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Interview: September 5, 2003

September 5, 2003

In this exclusive Suspense/Thriller interview Nelson DeMille, the bestselling author of UP COUNTRY, talks to Christopher Reich about Reich's latest novel THE DEVIL'S BANKER, as well as what Reich loves about writing, the books that have influenced him the most, and the details of his next project.

Nelson DeMille: One of my favorite authors, Ernest Hemingway, once said: "Writing, at its best, is a lonely life…. For he [the writer] does his work alone and if he is a good enough writer he must face eternity, or lack of it, every day." On my own site, I confess I hate the writing process but that I don't know how to do anything else. Chris, you left another career to become a writer --- ever think about going back to private banking? As one author to another, what's the point in the writing process you like best and the one that is like Hemingway's "eternity", the part you hate most?

Christopher Reich: Once I jumped into writing and had my first book published, I gave up any idea of returning to a career in investment banking. Frankly, I never even considered having the option. It was a career as an author or nothing. Anyway, I'm having too much fun writing books. I couldn't imagine working for someone else, having to report to work at 8 and stay until 6. The irony is that I work longer hours than I used to, but it's a totally different thing when you're your own boss.

I always enjoy the initial stages of writing my books the most: the plotting, the researching, the whole puppet master thing, you know --- creating your characters, placing them upon the stage and deciding how they're going to act. The actual writing of the book is what requires the most discipline and, I think, the part that keeps so many people from becoming successful authors. You've got to stay put at a desk for eight hours a day writing. It is a craft and it requires a kind of stubborn concentration. Words don't just flow from the tip of a pen. They've got to be coaxed, massaged, wrestled with. It's a struggle, but the end result is always worth it. If there is a miserable part, it's the copyediting. Double-checking your work. Rereading it over and over again for errors. That can become tedious really quick.

Nelson DeMille: This is hard work, this writing for an audience. Do you think about the reader and the experience you want the reader to have? Has being published changed your experience of, say, enjoying other books? Of going into a bookstore?

Christopher Reich: I just completed my fourth book, THE DEVIL'S BANKER, and I think I'm more aware of my ability to manipulate an audience than I used to. Frankly, I'm not sure it's a good thing, because I like my stories to feel realistic and not contrived in the least. On the other hand, I'm more aware of my responsibilities to deliver a thumping good yarn.

The sad part about this business is that I find I have less and less time to read fiction. So often at night, I'm reading the research for the stuff I have to write the next day. As a specialist in financial fiction, I have to pour through a dozen papers and magazines each week, just to keep up. When I do read a novel, I find myself going back to the grand storytellers like Leon Uris, Anton Myrer, James Clavell, Herman Wouk --- guys I've read before, but who entrance me every time. Lately, though, I loved THE DA VINCI CODE and UP COUNTRY wasn't too bad!

Nelson DeMille: NUMBERED ACCOUNT was a sensational hit; you've followed it with THE FIRST BILLION and really staked your territory as the market's leading writer of international financial thrillers. Now, there's the new hardcover, THE DEVIL'S BANKER. I know the background for all three novels comes from the banking world you know so well, but of course I can't fail to see the "ripped from the headlines" aspect of chasing terrorist organizations by following the money to find the masterminds behind the destruction. What inspired you here? And how much of THE DEVIL'S BANKER is based on actual investigations?

Christopher Reich: The idea for THE DEVIL'S BANKER came to me a few days after 9/11. For the first time, I saw the entire first act of the book unspool in my head, almost as if I were watching the movie of it. I was just curious how these bad guys move their money around without being caught, and how much of it comes from America. I figure that if I'm interested in a subject, there's probably a few more like me out there. So, I picked up the phone and started making some calls to people in the know asking how we track down and cut off, or to use the vernacular, how we "disrupt and dismantle," terrorist financing networks.

Last April, I found myself at the Treasury Department, Customs, the IRS, FinCEN, and the CIA talking to the men and women who've been tasked with this very job. I was more impressed than I've been in a very long time, not only by our government's commitment to see the job done right, but by the savvy, dedicated enforcement officers I met with. Like I say in the book, its like a Tom Clancy movie…but for real. I'll tell you one thing: I wouldn't want to be the guy they're going after.

Nelson DeMille: I've heard you say that you focus on what money makes people do. You call money the "purest of all motives." Explain this, please.

Christopher Reich: Money is the purest of all motives because it cuts through the bs and lets you know why someone is doing something. There's nothing wrong with needing money or wanting it…even a lot of it. There is something wrong however about breaking the law or allowing one's morals to be corrupted to get it.

Nelson DeMille: Come clean --- what's the plot of the very first novel you wrote, the one that hasn't yet seen the light of day? And how old were you?

Christopher Reich: I never actually got around to writing a book before NUMBERED ACCOUNT, but I did spend the second half of my senior year at Georgetown researching and outlining a climbing drama set in the Himalayas. I was big into Everest then, but not big enough to think of climbing it.

Nelson DeMille: Don't stop to think --- what's the title of the book that influenced you most? Why?

Christopher Reich: That would be THE BOURNE IDENTITY. I was spending the summer in France at a small language school in Objat, smack in the middle of nowhere, and after lessons I'd sneak into my room and spend five or six hours straight reading that book. I have never been so caught up in a book as that one. There were other books before, though, that taught me the joy of reading. SHOGUN, THE THORN BIRDS, THE WINDS OF WAR. I love sagas.

Nelson DeMille: I know you attended this year's Book Expo America and met booksellers from across the country. And you've had some experience meeting fans. What is the most inspiring or striking thing a fan or bookseller has said to you? Or, if you prefer, what's the oddest experience you've had?

Christopher Reich: You can't hear enough that people enjoy your work. Writing is in the end a lonely profession, so when you get out in front of the people, you pretty much just want to hear how much people like it. It feels great. I also love it when people tell they enjoyed a certain character or a certain scene. Then I feel like I've done a good job.

The strangest thing happened to me at the Book Expo. An older man and his teenage son walked up to me at the Bantam Dell signing booth where I was autographing THE DEVIL'S BANKER and told me how much he enjoyed my correspondence with him. He said it was so nice of me to write him in England and that he had resolved to take my advice. I smiled and said, "sure thing," but I had no idea who this man was. And then it hit me, he had mistaken me for someone else. I still have no idea who he thought I was.

Nelson DeMille: Is it fair to ask what's next? Are you already into another project?

Christopher Reich: The new one is all about the nexus of the military, Wall Street and Capitol Hill called the Iron Triangle. I'm fascinated by this stuff that John Poindexter's doing with Terrorist Information Awareness, conveniently changed from Total Information Awareness and the government's growing powers of surveillance. This Patriot Act while necessary can lead to some major abuses of power. The technology being developed for snooping is terrifying. I'm also interested in the power wielded by some of the larger private equity firms like The Carlyle Group, who hire the most influential politicians in the world to work on their behalf and pay them with staggering sums of money, often in the form of participation in the deals they're doing. We're talking forty, fifty, sixty million dollars! We're talking Darth Vader here. The Dark Side of the Force is growing.