Riffle Backstory: Q&A with Eric Van Lustbader, author of 'The Death and Life of Nicholas Linnear'

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by Janelle Ludowise

Eric Van Lustbader returns to the world of The Ninja with his first Nicholas Linnear installment in nearly twenty years. Nicholas Linnear was just about to strike a deal that would seal his fortunes -- could that be the reason he's just been buried alive? Full of danger, intrigue, and action, The Death and Life of Nicholas Linnear plunges the reader into a fast-paced thriller from the very beginning.

In addition to his Nicholas Linnear series, Van Lustbader is also the author the Sunset Warrior cycle, the Jack McClure series, and several Jason Bourne novels. The Death and Life of Nicholas Linnear, published by Open Road Media, releases today on November 17. Eric Van Lustbader was kind enough to answer some of my questions on inspiration, writing and his action-packed new novella!

RIFFLE FICTION: How is your writing process of the Nicholas Linnear series different from writing the Jason Bourne series? – or isn’t it?

ERIC VAN LUSTBADER: There really isn’t much of a difference, apart from the fact that there are certain parameters in each character’s lives and personalities that must be adhered to. Bob Ludlum and I talked at length about how our two signature characters had many of the same personality traits. That’s one of the reasons he loved The Ninja so much. Both characters are outsiders, living in the shadows at the edge of society, so their observations and reactions are, I think, mostly similar.

RF:What do you do to get ready to write each day? How has the process changed since your first novel? Has it changed?

EVL: I get up very early, while the world is still quiet, and start to write. Often I will get ideas just as I’m getting ready to go to sleep. I have a pad and pen by my bedside on which I scribble notes. If I don’t turn on a light, those notes are sometimes semi-unintelligible the next morning! However, the important ideas remain in my head word for word until I get them down on the computer the next morning. If I’m stuck on how to move forward in the next sequence, or how a specific scene should be played out (I can’t write it until I see it in my head), I’ll take a walk, take a shower, clear my head so my subconscious can work on the problem. The solution always comes sooner rather than later, and it’s amazing how many times that solution has been staring me in the face all the time.

As to process, I used to write solely by the seat of my pants, which would lead to a number of blind alleys and characters who didn’t belong in the book, which had to be addressed later on. When I took on the Bourne series, I was required to write an outline. This was painful for me because my novels are so organic—but, in the end, it proved constructive. It forced me to concentrate on the first hundred pages, which had always given me fits. My process has been smoothed out as a result.

RF: What book do you remember first having an impact on you? When do you first remember being inspired to write?

EVL: Probably Les Miserables. Victor Hugo wrote a detective story, after all. And what a doozy it was!

I was pretty much born with a need to write. I started writing as soon as I could read or write. I was impatient to learn how to do those things! I started writing poetry when I was seven (“George was a large brontosaurus/Who lived in the world long before us”), and graduated to short stories. I had a great creative writing teacher at, of all places, Stuyvesant High School, and, then, in the music business I was writing up interviews with musicians, honing my dialog skills. Years later, I ran into a guy I’d gone to high school with—a nice Jewish boy from Queens. He was writing Westerns for Avon Books, and they were quite good, too. I thought, if he can write novels, so can I!

RF: In general, what comes first – your characters or the story?

EVL: Oh, characters first, always. I begin by thinking: Here’s someone I want to write about. Why? And then the story comes.

RF: Where do you usually meet the characters of your stories? Are they more often inspired by real people or imagined?

EVL: Very rarely have I used characters based on people from real life. Actually, the last time I did that was in 1979. I was sitting in the sculpture garden at the Museum of Modern Art in NYC, one of my favorite places at the time to go and take notes. I saw a woman in her thirties come in and sit down in a chair across from me. She was very attractive. Not just her face, but something about her energy. She was a fairly heavy woman, everything in proportion. I started thinking about the media’s notion of a beautiful woman (even in those days!) and how this woman didn’t fit it. And yet, I found her more attractive and interesting than any of the glamour-pusses out there. I saw her as a kind of heroine, someone to admire, comfortable in her own skin even though she didn’t conform to society’s skewed anorectic vision of the female ideal. She became Gelda, Justine’s sister in The Ninja. But, by and large, my characters are made up, or are composites of people I’ve seen or met briefly.

RF: What is the strangest or most interesting thing you’ve learned while researching/writing a story?

EVL: I’ve learned quite a few frightening things about how governments really work, how corrupt they really are, and how they use language to distance themselves from the carnage and mass deaths their orders—like Shiva—wreak. “Mowing the lawn,” anyone?

RF: Which character from literature do you consider your hero?

EVL: Queen Elizabeth I, Tudor. No other monarch was so besieged by assassins, villains, enemies, and Catholic plotting. No other monarch so successfully fought her way through these obstacles to create England’s great Golden Age. And to be a woman, to boot! I love her.

The Death and Life of Nicholas Linnear releases today, November 17. You can purchase the book from Open Road Media.

  • The Death and Life of Nicholas Linnear (Kindle Single) (The Nicholas Linnear Series)