Sunday, February 3, 2019

Q&A with Barry Eisler

Barry Eisler is the author of the new novel The Killer Collective. His many other novels include The Night Trade and Zero Sum. He has worked for the CIA and also for the international law firm Weil, Gotshal & Manges. He is based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for The Killer Collective?

A: It started with three separate series: the John Rain assassin series; the Ben Treven black-ops series; and the Livia Lone Seattle PD sex-crimes detective series. The universes in those series started overlapping with The Detachment—Rain and his partner, former Marine sniper Dox; Treven and Daniel Larison, a killer from the Treven book Inside Out.

And then Dox and Livia paired up in The Night Trade. So it was just a short leap to full-on Avengers: Infinity Wars territory…

But describing it that way makes it sound less organic than it really was. Because first, with Rain, he’s always trying to retire—to kill his way out of the killing business—and he never seems to make it. So there’s always a story there.

And the relationship between Livia and Dox from The Night Trade was really interesting. Oil and water, in some ways, and yet a powerful underlying connection.

And I started wondering…what would happen if Livia, in the course of her Seattle PD sex-crime detective duties, uncovered something so big that she was targeted in an attempted hit? Would she call on Dox for help? Would Dox call on Rain?

And what if Rain had earlier been offered the hit himself…?

Once I started playing around with it, the idea became irresistible. The characters from the Rain, Treven, and Livia universes are all so different—different motivations, different training, different worldviews, different personalities—that the idea of forcing them together, all their tangled histories, and smoldering romantic entanglements and uncertainties and jealousies and doubts, under the relentless pressure of extremely resourceful adversaries…looking back, it seems almost inevitable! And I sure had a lot of fun doing it.

Q: When you feature characters from other series in each other's books, how do you balance the amount you focus on each character?

A: I don’t think about it that much. They all feel different to me, and they all have a role to play, so I mostly just let them do their thing on the page. And because they’re all so distinct, and each so strong, just putting them together creates a lot of friction and conflict, which is inherently fun and interesting.

Q: Do you usually know how your novels will end, or do you make many changes along the way?

A: Mostly I don’t know. Or, when I do, it’s only a vague notion. Beyond that, to find out what happens I need to write. Which keeps things fun—like any reader, I’m eager to know what happens next, and the only way I can do that is by writing about it. It’s like driving a car at night: the headlights only illuminate a little way up the road; to see farther, you have continue driving.

Q: How do you think your characters have changed since you first introduced them?

A: Well, they’ve all gotten older—Rain especially, since he was first published in 2002! I think he’s gotten more introspective and somewhat more comfortable with himself. He’s also transitioned nicely from lone wolf to team leader.

Dox has surprised me with his depths of empathy and insight. Larison, who has major trust issues, has definitely cathected to the team and even displayed a surprising sense of humor.

And Livia is struggling with the realization that—even having solved the mystery of who trafficked her and sister from Thailand as girls, and even having taken her revenge—she remains damaged and in need of periodic sublimation vengeance.

Or, as Livia herself puts it in Livia Lone, “It was interesting how much insight you could have into your own pathologies, and how little impact the insight would have on your underlying needs…”

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I just handed in All The Devils, the new Livia book. I love the way it turned out and am enjoying a short break before the notes start coming and it’s time to revise…

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: A lot of my fiction is factual, and I document it all at the end of each book. Child trafficking, the technologies behind government bulk surveillance, whether you really can short out a pacemaker or hack a car and cause it to crash…it’s all in there, and a lot more, too.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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