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The Paranoid World of JOSEPH FINDER

Written by Ali Karim

 

 Joe Finder Publishing Weekly called Joseph Finders new book Paranoia "The most entertaining thriller of 2004" - strong words (and so early in the year) from one of the trades most trusted sources. The marketing engine behind Paranoia has notched up a few gears as the book arrives like a jet-fighter from across the Atlantic. 

It was released in January in the USA and hit the bestseller lists ‘right off the bat’ as our American friends would like to say. This high tech adventure story from espionage supremo Joe Finder finds a bored middle management worker Adam Cassidy caught in a sinister web of corporate intrigue. A Faustian pact is offered, and one that he cannot refuse, but one that could cost him his career and his life. Trapped, he has to chose to take the red-pill or the blue one; but without a Morpheous to help guide him through the corporate matrix. Cassidy soon discovers himself alone with the walls closing in, and unable to trust anyone with his secrets. 

With more plot twists than a Chubby Checker record and more insight into corporate skulduggery than the Enron guide to business ethics; Finder’s novel has found itself at the right place, at the right time yet again; for the international corporation is shown yet again to be feared, not trusted.

 

 

 Previous novels indicated Joe Finder’s timing to be uncanny. His first novel, The Moscow Club (1991) detailed a coup against Soviet Leader Mikhail Gorbachev, and was published mere months before the real coup occurred. His second novel, Extraordinary Powers (1994) detailed the hunt for a mole in the top echelon of the CIA, and was published days before real-life traitor Aldrich Ames was unmasked. His third novel, The Zero Hour (1996) tells of an FBI hunt for a terrorist in New York, while his last novel, High Crime was filmed by cult director Carl Franklin and featured Morgan Freeman and Ashley Judd.

So on the eve of the release of Paranoia published in the UK by Orion Books, Shots tracked down this enigmatic and powerful writer to find out some background to his work, and to ask him if he is an Ozzy Osbourne fan, but more importantly - to see if Shots eZine readers are all going to get Paranoia’ in 2004.

 

 

Ali:

Joe, welcome to Shots Ezine.

Joe:

A pleasure!

Ali:

I understand that as a child you spent a great deal of time overseas. What did those experiences bring to your writing?

Joe:

Hmm. For one thing it made learning foreign languages a whole lot easier - I learned Farsi (in Afghanistan) even before I learned English - so I was able to learn Russian pretty easily. Another thing, I suppose, was that all that travelling as a kid made me into an observer of different cultures, which in the end turned me into a writer of international intrigue.

Ali:

Were you a reader as a child? And if so what books did you most enjoy as a youth?

Joe:

High Crimes, Book Jacket Like most writers, I read avidly. I liked fiction most of all, generally fantasy stories like Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, and also the children’s science-fiction tales of Eleanor Cameron, who wrote a series about “the Mushroom Planet.” In fact, I loved those books so much that, when I was in third grade, I wrote to the author, told her I wanted to be a writer myself someday, and we kept up a correspondence that went on for several years. Many years later, after I’d written my first novel, I met her in Boston and had the pleasure of telling her what an influence she’d been on me. Anyway, these are just the titles that come to mind - there are loads more books that I read and re-read as a kid.

Ali:

Were your parents readers? And did they encourage you in your reading and writing?

Joe:

Not only were they readers, but they were both professors and educators - my dad was a professor of English education, my mother a professor of reading education. Wherever we lived, our house was always choked with books. They also encouraged my early writing attempts - at the age of nine, ten, eleven, I was writing stories and sending them to publishers - rejected, all of them, which was good training for a writer-to-be - and they never discouraged me from trying.

Ali:

As a student you were in Yale and later Harvard and I understand you majored in Russian Studies and then after your Masters Degree, you taught in Harvard. Could you tell us a little about that period and what did the taste of Ivy league Academia bring to your work?

Joe:

I had a great time in college, and a lot of that Ivy League clubbiness and exclusivity, which struck me as so richly atmospheric, made its way into my novels. A number of my heroes are either academics or come from the Ivy League - as do many of my villains. At Yale, though, I had no idea what I wanted to do afterward. Harvard’s Russian Research Center offered me a generous scholarship. Most of the grad students in the program went on to become either academics or spies. I explored both options, decided neither was for me, and decided to start writing, drawing upon my expertise in Soviet affairs and international intelligence and espionage.

Ali:

Were you a reader of espionage fiction in the golden age of the British spy-thriller of say Ian Fleming, Alistair MacLean, Len Deighton, John Le Carre, Geoffrey Household, Graham Greene et al?

Joe:

Oh, most definitely. I loved (and love) Eric Ambler, Graham Greene’s so-called “entertainments,” and Geoffrey Household. Le Carre’s earlier novels had a real impact on me, particularly Spy Who Came in From the Cold and the Smiley series. And let’s not forget the great Frederick Forsyth, whose documentary style gave birth to a whole sub-genre within the thriller.

Ali:

What about the US espionage thrillers of Robert Ludlum and Gayle Lynds set in the 1980’s and 1990’s?

Joe:

Robert Ludlum is, I think, underrated - he really created the modern conspiracy thriller, and very few have been able to do it as well. I love The Bourne Identity and The Matarese Circle. He was obviously no prose stylist, but man, what a storyteller! Gayle Lynds, who’s terrific, is one of the few heirs to Ludlum, I think.

Ali:

Your first published work was non-fiction examining the linkages between the very powerful Armand Hammer and Soviet intelligence. Could you tell us why that topic interested you? And did the publication of RED CARPET : The Connection between the Kremlin and America’s Most Powerful Businessman cause you any problems?

Joe:

High Crimes Movie Poster One day in graduate school at Harvard I happened to be reading the letters of V. I. Lenin in Russian, and there I discovered the name of the great American capitalist, Dr. Armand Hammer, the CEO of one of America’s great corporations, Occidental Petroleum. He was, it turned out, a friend of Lenin’s. The irony was so rich that I was determined to find out what the real story was. So I decided to take the plunge - write my first book. I went to Moscow, poked around, and learned that Dr. Hammer had been a spy for Soviet intelligence, a fact he’d been concealing all his life. Hammer granted me an interview, but when he found out that I was interested in his years living in Moscow (from 1921 to the early 1930s), he stood up and ordered me out of his office. The book that I eventually published (when I was 24) told much of the real story. Hammer’s attorneys threatened to sue me for libel, tried to stop the book’s publication, and bought up as many copies of the book as they could find. It was, actually, pretty scary for a writer as young as I was.

Ali:

There was a significant gap between that book and your first novel The Moscow Club being published, what was you doing during that period?

Joe:

I taught at Harvard while doing a lot of writing about the Soviet Union for magazines and newspapers. And trying to write my first novel.

Ali:

The Moscow Club was a major bestseller throughout the world. Can you tell us how that success affected you? I also heard that a film was proposed. Can you tell us what happened with the film rights?

Joe:

The main thing The Moscow Club did for me was to allow me to quit teaching and write full time, which was what I’d always wanted to do. Actually, we never sold the movie rights. When the book first came out, the storyline - a coup plot in the Kremlin against Gorbachev - was considered way too far-fetched. Then, when that coup really happened, six months after publication, Hollywood lost interest - the novel seemed too real.

Ali:

Established as a political-thriller novelist you published two more topical novels, Extraordinary Powers and The Zero Hour. I understand that the US security services assisted you in your research. Is this how you become affiliated to the Association of Former Intelligence Officers?

Joe:

I was invited to join the Association of Former Intelligence Officers because I’d written so widely about espionage and intelligence, and in a way that a lot of these ex-spies considered accurate and fair, if not always flattering to the CIA. But yes, both the CIA and the FBI cooperated with me, particularly in writing of The Zero Hour, which was crucial to establishing its authenticity.

Ali:

When the Soviet Bloc collapsed in the 1980’s did you feel that the future of the espionage thriller was in serious jeopardy?

Joe:

I wrote about this very question at the time - my feeling was (and events have proved me right) that the espionage thriller was born long before the Cold War - really, in the U.K., amid fears of a German invasion before the first world war - and would most certainly survive it. Thrillers are usually about whatever fear or threat is in the air.

Ali:

Is global terrorism going to now dominate the espionage thriller genre as did the Soviet Bloc in the cold-war era?

Joe:

Probably, for a time. But the real subject here is not terrorism (which is, after all, a means of struggle) but the fact that we’re living in a dangerous world of rich nations and poor ones, ethnic tensions, organized crime syndicates, illegal arms deals. The world, alas, is full of thriller plots.

Ali:

Do you believe with you knowledge of the security services that the world is a safer place than during the height of the cold war?

Joe:

Not at all - I think the world is much more dangerous. I think the Cold War (paradoxical though it may seem) kept the world in a state of stability.

Ali:

How do other members of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers view your work?

Joe:

I only hear from the ones who like it!

Ali:

Your fourth novel High Crimes was filmed and I viewed it at its London premiere of Crimescene 2002. Can you tell us how award-winning director Carl Franklin became involved?

Joe:

The producer, Janet Yang (who also produced The Joy Luck Club and several Oliver Stone films) thought that Carl would be perfect, given how well he’d adapted other novels, including Anna Quindlen’s One True Thing and Walter Mosley’s Devil in a Blue Dress. He’s a director who really gets the texture of characters and their relationships. I think he’s quite gifted, and I liked the movie a lot.

Ali:

Between novels you also find time to write for The New York Times, The Washington Post as well as The New Republic. How did you get involved in journalism?

Joe:

It was really because of my first book, Red Carpet, which attracted a lot of controversy. That plus my academic background, and the fact that, unlike a lot of academics, I could actually write.

Ali:

Are you a reader of the thriller genre? And if so what books most impressed you in recent years?

Joe:

I think Daniel Silva’s books are terrific, particularly his Gabriel Allon series, which focus on the unfinished business of the Holocaust.

Ali:

A writer once told me that the most interesting people (writers or characters in novels) are the ones with some personal trauma that splintered their youth. Did have any trauma or incident that perhaps helped mould you in some way? And if so would be prepared to share that incident with us?

Joe:

Hmmm - no, I think I’d rather not open up that much. But I think it’s a valid question; I think that most writers write out of a need to repair or complete something in their life. It’s almost a neurotic compulsion.

Ali:

So from government intelligence you have moved your focus toward corporate espionage with Paranoia. Can you tell us where the germ for this novel came from?

Joe:

It came from a friend of mine in the CIA who told me, a few years ago, that corporate espionage is closely modelled on international espionage - that major corporations use the same spy techniques; often hire people with government intelligence backgrounds. Once I heard this, I knew I had the basis for an intriguing novel.

Ali:

Can you tell us what the novel is all about?

Joe:

Paranoia, Book Jacket It’s the story of a 26-year-old guy, Adam Cassidy, who works in a high-tech corporation and hates his job. When one day he does a favor for a buddy of his who works on the loading dock, moves a little money around to fund a retirement party, he gets caught. It turns out that the party cost $78,000 - what’s that in pounds? - and corporate security hauls him in. They give him a simple choice: prison - or become a spy for us in the headquarters of our chief competitor. He decides to become a spy. They train him, turn him into a superstar. The problem is, he realizes he likes the company they’ve planted him in - he’s finally getting the respect he never got before - and he decides to quit the spy business. That’s when all hell breaks loose. . .

Ali:

Your plots twist and turn like a roller coaster ride, so do you plot extensively, or do you let the muse take you where it may?

Joe:

I plot all the major points in advance. Once in a while, though, I’ll come up with a great twist while I’m in the middle of writing, and then I’ll go with it. That happened with the endingof this book, which I came up with only when I was halfway through writing the novel. But when I thought of it, I knew I had a terrific final twist. . .

Ali:

Did you come up with the title, or was that the publisher trying to cash in on the popularity of Ozzy Osbourne …laughing…as ‘Paranoid’ was a pretty popular song title for Black Sabbath

Joe:

I sure know the song, but the title really came to me from a book by Andy Grove, the co-founder of the big U.S. microchip corporation, Intel. He called his book, Only the Paranoid Survive. I liked that.

Ali:

What do you put down to the uncanny topical nature of your books?

Joe:

I think it’s just a matter of keeping my ear to the ground - having good sources and listening to them. That way, I hear about things before they’re made public.

Ali:

How did Paranoia’get picked up by Orion in the UK?

Joe:

Orion has published all of novels since my second novel, Extraordinary Powers, and I’ve always thought they’ve done a great job. I think loyalty to a publisher is important. They also indicated that they really believed in Paranoia and would publish it with a real commitment.

Ali:

There has been a great deal of marketing support in the US and some very strong word-of-mouth. How do publishers generate a buzz and select a ‘big’ book such as Paranoia or last years The Da Vinci Code?

Joe:

I’ve learned this much - it’s incredibly hard work, and it requires a publisher that’s totally behind a book. Publishing is a hard business. An editor has to believe in a book, then get everyone in house to read it, then get booksellers to read it, You really have to keep the pressure on, in house and out. And the fact is, it won’t work if people don’t like it - you can’t manufacture buzz; it does have to be organic.

Ali:

The novel features many high tech devices and electronic gadgets, so are you a high-tech gadget guy?

Joe:

Pretty much. I like having the latest computers, the latest cell phones, the latest handheld devices. I can’t always work them right, but at least I try.

Ali:

Is it true that you wrote Paranoia during the early hours of 4am till 7am each morning?

Joe:

True - and that was just the first part of my workday! Then I’d get back to writing after my daughter went to school for the day.

Ali:

Many of your characters in Paranoia read the business self-help books. What is your take on the works of Tom Peters and the like? And what are your thoughts on management consultants who pepper these mega-corporations? Have they a legitimate role or are they the modern day snake-oil merchants?

Joe:

I think most of these self-help books are pretty funny. They’re not really self-help at all - the millions of people who buy them aren’t really going to “re-engineer” their corporation, say. They’re wish-fulfilment books. They allow readers to fantasize about running the company they work for.

Ali:

I heard that Paramount Pictures have picked up the rights to Paranoia can you update us on the movie?

Joe:

Last I heard it’s in pretty active development, but I haven’t yet seen a script. Of course, with Hollywood, you never know what’s going to happen. . .

Ali:

Some people amongst our intelligentsia do not consider genre fiction to be “literary” enough when compared to ‘general fiction’? Would you care to comment?

Joe:

These are the same people who’ll watch just about anything on TV or see any movie so long as it’s entertaining. I find there’s a lot of intellectual insecurity among readers. Genre fiction, or popular fiction, is generally intended as entertainment, like movies or TV. Plenty of genre fiction even has a “message,” a point or two to make. And plenty of pop fiction is actually inventive and well written. I think lit-snobs end up short-changing themselves by not reading popular fiction until, like Dickens, it becomes “literature” by virtue of its age and patina.

Ali:

What are you working on currently?

Joe:

Another thriller set in the corporate world, though this one is quite different.

Ali:

I here you’re coming to London shortly, can you tell us if you are involved the UK launch of Paranoia? And when are we finally going to see it in our bookshops?

Joe:

I’m sure I’ll be involved, at least before publication. Paranoia should hit U.K. bookshops in June.

Ali:

Thank you for your time and enjoy Europe!

Joe:

Thanks for all the great questions.

 

 

 

More information on the works of Joe Finder can be found online at :-

www.josephfinder.com and www.paranoianovel.com

Paranoia Picure

 

 

 

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Joseph Finder



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