Working with Robert Ludlum
Mike Capobianco: I wish to commend you on your writing style. I first read you on the Covert-One novels with Bob Ludlum. Your books were the best ones of the Covert series. I was disappointed when you discontinued. I then found out you wrote your own books. They are terrific. I have read all of them.
I just finished The Last Spymaster and really enjoyed it. My only complaint is you do not write enough books. I love the flow of the books. They are not cumbersome to read and really keep one’s attention. I have read about 800 books in the last 30 months, and your books are at the top echelon, along with Sydney Sheldon, Michael Connelly, Stuart Woods, James Patterson, David Baldacci, Tami Hoag, Robert Ludlum (predeath). Hope to see many more works. You are “good.”
Publishing is one of those fascinating worlds that’s always in a state of flux.
I enjoyed it a great deal — including working with Bob’s terrific editor, Keith Kahla, at St. Martin’s Press. In fact, I’ve left my former publisher to become one of Keith’s full-time authors.
So many of you have asked about working with Bob that I thought you might enjoy reading an interview about that and about the impact on my stand-alone novels.
Tell us about the genesis of the Covert-One series and working with Bob Ludlum.
I grew up on Bob Ludlum’s books. He opened the world to me in a way no other author of international affairs had, including John le Carré and Graham Greene. Bob was the first novelist to write about the CIA’s operating illegally in the United States, and he popularized the unthinkable notion that American and Soviet spies could work together.
I’d published two international espionage novels — including the New York Times bestseller Masquerade – when an intermediary phoned, saying Bob had been reading my books, really admired them, and wanted to create a series. Bob wondered whether I was interested in collaborating.
Of course I was intrigued and soon was caught up in the adventure.
Because Bob did not type, and no one can write a book on the phone, we did everything by hard copy, passing the manuscript back and forth, which worked out rather well. Each of us had idiosyncracies. For instance, Bob disliked naming weapons. On the other hand, when I do the research, I like to share interesting bits with the reader. So the compromise was that we named the weapons of which I was most fond.
I’m proud of the series, and I think he was, too.
How do your Covert-One novels differ from your own books, how are they the same?
To be successful, a series like Covert-One must begin with the characters and an initial situation set up so broadly and richly that many stories can arise from those roots.
The standalone novels I write (and Bob wrote) are not only far more focused, I hold nothing back, spending the limit in suspense and character growth to ensure that when readers reach the story’s end they experience satisfaction so deep they’re compelled to do it all over again . . . hungering for another of my tales.
Simply put, a series offers not just familiarity but excitement, while a standalone thriller dares — it is fire and flames and high-octane risk.
Tell us about your new thriller — The Coil.
You’d just asked about series versus standalone. . . . The Coil is an example of an aberration. Just as Bob inadvertently invented the Bourne series, I seem to be creating the Carnivore series.
This is because Masquerade [available in February for only $3.99] provoked readers to write and email for years, asking, begging, demanding that I bring back the characters.
The truth was, I wanted to find out what they were doing, too.
The result is The Coil, starring Liz Sansborough, the daughter of the Carnivore, who was perhaps the Cold War’s most secretive and successful international assassin. He’s left a deadly legacy — his complete files, chronicling every one of his wet jobs, employers, targets. Enough information to topple governments. Figure in a rogue MI6 agent, an elite group of global movers and shakers based on a real-life organization, and a high-stakes game for billions of dollars, and I’m optimistic readers will find a lot to enjoy.
When word reaches the president of the United States that a Chinese cargo ship is transporting chemicals to a rogue nation intent on creating new biological weapons, the president knows he must act quickly to obtain the proof he needs… (MORE)
In this riveting new story of global intrigue, a team of scientists in a U.S. government laboratory has been frantically trying to unlock the virus’s secrets… (MORE)
A fiery explosion in the dark of night shatters one of the laboratory buildings in Paris’s esteemed Pasteur Institute… (MORE)
Here’s an array of questions about the COVERT-ONE novels:
Kenny Hobbs, California:
Cannot wait for THE COIL!!! …was wondering if you are going to be working on a new COVERT-ONE novel? THE ALTMAN CODE was great!!!
Pat Sclafani, California:
I heard that you aren’t going to be authoring anymore COVERT-ONE novels. Is this true?
Eric Samson, Canada:
Great books, great fun. I’m anxiously awaiting more COVERT-ONEs!
Terry & Karen Frederick, Kansas:
We love the COVERT-ONE series. When will the next book be published? Thanks.
Thomas Liaudet, London:
Thank you for continuing the Ludlum magic!
Bill Carruthers, Illinois:
I love your books and have especially enjoyed the COVERT-ONE series which you wrote with Ludlum. Will this series continue? I would hate to see it end without Randi and Jon getting together. Please keep writing. I look forward to your newest, THE COIL.
Dan Looby, Georgia:
I just started reading THE ALTMAN CODE and know it will be hard to put down (well, besides for this e-mail). Glad to see that the COVERT-ONE series continues and hope there will be more adventures.
Nico Verweij, Elburg, the Netherlands:
Through the Ludlum novels I got in touch with your books. I read the 3 books with Ludlum and 2 others of yours. Now I’m starting to read MASKERADE (Dutch), and on your website I just read that there will be a new one in 2004. Will there also be a new Jon Smith novel? Regards and success, Nico Verweij, Elburg, Holland.
From Carol in SLC, Utah:
Gayle, I absolutely LOVE Robert Ludlum, so I am really looking forward to reading your collaborations!
Ruthie Arthur, California:
Love the COVERT-ONE series. Will there be more??
Dear Kenny, Pat, Eric, Terry & Karen, Thomas, Bill, Dan, Nico, Carol, and Ruthie:
I’m so glad the series has attracted fine readers and faithful fans such as yourselves. I loved helping to create and write the COVERT-ONEs. For any of you who are interested in how Bob Ludlum and I did it, please continue reading this page to an interview with me, which includes that subject.
Now, the facts:
I most likely will be writing no more. There are several reasons.
First, I thought I could work on them and still write a book a year of my own. No way. Why I insisted on that lunacy is beyond me. Well, I do know — I had a strong desire to keep the Ludlum tradition going, although the series is like none of either of our works, because I grew up on Bob’s books, loved the early ones dearly, and felt a commitment to do whatever I could to carry on for him.
Second, to be frank, I earn more money from my own books.
Third, and perhaps most important, I jumped over from Pocket Books to be with my COVERT-ONE editor, Keith Kahla, who is one of the best (if not the best) editors in NY, in the legendary tradition of Maxwell Perkins. Keith strongly urged me to concentrate on my own work. I knew he was right, but continued to indulge myself by writing THE ALTMAN CODE. But I’m tired. I want and need to write my own novels. It makes sense on every level to retire from the COVERT-ONEs — financially, creatively, and emotionally.
As for getting Jon and Randi together … Honey, I’ve been voting for that from the beginning. Yes!
My latest info is that the next COVERT-ONE is entitled ROBERT LUDLUM’S THE LAZARUS VENDETTA: A COVERT-ONE NOVEL by Robert Ludlum and Patrick Larkin. It will be published in October 2004. And I’ll bet it will be good.
I intend to buy and read it, and I hope you will, too.
Yours in international skullduggery,