Skip to main content

Interview: June 29, 2007

June 29, 2007

Brett Battles’s debut novel, THE CLEANER, features an ex-cop who now works for a government intelligence agency, "cleaning" up the traces of violence they leave behind. In this interview with's Joe Hartlaub, Battles discusses some of the offbeat professions and characters he has encountered in the entertainment business that served as the inspiration for his main character and elaborates on his decision to approach this novel from an angle unique to the thriller genre. He also describes his writing process, explains the travel and research involved in bringing the book's exotic settings to life and cryptically reveals details about a possible sequel. Thrillers usually deal with the operation and are not concerned with the evidence left behind. Why then did you take the opposite approach?

Brett Battles: I've always been interested in the aftermath of a story or an event. Sure, you have this great action, but what happens next? Then I started thinking, what if what happened next spurred its own action? That was where the idea for THE CLEANER began.

BRC: Quinn avoids confrontations and even eschews deadly force when possible. Not many thriller heroes are like this. Why did you choose these traits for Quinn?

BB: When I envisioned Quinn as a cleaner, it seemed to me that one of the reasons he would choose this profession would be because he'd seldom have to get involved in overly dangerous situations. Quinn likes the lifestyle he's obtained, and likes even more that it's almost guaranteed he'll return home unharmed after every job. Then I thought it would be interesting to see what would happen if suddenly the job he was working on threw him into a situation where he would face more danger than he ever thought possible.

BRC: Nate, Quinn’s apprentice, is reminiscent of Jan-Michael Vincent’s role opposite Charles Bronson in The Mechanic, as well as some of the great comic book team-ups: Batman and Robin, and Green Arrow and Speedy. Did any of these sources, or another famous pairing, lead you to Nate’s creation?

BB: Perhaps subconsciously. It actually sprung from my thinking aboutQuinn's own background, and how he got into the business. When Irealized Quinn had himself once been an apprentice, it seemed almost natural that he would be mentoring one now himself.

BRC: Quinn and Nate travel from Denver to Saigon to Berlin. Do these descriptions come from your own personal travels, or research?

BB: As a matter of fact, yes. I spent several weeks in Vietnam, and actually spent almost four months in Berlin. Travel is something that has always been a part of my life, and I think it's important when using locations that play an important part in one of my stories to have personal knowledge of the place.

BRC: THE CLEANER focuses on an extremely offbeat job. Can you tell us a little about your professional experience?

BB: After spending many years in the entertainment industry, it would be safe to say I've had to encounter offbeat characters on almost a daily basis. Sometimes it's personalities: quirky or odd or just plain bizarre. But I think what really has interested me over the years are all the niche, off-beat jobs in the industry. There are people who do everything: insect wrangler, generator operator, personal make-up artist, fan technician... the list goes on and on. I've always found it fascinating. So, I guess it was natural that this interest would work its way into my writing in the form of Quinn's niche, offbeat job in THE CLEANER.

BRC: We've been told that THE CLEANER is the start of a new series. What is next for Quinn and Nate?

BB: I don't want to give too much away here, so let me just say that a lot will happen. Or perhaps a little, depending on who's still standing at the end of each story.

BRC: Most authors write their first novel (at least) while they are doing something else. What was your writing schedule like while penning THE CLEANER? Did you find it difficult to stick to a schedule? How did you overcome the difficulties? And what did you do when you found yourself “stuck” at a certain point?

BB: It was important to me to set a schedule and get into a habit. Whatworked best for me was to get up early (I'm talking about 5 a.m.),write for a few hours, then go off and tackle whatever the rest of the day had in store for me. I wasn't able to do it every day, but most. Iwould just have to adapt, and perhaps add a "session" in the evening every now and then. Whenever I reached a point in the manuscriptwhere I was stuck, I'd usually go for a walk, and by the time I came back the problem would be solved.

BRC: You’ve said you don’t let the “real world” interfere with you stories. What do you mean by this?

BB: Every time a writer creates a work of fiction, they are creating a new world. Maybe it is almost indistinguishable from the "real" world, or maybe it's completely different, like it's done in fantasies. But even in the stories that closely follow the real world, there are times when you need to do something or create something that might not exist here inour world. Perhaps it's a restaurant in Paris that isn't really there, or it's a piece of electronic hardware that hasn't been created yet. Whatever it is, if it works within the confines of your story, of the world you've created, then it does exist there.