Ask the Author: Joseph Finder

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Joseph Finder Hey Kevin — Some authors do write a type of book that is so consistent and reliable that the books become their own brand. Readers buy those books because they know what they want, and the books deliver. If a living author can identify what makes his or her books distinctive, and can convey that essence to a colleague who can deliver that element as well, that situation can be a win for all involved — author, co-author and reader. I think it's similar to having a team of writers on a television show, working under one showrunner who directs an overall vision.
As for ghost writers continuing a series after the author dies, there are definitely times when the character has taken on a life of his or her own. I can't think of a greater honor than having a character you created become immortal — but it's up to the author's family and heirs to decide whether and how that should happen. Hope to see you at an event later this year!
Joseph Finder Inspiration comes from different sources at different points in the process. When I'm just starting a book, thinking about the main character and the premise, inspiration really can come from anywhere: the news, conversations I overhear between strangers, magazine ads, other books I'm reading. When I'm in the midst of writing, inspiration may take more of a problem-solving mode: if x happens, what then? If y, then what? I will often find images in magazines or online that resonate with the story I'm writing — something that gives me an idea of what Nick Heller's DC loft looked like, or the resort in POWER PLAY, or the hideout in BURIED SECRETS. A writer's magic words are, "I can use this."
Joseph Finder That's hard to answer. It's often happened that I'll go to sleep thinking about a plot problem, or wondering what I'll have a character do next, and wake up with an idea. I wake up with my story in my head, not with anything I might have been dreaming about — so was I dreaming about the story? I never remember. But maybe.
Joseph Finder Hi Jeff,
Thanks for the question. For years, Russia seemed to me over as the focus for a thriller — I felt it had been done far too much. But recently some story ideas have come to me as I read about the intrigue that's resurgent in Russia, and I may have a way for my series character, Nick Heller, to get involved. But it's early days yet, and my head is in the next Nick Heller story, due out next year (and look at that — I've just given you a big reveal.) So I'd say it's a possibility but I haven't yet committed to it. Thanks!
Joseph Finder That's great to hear — thanks! Yes, I think the plan is to release at least one more chapter between now and June. If you're subscribing to my newsletter (, you'll be the first to get a look at those pages.
Joseph Finder I will have some good news to share on that front soon, very soon . . . stay tuned!
Joseph Finder Choosing a title is usually one of the last things I do before I submit my manuscript to my publishers, although the manuscript file always has a working title while I'm writing. On a couple of occasions, the title I wanted was too close to another, similar book being released around the same time, so I had to come up with an alternative, but the title is still my own choice.

Covers are designed by the publishers' artists, but my US publishers always ask me for feedback, and sometimes give me choices about color schemes, key images, etc. I don't usually see the foreign covers before those books are published. I always love seeing what different artists and designers come up with.
Joseph Finder Mostly on my very cluttered desk, or somewhere else in my office. You can get some idea of what my desk looks like here — — though that's a couple of years old, and the desk is even more cluttered now.

Peer recognition is tremendously valuable, and valued. Every thriller writer I know, myself included, got into this work because these were the books we loved to read. So we were all fans first. Most of us still read as widely as we can in the genre, although that can be distracting when you're actively writing. I will never get over that burst of pride when a writer I admire — someone like Lee Child, or Sue Miller, or Lisa Gardner or RL Stine — tells me that they've read my book and enjoyed it. Being nominated for a Thriller Award is that feeling, multiplied exponentially.
Joseph Finder It's hard to pick just one. I often tell the story about how much I loved the book The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet, by Eleanor Cameron. I wrote Miss Cameron a letter, and she wrote me back! That was the first time I fully understood that real people wrote books, that they didn't come from nowhere. But I read a lot as a kid, mostly sci-fi — Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time is still a favorite, and I read Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein, and Isaac Asimov. I always wanted to read books where things _happened_.
Joseph Finder Yes — I was teaching writing at Harvard. But I decided even before I was published that I wanted to write full-time, and I was able to do that soon after my first book sold.
Joseph Finder The classic question! Every writer will say this is the question we hate most, but when writers get together, this is the question we ask each other. What I always say is that ideas are everywhere. On the front page of the paper (and especially on the obituary page). In line at Starbucks. Waiting for a train or a plane — you always see weird stuff happening when people are traveling. The key is to notice the unusual and always be asking, "Why?" Why did that guy suddenly leave the checkout line when he got that phone call? Why did that woman just burst into tears? What would have happened if that babysitter hadn't grabbed the kid who was running toward the edge of the subway platform? Getting ideas is never the problem; the challenge is deciding which idea is strong enough to support a whole book. I'll never have enough time to write all the books I have ideas for. Thanks for asking!
Joseph Finder Thank you! I write thrillers because thrillers are what I liked to read, when I first discovered the world of adult books. I read the James Bond books early on (and even tried to write my own - teenaged fan fiction! - but when on a college trip, somebody had a Ludlum novel, and I started reading and was completely hooked. It might have been partly a Walter Mitty-type fantasy: I was just a kid from the suburbs, and there was Jason Bourne dashing around the world, dodging bullets and killing bad guys and dealing with something unexpected every minute of the day. (This is also what I love about "24.")

I read a lot more widely — and actually read a lot of literary fiction — but in terms of plotting and the work of writing a book, the thriller frame is the one I like best. Ghost stories fascinate me, but a good ghost story is really, really hard to write: I look at Shirley Jackson and Stephen King, and I'm not sure I could do what they do.
Joseph Finder Thanks — that's a great question. The supernatural elements of EXTRAORDINARY POWERS were based on historical fact, and that fascinated me. Over the years I've moved away from espionage novels to books that put ordinary people in extraordinary situations; but just how extraordinary, remains to be seen.
Joseph Finder Yes, I'm a planner, but I like to give myself enough room to let the story surprise me. I compare it to planning a trip using a road atlas or Google Maps, vs. using a GPS — I don't want to outline a book so thoroughly that writing it feels like a tedious chore, but I do need to know the main points of the journey: where it starts, where it ends, where the big twists happen. I spend a few months roughing that out, and then I start writing and see where it goes.
Joseph Finder There were two separate offers: a free paperback to everyone who pre-ordered the book [] and a signed bookplate to anyone who wrote to request one []. The pre-order offer has now expired, but people can still request bookplates!
Joseph Finder Thanks! Nothing specific in the plot came from real life, but Danny lives in a world I know well: he's a writer, his daughter goes to an exclusive Boston prep school, he plays squash, etc. I got great background information from Boston defense attorneys and law enforcement officials about real-life cases and situations, and I drew heavily on that, but the book's fiction.
Joseph Finder Thanks! I like Nick a lot, and I'd love to get back to him. I was halfway through the third Nick Heller novel when the idea for SUSPICION struck, and the book I'm writing now is another standalone, but Nick Heller #3 is still waiting to be finished.
Joseph Finder I gave myself three years to write it and sell it, and sold the book at the very end of that time. I think it's valuable to set deadlines like that -- at least, it worked for me.
Joseph Finder Once you decide to make a career of writing, the need to get paid becomes a powerful inspiration. But in terms of ideas, ideas are EVERYWHERE. Standing in line at a Starbucks, watching people fight over parking spaces, seeing an argument at the gym -- all of those are situations that can raise a "What if...?" question I could build a book around. The challenge is to pick the idea that can carry you all the way through a book. But I'll never have enough time to write all the ideas I have.
Joseph Finder I try hard to be disciplined. I don't necessarily write every day, but it's a job, and I treat it as one. I have an office, and I keep regular hours, starting very early in the morning. Some days go better than others, but the routine is important. As I often say, plumbers don't get plumber's block.
Joseph Finder

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