Interview with Alan Jacobson

(Alan Jacobson is a New York times bestselling author with the hit “Karen Vail” series. We share the same publisher and he did me the honor of sitting down for an interview.)

1) What inspired you to start writing? What has been your experience with publishers and getting your work out there? 

I had a unique, and inspiring, English teacher in middle school who showed me the beauty of the language, and how fun writing (and, yes, even grammar!) can be. I was fortunate to have him for two years, and I believe that set a very firm foundation for turning on the tap of my inner creative writing ability. (In fact, NO WAY OUT, my eighth thriller, is dedicated to him.)

In a few months, I’ll have been in this business for 20 years. My experience with New York publishers can fill a book—nonfiction, because some of what I’ve been through is so unbelievable there’s no need to embellish! It’s a small industry and everyone knows everyone else. I’ve seen it all—or close to it—and what I haven’t personally experienced I’ve seen through the eyes of friends who’ve got their own battle scars and war stories. The legacy industry is not for the faint of heart. You need a thick skin, unwavering persistence, and the ability to bounce back and not let the pettiness and small world politics bring you down.

Of course, nowadays legacy publishing is not the only game in town, and it’s forced a number of changes for both publishers and authors. Overall, I believe the digital evolution (not revolution) has been a huge positive for consumers, for authors, and even for publishers, who eventually decided to embrace the changes rather than continuing to fight them. Everyone has won as a result. There’s been a reversal in the declining rates of literacy, kids are reading again, authors who previously couldn’t break the industry’s tight hold are able to get published, and publishers have found a new source of sales that can be incredibly lucrative for them (because there are almost no overhead costs associated with publishing a digital edition).


2) How did you come up with character of Karen Vail? Is it difficult to write a woman character? 

I’m a planner and outliner, so it’s funny when one considers that Karen Vail was neither. She came off my fingertips while I was writing a scene in one of my novels and I was so excited by her that I realized she should be a lead character in a future book (that scene ultimately got scrubbed, but Vail stayed with me).

When I got involved with the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit—a relationship that lasted years before I had amassed sufficient knowledge to begin writing—I knew I had the perfect place for Vail to shine. A few years later, after my first two novels, FALSE ACCUSATIONS and THE HUNTED, were published by Simon & Schuster, I’d written the first 75 pages of THE 7TH VICTIM (Vail’s debut novel). I made another trip to the FBI Academy in Quantico to spend time with one of the profilers, who by now had become a good friend. While I was in his office talking about the traits of the serial killer in THE 7TH VICTIM, in walked his partner—who I’d never met before. I was suddenly face to face with the real life Karen Vail. Ironically, she had red hair and an attitude much like Vail’s. It was uncanny. She was extremely helpful then, and over the next fifteen years, in enabling me to understand how she, as a woman, fit into the unit, and how she handled serial killers (which is different from how a male approaches them).

3) Tell us about the plot of NO WAY OUT. Where did you come up with the idea? 

NO WAY OUT is the fifth FBI Profiler Karen Vail novel. My goal for the Vail series is to do “new and different” things from book to book. It keeps me fresh, it keeps the stories fresh, and it keeps the readers excited about the novels, and about Karen Vail. I’m always looking for ways to challenge and “stress” Vail. One way is by pitting her against different types of antagonists; another is by dropping her into a place that’s out of her comfort zone, which gives me an opportunity to use unique settings as an added character in the book. England was perfect for accomplishing both.

When NO WAY OUT opens, Vail finds herself in London, where a bombing has destroyed a prestigious art and rare manuscript gallery. Her job is to draw up a threat assessment, but doing so requires her to work with Scotland Yard to get a handle on who’s behind the attack. It looks to be related to a recently discovered ancient manuscript that has the potential to alter the histories of British and American societies—a document a number of individuals are trying to keep secret. Vail soon learns that a long-sought-after fugitive may not only be responsible but may be planning a dramatic attack on the city. But when a covert Department of Defense operative shows up, he sets in motion a series of events that have Vail running from international assassins, Scotland Yard, and the MI5 Security Service. It’s a very exciting novel, one that’s already been called “The thriller of the year” (The Strand Magazine).

As to where I came up with the idea, I read an article five years ago about the author of the historic document featured in NO WAY OUT. I don’t want to give anything away, but suffice it to say that I found it incredibly intriguing, and I contacted the scholar who wrote the article. I spent nearly a year working with him, going through his research, until I finally grasped the full impact of what he’d discovered. Everything else in NO WAY OUT emanated from that core idea.

4) How did you decide on England for the setting of the book? 

The nature of the ancient manuscript that’s discovered dictated the setting—which was perfect because, as I mentioned earlier, I’m always looking for fresh ways of telling my stories, and using a unique setting is one way of accomplishing that. I went to England twice during the research and writing of NO WAY OUT because I had to immerse myself in British society. A common misconception is that because they speak English and share a common history our cultures are the same. They’re not—and it was my job to find those differences as they related to my story and characters, to capture the essence of London that makes it different from any city in the United States. I also scouted locations for my big (and small) scenes. I always try to take my readers to fun locations they don’t know about, or I bring them behind the scenes to places they would not otherwise have the ability to see.

5) What’s up next for you?

Karen Vail #6, which will be set in New York City. It’ll tie together, in one form or another, all my novels and short stories and span Vail’s entire law enforcement career beginning with her first day on the beat as an NYPD cop. I’ve found some unusual places people don’t know about—and a compelling story that’ll involve some very different characters. When I feel that excitement, that relentless drive to write the book, I know I’m on to something special that my readers are going to devour. It’s happened to me for each one of my eight novels. I live to tell the story!

On a final note, I’ve coauthored a personal safety eBook with FBI profiler Mark Safarik that we’re giving away for free on my website. It’s full of vitally important information on keeping you and your loved ones safe. I’m also on Facebook  and Twitter, so follow me. I’ll lead you into something interesting places!





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