Shots: Welcome, JB Turner, to Shots Magazine, and congratulations on your latest novel, ‘Hard Road’, published by Exhibit A in July (USA) and August (UK).
This first in a series introduces us to ex-Delta Force operative, Jon Reznick and FBI Assistant Director Martha Meyerstein. Tasked with as assassination which goes wrong from the outset, Jon Reznick takes his intended target into hiding when he discovers that the man is not who he has been led to believe. Realising that he has been misled by his paymaster, Maddox, and now doesn’t know who to trust, he tries to find out what is going on. But when his 11-year-old daughter Lauren is abducted and her life threatened unless he produces his captive, it is very evident that he has become embroiled in something far bigger than he thought, and that a huge threat faces the establishment he believes in.
As a first question, I found this story - the first in a new series - very cinematic indeed. In keeping with movie projects, what would be your elevator pitch for the novel?
JB T: Payback (starring Mel Gibson) meets Enemy of the State (starring Will Smith).
Shots: I can see that. Both great conspiracy thrillers. Your economic writing style highlights your background in journalism. Do you consciously allow that economy of style to influence you, or is it simply so ingrained you don’t worry about it?
JB T: It is undoubtedly ingrained in me. As a journalist, from day one, it was drilled into me to convey the story in a non-verbose manner. So complex stories can be boiled down to a simple opening sentence and so the reader gets the gist of the story in less than twenty words. I’m a big fan of stripped down prose. James Ellroy is one of the very best in the crime genre. I also love the writing of Michael Connelly, a former journalist himself. Less is more is my motto with regards writing. Oh, and Richard Stark is a favourite, too.
Shots: Was there any specific incident that prompted this idea (the threat of home-grown bio-terrorism on the Washington Metro), or did it build out of other events?
JB T: I can’t remember when it was, but I read about an experiment by the US government in New York that happened in the 1960s. Scientists tested biological pathogens in public places. In one experiment, a light bulb containing Bacillus globigii was dropped on New York’s subway system. The result affected people prone to illness and was known as the Subway Experiment. Based on the circulation measurements, thousands would have been killed if a microbe was released in a similar manner. But it was reading about this test that sparked my imagination and sowed the seeds for what became Hard Road.
Shots: I found the pace and tension of the scenes on the Metro extremely gripping and vivid. Did you do any research down in the bowels of Washington for this?
JB T: With that particular scene I used extensive research into the Metro and its layout. The Internet provides authors these days with a marvellous research tool which is invaluable. Maps, diagrams, essays on the Metro, there are countless avenues of information available.
Shots: You’ve written two books in another series under the name Jack Ross, with a female central character, Miami Herald reporter, Deborah Jones. With Martha Meyerstein taking a goodly share of the action in Hard Road, you clearly like writing about tough women. Is this in any way intentional for readers? (In the UK, at least, the majority of crime/thriller readers are women).
JB T: I think it was important to me that the Meyerstein character, an FBI Assistant Director, was not only strong and tough, but smart. On my last visit to Miami, I met a very impressive female Special Agent who provided me with some of the inspiration. Highly intelligent, non-nonsense and professional, she gave me an invaluable insight into the work of the FBI and the attributes of their agents.
Shots: Does your own background include any useful insights into the character of the FBI and its ways, and indeed to the American landscape and character, or are you writing from a more distant viewpoint?
JB T: When I was a journalist, I interviewed police and other law enforcement agents, and the workings of these institutions have always fascinated me. So when it came to conceiving a narrative, it felt right to place the FBI close to the heart of the action in Hard Road. And so, my insight into the Meyerstein character was cemented by meeting FBI Special Agents in Miami and liaising extensively with their HQ in Washington throughout the writing of my book. With regards the American landscape and character, nothing beats going there. The smells of the place. The people. Visiting less salubrious places off-the-beaten-tracks, away from tourist haunts. The backstreets. It all gives an author the sights and sounds they need to create a sense of place. As far back as I can remember, I’ve been surrounded by American popular culture, be it films, books or TV shows. I love American films from the 1970s. All the President’s Men, Serpico, The Parallax View. My favourite books are also from American writers, people like James Lee Burke, Thomas H Cook who wrote Red Leaves, and as far back as the brilliant Henry James who wrote Washington Square, one of my favourite books.
Shots: I’ve already mentioned your journalism background, which implies an organised or disciplined approach to your work (I know, making assumptions here). But as a novelist, are you a planner or do you simply plunge in and see what happens?
JB T: Bit of both. Hard Road was plotted, but as the story developed, I went with my instincts, and the plot grew organically. I think it’s important not to become a slave to a plan or an outline. Intuition and how the story feels is crucial.
Shots: Research first, after or during the writing process?
JB T: All of the above. The research, in my opinion, never stops as a writer until the book is handed over to the publisher.
Shots: With all the death and mayhem in the pages of Hard Road, including one scene where Reznick actually kills a man accidentally (okay, he was a baddie, so no great loss), do you find your family giving you the occasional sideways looks, or have they become used to it?
JB T: Whilst you’re right that Hard Road has more than its fair share of murder and mayhem, my family realize (at least I hope they realize) this is just the work of a fevered imagination. Every author needs to trawl their imagination and dredge their darkest thoughts, at least part of the time.
Shots: Can you give us an idea about your next book?
JB T: Jon Reznick is contacted by the FBI after a top American diplomat goes missing.
Shots: Thank you, JB, for your time, and the very best of luck with your books.
You can read more about J B Turner and his work at http://www.jbturnerauthor.com
HARD ROAD published by Exhibit A 1st August 2013Pbk £8.99 and Kindle £5.49
Interview: October 2103
Read the review - click here