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Behind the Fiction, Past
A Fiction Column
By Vickie Adkins

An Interview with ~

Brian Haig

Author of Secret Sanction, Mortal Allies, and now

THE KINGMAKER

By Vickie Adkins

When I was first asked to read and review Brian Haigís The Kingmaker, I had an uneasy feeling that it would be a lot of military jargon that I couldnít understand.† Happily surprised, I found it not only intriguing, but funny as well. Donít get me wrong, Haig has penned a serious novel; but his main character, Sean Drummond, an attorney with the armyís JAG office, is a witty, free-spirit that could easily be played on the big screen by Mr. Wiseguy himself, Bruce Willis.Matter of fact, I pictured Bruce telling the entire story of espionage, treason, and Soviet spydom, smirking with each word.

When I asked for an interview with Mr. Haig, not only did his publicist say yes; but I received his answers in twenty-four hours.Iím impressed, not only with his promptness and writing abilities, but his personality as well.I mean, any man that gives his wife a little credit now and then canít be all bad, right ladies?

 

Vickie:Brian, reading your bio, it sounds as if youíve lived a very exciting, full life.  How much of you can we read into your main character, Major Sean Drummond?

Mr. Haig: Not much, frankly.  Drummond is an Army lawyer; I was an infantry officer and a strategist, who spent his career bouncing between troop assignments and high-level staff jobs.  Drummondís something of a maverick -- sarcastic, clumsy, confrontational.  I was more conformist and buttoned-down.  And I definitely got along better with my bosses, most of whom were excellent officers and leaders.  Also, Drummond never gets The Girl.  I got The Girl.

But, obviously, the plots reflect what Iíve seen and experienced, and the views expressed by Drummond often reflect my own.  I hope one of the things that shines through in all three Drummond novels is the sort of tortured ambiguity of the dilemmas he gets himself into, because thatís what I saw in Washington.  Situations are rarely as black and white as they are portrayed.  More often youíre forced to choose between lesser evils, between imperfect choices, and in all three novels thatís where Drummond finds himself; stuck in morally torpid quicksand, and flipping coins in the air.

 

Vickie:Since everyone wonders, whatís it like being the son of Alexander Haig?  Sorry, I just had to ask...

Mr. Haig: In a word, wonderful.  Heís a great father, and now grandfather -- passionate, hilariously funny, very loving, and has had a fifty-three year love affair with my mother, who is an equally great person.  So it was a wonderful household to grow up in, and we were, and we are enormously proud of what he accomplished. 

That said, I know many famous peopleís kids consider it a curse -- Iím definitely not one of them.  For one thing, heís very much a self-made man, and the lesson to his kids is, this is an incredible country that rewards hard work and character.  Thatís an inspiring thing to know growing up.

The peas under the mattress, so to speak, are the nasty slings and arrows that accompany his public life.  Like, Oliver Stone recently made this really lousy movie about the day Ronald Reagan was shot, and my father was played by this wimpy, whiny, nasally actor who in the publicity shots starts suddenly spouting off about what an idiot Alexander Haig is.  So my brother, sister and I are sitting around listening to this has-been actor, who never served his country in any capacity, didnít go to war twice, who physically was a floundering mismatch, and who never even met the character heís supposedly portraying.  And what does he know anyway?  Right?  Of course, we Haigs donít take it personally ... but Iím sure you get my point.

 

Vickie:Writing a series as exciting as what Iíve read, do you find yourself thinking ahead to the next book as youíre writing the current one?

Mr. Haig:  Thank you for the compliment, and, yes, incessantly.  My contract with Warner Books is for two books a year, so you have to forever be thinking ahead, letting the next concept germinate as you plow through the current one ... that, or you start getting grumpy calls from editors who have sales meetings and marketing plans to develop, and they need a title and at least a concept.

But also, I really enjoy writing.  The whole process of conceptualization, and fleshing it out is huge fun, and Iím always working on two manuscripts simultaneously.

 

Vickie:Do any of your characters come from people youíve met in real life?

Mr. Haig:  Thatís a dangerous question for a fiction writer.  Answer wrong, and the lawyers are on your doorstep, waving libel papers.  So ... uh, no, nobody is a precise cutout of anyone I know.  Honest.  Of course, certain characteristics and mannerisms get borrowed.  Take Catharine Carlson from Mortal Allies, for example.  Sheís so much like my wife -- smarter than me, always a few steps ahead, and she always, always wins. 

 

Vickie:Iíve always wondered if itís difficult for a man to write about women, especially women as colorful as Katrina Mazorski.  Does your wife assist you here, or do you write about what youíve seen, or both?

Mr. Haig: For me, yes, women are tricky territory.  That Men are from Mars, Women from Venus deal, itís real, and a male writer can royally screw up the authenticity that makes for a compelling female characterization.  Also, even though the Drummond books are serialized, I try to come up with different female leads for each book.  A lot of serial writers employ the same cast, book after book.  Itís easier and safer for the writer, and of course it can be enjoyable for the reader -- like revisiting old friends.  But unless itís skillfully done, the characters can get to be predictable, tedious, and stale.  I suppose Drummondís narration also runs that risk, but I hope heís likable and complex enough that it doesnít happen.  Regarding female characters, Lisa, my wife, is an enormous help.  She helps me conceptualize the females, and she reads what I write, and will say things like, God, what are you thinking?  Katrina has dark hair, and she would wear a red dress, not a black one.  Or, hey, 150 lbs is not a heavy woman ... right ... honey?

Also, Iím blessed with a truly great editor at Warner Books, Rick Horgan, who has a despicably good eye for incongruities and miscasting, and if a character slips out of pocket, or is too shadowy, or isnít interesting, he steers it back.

 

Vickie:  When did you know you wanted to be a writer?  Did someone influence you?

Mr. Haig:  Till I left the Army, I never imagined it.  The thing about the Army is you owe the service your complete devotion.  The taxpayers and your soldiers sort of expect that, and the job definitely requires it.  In fact, before I left the Army the longest thing I ever wrote was the war plan for Korea. 

I always read a great deal, but only rarely was it fiction; my library is still packed with history books, biographies, and political science textbooks. 

That said, I had about six months after I left the Army when I was looking for a job, and I had time on my hands, and I started reading novels.  Thatís what did it.  To this day, every time I read a really good novel, where I love the writerís style, and his ability to tell and move the story, I get this overpowering urge to write.

 

Vickie:Whoís your favorite author, and why?

Mr. Haig:  Iíd have to answer that I have several.  And I know Iím going to sound really pedestrian, because I certainly admire writers like Sylvia Nasar and Tom Wolfe and David Halberstram, but theyíre not my favorites.  I like John Grisham, his wit and his ability to characterize.  Nelson DeMille, definitely, heís probably the funniest and pithiest writer out there, and he comes up with ingenious plots.  John Sandford, because of his ability to weave character and plot together, and keep you glued to the page.  Vince Flynn, another great plotter.  Elmore Leonard, because heís funny also.  Donald Westlake, who deserves to be up there with Leonard.The common thread with most of these writers, you may have noticed, is they produce witty thrillers, which are, I think, much harder to write than deadpan thrillers, and far more enjoyable to read.

 

Vickie:Will you ever attempt a nonfiction book?

Mr. Haig:  Iíd love to -- eventually.  I love writing fiction, and I have ideas for several books outside of the Drummond series, and more books inside the Drummond series, and jeez -- thereís never enough time in the day, is there?  Also, the truth is you have to possess a real passion for what youíre writing about, or your disinterest shows through.  The writing becomes mechanical and lethargic.  But look at Mark Bowdenís Blackhawk Down or Hal MooreĎs We Were Soldiers Once.  Theyíre excellent books that I would love to have written, and someday I hope I will write something like them.

 

Vickie:Do you ever base one of your characters on yourself?

Mr. Haig:  No, and I donít think I ever will.  Iím just not that interesting, and I donĎt really want to expose that to readers.

 

Vickie:  If you could advise a new author, how would you encourage them from something that youíve learned since you began writing?

Mr. Haig:  Read other great writers -- analyze how they plot, their style, their sparseness or their richness, decide what you like best, and try to develop along those lines.  Second, if you really love it, keep trying.  If you get writerís block, put something on paper, and then edit vigorously and ruthlessly.  Even diamonds come out of the ground ugly; it takes plenty of cutting and buffing before theyíre ready for a store shelf.

 

Vickie:Thank you Mr. Haig for such interesting answers, and for taking time out of your hectic schedule for MyShelf.com

Review

The Kingmaker
By Brian Haig
Warner Books - January 2003
ISBN: 0446530557 - Hardback
Buy it at Amazon
Read an Excerpt
Military Thriller
Explicit Content

Reviewed by Vickie Adkins

"Listen, Drummond, your client betrayed this country in ways too horrible to contemplate…He not only gave the Russians names, he also exposed the inner workings of our foreign policy. In this history of espionage, there's never been one like him."


Brian Haig's The Kingmaker is a fast-paced spy thriller, and third in a series revolving wisecracking JAG attorney Sean Drummond. This time out Drummond can't say no to his former college sweetheart when she asks him to defend the man she chose over him. Trouble is, General William Morrison is accused of a variety of crimes against his country. That, and the fact that Drummond can't stand him, add up to a brick wall when it comes to his defense.

Enter Russian-speaking, nose-pierced Katrina Mazorski, Drummond's new co-counsel. Between the two of them, not only do they determine that Morrison was framed, they find a mastermind behind the scenes, manipulating their every more.

Haig's dialogue is hilarious, and his characters are powerfully described right down to his secretary, Imelda. "…She offers her seasoned advice whenever it's asked for--or not--usually the same way a ballpeen hammer helps a tent peg find its way into the ground."

The Kingmaker will keep you reading through the night. Haig's writing style is surprisingly comfortable, well balanced between military lingo and on-the-ball dialogue. You won't be disappointed!

Other works:

Secret Sanction ISBN: 0446611816
Mortal Allies ISBN: 0446612588


2003 Past Columns

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