interview: steve p vincent

I recently had the good fortune to interview tremendously likeable author Steve P Vincent, who happily answered my questions despite being quite the international jet-setter at the moment. Thanks a bunch, Steve! (I particularly like the way that his author picture makes it look like he’s reading this while you are.)

The intensity of your battle scenes are quite vivid – have you had any real world experience with weapons or taking over countries?

Does paintball count? Or reading lots of Clancy? Or video games?

I’ve fired a shotgun a few times, but can’t say I’ve done much in the way of armed combat. Luckily, I have a few people I can tap on the shoulder to answer stupid questions. One of them, Aussie techno-thriller supremo Nathan M Farrugia, knows everything there is to know, and kindly looks at things when I ask. He’s also a cheap drunk.

I adored how many tough women there were in this. Was populating the book with ladies a conscious decision?

I had a chat about this with a couple of other authors over the weekend, actually. Though I try to have at least one prominent, female viewpoint character in each of my books, I think the key is to write good characters. I’d love to see a time, in a few years from now, where we didn’t have to think about this, but with so many authors writing and representing females so poorly, we need to talk about it.

Half of the population is female, more than half of my readers are women – it’s not that hard. The key is not defaulting certain character achetypes to certain genders: helpless female, tough male. I try to write good characters that are interesting, and one of the ways to do that is to throw these boring, stale thriller cliches on their head.

I love all of my characters, in their own way, but I do have a special place in my heart for Michelle Dominique from The Foundation. In many ways, she’s the best villain I could write – male or female. One and Mariposa from State of Emergency kept it up, I think. The third Jack Emery book has fewer characters (at this stage), but there’s a kick-arse MI5 agent named Amy Fowler who is muchos fun.

What came first: the political science degree chicken or the political fiction writing egg?

The chicken. I had the degree in the bag years before I put down a single word of fiction.

What is your writing process? Do you write in silence, or have anything in the background? If so, does it change according to the scene you’re writing?

My process is evolving. I wrote The Foundation totally free range and with no plan, which is why it took 3 years and I junked 60,000 words along the way. State of Emergency was a little more planned, and my sanity benefited. I write at night and on weekends and try to get at least 1,000 words down per day. I’m a proponent of the ‘10k Day’ and there’s often a whisky sitting next to me.

The one constant is that it’s never silent when I’m writing. I live in a pretty small apartment, so I write in front of the TV with my wife next to me. Hopefully at some point I’ll be able to bag a study of some description, but for now I have to make do with Outlander in the background. The only time I get shirty about noise is on the last couple of editing passes on a manuscript.

What benefits do you think Jack’s Australian background has in his character? From my point of view, apart from making him immediately appealing to me personally for patriotic reasons, I enjoyed the much more human lens he gives us to see this environment through, like his unfamiliarity with guns, as most Australians would have.

Purely selfishly, it makes him easier for me to write. But I also like the different perspective he lets me offer on US politics and global events. There’s so many giants of American thriller writing in this business, I felt like I needed to do something a little different. I wanted Jack to have a different perspecitve, and I wanted him to be an ‘everyman’ – not a ripped, sharpshooting action hero.

The gun thing is funny. It’s only now, in book 3, that I’m starting to realise I wrote myself into a giant straightjacket by making Jack so fragile. He’s a journalist, pretty unfit and doesn’t really know how to fight or shoot. This limits the sort of sticky situations I can drop him into, or at least makes me work harder to get him out of them. Luckily he has some badarse friends.

Is Jack Emery going to overthrow Tony Abbott in book three?

Nope! As much as he’d probably like to, he’s got bigger fish to fry than ol’ Tony. The third book, Nations Divided, tackles the toughest scenario yet: the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. I finished the draft the other day, and it’s a lot of fun. It’ll be out in December if all goes to plan. After that Jack is going to take a holiday for a little while, because I’ve got something else bubbling away.

steve p vincent, state of emergency

Well, I’m exhausted. I was all, “You know, I guess I’ll read a little bit more of the new Steve P Vincent. And a little more.” *gets popcorn* “Well, I can’t stop now.” *gets wine* “Well, I may as well finish it.” *tablet runs out of battery* “It’s fine, I’ll just read it right next to the wall while it charges.” Upshot is, it’s late, I’m a bit drunk, and I’ve just finished State of Emergency and definitely need a lie down afterwards.

In the first Jack Emery book, Australian reporter and Pulitzer Prize winner Emery managed to save the world from a war between China and the USA, in a way that was both action-movie excellent-ridiculous and also kind of realistic, because Vincent has studied political science while I have studied Dwayne Johnson movies for all of my knowledge. This, the second Emery book, is just as gleeful to read—Vincent is more than happy to turn society completely upside down and create a boisterous new world order. A lot of crime thrillers play under the radar in a way that makes you imagine it could all be happening right now, while Vincent’s version of the world is absolutely not happening right now, but ever so alarmingly convincing that it could. And this escalation of reality is totally liberating to read, and super fun.

The USA has been under siege by a series of disastrous terrorist attacks when Richard Hall, the man in charge of FEMA, the States’ emergency resources arm, convinces the president to call a state of emergency and hand over leadership of much of the country to him. Hall is a man who thinks the only way to a Good America is through tight restrictions—curfew, food limits, state guard everywhere—and when the Americans push back, all hell breaks loose. It’s a cacophony of voices, from Emery, who’s mostly trying to stay out of trouble after book one left him emotionally bereft; to Celeste, who conjures such conflicting emotions in Emery that he chose reporting in Syria over trying to deal with his feels; to Sergeant Callum Watkins of the state guard, who is our eyes at the ground level as people begin with hope in Hall’s path and then slowly realise that life is not the same; to the underground resistance that is trying to pursue Jack for his contacts, reach and fame. (He’s won a second Pulitzer inbetween books one and two. Yes, I’m jealous, what of it?)

This is deliriously fast-paced, bloody and unflinching. In a Jack Emery book you can never be assured of the survival of anyone he knows; Vincent doesn’t pull punches with good guys dying, bravely or not. Plans go wrong. Heroes are outnumbered. Bad guys are smug. But Emery never backs down.

From the beginning I was pleased with the number of women populating the book, in high positions (including President of the United States) and everywhere else. They were all over the place, just being normal people, and it’s absolutely refreshing. When you’re a lady sometimes reading a more action-oriented book, you realise women are mostly eye candy, all described only as megababes who are only described according to their level of sexiness. Or there are so few of them that the entirety of the female race seems distilled into one character, who could be beautiful or hideous or a villain. If you have enough women in a book, they just become people. Some are lovely. Some are assholes. It’s like that’s the real world or something, who knows? There is a sprinkling of sexual assault, however, be warned. One other thing: it’s also nice to see America get saved by a non-American. We’ve all watched enough movies where Tom Cruise single-handedly saves Japan while the audience groans to be pleased when America needs help.

In conclusion: don’t start reading it at 9pm unless you have the next day off.