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Brett Battles

The Deceived

e-interviewed by Hilary Williamson (July 2009)

Brett Battles was born and raised in southern California. His parents, avid readers, instilled the love of books in him early on. Though he still makes California his home, he has traveled extensively to such destinations as Ho Chi Minh City, Berlin, Singapore, London, Paris, and Bangkok, all of which play parts in his current and upcoming Jonathan Quinn thrillers.

Battles introduced Jonathan Quinn, a new style of hero to the thriller scene, in The Cleaner. He followed up that outstanding debut with two fast-paced sequels, The Deceived and now, Shadow of Betrayal, in which Quinn, his apprentice and his lover foil a particularly horrific terrorist plot. The Cleaner was nominated for a Barry Award for Best Thriller, and a Shamus Award for Best First Novel. The Deceived has been nominated this year for a Barry Award for Best Thriller, the winner to announced at this year's Bouchercon Mystery Convention in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Q: I expect that everyone asks you this, but are there actually professional cleaners out there in the world of espionage?

A: I don't think you're going to find too many people who come out and admit to either knowing or being an actual cleaner, but I've heard rumors. I think this is one of those "If I told you ..." situations, and I'd rather not have a lot of blood on my hands.

Q: The Cleaner reminded me a little of Six Days of the Condor, with a similar pace and intensity, though a much less naive hero. Were you at all influenced by that book?

A: Funny you should mention Condor. I just finished rereading it while I was at Thrillerfest in mid July. What a great book, and I'm flattered by the comparison. But the last time I read it was probably back in the early 1980s or perhaps as long ago as the late 1970s. So if the book was an influence, it was a distant one. I will say I have seen the movie, the shortened Three Days of the Condor, several times over the years, and I'm sure the memory of it was floating around my mind as I wrote The Cleaner.

Q: I was glad to see Asian-Irish Orlando continue in the series, as I appreciate a tough, independent heroine - did you model Orlando on anyone in real life?

A: No one specific. She's both out of my imagination and an amalgamation of several people I've known. Women are as strong as (if not stronger than) men, and should be portrayed as such. When I sat down to create Orlando, it was natural for me to make her a smart, no nonsense operative with a biting sense of humor. The truth is, she's probably my favorite character.

Q: I enjoy the banter between Quinn and his apprentice Nate - will Nate always work closely with Quinn or will he branch out on his own any time soon?

A: Ah, this is actually something I've been thinking a lot about lately. Obviously, Nate can't be an apprentice forever. The question is: what happens after his apprenticeship is over? I think we're going to know the answer sooner than later, and by that I mean within a couple of books. But I don't even know the answer yet.

Q: he terrorist plot in Shadow of Betrayal is especially nasty, exploiting the most vulnerable elements of society. Where did this idea come from?

A: A couple of things influenced it. First, I was trying to think of a method that might go under-detected and would allow the bad guys to get close to their targets. By this I mean, a situation that even suspicious authorities might overlook to a certain extent. Second, without getting into any detail that'll ruin the story for anyone, I have a very personal connection to the group of people that are used to cover the terrorist plot. How's that for a whole lot of double-speak?

Q: On your website you advise wannabe writers to experience life, to 'go to a firing range', 'jump out of a plane'. Have you done these yourself while writing the Jonathan Quinn series?

A: Jumping out of a plane came before I started writing the series, but not before I started writing. I have gone to the firing range in the past couple of years to remind myself what shooting a gun feels like.

To me, experiencing life is more than doing things you might write about. It's observing how people interact, it's doing things that are out of your comfort zone, it's visiting places you've never been. All these things and more often spark ideas that have nothing to do with where you are or what you're doing. They give your neural pathways a shove in directions they normally wouldn't go.

Q: Your bio mentions that you travel to places that 'play parts in his current and upcoming Jonathan Quinn thrillers.' What comes first, the location or the plot?

A: Here's the dirty little secret ... I often don't know what my plot is when I sit down to begin a book. I'll have an idea where I want to go, perhaps, or have a couple scenes in mind, but what is really going to happen is still something I'm working out in my first draft. That draft kind of becomes a 400+ page outline. So, with the caveat that I usually have a few scenes in mind, I guess the answer to your question is often the location comes first.

Q: You mention Alistair MacLean, Jack Higgins, and Thomas Harris as major thriller influences. Which recent thriller writers do you enjoy reading?

A: Lee Child is the gold standard for most of us in the field. I always set aside time each spring to read his new Reacher adventure. I also enjoy Tim Hallinan, Sean Chercover, John Gilstrap, Sean Doolittle, Brent Ghelfi, Harlan Coben, John Ramsey Miller, Robert Gregory Browne, Bill Cameron, and Stig Larsson (what a shame we'll only see three books from him) to name some. Of course there's a writer who you don't immediately think of when you think thriller writers, except he is one of the best. In fact to me, one of the best writers no matter what the genre. That would be Stephen King.

Q: You also mention being a 'huge sci-fi fan', referencing many of the classic authors (including the surprisingly lesser known James White). Do you ever plan to try your own hand at science fiction?

A: James White was one of my father's favorites, and quickly became one of my own. I must have read his book All Judgment Fled at least a dozen times. Would I ever try it myself? I'd like to, but I also know my limitations. I don't have the knowledge base to do hard sci-fi, the folks who write that stuff are wicked smart. I might try my hand at something set in the near future, where the sci-fi aspect is just a part of the book. Kind of a cross genre type of thing.

Q: What's next for Jonathan Quinn fans, and do you have any other stories in the works?

A: I've just finished the revisions on the Quinn book for next summer. I can tell you this will be Quinn's most personal adventure yet, and that readers will be learning a lot more about Quinn's life before he became a cleaner. I'm also in the process of planning (as much as I plan anything) the book for 2011. I'll start writing that in October, and I have a feeling there might be some interesting changes in store. Won't know for sure until the book is done, but I can feel something building in my mind that would definitely make the future after that interesting.
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