Your novel You ONLY LIVE ONCE reads like a screenplay, with the setting offered and then action. I was immediately reminded of Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men using this same style—setting the scene and then action with each chapter. Is this the sequence your mind works when writing?
Well, You Only Live Once started a screenplay. It got a lot of interest and got me a lot of assignments, but never sold. But I loved the characters and loved the story and that’s why I decided to turn it into a novel. Maybe because I started as a screenwriter, I like the set scene for myself and the reader before I jump into the action. Also, I’ve written animation and video games, so tend to write visually. Ideally, I want the reader to see and feel what’s happening. Especially with the action. I want that to be visceral.
I liked your settings. I especially laughed with your using the Glendale Galleria in ONCE IS NOT ENOUGH. Since I live in Glendale, I have to ask about this selection.
I lived in La Crescenta and La Canada for many years. So I know it well. And isn’t that the standard advice? Write what you know. I don’t know much about being an international superspy. But I spent a lot of time at the Glendale Galleria. I would take my son there when he was little to buy Pokémon cards, to peruse the toy stores, and the pet store. Then we’d have lunch in the food court. That’s why “Hot Dog on a Stick” figures prominently in my second novel. I would watch those people working at “Hot Dog on a Stick” and wonder what makes them tick. James Bond always travels to exotic and beautiful locations. Which is why I love dropping Flynn into real life situations and more prosaic settings.
James Flynn is an expert shot, a black belt in karate, fluent in four languages, and irresistible to women. He's also a heavily medicated Los Angeles psychiatric hospital patient with a dissociative diagnosis. He believes his locked ward is the headquarters of Her Majesty's Secret Service and that he is a secret agent with a license to kill. So how much of you is James Flynn? And in what ways? Are you a secret agent want-to-be?
I’m nothing like James Flynn. Which is probably why I created him. I was a dorky twelve year old when I fell in love with James Bond and James West and Alexander Mundy. They were cool as hell, confident in any situation and comfortable in their own skin. While I lived a life of perpetual embarrassment. (As most twelve year olds do.) I’m closer to Jimmy, the person James is when he’s on his meds and not so delusional. Of course, I still made the attempt. I lifted weights. I boxed in the Golden Gloves. I got a black belt in Tai Kwan Do. I became a rock climber and a certified scuba diver. I studied in London for a year. I traveled the world. But wherever I went, I was still me and still dorky.
"One more question about James. You begin the novel with James Flynn, the agent, in the first book, YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE, but with ONCE IS NOT ENOUGH, you start with James in his "sane" mind. This caused me to have more compassion and sympathy for James' mental challenges. Is this the reason for the switch around?
That’s exactly the reason. I wanted the readers to see who Flynn was when he was stripped of his delusion. I wanted to show why he developed that persona. And I wanted the readers to root for James to return and jettison Jimmy. So when that finally does happen…(Spoiler alert)…it’s an exciting moment. But I also hope the reader feels a little weird rooting for Flynn to become delusional again.
Many of us have read Blake Snyder's SAVE THE CAT book. So what is James' save the cat moment?
I think he has many of them. He’s basically a modern day Don Quixote. A knight errant going off into the world to right wrongs and protect those who can’t protect themselves. His every instinct is heroic. Even if he usually creates more chaos than he eliminates. In the first book, he escapes the hospital to save his colleagues because he believes the enemy has taken control of Her Majesty’s Secret Service. When actually a new HMO just bought the hospital and many of the patients left because their insurance no longer covered their stay. One of those patients is Dulcinea who he believes has been kidnapped by the enemy.
I enjoyed the added historical trivia in your books. Why did you think this was necessary to offer to your readers?
I wanted a way to create some context and show the wider world around Flynn. And partly, I was inspired by Ian Fleming who often would take the time to set the scene with his description of exotic locations and weird bits of trivia. He would use brand names and actual places to make the unbelievable more believable.
GOLDHAMMER, your third book has James….James Flynn…out to save the world once again. This time he is mistaken for a real agent. Where do you come up with your plot ideas?
A hero is only as good as the villain he is confronting. The Bond novels had very colorful villains. Though honestly, most of their plans for world domination were really stupid. But you have to give them points for chutzpah. So I usually start with the villains and what they want to accomplish. I love coming up with plans for world domination. Who doesn’t? Which makes them just as delusional as Flynn in their own way. Usually I find something in the news and in the world that pisses me off and use that to create my world domination plot. Of course, what Flynn thinks they’re doing and what they’re actually doing are usually two different things.
You write in many forms and have been able to use your writing to create a living. How do you adapt your writing discipline to what you are working on? Or do you?
It’s hard to make a living as a writer, so I’ve had to be adaptable. I’ve written plays, movies, novels, radio plays, and video games. You have to approach each medium differently and adapt to the technology. But in the end, you’re still creating characters, constructing plots, emotionally engaging readers or viewers or players. And you do that through story.
What is your biggest challenge as a writer, and how do you work to overcome it?
Keeping up my confidence. When I have an idea I’m passionate about, I usually can’t wait to start writing. But halfway through, I’ll start second guessing myself and that slows me down. I just have to trust that every day when I sit down, something will come to me and if it doesn’t seem good enough, that’s okay. Because I can always rewrite it later. I can always take another crack at it. I remember reading a quote from one of my favorite writers that I found very comforting. Kurt Vonnegut said. “Our power is patience. We have discovered that writing allows even a stupid person to seem halfway intelligent. If only that person will write the same thought over and over again, improving it just a little bit each time. It’s a lot like inflating a blimp with a bicycle pump. Anybody can do it. All it takes is time.”
Biggest influencers to you as a writer… we're speaking of real people here.
What are the most significant literary or film influences? Other than James Bond, of course! 😊
I'm someone who loves both gritty thrillers and crazy comedy. So Ian Fleming was obviously a huge influence. But so was Raymond Chandler, Elmore Leonard, Donald Westlake, Kurt Vonnegut, Joseph Heller, Richard Brautigan. James Lee Burke, Don Winslow, Carl Hiaasen, Monty Python, Bob and Ray, Mel Brooks. I love physical comedy and I always try to include some in my books. Which can be a challenge.
I see you have a new book, A LICENCE TO KILL. I can't wait to read it. Can you give us a verbal preview?
The person administering Flynn’s trust dies and his son takes over. And he decides to save money by putting Flynn into a state hospital. A forensic psychiatric hospital in northern California that houses serial killers, mass murderers and others judged not guilty by reason of insanity. When Flynn gets there he discovers that an old enemy is a patient there and that Flynn didn’t end up there randomly.
He also meets a woman who might be even more dangerous and delusional than he is. They end up escaping and, with the help of Flynn's reluctant sidekick, Sancho, uncover a mad plot to bring on Armageddon. Or do they?
What advice do you have for those still working on and wanting to launch themselves as writers?
For me it was all about persistence. It took me seven years and ten scripts before I sold my first screenplay. It took me even longer to place my first novel. I think that Malcom Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule applies here. It takes a while to get good at this. And I’m still learning. Still improving hopefully. So for me, it was about hanging in there and not giving up. I didn’t publish my first novel until I was in my fifties.
It's always fun making a new friend and reading new authors. Thank for taking the time to speak to us, Haris!