When Mark Hosack isn't editing movie trailers or managing his three kids, he writes - even if it is only for fifteen minutes a day. His latest book his The Good Spy Dies Twice, a thriller-mystery that has been receiving rave reviews. As our author of the day, Hosack chats about how unspecial his main character is, the difference between screenwriting and writing novels and how Stephen King books have influenced his work.
Please give us a short introduction to what The Good Spy Dies Twice is about.
The Good Spy Dies Twice is a thriller-mystery about a disgraced cable news anchor who stumbles across a Cold War secret in a posh Alaskan ski resort. Our hero, Jake Boxer, lost his show years earlier after melting down on national TV, struck by paranoia after Russian FSB agents murdered one of his crew members. We catch up to him while he's trying piece his life back together: he's a newlywed and on his Honeymoon at the ski resort. This is when he discovers the Cold War secret, several spies, and another side to his journalist wife -- who may or may not be scooping the story of a lifetime. Of course, Jake isn't sure if he should believe any of it. He isn't sure what's real and what is paranoia.
How has the reception of the book been like so far?
I have been receiving very positive reports from readers and critics alike. The book has an Amazon score of 4 1/2 and it was also a Top Pick with a 4 1/2 star rating on RT Books Review https://www.rtbookreviews.com/book-review/good-spy-dies-twice
What inspired you to write about a deadly New World Order and Cold War secrets?
Well, the Cold War secret has always been a part of the story. I started writing this one... eight years ago? I wrote it as a script first... and it was pretty good... but it was about a hotel manager who stumbled across an old Cold War secret, and had to keep it safe from the guests in the hotel who would do anything to get it. I decided it would make a better book, but when I sat down to write it, it felt as though there was a much larger story than just the one book, and so the hero morphed into Jake Boxer, the disgraced journalist, trying to get his mojo back. The New World Order angle came out of telling a larger story (what good is a paranoid conspiracy tale without a puppetmaster?) and the Cold War aspect... well, who doesn't like a good Cold War thriller? Those were the days, before cell phones and the internet, when spies had to pass codes to each other on tiny pieces of paper. Much more exciting than hacking a computer and the dark side of the web, right? And outside of Nazis, there are no better bad guys than the KGB.
The covers of Identity and The Good Spy Dies Twice. The latter was designed by Yen Tan.
Your main character, Jake Boxer - who is he and what makes him so special?
I don't think there's much special about Jake Boxer, which is why I like him. He's really kind of a wreck. He lost his news show because he became too paranoid chasing down his own conspiracies, but when we catch up to him in Blind River he's a newlywed. He has plans to go to law school, and he's trying to get his life back together, when he stumbles across this mystery. So, throughout, we don't know if Jake is onto a conspiracy, or if he's just regressing into neurosis. He's a bit of an anti-hero.
You also did some screenwriting. How is that different from writing a novel?
It's hard to pinpoint this. Obviously, there are a lot more words in a book than a script but for me, the execution is similar. I sit down and start writing, get stuck, rewrite, get to the second act and realize that the entire first act has to change, get to the third act and realize both acts 1 and 2 have to change, get to the end and realize that I have to rewrite it all again.
I suppose the biggest difference is that there's a lot more character work in a book...there's an opportunity to dig deeper into what they are thinking and feeling.
Your book has been compared to James Bond and Stephen King novels - why?
Well, I'm a huge fan of both! I think I was reading a bunch of Stephen King when I started the book. And then I've always been a huge James Bond fan. I suppose the book has elements of both. James Bond is the spy element but, with everything taking place in a remote hotel, it also has shades of the Shining...and a little bit of Misery too. Also Shutter Island.
What is your secret to keeping your readers at the edge of their seats?
Never reveal anything until the end of a chapter! Short. Staccato. Sentences. Also. Create. Suspense. I also try to surprise myself. If I can do that while writing the book, it usually means the reader will be surprised as well. I think writing is really a conversation with yourself. Sometimes surprising things can "fall out of the keyboard" during those conversations. Sometimes they are worthless, but sometimes they are mini-aha moments, which is the goal in a thriller.
In your book, a retired journalist gets into trouble for digging for the truth. Do you think that still happens today in a world where social media is starting to take over the news?
Sure! There's just a lot more of it, so things get diluted. That plays into Book 2 of the series - in the world of 24 hour cable news, how do you get heard? I wasn't around, but back in the day, when there were only a few networks, a single story carried a lot more heft, just because there was less noise. Now the news cycles are so fast, and there is so much information, I think it deadens us to what's going on. In my mind, one of the biggest stories of the past ten years was the tragedy at Newtown. But nobody's talking about it. And there was no action taken in its wake to prevent it from happening again. The story's gone, we've moved on. There are a lot of stories out there, and a lot of good reporters digging up good stories. It seems like the problem is that there's so much noise, it takes something huge to stick.
The locations in your book are described very authentically. How did you pull that off?
I read Stephen King's "On Writing" a while ago. His advice to picture the scene in your head, and then try to write it. I also watched a lot of youtube videos of the Alaskan mountains. I walked old hotels in the Bay Area. I've never been to Alaska, but I have skied in Colorado, so it was pretty easy to put myself in a ski lift.
Did you know right from the start how the story was going to go? Or did some of the plot twists just "happen" while you were writing?
I wrote a draft as a screenplay before I wrote the book, and even though the book ended up pretty different, a lot of the same ideas remained. But, yes, a lot of the plot twists do seem to "fall out of the keyboard." Then you have to weed out the dead ends and keep the good ones.
Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have?
I have three children. I have no secrets. But I also work production in the film industry and edit movie trailers, so I suppose I have some skills there. I have degrees in Biology and Anthropology, and I think both of those have been a really great background for writing. I suppose I have a secret time-finding skill - there's a lot going on but somehow there's time to write. Maybe that's the most important one I have. And, of course, that skill wouldn't matter without my incredibly supportive wife, who's quite good at blocking the kids to give me time to think.
Do you have any interesting writing habits? Favorite writing spot? Time of day you prefer to write?
I try to write every day, no matter what, even if it's just for fifteen minutes, though I don't always succeed with everything else going on. I am a big believer in "getting it done." I think it was the mighty Chuck Wendig who, when asked for writing advice, tweeted "finish your shit," which is pretty much the best advice I can think of for anyone looking to get into the writing biz. Currently, I write in the spare bedroom with my headphones on. That's my writing life. Under slept, overstimulated and no time. Pressure makes diamonds!
Say The Good Spy Dies Twice gets a movie adaptation - which actor would you like to see as Jake Boxer?
I'm not sure. I tend not to think in casting terms while I'm writing... whenever I try, all my leading men end up looking like George Clooney or Tom Hanks - But someone tall and kind of uncomfortable with his own body. Dark hair. I've always seen Jake with dark hair. Going white at the temples.
What are you working on right now?
Well, I'm currently editing a dark comedy called Miracle Desert, which might come out next, and I'm halfway through writing the next Bullseye book.