Thursday, September 8, 2011
5 QUESTIONS FOR THRILLER AUTHOR ROBERT BIDINOTTO
1- As an award-winning investigative journalist, you’ve seen the seedier side of the real world—what made you decide to write fiction? Was that always a desire for you?
When I was a little kid, my brother and I would make up and act out stories. Later, when I was in school, I remember being given an essay assignment: “What did you do on your summer vacation?” I started it the conventional way, but slowly turned it into a science-fiction fantasy in which I was kidnapped by a UFO. Fortunately, the teacher appreciated my creativity and gave me an “A.”
So yes, I’ve always loved to write—had to write—and I’ve wanted to write fiction since at least my teens. But I had no idea how to go about it. So instead, I pursued my interest in current events and politics and began a career writing about those topics. I wrote everything from investigative journalism to book and film reviews, essays, speeches, and opinion columns.
Still, my yearning to write fiction wouldn’t rest. Over the decades, I outlined a number of stories; but Life always somehow got in the way, and eventually I outgrew those stories before finishing them.
You know, Gary, it’s scary when you reach age 60 and there are still major “to do” items on your Bucket List. I felt that if I died without finishing and publishing a novel, my life would be a failure. So, after getting a brainstorm in November 2009, I decided to get on with it. Even though our financial circumstances were not ideal for setting aside time to write a novel, my dear wife understood and encouraged me.
I worked on HUNTER whenever I could, while continuing nonfiction contract work. It was by far the hardest writing assignment I’d ever tackled. But I vowed to myself that I would finish it by June 5, 2011—my 62nd birthday. Well, I completed the manuscript and printed out the final pages at 11 p.m. on June 4th—with one hour to spare. I can’t begin to describe to you how I felt as I put those final pages on the stack. I was a basket case for a week afterward.
2- While changing names or locations, of course, are there times when you’ve used pieces of real events in your fiction?
Absolutely. Certain well-known events over the past two decades play important roles in the personal history of the title character in HUNTER. This backstory is revealed about three-quarters of the way through the book: It’s part of the mystery about this man and what motivates him. Real-life events at the CIA also motivate the heroine, Annie Woods, who works there as a security investigator.
As for locations, the tale is centered in and around Washington, D.C. I live nearby and used to work downtown, so I’m familiar with many of the settings in the story. As for those places that I hadn’t or couldn’t visit in person, I found “Google Earth” to be invaluable—especially its “street view” feature. It allowed me to take “virtual” tours of those locales and add realistic descriptive details to the scenes.
3- In your novel, HUNTER, Dylan Hunter is not your typical protagonist. Tell me how you created him and how he’s different from other operatives?
You’re right, Gary—he’s not typical, and that was a deliberate choice. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to compete with great thriller writers like you, Brad Thor, Vince Flynn, or Lee Child by creating some clone. I knew that my hero had to be completely distinctive.
The idea for the Dylan Hunter character emerged from my background years ago as an investigative journalist writing “true crime” articles for Reader’s Digest. I was outraged by the leniency toward predators in our so-called “criminal justice system.” As I investigated and wrote articles exposing these practices, I befriended victims of thugs who had been freed by our “revolving-door” legal system. The faces of these crime victims haunted my dreams then, and ever since.
In a sense, I became a crusading journalistic avenger on their behalf. Dylan Hunter—an idealistic journalist at war with the corrupt legal system—is a cathartic fictional projection of my own fantasies of retribution.
As for how he is distinctive: First, Hunter is an intellectual tough guy. Yes, he’s hard as nails; but he’s also highly educated, witty, well-read, even philosophical. At core, Hunter is an idealist, a crusader for strict, absolute justice. He isn’t responding only to some immediate physical threat or narrow injustice, as most “lone-wolf” fictional heroes are. Instead, he takes on big, controversial issues and systemic injustices. And his enemies aren’t limited to the usual criminals and terrorists; they include some of the most politically powerful and intellectually influential people in society. Moreover, because he upholds absolutely merciless justice, Dylan Hunter also stands alone against much of the wider society, too.
Second, there’s this big mystery about his background and identity, as well as his motives. From the moment this guy appears in the story, it’s clear that there’s a lot about him that he’s hiding from everyone else. He’s living in lonely isolation, with only his pet cat for company. And he seems driven by goals that are not clear to the reader, or even to the woman who loves him. Who is Dylan Hunter? That question is a big part of the story’s suspense, as much as the dangers and perils he faces.
The result, I think, is a fast-paced, suspenseful vigilante thriller that also challenges the reader to rethink some of his core values and assumptions along the way. One reviewer described HUNTER as “a thinking man’s Death Wish.” Another described it as “Batman meets Jason Bourne.” I laughed when I read those reviews, but there’s a lot of truth in both analogies.
4- The response to “Hunter,” has been remarkable. Did you expect this kind of success? And what were your expectations?
Let me be completely frank with you, Gary: When I finished HUNTER, I had no idea whether it was any damned good at all. Honestly—not a clue. Sure, I’d written award-winning nonfiction for decades. But creating fresh characters, a serpentine plot, engaging dialogue, and imaginary settings from thin air, then weaving it all together into a compelling tale, involves skill sets entirely different from nonfiction writing.
So, when I stared at that stack of manuscript pages, I didn’t know whether I’d written something awful, great, or just mediocre. Only when my wife and then my “beta readers” came back with wildly enthusiastic responses did I dare begin to hope that I might have created something special.
The reader reviews at Amazon and Barnes & Noble have blown me away. As of this moment, there are 57 customer reviews on Amazon; 54 of them are “5 stars,” two are “4 stars”—all raves—and only one, from an anonymous reader, is negative. Based on those customer reviews, HUNTER is the #1 “Top Rated” novel in three Kindle categories: Thrillers, Romantic Suspense, and Spy Stories & Tales of Intrigue. It also is reader-ranked #2 among all Kindle “Mysteries and Thrillers,” and number #3 among all “Romance” novels.
I never expected that, not in a million years, and I’m grateful to my readers. They’ve made it possible for me to continue writing future Dylan Hunter adventures.
5- With the publishing world going digital, what do you see the industry looking like in 5 years?
Nobody can predict with certainty what publishing will look like in the future. But a few things seem clear.
The traditional publishing business model is circling the drain. That model focuses on publishers estimating future customer demand and delivering print books to retail outlets, which then return a large percentage of the unsold books back to publishers, or dump them at a loss onto remainder tables. This outmoded business model constitutes a colossal waste of capital and resources in the digital age. It’s a lousy deal for customers and for authors.
Customers increasingly prefer the convenience and lower cost of online book purchases, particularly ebooks. No print publisher or brick-and-mortar store, with their huge overheads, can possibly compete with the vast online inventory and almost-instant delivery available to somebody sitting in his easy chair or on a beach somewhere with a Kindle or Nook in his hands.
As retail outlets disappear and print press runs fall, ebooks constitute an ever-growing percentage of book sales; yet authors find that their publishers take the lion’s share of their ebook royalties. By self-publishing ebooks, though, we authors can cut out the middle men—publishers, bookstores, even agents—keeping most of our royalties and all of our rights. Amazon has pioneered this process, and I think the consequent decline of big publishers and chain bookstores is inevitable.
Still, I think print books do have a future, Gary, because many people still prefer them. But the production model likely will be “print on demand,” which many indie authors are adopting already. That option doesn’t require big publishing houses or bookstore outlets.
One thing for sure: More of us will become what I call “vigilante authors,” taking business matters into our own hands. We’ll assume full responsibility, not just as authors of books, but also for their publication and marketing. We’ll contract for the services we need, at costs far less than the royalty shares we now surrender to publishers, bookstores, and agents.
In short, I predict that five years from now, we’ll be enjoying the Golden Age of Authors. We’re already seeing its first glimmers right now.