Interview with Jeffery Deaver

Posted by Goodreads on June 3, 2011
Apart from his license to kill, James Bond is known for three things: fast cars, gorgeous women, and awesome gadgets. Newly minted Bond writer Jeffery Deaver can't help but hedge when asked to choose his favorite of the three. "Can't I put a gorgeous woman in the passenger seat of my sports car?" he pleads. The author of the Lincoln Rhyme series (launched in 1997 with The Bone Collector, also a movie starring Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie) and the Kathryn Dance series landed his latest gig thanks to a chance remark about Bond at the Crime Writers' Association. And instead of continuing creator Ian Fleming's time line with what would now be a geriatric special agent (Bond was born circa 1920), Deaver's Carte Blanche reboots the story, placing a thirtysomething Bond fighting at top form in 2011. The thriller writer chatted with Goodreads about the challenge of pleasing millions of Bond fans worldwide.

Goodreads: When was your first encounter with James Bond?

Jeffery Deaver: I was roughly eight years old. My parents had what I thought was a pretty good rule: My sister and I could read any book we could find, but there were some movies that we were not allowed to see. I think that makes sense because the processing of written storytelling is different from visual and oral storytelling. Developmental stages of children are such that they can't necessarily discern that the image of the fellow getting shot and killed on the screen is really very different from that actually happening. But when you read it in a book, it's one step removed. That was my parents' theory. And it was a little ironic because I was born in 1950. You can imagine in the 1950s, the movies were so tame and the books could actually be quite risqué and violent. My father would bring home the James Bond novels, and I would read them. I would get to the part where the hero kissed the girl, and oh, that was disgusting. I just sped right by it. A few years later I came back and read those parts—that was the good stuff!

GR: So writing a Bond book is a dream gig for you. How did you get the job?

JD: About six years ago a novel of mine, Garden of Beasts (a historical thriller), won an award in England given by the Crime Writers' Association, and it was sponsored by the Ian Fleming estate. The prize was a dagger that Ian Fleming—who was an intelligence officer in World War II—had carried. I was very honored. In my acceptance remarks I said how particularly pleased I was because Fleming had been such an influence on my writing. I didn't think anything of it, but I learned later that there were members of the estate and Ian Fleming Publications in the audience. They had not known that Fleming was an influence of mine, so about 18 months ago they called me. They asked if I would be interested in writing the next continuation novel. I debated all of five seconds and said yes. Although I will add that we both had some caveats that coincided. I did not want to write a period piece. Sebastian Faulks's book—an excellent book, Devil May Care [2008]—was set in the 1960s. I didn't want Bond to be an elderly agent, and I wanted it set in the present day, so I wanted to restart the series. Coincidentally, they had the same view in mind.

GR: Do you have any favorite Bond novels?

JD: From Russia with Love and Casino Royale. Those are my two favorites. When I reread the whole series in anticipation of writing my book, Carte Blanche, I was struck by the really innovative approach that Fleming took to writing From Russia with Love. We don't meet Bond for roughly 60 or 70 pages of the book. We deal with a really rich study of the bad guy and the world in which he is operating—a Russian assassin. I kept turning pages, thinking, "I know this guy really, really well." And it taught me that every character in the book is of equal importance. There's nothing worse than any old cardboard caricature of a villain. Usually they have my hairstyle—not much hair—in a ponytail. Right away you know that's the bad guy. For the ultimate bad guy, if you don't want to waste much time developing him, you make him the head of a drug company or an oil company. Fleming showed that you have to create multidimensional characters. From Russia with Love is a sterling example of how to craft characters and make them real.

GR: Debating the merits of the six actors who have played James Bond over the years is a favorite pastime of Bond fanatics. So we have to know, who's your favorite Bond?

JD: I have to say I'm split right down the middle, and I have reasons for both: Sean Connery and Daniel Craig. Connery was Bond when the movies were minimal, gritty. They had some special effects, but not a lot, so they were a little more bare bones, which I liked. I like to see a story. I associate Connery with that, and he was the epitome of a mix of suave, sophisticated, and dark and edgy. The original Bond was quite dark from the books. Daniel Craig is a return to that. I have to say, I'm not quite used to a blond Bond. In the books Fleming gave him black hair. But in terms of personality, [Craig's] Bond is the original thing from the books. My impression was—I have no clue whether this was true or not—Craig had to have read Casino Royale. I suspect that he read it a number of times to really step into the character that Fleming created in 1952 and 1953.

GR: What were the challenges of working with such an iconic character? How did you make the book your own?

JD: Good question. I approached it with this in mind: My philosophy of writing is that I write for fans. I don't write for myself. We are so lucky to be able to write—in my case, write fiction full-time for a living. That's pretty miraculous. I'm pretty respectful of my audience's wants and desires, and I'm here to entertain them. When I approached Carte Blanche, I realized I have two sets of separate audiences. The Bond fans are both movie and book fans. Many people familiar with Bond have never read a James Bond book. They know him from the films; the statistic is 1 in 5 people on Earth have seen a James Bond film. [Bond fans] have very clear ideas of who this character is. Then I have my fans, some of whom are, of course, Bond fans as well. They have come to expect a Deaver book; I write according to a very strict formula. A Deaver book is typically one that takes place over a very short time period. There's a constant, driving question: What is going to happen by such-and-such a time? There are multiple subplots. There are a lot of cliffhangers within the story, and then there are surprise endings, plural. Every subplot has to have a twist, and they all have to come together in the end. That has to be very carefully choreographed. So that's a Deaver book.

Actually, that was not necessarily Ian Fleming's style. Ian Fleming was much more of a character-driven writer, a brilliant one. He was a journalist and brought great insight to his writing, but the stories were fairly linear. There was usually a single plot. He had twists and turns occasionally, but the thrust of the books was really good versus bad and escalating conflict throughout the story, which is more of the prototype than my type of puzzle book. So what I decided to do—and I agreed with the Fleming estate on this—I was going to write a Deaver book, but I was going to populate it with the traditional James Bond character. I would be very diligent about making sure that fans would spend time with the character they knew and loved, with the one difference being that he is roughly about 30 years old and the year is 2011. I have to say, I think it worked well. He moved very easily to 2011. There's a universality about him. When James Bond fans pick up [the book], they will see the Bond they know and love. And my fans will get the roller coaster that I try to write with every one of my books.

GR: The killing of Osama bin Laden gave the public a glimpse of what special forces, trained men and women like James Bond, can do. Goodreads member Bill H asks, "Do you feel Bond has become more gritty and ruthless to reflect the current political landscape of 2011?"

JD: That's a very good question because one of the themes in the book relates to the title, Carte Blanche. Bond basically has freedom to do what he needs to do on assignment. In several cases, he has to confront the question of, "Here I have a double-0 classification. I am free to take a life if I have to—if I decide it has to be done. And yet, where is the vetting? Where does the authority for that come from when I have 100 percent of the authority within my conscience?" It's an issue he wrestles with. Of course, we don't want to give any of the plotting away, but I can say that he is back to being the dark and gritty character from the 1950s, where it almost seems we question the propriety of ruthlessness and assassination a bit less during the height of the Cold War.

GR: With the Cold War over, where did you turn for modern-day villains?

JD: I thought, "We've seen so much about terrorists being the villains." You can't write a book now about geopolitics and international intrigue without having terrorism figure in the story. But I didn't want the thrust to be what we might see in 24, the Jack Bauer show. I'm a fan, I think it's great, but we've seen a lot of Islamic terrorists. My reluctance to craft a character like that isn't really political correctness. It's simply that we've seen it. So what I looked for in my villain was somebody who was unique, somebody we have not seen before. My villain has other issues, let me just put it that way. I like to focus on an evil that is not ideological but an evil that is self-centered, narcissistic, and utterly remorseless when it comes to taking lives and even doing worse things than that.

GR: Goodreads member Chris Schaeffer asks, "I'd like to know if there will be any odes or hidden Easter eggs referring to any of Deaver's famous characters."

JD: I'll be quite frank, no. As much as I thought about having James in a tough situation and ringing up Lincoln Rhyme, my character from The Bone Collector, I thought, "That's about me, and the book should be about the Bond fans." However, in the book I'm working on right now, a Kathryn Dance book (my other series character), there will be some references to Lincoln in that. I enjoy that. Actually, the reason for that is a little bit of self-preservation. I generally can't write two books a year. I certainly couldn't with the Bond book, because it took up 100 percent of my time. My schedule was delayed a year, so the Kathryn Dance (which should have been out this year) won't be out until 2012. I needed to keep my Lincoln Rhyme fans happy to some extent. So there will be a Lincoln Rhyme reference in my next book.

GR: Goodreads member Angela asks, "As a quadriplegic myself, I was wondering if he worked with a quad to develop the Lincoln Rhymes character or just did a lot of research?"

JD: I did a lot of research. I had, oddly enough, a small bout of physical paralysis. I had some nerve problems years ago—actually just before I wrote the book—but nothing that rises to the level of even paraplegia. I worked with my own neurologist and some other patients to make sure that I had the technical aspects of the condition right. Much of what [writers] do is about stepping into the minds of people whose circumstances are different than ours. If I had been given anything at all that's helped me write, it's an imagination. It's pretty easy for me to step into the minds of everybody, even the dark, evil characters. For the quadriplegia, I certainly had to do a lot of research, and continue to do so. There are many developments going on presently. I would have to say that 90 percent of what I did was just research and imagination.

GR: Describe a typical day spent writing. Do you have any unusual writing habits?

JD: I spend generally eight hours a day, usually six days a week. But I also take time off. I don't want it to sound like army basic training! There are different stages of the process. During the outlining process, I'll spend roughly eight to nine hours sitting and staring at my computer or at a big board behind me where I pin up each of the scenes. That's early in the process.

For instance, for my latest Lincoln Rhyme book, The Burning Wire, a psychotic killer uses electricity as a weapon. That was my outline the first day, nothing more than that. Over the course of the next eight months or so, I came up with scenes that would be exciting, which I put somewhere in the middle. I came up with the big surprises at the end and put those somewhere near the end. By the time I started to really commit the outline to my word processor, I would have maybe 70 or 80 Post-it Notes of those discrete scenes. I used to use a corkboard, but now I just tape them up on my wall. They aren't necessarily chapters, but they are scenes where the point-of-view shifts or the geographic location shifts. So then I'll write that into my computer, and at that stage it'll be probably a 70- or 80-page outline.

Then I start to fill in the clues because we need to know when the clues appear in the book. That'll be "important clue scene 42." Then I write below, "to be explained..." I'll look toward the end of the outline, and scene 87 is where the clue in scene 42 is explained, why Lincoln says this is or isn't an important clue. I do that with all the scenes, all the characters. Every single character and clue has to be resolved, no loose ends. It is frankly a rather exhausting process.

When the outline is done, the book is done. Like Alfred Hitchcock, when he finished the storyboarding and the script, it was almost anticlimactic. I'm sure he went to the set and told the director of photography to do things, but the movie was 90 percent done. When my outline is done, the book is 90 percent done, and I feel it.

Seven or eight months later [after starting the outline], it's time to write the book. That's sitting at my desk for as long as I physically can to generate the prose. That's anywhere, in my office, or if I'm traveling on a book tour, on the planes or in hotel rooms. I have adapters that work all over the world, plug-ins for the back of a limo or wherever I'm traveling, so I can get some work done. To write full-time for a living, you've got to make sure you write full-time. Then you revise. Hemingway said, "There are no great writers, only great rewriters" (I'm paraphrasing). And that's true. I spend the last month or so doing 30, 40, 50 rewrites, then out goes the book and out I go on a book tour. Then it starts all over again.

GR: What authors, books, or ideas have influenced you?

JD: I think of two strings: literary writing and popular thriller writing. Among the thriller writers, I grew up reading Agatha Christie, Sherlock Holmes, Dashiell Hammett, and Raymond Chandler. I should add, in terms of genre fiction, Lord of the Rings, C.S. Lewis, Ray Bradbury, and some other science fiction writers, Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov. As I got a little older, I would read John le Carré, who I love. I think he's brilliant. And Len Deighton. Thomas Harris I absolutely love, although I was writing by that time. I didn't come to Thomas Harris until Silence of the Lambs, and then I went back and read his earlier works. He was a later influence of mine and a brilliant writer, of course.

For literary writing, I grew up reading Saul Bellow, John Dos Passos, and in Latin American culture, Gabriel García Márquez—breathtaking writer. Robert Frost. I love poetry. I guess I still technically write poetry in little academic journals and so forth. I've always loved poetry. Still love it, will always love it. I also have always wanted to make a living as a writer. And unless you want to teach, you can't be a full-time poet except for Richard Wilbur and Robert Pinsky.

I was never really a Sylvia Plath fan. I was more comfortable with structured, lyrical, and more metered poetry. Frankly, it seemed more skillful; I like technical craft. Richard Wilbur, former poet laureate of the United States. He writes fairly short poems, not singsong-y by any means, but he does use rhyme and pays a lot of attention to meter. They are just lovely to read out loud. Very exciting. About the apparent confinement of form, he said, "It's the shape of the bottle that gives the genie his strength." I always liked that. That's my theory of poetry. Although I was not a particularly successful poet and didn't reach more than a few thousand readers, now I'll slip a poem that I have written into a novel of mine and 4 million people will read it whether they want to or not.

GR: What are you reading now?

JD: Someone had mentioned this on Goodreads, and I thought, "This is exciting." Stephen Ambrose's The Wild Blue. It's about George McGovern's B-24 crew during World War II. It's just utterly captivating, such a great writer. My father was a flier in World War II at the same time as George McGovern. I'm just amazed my father survived such awful conditions. These were really patriotic people. But it reads like a thriller.

Comments Showing 1-8 of 8 (8 new)

dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Lise (new)

Lise Can't wait to read Carte Blanche! And reading about the way Deaver crafts his novels is also fascinating.

message 2: by Connie (new)

Connie My husband and I are great fans of Jeff Deaver and will soon be fighting over who first gets to read Carte Blanche!
Connie Fischer

message 3: by Iain (last edited Jun 08, 2011 10:15AM) (new)

Iain Surprised to hear that there's a new Bond and that it's a reboot. I don't know how I'll take to that, but at least it's guaranteed to be a good story. I've yet to read a Deaver that's left me unsatisfied.

Oh, and I'll second the recommendation for anything by Stephen Ambrose. The man writes documented history books as if they were adventure stories.

message 4: by John (new)

John Lyman What an honor to be able to take up where Ian Flemming left off. Flemming was also a great inspiration for my writing. He taught me the nuances of setting and character development, and he created an iconic series of books that have lived on to inspire a whole new generation of writers. I loved Deaver's comment about how Bond didn't make an appearance in "From Russia with Love" until page 60. Today's publishers want to see the protaganist facing certain death on page one without the benefit of a prologue to ease you into the setting of the story. They want books to be more like movies. Guys like Flemming and Deaver are gifts we should treasure, and we are lucky to have an author of Deaver's caliber to carry on the Bond legacy. At least as an established author he will have the power to say no to the formulic style of writing the publisher's marketing departments want to see going out the door today.
Thanks Jeff, for a very enlightening interview.
John Lyman, author of "God's Lions-The Secret Chapel"

message 5: by [deleted user] (new)

Waiting eagerly to read this book and excited to see the bond of this era

message 6: by Manugw (new)

Manugw In the beginning I got mesmerized by Deaver, as he is the master of the "twists and turns" in the plots, read "The bone collector" and other related book stuff to Lyncoln Rhyme but then I realized he applied the same template writing procedure to later books and got bored. In the end Deaver's work did not attracted me anymore

message 7: by Patrick (new)

Patrick Well, Carte Blanche can't be worse than Devil May Care (Bond in an opium den, anyone?). I'm eager to see what Deaver does with the story.

message 8: by G.W. (new)

G.W. Eccles I very much enjoyed reading Carte Blanche. You mention in the interview the difficulty of finding suitable subject matter post-Cold War. Surely, with all the things that are going on within Russia nowadays, this is (in a different way) a fruitful source of material? For example, in my new novel THE OLIGARCH: A THRILLER, I've used the battle between the Russian President and the oligarchs for control of Russia as the basis of the plot.

back to top