Today, I had both the pleasure and honor of interviewing the awesome and talented international thriller author, Allan Topol, about his Craig Page thrillers in general, and his latest book, The Russian Endgame, in particular. He is one of the best thriller writers of today, and I had a great time interviewing him.
Douglas Cobb: Thanks for agreeing to do this interview with me, Allan! I really loved reading the thrilling conclusion to your Craig Page trilogy, The Russian Endgame. How long did it take you, altogether, to write the entire trilogy? Which of the books took the longest time to write?
Allan Topol: Doug, I am very pleased to do this interview with you. I was very happy with your reaction to THE RUSSIAN ENDGAME. Your review was everything that I could hope for as a writer. It took me approximately 3 years to write the entire trilogy. I was not writing nonstop because once each of the first 2 books came out, I spent 2-3 months in marketing efforts. THE CHINA GAMBIT took me the longest to write because I was spending time developing the main characters and getting to know them myself. That added a level of complexity. THE RUSSIAN ENDGAME took the second longest because I wanted to make sure it could exist as a stand-alone novel and because of the research that I did about Russia and the Russian Chinese relationship.
Douglas Cobb: Did you have a general overall plan for each of the Craig Page novels before you wrote them? I’ve heard that plans are in the works to make them into movies. Do you have any further news on that subject?
Allan Topol: When I write a novel, I begin with a detailed outline of about 40-50 pages. I do not stick carefully to this outline, but will make adjustments as the story unfolds if I think of better ways to develop the plot. I also prepare detailed sketches and descriptions of my characters. I use some of the information in these sketches in the novel, but mostly it is for my benefit to get to know the characters. Then I write a first draft in a white heat. Following that, I go back and review the novel scene by scene three or four times for each scene.
Currently, plans are in the works to make 3 of my earlier novels into movies, namely SPY DANCE, A WOMAN OF VALOR, and DARK AMBITION. In fact, a screenwriter has already been hired by a producer to write a screenplay for SPY DANCE, and it is nearing completion. We are just beginning to approach producers with respect to the Craig Page trilogy. I have learned long ago that Hollywood is a very slow process and patience is required. I am not a very patient person.
Douglas Cobb: Who were some of your literary/movie influences? Why did you choose to make Craig Page the EU Director of Counterterrorism?
Allan Topol: I have been influenced in terms of writers by Graham Green and Leon Uris. Also, the early Ken Follett books were an influence. I selected these and particularly Graham Green because they use international events as a background for a novel. The same with Leon Uris and to some extent Ken Follett.
In terms of movies, I have been influenced by Vertigo because of its tight drama. China Town and the TV show 24, which utilizes real life events, as I do, to build a story.
I chose to make Craig Page the EU Director of Counterterrorism because I am very interested in Europe. I have spent a lot of time there, particularly France and Italy. I know those countries. Also Spain. As the Director of Counterterrorism, I believe Craig could deal with the issues which I wanted to develop.
Douglas Cobb: In The Russian Endgame, Page has a chance to confront and kidnap his old nemesis, General Zhou, in Indonesia. Why does Craig want to get revenge on General Zhou, and why is his attempt to kidnap him unsuccessful?
Allan Topol: Craig wants to get revenge on General Zhou because Zhou was responsible for the death of Craig’s daughter, Francesca, in THE CHINA GAMBIT and because Zhou seized and tortured Elizabeth in THE SPANISH REVENGE.
Craig’s attempt to kidnap Zhou is unsuccessful because Craig was acting from emotion and his plan was poorly developed as Elizabeth told him. This is important to me in the development of Craig as a character. He is not perfect. He can be impulsive and hot headed.
Douglas Cobb: When you write about certain characters for a long period of time, I’m guessing that they become almost real to you, just as when readers read novels, and series of novels, the characters come alive for them. Did you find this to be true about Craig Page and the other characters you have written about? Were you sorry to come to the end of the trilogy?
Alan Topol: The characters do become very much alive for me, particularly as I live with them over 3 novels. This trilogy represents my 7th, 8th, and 9th novels. My first 6 novels all employed different characters and I did not become as attached to them.
THE RUSSIAN ENDGAME represents the end of the trilogy. However, I have gotten so attached to Craig Page and Elizabeth Crowder, that I am not willing to let go of them. There will be other Craig Page thrillers which do not involve General Zhou.
Douglas Cobb: I noticed, as I’m sure all of your readers have, that you titled the Craig Page trilogy with chess terms. Did you have the three titles chosen before you wrote The Chinese Gambit, the first book of the trilogy; or, did you just think of the titles as you went from book to book?
Allan Topol: I developed the titles for each of the novels as I went from book to book. I wanted to use the name of a country which is the focal point, i.e., Chinese, Spanish, and Russian. The second word is one which seemed perfect for the story. As you point out, the first and third happen to be chess terms, but that was not deliberate. I selected Endgame, not because it was a chess term, but because it represented the end of the trilogy. The cover designer then inserted the chess piece on the cover.
Douglas Cobb: There are a lot of locales in your trilogy. Did you travel to each of them, like France, Russia, China, and Indonesia; or, did you maybe just do a lot of research about these countries?
Allan Topol: I traveled to all of the locales in the book except for Indonesia. I had planned to go, but that trip was canceled for personal reasons. Facing a deadline, I did detailed research about Bali. Generally, I try to visit each place I write about at least once. It is important to give the reader an accurate sense of the place. Readers like international locales. If they have been there, they will revisit mentally their trip when they read the novel. If they have not, they will travel vicariously via my novel.
Douglas Cobb: Who is Orlov, and why does he not particularly like General Zhou, yet wants to use him?
Allan Topol: My two lead Russian characters, Orlov and President Kuznov, have in part been modeled on Russian President Putin, also a former KGB agent. Orlov does not like General Zhou because Orlov’s sister, Androshka is so unhappy with Zhou. Also, Zhou continually moves the goal posts on Orlov promising that he will come to Moscow if certain conditions are met. Then he changes those conditions.
Douglas Cobb: General Zhou ends up being pretty manipulative, himself, when it comes to Orlov — or, he tries to be, anyway. What is it that he wants Orlov to do to prove his “sincerity”?
Allan Topol: As your question points out, General Zhou is being manipulative. He is not really interested in Orlov proving his “sincerity.” He is more concerned with Orlov taking actions which will advance Zhou’s program in overtaking the United States as the world’s dominant power.
Douglas Cobb: I really like your answers so far — don’t worry, I have just a couple to go! Why is Spain a main locale in the second novel, Spanish Revenge? Why does Craig Page want General Zhou to be extradited to Spain, before he finally decides to try kidnapping him?
Allan Topol: I visited Spain for the first time on a vacation and was intrigued by what I saw, particularly the southern part of the country. I went home and did extensive research about the Islamic period in Southern Spain. I also have done extensive research about the conflict between Christians and Muslims in Western Europe. As you may know, I write a regular blog for the Huffington Post, in which I present my views on international topics in a nonfiction manner. I wove together these topics into the novel THE SPANISH REVENGE.
Craig Page wants General Zhou to be extricated to Spain because he wants the General to be brought to justice for the deaths of the Spanish people which he caused in THE SPANISH REVENGE. Craig, a patriotic American, believes in the rule of law. At the beginning of THE RUSSIAN ENDGAME, he does not simply want to kill General Zhou as a vigilante. I will let you draw your own conclusion as to how Craig feels at the end of the novel.
Douglas Cobb: How does Orlov convince the president of Russia into going along with his scheme to reassert Russia’s prominence on the world stage?
Allan Topol: Russian President Kuznov does not need much convincing about asserting Russia’s prominence on the world stage. I modeled him after Putin, and that is exactly what Putin is doing right now. Please see my Huffington Post articles, “Return of the Cold War” and “Cutting the Salami with Putin.”
Douglas Cobb: Now, I’ve arrived at the almost obligatory last question — are you currently working on a new novel? If so, could you tell our readers more about it, and the title of it, if you have one yet?
Allan Topol: Publishers typically bring out an author’s next book 1 year after his prior book. My publisher has been so pleased with the initial reception for THE RUSSIAN ENDGAME, that he decided to publish my next novel, THE ARGENTINE TRIANGLE, in April 2014. The book is done and is going through final editing. Much of it is set in Argentina and much in Washington. It involves background and history of Argentina, which is a marvelous and exotic country that I have visited 3 times. I also deals with Washington and power games being played in the White House. Craig Page is the lead character in this novel.
Doug, since you said this was the last question, I want to express to you how much I enjoyed going this interview and I hope we will have the opportunity of doing another one sometime in the future.
Douglas Cobb: Thanks, Allan, for doing this interview with me! I had a great time interviewing you and learning more about your books and your life. I look forward to reading more from you in the future, and to perhaps interviewing you again. I strongly encourage anyone who has not read the Craig Page trilogy to check them out today!
Written by: Douglas Cobb