like Frank Sinatra, but I'm happy to have a little AC/DC or The Prodigy on. I've heard "Sad" and "Good Morning to the Night" from Pnau vs. Elton John, and they're fantastic! I like dance music, and I dig Cole Porter, but I've also got my rock side. I just love great music, period. You know what gets you going. I had Lenny Kravitz on too. There's nothing like a great guitar. In a movie, there's always great music under the action scenes. Music can also build tension. Music and writing are hand-in-glove. I can't write without music.
Is Nicholas an important character for you?
He's my little badass! I'm so glad we're talking music because I put one funk song in every one of my novels. I've done that since my very first novel. I've got a lot of fans who look forward to seeing what the song will be. The Troll was Scott Harvath's nemesis. These guys did not get along. When they were forced to work together, what broke the ice was Nicholas had a funk song playing. Scott loves funk. Music was the bridge between these two. The fact they both love Parliament broke the last ice between them.
What else does Scott Harvath listen to?
That's a great question! I actually have a widget on my web site with his existing playlist. He's listening to everything I am. It can be as old school as Rod Stewart or AC/DC. It's exactly what I'm into. He's heavy into funk. It'd be stereotypical if he was all into metal. He's a muscle-bound Navy S.E.A.L., but he likes funk music. You can't judge a book by its cover. Giving him this love of funk makes the character richer and deeper. In the books, music is a bridge for him and other characters. We all love music. It cuts across socioeconomic , ethnic, and national barriers.
Songwriting is storytelling too.
If I could wave a magic wand and have any gift, I'd be a fantastic musician. I'd have a wonderful singing voice, and I'd write music that brings people to their feet, but it's not a talent I have. I don't know how lyricists do it! It's all about the words. I'm very much in awe of people who write and play music.
What was the first record you ever bought?
I had records given to me, but the first one I ever bought was probably Billy Joel's Glass Houses. That was a while ago [Laughs].
Have you checked out Brad Thor yet?