For this month’s Author Profile, meet the creator of the highly acclaimed Jonathan Brooks spy series, A.C. Frieden. I had an opportunity to interview Frieden about his fascinating past, his globe-trotting adventures, his military and legal experience, and the inspirations for his main character and what has become a tremendously successful series. Read about A.C. Frieden below, or jump here to skip to Amazon to buy his latest book, The Pyongyang Option.
You were born in Senegal to Swiss/Brazilian parents and have lived all over the world. How did your upbringing overseas influence you and your writing?
My familiarity with different countries and cultures has made it easier to bring in an international flavor to characters, settings and historical realities that are essential to my globetrotting espionage/political thrillers. That multicultural background has also shaped who I am today. I believe that the line between good and evil is often blurred and that positive or negative traits cannot be assigned to any nationality, race, culture or other categories, so I make sure my characters don’t fit stereotypes. I also use my background in the military and my piloting experience to enhance the action in my thrillers.
And how do your international travels and experiences fuel your writing?
Having lived and worked in various countries, I tend to bring these experiences into my thrillers. My career as a lawyer working in Europe, India and the U.S. also gives me the ability to embed reality into the travails of my protagonist, New Orleans attorney Jonathan Brooks. There are so many interesting venues, including many off the beaten path that can capture the interest of readers. And I’ve explored many of these places over the years.
How did your world travels help form the character of Jonathan Brooks?
Jonathan was born and raised in New Orleans, so his international experiences come mostly from legal cases he has worked on and that form the plots in his novels.
Is Jonathan Brooks modeled after you? How are you similar or different?
I would probably be more conservative and cautious than Jonathan when faced with the challenges he encounters in the stories. However, the fundamentals are similar: value for human life, respect for the law, seeing the good in people. More importantly, Jonathan is a normal person, not a spy, nor a hired gun. He makes mistakes, as I have in my life and career, but learns from them. He handles the threats, injuries, and near-death experiences in ways many of us can relate to. I’ve tried to make him real, with the baggage that life’s mistakes make you carry, while also unleashing his high tolerance for risk when needed. A tolerance that exceeds mine in most situations, I think.
Can you give a sneak preview of something in your forthcoming book, The Pyongyang Option?
The Pyongyang Option begins as a mystery and turns into a thriller. While it takes place in 2005, there is a dramatic turning point in the story that throws readers into the thick of today’s confrontation with North Korea. I also was able to tie in my research in Chernobyl into the story, so readers will experience what it’s like to walk around an abandoned, contaminated town near the nuclear reactor.
What does Jonathan need the most, and what is he searching for throughout all the books in your Jonathan Brooks series?
Ultimately, justice. Jonathan’s rather comfortable life growing up changed drastically in Tranquility Denied. Then again in The Serpent’s Game. These life-changing events forced him to change as a person, to reevaluate the essence of life, his dreams, his ability to handle adversity, and shape his destiny as a fighter for doing the right thing. And in The Pyongyang Option, he’s tested to his limits, and this too pivots him into a different direction for the upcoming book 4 in the series, Letter from Istanbul.
This is sort of a personal question, but is there something you’ve been searching for in your life that Jonathan is helping you find?
A sense of belonging. Jonathan is the only (remaining) child of a small family. And the challenges he’s faced in his stories had turned his world upside down, making him realize so much of his life had been comfortable but artificial in many ways. That sense of belonging left him, and now he realizes that the rest of his life might simply be a never-ending search for that unattainable goal.
What’s the most interesting aspect of fiction writing?
While my series is mostly espionage, the protagonist is a lawyer and this trait anchors the story to events and circumstances that are not typical of spy thrillers. In other words, his work as a lawyer brings in a legal thriller element to the stories. And other characters bring a political feel to the stories as well. So, this broader stroke at the spy thriller genre is what interests me. Making a lawyer and political figures act in very unusual ways to handle extraordinary challenges that are normally left to professional spies, assassins, and political/military experts.
Who were the writing teachers or mentors that inspired your writing path?
New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Patricia Rosemoor was my teacher in two genre fiction writing class and later pulled me into her writers group. She became my mentor and helped fuel my passion for mysteries and thrillers and improved the quality of my writing. Also, my long-time editor, Julia Borcherts, who has tremendous expertise in crime fiction, has been a strong supporter of my writing and helps to make the Jonathan Brooks series an engaging experience for readers.
Are you the kind of writer who wakes up at 5am and writes for three hours every morning?
No. Unlike when I wear my lawyer hat, as a writer I’m a procrastinator. But I’m generally organized for the first half of writing each book, but then I have to herd the remaining storyline and chapters as if they were cats.
How do you use outlining to map out the complex plots in your novels?
Outlining is important, for sure. I keep a centralized general outline, and then I add more detailed paragraphs (tied to that outline) at the top of each blank chapter to guide me. I also map characters, settings and spot elements on large eraser boards in conference rooms and then take pictures of them for later reference.
How has your writing style changed since your first novel was published?
Generally tighter writing. Perhaps what has changed most is the depth of the character descriptions. My strengths have always been in settings and plot, so I have focused on improving the depth of characters and their interactions and thoughts, particularly in The Serpent’s Game. And this improvement continues in The Pyongyang Option.
What do you most love to read?
I read mostly nonfiction. My home library consists of political, espionage and military books for the most part. However, I also read crime fiction, and occasionally political/espionage thrillers, but mostly with international settings.
What has your experience been with agents?
I did not use an agent to be published by Down & Out Books, which, by the way, has an awesome team and has been tremendously supportive in my literary endeavors. I would still advise aspiring authors to try to get an agent but explore alternate paths to publication as well.
Can you share any tips or guidance for novice writers just getting started, or for experienced writers working hard to build a successful platform?
Whether right or wrong, I approach each book with this question first: what sensation do I want to give the reader when they finish reading the book? This is why I write the last chapter first. Though it will change by the time I write the rest of the book, the dominant theme of that final feeling becomes a beacon for the rest of the chapters. This was particularly true for The Pyongyang Option, where the ending is a dramatic life-changing turn for Jonathan. From a more general standpoint, I would advise new writers to be thorough in their research. To understand the settings. More knowledgeable readers demand more precise writing by authors. I always do my best to make sure no reader will ever find substantive errors in my settings or plots – and my fellow lawyers are often the ones who try hardest to poke holes in everything I write (but I love them all!).
Thank you, A.C. Frieden, for sharing your reflections, guidance, and inspiration with us today! And learn more about the author through the links below.
Till next time,