ABOUT BARRY


SACRAMENTO BEE INTERVIEW

Q. After years of being evasive in interviews, you just announced that you held "a covert position with the CIA from 1989 to 1992." John Rain also worked for the CIA.

We have to share some similarities or I wouldn't be able to imagine him. He has had more difficult experiences than me, which have made him cynical and at times bitter. I can tell you I've never killed anyone, though Rain certainly has killed quite a few people, starting in Vietnam. Those experiences have a long-term impact, no matter who you are, unless you're a sociopath, which Rain isn't.

Q. You left a law practice to write full time.

I enjoy what I do so much that it's a mix of business and pleasure. For example, I'm leaving tomorrow for a combat handgun course in Indiana, 10 hours a day for four days. What I learn there will certainly take its place in the Rain books.

Q. Do you have a home arsenal?

I believe you should defend your home with a layered approach—perimeter lighting, an alarm system. The innermost layer would be what people think of as the arsenal.

Q. Do you own firearms?

I don't want to be attributed.

Q. You and John Rain have visited many foreign cities in your travels and research—Bangkok, Hong Kong, Macau, Manila, Osaka, Phuket and Tokyo, as well as Rio de Janeiro.

Yes, but the only place I've lived outside the United States is Japan—a year in Tokyo and two years in Osaka. The real reason was because I wanted to train at the Kodokan International Judo Center in Tokyo. The more ostensible reason was I had a really good opportunity to work at a Japanese law firm and make good connections. So I did international contract law as my day job, but was able to sneak out of the office by 5:30 every evening to get in two hours of judo.

I came back to my U.S. law firm and became known as the "Japan guy," so they sent me to Osaka for two years to work as the in-house counsel for the parent company of Panasonic. We moved back to the States in '97, and I've probably been back and forth to Japan 25 or 30 times since then.

Q. You are a longtime martial artist with expertise in judo, karate and Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

I have a black belt in judo from the Kodokan, but I would never call myself an expert. I've been interested in the martial arts since I was a teenager, and I guess I have experience in a lot of different ones. I was about 20 years ahead of my time in realizing that wrestling is a martial art, with self-defense applications. And boxing. Boxers have known for a long time that boxing is a damn good martial art. A lot of people think if something isn't Asian and doesn't have foreign words to describe it, then it's not really a martial art. In fact, somebody who's really good at boxing and wrestling is a very dangerous person.

Q. Rain likes to attend the violent kick-boxing matches in Thailand.

Look, I have a strong opinion about this: If you want your martial art to be effective in the real world, you have to train in a way that's realistic and, consequently, more painful. This is what makes wrestling, judo, jiu-jitsu, Western boxing and Thai boxing such good martial arts—you're really in there fighting. Nothing is like a real fight except for a real fight, but there are some things that are a lot closer than others. Boxers are much more able to handle themselves than somebody who's taken karate in a strip mall and done nothing but point sparring, for instance. Rain has a lot of real-world experience in these matters and he has a killer instinct in spades. He can go from zero to 60 in a heartbeat.

Q. Rain has expertise in spy craft, firearms and knives, and often employs electronic devices to get close to his victims. For him to have all that, you must have some of it, too.

There's nothing about it that you can't find online or in the right books. But, yeah, I've seen some of the stuff up close and personal.

Q. Both you and Rain like jazz, single-malt Scotch whiskey and fine wines.

He's a self-educated guy. His thing is all about fitting in, so he's learned to be a chameleon. If he's following someone, he needs to adopt various personae. And the way you do that is by knowing all the customs, moves, postures and speech patterns of where you are—and what to order off a menu. Rain wants to know everything he needs not to be noticed. That's why he's made a study of these things, but he also has good taste and appreciates when things are done well. So, along the way, he has cultivated an appreciation for good wine.

Q. And you?

My wife and I don't get to the Napa or Sonoma valleys as often as we'd like. Whenever we have a few days to get away, we wind up defaulting to Big Sur.

Q. The John Rain series has been translated into 20 languages. Will we see him on the big screen?

The actor Jet Li optioned the first three books for a movie, but his rights expired a year ago. Then (Oscar-winning producer) Barrie Osborne and his people picked up the option. He did the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Q. I've heard about your research library of odd books.

I'm looking at my library now. 21 Techniques of Silent Killing ... That's a great one. The Complete How To Kill Series, Disguised Weapons ... and I've got a whole bunch on privacy, like How To Disappear Completely and Never Be Found ... Another classic. Bulletproof Privacy, Counterfeit ID Made Easy, Secrets of Clandestine Travel Overseas ... I read that one for the second book and it gave me some good tips.

Q. Do your books make your wife a little uneasy?

They used to. Well, they probably still do. It's one of those situations where you have to accept certain things about your spouse and not push or delve too deeply, for the sake of the marriage.