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Paranoia by Joseph Finder


PopMatters: I’ve been thinking about how James Bond had all the gadgets and the classic scene when the wonderful camera-pen or toilet-seat/mine sweeper were revealed. The details of how the amazing gizmo worked were never as important as what it did. Now, with computer knowledge becoming more widespread, is there a pressure on writers to be able to explain the workings of gadgets as well as the function?

Joseph Finder: I don’t think so — depends on the type of writer and what he’s into. Tom Clancy will explain all the gadgets and how they work. Nelson DeMille or Harlan Coben or Daniel Silva won’t. I’m sort of in between — I like researching the details, making sure that various equipment, gadgets, etc. really work in reality. For example, one of the spy devices that my hero, Adam, uses is called a Keyghost — it allows you to download everything that’s typed into a computer; it’s amazing — and it exists in reality, even though most of us have no idea of its existence. In fact, you can buy one on the Internet. (Then again, what can’t you buy on the Internet?)

PM: Wow, the opening scene with the retirement party Adam throws for his buddy down on the loading dock! I finished the book in October 2003, just in time for the video release of the $2.5 million Tyco-paid-for birthday bash. In Paranoia you left out the winged dancers and you set the scene on a loading dock. Did you have any knowledge of the Tyco party? Fess up … Did you go? Was the party your motivation for the book?

Finder: Sort of. When I was writing that scene I’d read about all those Dennis Kozlowski-type corporate parties, and it occurred to me that Adam, my hero, might think about those events and realize that no corporation ever gives such a party for a mere loading-dock worker — but Adam would do something about that! Which is why I like the guy.

PM: You’ve traded CIA-type spies and covert activities for corporate ones. How prevalent are spooks in the corporate world? The easy accessibility to technology really makes anyone a spy, don’t you think? If you Google “spy camera” you get over 63,000 sites.

Finder: Corporate espionage is far more prevalent than most people suspect. Some of the nation’s biggest corporations —- from Procter & Gamble to Microsoft — employ corporate intelligence agents to spy on their competitors. But even scarier is the way in which many large corporations spy on their own employees. If you work for a big corporation, you can count on the fact that somewhere in the corporation they’re recording all your e-mail, in or out, and everywhere you’re surfing the net. There is no privacy.

PM: Some books seem tailor-made to be motion pictures. When I read Dennis Lehane’s Shutter Island, I knew it needed to become a movie. I could see it in my head, same was true with Mystic River, but I was unsure if they could pull it off. The DaVinci Code? That will be a tough one, it’s so complex — a lot of it will be left out, but I’ll be the first in line to see it. How often do you think authors write with movies in mind — could that be considered almost a genre? “Thrillers/suspense meant to be movies” Or, do you think a good thriller/suspense novel should be written so vividly that it brings up such strong images of place and personality that the reader should “think” in terms of the book as a movie?

Finder: Good question, but a complicated one. Some authors write their novels with the thought that they’ll be made into movies — but the thing is, Hollywood is so capricious that you can’t count on anything. If you write a novel that’s really a beefed-up screenplay, you’re writing a deficient book, and there’s no reason to believe Hollywood will ever buy it — or make it. In fact, some of the most successful movies recently have been made out of books that have so much texture and characterization that they don’t seem like likely movie candidates. Like Lehane’s Mystic River. The Da Vinci Code — I can’t see how that can be a good movie, as much as I loved the book, because the excitement is all intellectual and interior; the exterior stuff, the action and so on, is pretty standard; we’ve seen it before. And it’s not about characters. On the other hand, the folks who are making DVC into a movie are the folks who did A Beautiful Mind, so maybe they’ll pull it off after all.

Also, movies and TV have so pervaded our culture that they can’t help but influence the literature and fiction that writers write. You see it in the short scenes, the faster plotting, the kinetic descriptions and so on. We writers watch movies and TV, after all.

Here’s the bottom line as far as I’m concerned. Some of my books I know will make good movies when I start them, but that’s not why I write them; I know anything can happen. I mean, my novel The Zero Hour would have made a far more exciting movie than High Crimes, I always thought — but although Hollywood bought both of them, they never made Zero Hour. When I told my Hollywood agent about the idea for Paranoia, he flipped — loved it. I thought: great — and then I wrote a book — using all the literary techniques I knew would make a strong novel (first person narrator, characterization, observation) but which would have to hit the cutting room floor if they ever made it into a movie. Paramount bought the rights to Paranoia, but who knows if they’ll ever actually make it — and if they do, they’ll take the basic plot line and make all sorts of changes. That’s OK — they have to be faithful to the medium, not to the book. If they make a movie, I want them to make the best movie they can. My book will always be there, on the shelf. That won’t change.

PM: I like Adam Cassidy’s smart ass attitude. A real wise- acre, as my dad would have called him. My dad was a big fan of Travis McGee, the John D. MacDonald anti-hero. Is it more fun to write a book with a character that smarts off? Can you imagine ever writing a book with a pious more smug protagonist, maybe more of a Hercule Periot?

Finder: I love John D. McDonald. And I’d always wanted to write a book with a wise ass narrator; finally, I’ve done it. It was great fun. But it only worked because the narration befit the character. My next book’s hero is older, and that voice wouldn’t work. Yes, I could imagine writing a more smug, pious protagonist, sure. What I love about first-person narrators is that the voice becomes the characterization — look at Scott Turow’s Presumed Innocent, in which we could sense the desperation, the self-delusion, the lust.

PM: Do you think the Enron, Arthur Anderson, WorldCom (to name just a few) problems make this book more interesting to the public? Will that be part of the book’s hook? I think anything that shows how the little guy tries to piss on the higher ups would be a popular theme these days. How about the realization Adam has about ethics over money? Are we moving in that direction?

Finder: As my agent said when she first read the book, “Anyone who’s ever been screwed over is going to love this book.” And we’re all just starting to realize how we’ve all been screwed over by lax corporate governance, even those of us who don’t work in corporations or in the private sector. So I do think that a lot of people will identify with the themes in the book. But there’s a flip side too — I think that more and more, we live where we work — our job is our home, it’s appealing, it’s almost familial. When I spent time doing research at corporations like Apple Computer and Cisco and Hewlett Packard, I realized how enjoyable it might be to work at such a place. That’s why Adam fell in love with Trion. You can’t deny the powerful appeal of such a place.

PM: And last (for now) I’ve got to tell you, when you set Adam up for a transfer to the netherworld known as the Research Triangle so he would disappear from the corporate hierarchy power grid — I did a spit-take. I leave in eastern NC and people really do disappear out here … I just didn’t realize the corporate world knew it.

Finder: Truth is, I love the Research Triangle area — but for Adam’s purposes, that’s like being banished to Siberia!

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Kicking Ass and Taking Names

People who have no weaknesses are terrible; there is no way of taking advantage of them.
— Anatole France, The Crime of Sylvestre Bonnard

How do you sell a thriller or a suspense novel these days? Obviously you advertise, get the word out. Spend money to make money. Develop a cult following. Make frequent public appearances. Send out review copies, make yourself available for interviews — get your face out there. Have a BLOCKBUSTER MARKETING CAMPAIGN , as it says on the back cover of many advance reading copies. And don’t forget, in 2004, it’s extremely important to have a kick ass website. Dan Brown’s website links to an “uncover the code” contest, complete with music. Joseph Finder is getting his publicity ducks in a row — the website for his new novel Paranoia comes complete with an Adam Cassidy game you can play online.

It’s all part of the spin machine. It’s the same for books as it is for movies, music, and now even politics. Reviewing the spin could be a whole new section for book reviews. Authors’ websites range from GeoCities freebie homepages to extraordinary cutting-edge professional web designs. Rather than judge a book only by its cover, we could judge it by its HTML.

But, for a real review of a suspense thriller, the website doesn’t truly matter, nor does the spin. This is my story and I’m sticking to it: When reviewing a suspense thriller, the main point of the article should be whether or not it grabs the reader’s interest and keeps it. All salient factors are covered by this approach to the analysis. Does the novel have an interesting plot, compelling characters and setting and are they all lumped together in a neat package? Isn’t that what we look for, whether or not the book delivers? A Yes or No answer. Simple enough. The review should contain only a brief plot summary, extremely brief. Reviewers should never reveal that critical plot pivot early in most suspense thrillers when the reader should stop and think about the protagonist’s course of action. The “give away point” you could call it. In a really good thriller, readers don’t recognize it until they’re through with the book.

Reviewers should comment on the level of violence in the book. And I mean just that. The gore factor. Extremely vivid violence marked by graphic details, sparse detail with just enough information to get the point, no violence just suspense… you get the idea. Sort of an Agatha Christie vs. James Lee Burke comparison.

Go anywhere past all that in a review and you give the book away. Like movie trailers when done to excess — you’ve practically seen the entire movie after you watch the preview. When I reviewed The Da Vinci Code last year, my initial draft included how I researched the book’s details and my sources for that research. In the final edit, I deleted all that information. Brown noticed and appreciated it. He wrote, in an email to me, ” … I wanted to express my appreciation that you resisted the temptation to which so many lesser reviewers succumbed … that is … telling the secret! Readers everywhere thank you. As do I … :-)Sincerely, Dan Brown”

Paranoia Joseph Finder’s latest, is due out on January 20. Finder, author of High Crimes, The Zero Hour and more, is the quintessential voice of the contemporary thriller. This is due in no small part to his expertise in espionage and international affairs. He writes for The Washington Post, The New Republic, and The New York Times , to name a few. A member of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers, a summa cum laude Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Yale, with a Masters in Russian Studies from Harvard, the man is no slacker.

St. Martin’s Press believes Paranoia will be The First Blockbuster of 2004. As a reviewer, I’d have to agree. It’s damn good. The main character gets a 5 on a 1 to 5 scale because he’s a smart ass and as clever as he is funny. I’m partial to smart asses. The attention grabbing quotient of the plot gets a 5 for both speed and efficiency. The gory-ness level is a 2. Not a lot of blood, guts, and gore but Adam does get a smack or two.

The basic plot of Paranoia? Adam Cassidy, young, sarcastic, sharp high-tech guy gets blackmailed into committing corporate espionage. He either cooperates or he goes to jail. Corporate Security trains Cassidy, feeds him insider information, and he rises to the top level of the competitor’s food chain. Or so he thinks. Drives a Porsche, gets a corporate luxury apartment, works as personal assistant to the CEO, falls for a beautiful woman … is it all as it appears? Who can he trust? Who will he betray? Can he even trust himself? Where does survival begin and where do ethics and morality end? Don’t keep yourself in suspense, buy the book. It’s worth the money.

(Then — just about the time you finish Finder’s latest — Reed Arvin’s The Last Goodbye should hit the bookstores. Another HarperCollins thriller, it’s a smart fast read — like Paranoia.)