I was delighted to see that one of the masters of that genre Robert Ferrigno was awarded The Best Thriller Award by Mystery Ink's Gumshoe for the remarkable Prayers for the Assassin. I love it when a writer takes a risk, moves out of the middle ground, and then takes the genre to new avenues. Like any risky activity, there can often be more failures than successes. In my opinion Ferrigno took a huge risk when he started working on the politically charged work Prayers for the Assassin many flinched, many were confused and so when I saw it arrive on British soil last year, I cheered, and now it has just been released in paperback in the UK and seeing stacks of copies in bookstores around the country warms my heart. I also wish to pat the judges [at Gumshoe / Mystery Ink] on the back for their taste, perception and insight.
For those not familiar with Ferrigno's work I would recommend checking out his work, especially the remarkable Prayers for the Assassin. I can happily report that when I spent some time with Ferrigno at Thrillerfest last summer in Phoenix, Arizona he was one of the most modest writers I have ever spent time with. I enjoyed Robert Ferrigno's company a great deal and his insights proved inspirational to me, so we kept in touch during the year. So following winning the Gumshoe for best thriller and on the eve of the UK paperback release of Prayers for the Assassin - I decided to call up one our greatest writers of thrillers and P.I. Novels to see what's new in his world, but most critically ask some pointed questions on the truly remarkable Prayers of the Assassin.
Robert, congratulations on winning the Gumshoe 2007 for best Thriller for Prayers for the Assassin, how does it feel?
It's very enjoyable, particularly in light of the high calibre of the other authors nominated. I wish instead of actually naming a "winner", the nominees could just get together for dinner and drinks.
So tell us a little how you came upon this unusual story that would transform to become this ground-breaking novel?
I started it shortly after 9-11, when everyone was torqued and angry and certain that victory was easy. I started wondering, as author's with rather bleak points of view are wont, what would happen if the West lost? This was actually a radical position to take, the US having the greatest and most sophisticated war capability on the planet. So I tried to imagine how it could happen, and that led me to the belief that while we couldn't be defeated militarily, we could lose on a very different battlefield. We could lose because of an internal weakness, a failure of vision, a failure to see beyond the next television show, the next launch of some crap product designed to make our lives shiny and bright and fun fun fun. In a generation-long struggle, don't count on technology to win the war, it's going to take tenacity and strong belief. Most of us in the West have very short-term event horizons. Muslims fight to the death over theological differences that happened over a thousand years ago. Americans can't remember who won the Academy Award for Best Picture last year.
So that was the impetus, the potential for losing the war and the effect losing would have. I also wanted to write about a protagonist who has lost his faith and feels the loss acutely. A tough guy that has to continue on, making it up as he goes along, choosing right from wrong without any guidance other than his own morality. I had always wanted to write about this kind of character, and it's kind of ironic that when I finally did it, the faith he had lost was Islam. My protagonist is Rakkim Epps, an elite Fedayeen warrior who aches when he hears the call to prayer, knowing he is no longer part of the faithful.
Were you, your agent, your publishers at all concerned in the subject matter?
I knew it was going to be a huge risk in every sense of the word. My previous eight novels had all been noir thrillers set in Southern California and here I was writing a political thriller set thirty years in the future, writing about a subject many people felt uncomfortable about. When I first told my agent what I was up to, she said "you can't be serious." When I assured her I was, she said the move was "career suicide." We had been together for fifteen years and six books and I consider her a trusted advisor as well as my agent, but I told her if she didn't think she could represent the book with all her heart, we should part friends. She stayed on. My publisher at the time, for whom I had written four books, passed very quickly on the proposal. Very quickly. We had better luck with the next publisher we spoke with and they fully supported the book.
What have been the reactions from your traditional readers?
I think my traditional readers have always expected the unexpected from me. I don't do series, so readers are used to being taken on a new ride every time. My heroes are non-traditional and I don't do neat and tidy endings. Many readers emailed me to say that they bought the book with some trepidation about my "change," but that they enjoyed the book immensely, and still felt it was a "Ferrigno novel." I feel very grateful to have readers that are open and enthusiastic and willing to give me the freedom to try new things. Of course, if I produced a lousy book, they would beat me with their copy. Hardbacks too.
Have you attracted readers outside of the Thriller / Mystery community?
Prayers for the Assassin was my best-selling book ever in the US, making the New York Times and the LA Times best seller list. I got a lot of new readers in both the literary, political and sci-fi community. I also found on book tour that I had many new faces, plenty of US military personnel and a lot of American Muslims who were very interested and stayed afterwards to talk. They all bought books.
I see Prayers is coming out in PB in the UK, how has this work been received internationally?
The international reception was very interesting. My UK publisher was solid. France, Germany and Italy, where all my prior books had been picked up, rejected the manuscript citing fears of lawsuits and potential violence. Oddly enough, my first international sale was to the largest publisher in Turkey, a modern Islamic republic, much like the one envisioned in Prayers. I had never sold a book in Turkey before. Russia, mainland China, Taiwan, Romania and Thailand also bought the book, all countries where I had never had a prior sale, all countries with sizable Muslim populations. An Arabic edition will be published shortly. I think publishers in those countries actually read the book and realized that Muslims weren't being painted as evil. There are moral and good Muslims in Prayers, and evil Muslims. Moral and good Christians and evil Christians. As one of the characters says, "it's not that faith, it's the faithful that's the problem."
I heard you're planning a sequel?
I wrote Prayers as a stand-alone but always hoped it could be the first book of a trilogy. Publishing, being a tough business, does not allow sequels of books that don't sell. The success of Prayers allowed my US publisher to offer me a contract for the final two books of the trilogy. I just turned in the manuscript for Sins of the Assassinand my publisher is very happy with it. [US pub date is feb 2008], and I'll be starting the final book in a few weeks.
I enjoyed meeting you at Thrillerfest 2006 in Phoenix, and enjoyed sharing some time with you so what's new in your world Robert?
Great meeting you too, Ali and glad the 110 degree F. heat in Phoenix didn't daunt the good times. Well what's new in my world? I'm happily boring. I love to write and spend most of my time working, playing with my family, romping with the dogs and going to movies.
And finally what's been on your reading table recently?
Loved The Winter of Frankie Machine, by Don Winslow, Ditto The Reincarnationist by M.J. Rose, which should be out soon. Just finished reading a short story collection called L.A. Noir - I've also discovered a fabulous writer, John Connolly --- and yes, I am late to the party --- particularly loved The Black Angel and Bad Men. This guy is so good it hurts.
If you've not discovered the work of Robert Ferrigno - I'll pray for you.
More info on the work of Robert Ferrigno is available from :- http://www.robertferrigno.com/
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