ABOUT BARRY


CRIMESPREE INTERVIEW

Crimespree

Q. Your latest book, REDEMPTION GAMES, has an extended, and somewhat shocking, sex scene. You write some of the best sex in the thriller world. Do you do a lot of research?

As much as my daily vitamin and exercise regimen will allow, my friend, you know that...

Yes, there's already been some controversy regarding that scene in Redemption Games. I try to tell people it's not me—it's the character!—but people view these things through their own preconceptions. It's funny, too, because Rain kills a whole lot of people in this book—some with guns, some with knives, some with his hands—and no one has batted an eyelash about any of that. Count on the sex scene to arouse people's passions, I guess...

Q. John Rain is half-Japanese, half-American, and spends a lot of time in Asia, as do you. Name three things you love about Japan.

God, I love the whole feel of the place. Start with Tokyo. I love the size, the density, the incredible variations of locales (where else could you find a teen-caffeinated street like Takeshita-dori cheek by jowl with the elegance of Omotesando?). The city is so damn atmospheric...

I also admire the culture. Not an easy thing to sum up a millennia-old culture in a few words, but I'll try: in the language and behavior, there is restraint; in art, there is a search for the essence of things by a paring away what is nonessential; in philosophy and aesthetics, there is something called mono no aware, which I like to think of as "the sadness of being human." For more on this subject, go to the Booksense interview on the Interview page of my website.

The women are beautiful too, I've heard.

Q. Name three things you dislike about Japan.

There are really only two: the humidity in the summer and the ubiquity of smoking.

Q. Was A CLEAN KILL IN TOKYO your first book? How quickly did you find an agent and a publisher?

The short answer is that A Clean Kill in Tokyo was my first book. But the more complete answer is that I rewrote it so many times and so thoroughly before it was finally published that it might have been my fourth or fifth book by the time I got it right. As for an agent and publisher, I received about 50 rejections before hooking up with Nat Sobel, the gentleman who represents me now. Nat saw promise in the early manuscript but knew it wasn't ready for prime time; he offered suggestions for improvement that were as extensive as they were excellent, and, about two years later, he judged the manuscript ready to go. At that point the deals came in fast and furious—first Japan, then Putnam in the US, then eight foreign offers.

Q. Each successive book has had a bit more humor in it than the previous one, and Redemption Games has some genuine laugh out loud moments, while never sacrificing tension or story. Was this a conscious decision?

Hey, thanks for saying so—from the creator of Whiskey Sour and the Jack Daniels series, this is a serious compliment. I noticed the humor, too, while I was writing, but I wouldn't say it was a conscious decision. It just came out as the story developed. I think a lot of it had to do with Dox, the good ol' boy sniper Rain teams up with who likes to give Rain a hard time. But some of it was just Rain himself, loosening up a little after some of the experiences he had in the first books.

Q. I think I may be in love with Dox, but in a manly, macho way that doesn't involve any touching. Why'd you decide to give Rain, a classic loner, a side-kick?

I'll pass that along to Dox. He'll probably want to get in touch.

Giving Rain a sidekick wasn't really a decision. At first, Dox was going to be a bad guy who wouldn't survive the third book. But as I got to know him better, I realized that he wouldn't do what the bad guys wanted him to do, and he just started sticking around, helping Rain and driving him crazy, too. He's an interesting guy in his own right—a killer, like Rain, but also a party animal and much less troubled by the things he and men like him do for a living.

Q. I love how he gives Rain a hard time.

Rain is a scary guy, and there aren't many people with the balls and gumption to bust his chops. But Dox does it, all the time, and I enjoy seeing Rain trying to handle him.

Q. Is there more Rain on the forecast?

I just signed with Putnam for two more Rain books, for a total of six. So yes, keep your umbrella handy.

Q. Your books always have a realistic, authentic feel. Could the events you write about happen in real life?

The events I write about do happen in real life, my friend. They're happening right now, if your eyes are open and you're not afraid to look...

Q. Even the sex?

Especially the sex. Sorry—I know that must have hurt.

Q. Do you still practice law?

Not really. I give some contract advice to friends. And last summer I handled the negotiating and drafting on a movie deal for the first three Rain books. They say a lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client, but this one worked out well: I optioned the rights to Barrie Osborne, the guy who won an Oscar for producing the Lord of the Rings trilogy. He has three partners—two Japanese and one Australian—and they're all good people who know their way around Asia. I'm happy to be working with them.

Q. Do you have any input on who portrays Rain in the films? Who do you like for the part?

I insisted that you play Rain, and that almost killed the negotiations. Then something came up about a "dispensable extra in a prison love scene," and we were back on track.

I won't have any contractual input, but certainly the option holders and I have talked about the possibilities and seem to be simpatico. They're talking to a few people now, so we'll see. And my understanding is that you're already cast for that love scene...

Q. If they want to see my entire butt on screen, they'll have to shoot in 70mm.

I've heard rumors that you once worked for a three letter agency that starts with C and ends with A, but isn't the Chicago Transit Authority. Can you comment?

It's true, it's true... I once enrolled in the Culinary Institute of America. And I still can't cook worth a damn...

Okay, just kidding. Yes, from 1989 to 1992, I held a covert position in the other CIA—the Central Intelligence Agency. It was a fascinating experience and certainly key background for the Rain books. I only recently received the necessary "change of status" that enables me to publicly acknowledge it. Still feels a little strange, but I suppose I'll get used to it.

Q. Can you say anything about what you did in the CIA? Inquiring minds need to know.

Uh, uh, uh... Senator, I disremember that information?

Q. Even for a donut? Mmmmm. It's got sprinkles. Surely our government never expected you to keep national security secrets in the face of sprinkles.

I was in the Directorate of Operations (DO), which is where the spies live. There's also the Directorate of Intelligence (DI), which is the analysts. And the Directorate of Science and Technology (DS&T), where the techs make James Bond gizmos. And the Directorate of Administration (DA), which is support. I was trained in a variety of paramilitary tools and tactics, as well as the full range of spy skills.

Q. Such as...?

Small arms, long arms, hand-to-hand, improvised explosive devices, small water craft, air drops to friendly forces, surveillance, countersurveillance, counter terrorism, agent recruitment and management, interrogation, manipulation techniques, Tantric sexual techniques...

Q. Excuse me?

Just making sure you're paying attention.

Q. I was thinking about joining. Do you have to pass some kind of fitness test? Because I get winded putting on my pants...

No, but they do have an intelligence test. Sorry.

Q. Did you enjoy your CIA years?

It was fun. Shoulda known right there there's something wrong with me.

Q. Do you still practice judo?

I was still doing jiu-jitsu, which is a relative, and some boxing up until about eight months ago, but a series of injuries and surgery have made me start contemplating the wisdom of yoga and pilates.

Q. Does the Rain series (A CLEAN KILL IN TOKYO, A LONELY RESURRECTION, WINNER TAKE ALL, REDEMPTION GAMES) need to be read in order?

No. I'm pretty careful to make each one work as a standalone. Of course, that's not to say that everyone shouldn't read every single one... but you can definitely start with the new one and work your way back, or even jump around.

Q. I don't think I'm giving anything away by saying the end of Redemption Games has a pretty shocking finale. Are you going to expand on this in Book #5?

Definitely. This is the first time I finished one of the books and already knew where the next one was going. So you'll see more of that shocking finale playing itself out in #5...

Q. Favorite book, film, and food, along with least favorites.

That's a cruel, cruel question... there are so many, and my answer would probably be different if you asked me tomorrow. But okay, right off the top of my head: Moby Dick, The Godfather, Snow Falling on Cedars (yeah, I know, that's three, not one...). Film: also off the top of my head, Blade Runner and Shakespeare in Love. Liked True Romance a lot. Saw 21 Grams recently and it blew me away. Food... I like everything. Least favorites... I purge 'em from the system, baby, can't be cluttering up the old cerebellum with all that negative energy...

Q. You're becoming a familiar face at writing conventions. Do you enjoy them?

I do. I have a sales background and enjoy selling, and there's nothing like selling when you know your product is going to delight the customer. And it's always a pleasure meeting John Rain's fans—they're thanking me for the books, and I'm thanking them for buying them, so I can keep on writing full time...

Q. Elsewhere in this issue is a short story called HARD DRIZZLE, which seems to be a satire of the Rain books. Should the author be watching his back?

I would say yes—except that I enjoy his books so damn much, I wouldn't want anything to happen to him.

Q. Good! I was worried you were going to try some of that CIA stuff on me. Like the Tantric sex.

What's something about Barry Eisler that not many people know?

I own a book called Contingency Cannibalism. It's billed as "the ultimate survival book" and the jacket says, "Where all other survival books end... this one begins!" It also says:

Contingency Cannibalism is the book that answers all the questions you've been afraid to ask. Such as:

Will it taste like chicken?
Will I catch a disease?
What will my friends say?
What if I like it?!

I guess not many people knew that about me. I feel better now, like I've unburdened myself or something.

Q. I'd like to borrow that book, strictly for research purposes. Along with a big pot.

How did you decide to name your hero "RAIN?"

While living in Japan, I read a great book by a guy named Dave Lowry—Autumn Lightning: The Education of an American Samurai. In it, there was a quote from a Japanese swordsman on the Meiji-era samurai, for whom there was no longer a purpose in the society. "In the changing of the times," the swordsman wrote of his forebears, "they were like autumn lightning, a thing out of season, an empty promise of rain that would fall unheeded on fields already bare." I conceived of Rain in similar terms—someone out of place in the world—and of his brief and torrid romance with the daughter of a man he killed the same way. So his name became Rain.

Q. What are some of the more interesting places you've traveled to?

I've been blessed in getting to indulge my travel bug to research and promote these books. So far Bangkok, Hong Kong, Macau, Osaka, Phuket, Rio, Tokyo... they've all been electrifying, and I try hard to convey in the books what I've found there. For the next one, I will be forced to spend time in Barcelona, New York, Singapore, and back in Japan. I try not to complain.

Q. In the year 2200, when thousands make their annual pilgrimage to visit Barry Eisler's grave, what will they read on your tombstone?

"He survived a Joe Konrath interview."