Please welcome Drew Chapman to The Qwillery. The Ascendant, Drew's debut, was published yesterday by Simon & Schuster.
TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?
Drew Chapman: Hi, and thanks for having me. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t writing. I’ve wanted to be a writer—of some sort—since I was a child. I wrote my first novel in fifth grade—granted, it had a lot of pictures, but it was a story, and my fifth grade teacher bound it and handed out copies. (My mom still has one, someplace.) As to why I wanted to be a writer, I can’t really say. I guess it just seemed like a romantic occupation. I loved the idea of Hemingway, Jack London, writers like that. Journalists, adventurers. Now, as an adult—and a working writer—I sometimes wish I’d been open to other occupations as well. I think I would have made a damn good investment banker. Or maybe a dentist.
TQ: Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Drew: Definitely a plotter. (Although I’m not exactly sure what a pantser is.) I have to know exactly where I am going in a story. I suppose it’s my screenwriter background. I lay everything out beforehand, every single scene. I write outlines, pin 3x5 cards on the walls of my office, I even sketch out dialogue. I can’t just start writing without knowing where the story ends. When I read about novelists who have the kernel of an idea and then spin a story out from there, on the page, in real time, I am amazed. I am psychologically incapable of that.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
Drew: Coming up with ideas. The writing part, the outlining part, the rewriting and editing part—those are pure joy for me. I could do them all day long, every day, 24/7. But when I don’t have an idea for my next project or book, then I panic. I pace, I fret, I hate my life. I like big ideas, big concepts, but I find good ones—truly fresh ones—very hard to come by. And I am ruthless about throwing away the half-baked ones. So the idea stage is the toughest part of writing.
TQ: Tell us something about The Ascendant that is not in the book description.
Drew: That it’s funny. (Or at least I think it is.) I really wanted to write a book that didn’t always take itself too seriously. I’m a big believer in cutting the tension of a story with humor.
TQ: What inspired you to write The Ascendant? Why did you choose to write a thriller?
Drew: I love thrillers. I’m a huge fan of the classic spy/secret agent books of LeCarre and Ludlum and Clancy. But I felt that a lot of the main characters in the big, high concept thrillers that have come out lately tend to be a bit wooden, and, let’s face it, middle-aged. I didn’t want to reinvent the genre—I’m not smart enough to do that—but I wanted to at least try to modernize it some. I wanted to write a thriller with a young, subversive anti-hero at its core.
As to why a book as opposed to a screenplay, I think it’s because I wanted to expand the story beyond the limitations of screen and TV. I wanted to write something big, and sweeping, and yet personal at the same time, and I felt that could only be accomplished in a novel.
TQ: Have you found that writing for movies and TV has influenced how you wrote The Ascendant?
Drew: Yes, absolutely. Screenwriting taught me about pace and structure, and I tried to bring that to The Ascendant. Thriller scripts need to get going quickly and never slow down. And TV and movie scripts are very carefully structured—there are character arcs and emotional beats laid out throughout the story. Also, and this is related to the previous question, modern American TV is full of deeply flawed heroes. Just think of The Sopranos or Mad Men or Breaking Bad. American audiences are willing accept those flawed anti-heroes as the leads in shows now, and I wanted to bring that over to my novel. So Garrett Reilly, the hero of The Ascendant, is obnoxious, arrogant, angry, a brawler and a pot head. The guy needs to grow up. But underneath all that, he wants to do the right thing.
TQ: What sort of research did you do for The Ascendant?
Drew: I love doing research. The more, the better for me. For The Ascendant I interviewed people in the IT business, in cyber security, in banking, in Chinese-American relations. I spent days sitting in bond trading offices. I talked to ex-Air Force officers, and a Captain in the Defense Intelligence Agency. I traveled to China, to Washington, DC. (I grew up in New York, so I didn’t need to research that much.) And I read, extensively. Everything I can get my hands on. I find that people like talking to you about their jobs. Everyone’s got stories and opinions and insight into what they do—insight that you aren’t privy to if you’re outside their business.
TQ: Who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why? Who is your favorite good guy, bad guy or ethically ambiguous character?
Drew: Garrett Reilly was the easiest to write, because he is me, essentially—or at least me a bunch of years and many bong hits ago: pissed off at the world, angry about slights and grievances that everyone else might let slide, ambivalent about his own country. Deeply patriotic and at the same time prone to spasms of anti-Americanism. Garrett is a guy who is incapable of joining a group, and I am that person to a tee. As a friend of mine always says to me—you’re a Democrat in a room full of Republicans, and a Republican in a room full of Democrats. It’s my character flaw—and it can really piss people off—but I seem unable to correct it.
As for my favorite bad guy—I don’t believe in bad guys. I like to write characters, good or bad, who fully believe that they are doing the right thing. I think it’s the rare person in this world who does something evil and knows that it is evil. We all rationalize our behavior, good and bad, and that’s how I like my villains—and my heroes. I believe almost everyone is ethically ambiguous at some point in their life. And most of us are ethically ambiguous over and over again.
The hardest person to write was Hu Mei, the Chinese farmer who starts off the book. I think people are essentially the same the world over, but a Chinese woman has such different cultural associations, and I needed to figure those out. Luckily, I knew several people who grew up in China, and also a few who spend a lot of time there now, so they helped.
TQ: What's next?
Drew: Next is book two of The Ascendant. I’m about halfway through it now. Garrett and his team will be called upon to save the country—and the world—once again. And they may or may not succeed. Also, I sold book one to Fox to make into a TV series. I will be executive producing and writing the pilot, which I will start in the new year.
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
Drew: Thank you so much for having me. I love your blog, btw.
TQ: Thank you!
Series: The Ascendant
Publisher: Simon & Schuster, January 7, 2014
Format: Hardcover and eBook, 400 pages
List Price: $25.00 (print)
Review Copy: Provided by the Publisher
Hidden deep within the figures tracking the ups and downs of the stock market lies a terrifying truth: America is under attack. Our government . . . our economy . . . our very way of life are in the crosshairs of a ruthless enemy . . . and no one knows. Except Garrett Reilly. He has a knack for numbers. He sees patterns no one else can. His gift has made him a rising star on Wall Street. But when he notices that two hundred billion dollars’ worth of U.S. Treasury bonds are being sold off at a terrifying rate, his gift makes him the most wanted man alive.
The U.S. military wants him for his extraordinary abilities. They need someone to lead a crack squad of rogue soldiers to act as the last line of defense in a war that could mean the end of everything America holds dear. And everyone else? They just want him dead.
In this explosive debut novel, ranging from the offices of Wall Street to the casinos of Vegas to the back roads of the Chinese countryside, Drew Chapman introduces readers to a new kind of action hero: one uniquely skilled to fight a new kind of war.
The Ascendant by Drew Chapman is a wild ride of a thriller which delves deeply into the scary world of cyber war. What makes The Ascendant so plausible is the depth of research that Mr. Chapman has done to give the novel an overlay of veracity. Could many of the events in the novel happen? Probably. Cyber attacks are real. Without giving anything away I have to say that odder things have caused governments and individuals within governments to act and react.
The 'hero' of the novel is Garrett Reilly, a thoroughly unlikeable Wall Street trader with an uncanny knack for discerning patterns. His pattern perception is unrelenting and he smokes pot to escape the way he sees the world. He's a womanizer, brawler, and basically not very nice. He is brilliant however. He notices a bond sell-off that could place the US economy in jeopardy, tell his boss, Avery, and his life changes forever. Not a typical day at the office.
Garrett is a very compelling main character. I disliked him, admired him and cheered him on. Garrett is not static and does come to some realizations about his behavior over the course of the novel. When push come to shove Garrett does what he must despite not really being a team player.
Garrett is surrounded by an excellent supporting cast as well. In addition, there are secret government agencies, Homeland Security, and the military. Each of them want a piece of Garrett for entirely different reasons.
Chapman writes some incredibly pulse pounding scenes and gives just the right amount of background to events to ground them in reality without bogging down the novel. There is a touch of much appreciated humor as well throughout the novel.
While the main plot of the novel comes to a satisfying conclusion there are what look like some small loose ends that I hope will be explored further in the sequel.
The Ascendant is the kind of thriller I love - it's well written, has a great main character, is firmly grounded in reality, and has an unrelenting pace from start to finish. I'm looking forward to more from Drew Chapman and his unlikely hero Garrett Reilly.
|Photograph by Lisa Loop|
Drew Chapman has written on numerous studio movies, including Pocahontas for Walt Disney Pictures and the original Iron Man for 20th Century Fox. He also directed the indie film Standoff. Currently, he creates and writes TV shows for network television, most recently having worked for ABC and Sony. Married with two children, he divides his time between Los Angeles and Seattle. -
Website ~ Blog ~ Twitter @AndrewDChapman
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