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Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Australian Crime Fiction Snapshot - David A. Rollins

1. So far we've seen two "series" with one featuring Australian SAS soldier Tom Wilkes and the other featuring Special Agent Vin Cooper. The first feels more Australian-centric while The Death Trust and A Knife Edge has more of an "aimed at an international audience" feel to it. Is that a reasonable observation?

Yes, it is. I came to the conclusion – rightly or wrongly – that not even Australians are prepared to believe that an Australian can save the world. (I’m sure some of your readers might have a contrary point of view on that). I decided that if I wanted to entertain more people – an international audience along with a domestic one - I probably needed a different style of hero. Tom Wilkes was also archetypically heroic and not a lot of fun to be around (or write about). Cooper is a different kind of hero. He has a laconic, wiseass sense of humour, a lack of respect for authority and he’s not in the least PC. In fact, the guy could easily be an Aussie (except that he’s from New Jersey).

2. What do you have in the works at the moment? Will there be more from Tom Wilkes or Vin Cooper in the future?

Warrant Officer Tom Wilkes is off somewhere doing something seriously nasty and I haven’t heard from him for a long time. I might never hear from him again – those SAS guys live a dangerous life. But you never know, as they say.
Meanwhile, Hard Rain, the third book in the Special Agent Vin Cooper series, publishes in July (Pan Macmillan). In this book, Vin joins forces with Anna Masters again, but she’s engaged to someone else (an attorney for Christ’s sake!) and the relationship is bumpy to say the least. The case takes them to Turkey where the US Air Attaché has been hacked into little pieces, and ends with a conspiracy to poison the water in south-eastern Iraq with uranium hexafluoride (the source material for depleted uranium ammunition). Oh yeah, and there’s also an impending Israeli nuclear strike on Iran to contend with, so there’s a bit going on.
But this book is well into production now, and so I’ve moved on to the next project, one that doesn’t include Cooper. My wife was starting to get a little concerned that I was turning into him. We’d be out somewhere and I’d pass some comment (mostly unkind, probably sexist and undoubtedly cynical) and she’d tell me to put Cooper away.

This next project is a one-off story that’s more thriller than crime. It’s about the crash of KAL 007, shot down by the Soviets into the Sea of Japan in 1983. I’m going with the widely accepted conspiracy theory that it was on a spy mission. Twenty-seven years later, the guy who planned and ran the mission is running for United States President. And then a radar tape turns up, courtesy of a Japanese radar operator who decides to come clean on his death bed, that shows the plane actually made it to Sakhalin Island. It seems the US and the Soviets lied about the crash for their own cruel and devious ends, and that somewhere in Russia there are probably survivors being held against their will. Needless to say, there are desperate attempts to bury the truth once and for all.
A bit of Cold War fun.
In fact, I’m off to Siberia in a couple of weeks to look at gulags and other things. As I write, it’s currently -30C in Ulan Ude, a small city across the border from Mongolia – one of the places I’ll be visiting. Brrr.
When I’ve completed this story, I’ll probably look Cooper up and see what the guy has been doing.

3. Do you read much Australian crime fiction? Can you give us a few standouts that you've read recently? What do you think of the current state of the Australian crime fiction scene?

I don’t read Australian fiction specifically, I just read. I’ve recently finished Peter Temple’s The Broken Shore and have had his In The Evil Day beside my bed since Christmas, ready to read. I’ll probably take it with me to Siberia. I think Mr Temple is probably one of the best Australian fiction writers I’ve read, genre or no genre. He’s right up there with Keneally, Winton and Carey in my view.

I’m a huge fan of Nelson DeMille and James Lee Burke. John Birmingham is also a major talent.
The down side to this writing game is that I have to do a lot of research for my own writing and so I don’t get to read as much for the pure pleasure of it. For example, I’m currently ensconced in Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago and Ann Applebaum’s Gulag, A History. Interesting, but a little like eating buffalo steak (nutritious and heavy going).

4.What do you think could be done to better promote Australian authors either at home or abroad (or both)?

Well, a ticket-tape parade or two might work. Hmm. Maybe not.
Promoting a writer (Australian or otherwise) is hard work because writing is such a passive activity (and I suppose we’re talking about fiction writers here - it seems relatively easy to promote a ‘Your diet by the Stars’ kind of book). People like JK Rowling and Dan Brown are the exception, because their books have been phenomenons rather than just books.

People seem to get more excited about books (and go buy them) that have been made into films (and then the lament is usually, as we all know, that the film didn’t stack up to the book). The process probably goes something like – ‘they made a film about it so it must be a good book. With this third-party endorsement, it’s a lower risk investment for me (in terms of time and money) than a book I’ve never heard of.’

Unfortunately, there are a lot more books published than films made, and there are millions of great books that don’t get the Spielberg treatment.

Thinking about this seriously, I began to think that what we need to do is promote reading first, but the phrasing of your question influenced a change of heart. Books with great characters work, and perhaps there’s a clue right there. Maybe we need to find a way to bring a handful of authors to life – their individual character. The few writers I know are a little odd, and ‘odd’ is entertaining. Maybe someone should roll reality TV cameras on that and see what happens.

5. If your fictional character could meet any fictional character who would you like it to be and why?

I put this to Special Agent Cooper and he said he’d like to meet half a dozen Bond girls in a Jacuzzi with extra bubbles. The reasons for this are obvious.

David A. Rollins is the author of 4 epic thrillers that deal with global threats on a grand scale. The first two books, Rogue Element and Sword of Allah feature Tom Wilkes while the latter two, The Death Trust and A Knife Edge feature Vin Cooper. You can catch more about David A Rollins on his webiste.

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