Barry Eisler spent three years in a covert position with the CIA's Directorate of Operations, then worked as a technology lawyer and startup executive in Silicon Valley and Japan, earning his black belt at the Kodokan International Judo Center along the way. Eisler's bestselling thrillers have won the Barry Award and the Gumshoe Award for Best Thriller of the Year, have been included in numerous "Best Of" lists, and have been translated into nearly twenty languages. Eisler lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and, when he's not writing novels, blogs about torture, civil liberties, and the rule of law. His new book, THE KILLER COLLECTIVE, is now available!
Order The Killer Collective here. Barry will also be at be at Kepler’s in Menlo Park, CA, 7:30 pm this Thursday Feb. 7.
Dave Watson: Congratulations on a new thriller. What’s new?
Barry Eisler: Well, I just handed in All The Devils, the new Livia book. I love the way it turned out and am enjoying a short break before the notes start coming and it’s time to revise. And looking forward to transitioning from coffee to whisky.
DW:This one strikes me as more cosmopolitan. Did you designate Europe as a setting on purpose or did the story take you there?
BE: Hah, per your question below about my characters driving the plot, this one involved Rain’s estranged love interest, Mossad honey-trap specialist Delilah, who is living in Paris. So Paris became a locus for the final third of the book. And yes, I did spend three weeks out there researching and writing. Sacrificing for my art…
DW: You’re merging series now. How did this come about?
BE: I started with three separate series: the John Rain assassin series; the Ben Treven black-ops series; and the Livia Lone Seattle PD sex-crimes detective series. The universes in those series started overlapping with The Detachment—Rain and his partner, former Marine sniper Dox; Treven and Daniel Larison, a killer from the Treven book Inside Out.
And then Dox and Livia paired up in The Night Trade. So it was just a short leap to full-on Avengers: Infinity Wars territory…
But describing it that way makes it sound less organic than it really was. Because first, with Rain, he’s always trying to retire—to kill his way out of the killing business—and he never seems to make it. So there’s always a story there.
And the relationship between Livia and Dox from The Night Trade was really interesting. Oil and water, in some ways, and yet a powerful underlying connection. And I started wondering…what would happen if Livia, in the course of her Seattle PD sex-crime detective duties, uncovered something so big that she was targeted in an attempted hit? Would she call on Dox for help? Would Dox call on Rain?
And what if Rain had earlier been offered the hit himself…?
Once I started playing around with it, the idea became irresistible. The characters from the Rain, Treven, and Livia universes are all so different—different motivations, different training, different world views, different personalities—that the idea of forcing them together, all their tangled histories, and smoldering romantic entanglements and uncertainties and jealousies and doubts, under the relentless pressure of extremely resourceful adversaries…looking back, it seems almost inevitable! And I sure had a lot of fun doing it.
DW: You also have the F.B.I., not a stranger to controversy. What prompted this?
BE: I’m familiar with the history of COINTELPRO, and I needed a bad guy, so it just made sense…
DW: The plot seems to grow out of the characters in your books versus the other way around. This accurate?
BE: I think so. Every time I write a story, the events in the story change the characters in various subtle ways. Those changes then affect the characters’ behavior, and their behavior affects the plot, and on it goes…
One way the characters have changes is that they’ve all gotten older—Rain especially, since he was first published in 2002! I think he’s gotten more introspective and somewhat more comfortable with himself. He’s also transitioned nicely from lone wolf to team leader. Dox has surprised me with his depths of empathy and insight. Larison, who has major trust issues, has definitely cathected to the team and even displayed a surprising sense of humor. And Livia is struggling with the realization that—even having solved the mystery of who trafficked her and sister from Thailand as girls, and even having taken her revenge—she remains damaged and in need of periodic sublimation vengeance.
Or, as Livia herself puts it in Livia Lone, “It was interesting how much insight you could have into your own pathologies, and how little impact the insight would have on your underlying needs…”
And it’s interesting…if you’re doing things right, IMO, of course your characters should be driving the plot. But what’s always most interesting and satisfying for me is how the plot is affecting them.
DW: What’s next?
BE: The third Rain prequel, following Graveyard of Memories and Zero Sum, set in Japan in 1992. Really looking forward to diving back into his past.
And I’ve written a Livia Lone TV pilot that’s getting some interesting attention. We’ll see…
DW: What is your newest favorite cinematic moment?
BE: God, pretty much the entire first third of A Star Is Born. Outstanding writing and acting, but I was also cognizant of the way Cooper shot it. He did such a great job of making you feel like you were there at that concert…and then of making you feel like you were him, watching chanteuse Ally in the drag bar, enchanted…and then that scene in the parking lot, the surroundings utterly banal and yet what was transpiring between them pure magic. And later, you feel like her and her friend getting whisked backstage, and her terror of accepting Jackson’s invitation to sing and then her determination to do it anyway, and watching her going from good but still nervous, to really good but still afraid to let loose, to just her full glory and blowing away the concert audience and the movie audience…it was genius. I cried like a baby.
Clip: A Star is Born opening scene