: Oh, yes. [
] is a fascinating book for me, because everything that I just told you, that book kind of awakens in you—even more so. Makes you very in tune with how unfair the world can be, especially Washington.
Now, I understand her mistrust of organizations; but I don’t want to live in a society where religion doesn’t play a role. I mean religion in the best way. Like the religion that produced Archbishop [John] Ireland, who founded St. Thomas Academy. You can take any organization in the world, you’re going to find some misdeeds, you are going to find some problems. The Catholic Church—they’ve blown it with pedophilia, big time. But that doesn’t mean that they haven’t done a lot of other great things. Especially, how the Church has touched my life with these great schools that they have built. I never paid full tuition in high school or college. It’s mind-boggling to think that in one generation, my mom and dad put seven kids through private Catholic high schools that cost a lot of money. Seven kids in ten years. And then six of us through college. And we never paid full tuition. A lot of that aid came from the Archdiocese in the Twin Cities. There is a lot that the Church does that doesn’t get told.
I’ll meet an agnostic or an atheist, and I’ll ask them, “Do you believe in the body, mind, and the soul?” And your agnostic will say, “Yes, I believe in the body, the mind, and the soul; but I hate organized religion. I think it’s a drug for the weak, just to get them to cope with how horrible the world is without an afterlife.”
And I say, “All right, so you belong to an athletic club?” They say, Yeah, they believe in staying in shape, they want to stay healthy. So I say, “You believe in an athletic club, where you pay a couple of hundred bucks a month to go and work out three to five times a week for a couple of hours; but you don’t believe in somebody joining a place of worship to go take care of their soul, and spend maybe a couple of hours once a week?” It doesn’t match up.
: The War on Terrorism is the backdrop for all your Mitch Rapp novels. You’ve talked about the impact that the terrorist bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988 had on you during your college days.
"If diversity is, in and of itself, so fantastic, why did we get rid of the KKK?"
Flynn: Yes. Twenty-six Syracuse University students died on that plane. And it was a civilian target. Now, the 1983 Marine barracks bombing in Lebanon—I remember that vividly, as well. But that was a military target; you can understand why they were attacked. At Lockerbie, two-hundred-plus innocent people, civilians on an airplane—it’s mind-boggling. So yes, it affected me deeply.
I saw this threat from Islamist terrorism getting worse and worse, not better. I knew that they were coming to America, that it was only a matter of time. Sooner or later, these crazy Islamic radical fundamentalists who preach this cult of death—the suicide bomber, the martyr—they were going to hit us, and it was going to be painful. The 1993 World Trade Center bombing—the first attack—didn’t affect me because at that point, I already knew what was happening.
TNI: You started reading up on Islamic radical fundamentalism while you were still in college?
Flynn: After college, really.
TNI: You’ve described Islam as having been hijacked and bastardized by these fundamentalists, with their strict form of Islam and global aspirations of conquest. You’ve also said that you don’t want us to get in a situation where we are at war with the entire Islamic world.
TNI: You obviously believe that the majority of Muslims are not jihadists or fundamentalists.
Flynn: Correct. I will cut to the chase for you. I think Islam is a religion in dire need of a reformation. It is a religion in crisis. Women have very few rights; they are treated as chattel in most cases. You’ve got a young woman over in Saudi Arabia right now who is going to get sixty lashes because she was in public with some male other than a relative, and they appealed it. So what did the judge do? “We’re going to give you two hundred lashes for even daring to appeal this.”
"My greatest fear is that because of Political Correctness, we in the West will not criticize Islam."
My greatest fear is that because of Political Correctness, we in the West will not criticize Islam. We are so afraid because if you criticize a “minority” group, you are deemed to be an intolerant bigot. It’s mind-boggling that in today’s world, in this country, as far as we’ve come with feminism and a lot of equality issues, no one will stand up in the national media and criticize Islam the way it needs to be.
There needs to be a national debate of great urgency about where Islam is going and how we’re going to bring it into the next century. Because they are taking young men and turning them into “martyrs.” They are preaching this cult of death. But I am shocked that we live in a world where a Danish newspaper wants to publish a cartoon of Muhammad, and pretty much everybody in the West pisses down their pant leg and says, “Oh, my God—we don’t want to offend them!”
TNI: You should know that The New Individualist was the first magazine in the United States to reprint the cartoon of Muhammad on its cover, in protest.
Flynn: Oh, good! It drives me nuts. It’s a freedom-of-speech issue—period.
TNI: Absolutely, and you can’t knuckle under to these people on that.
TNI: You criticized how we tolerate the intolerance of Islamic fundamentalism: the liberal mentality of multiculturalism, of infinite tolerance of anything—the relativism.
"After 9/11, you would hear people say that this isn’t about religion; it’s about poverty, it’s about economic opportunity. I would say, 'Really? Then where are all the Mexican terrorists?'"
: [My view] is fairly common for individualists and for those who followed Ayn Rand
and admired her writings. Individualists tend to be very logical and very philosophically grounded. So, you look at this issue of “diversity,” and it is a red herring. Diversity in and of itself has no inherent value. Diversity could mean you sit down with a Nazi, a member of the KKK, and Islamic radical fundamentalists. Now where has that gotten you? At the end of the day, if you still are not willing to judge this person and their actions and their beliefs, you’ve gotten nowhere.
If diversity is, in and of itself, so fantastic, why did we get rid of the KKK? “I’m a Northern white guy, but I don’t want to judge them; I didn’t grow up in the South and I don’t want to be too critical.” B.s. We went after the KKK because they were a group of scumbags who thought that it was okay to terrorize black people. So let’s call evil and immorality for what it is, and let’s confront it.
Flynn: I mean, you can look at Judaism, and you are going to find something to criticize. You can do the same with Christianity and Catholicism, Hindus, Buddhists. But our problems right now amongst those other faiths pale in comparison to what is going on in Islam.
After 9/11, you would hear people say that this isn’t about religion; it’s about poverty, it’s about economic opportunity. I would say, “Really? Then where are all the Mexican terrorists? If it is about poverty, why don’t we have Mexicans streaming across the border blowing up buildings?”
It’s not about poverty. Saudi Arabia, for instance, fed by petrodollars, 40 percent unemployment amongst men from the ages of eighteen to thirty-two—and they are all on the government dole, making a very good living. They have nowhere to go. So they go hang out in coffee shops and they go to mosque five times a day; and they hear an imam get up and tell them how horrible Jews are, and how horrible the West is, and how we need to fight the infidels. “You need to martyr yourselves.” They are indoctrinating, literally, millions of young men.
We in the West have failed to criticize and confront this, because we are so afraid that if we criticize a religion that we don’t understand—one that is proportionally made up of people with darker skin than white Anglo-Saxon Protestants—then we will be called “racist.”
This is about a religion where it’s a male-dominated culture. Women have no role in Islam. People get upset with me about this; but you show me a mainstream mosque in America, then I want you to show me the role that the women are playing in that mosque. In almost all mosques, women are in the back of the bus, or they are in another building. It is very segregated.
TNI: Still back in the fourteenth century.
Flynn: I’m fine about criticizing the Catholic Church for not letting women play a role on the altar; but women are allowed on the altar now. So how do you go after Catholicism the way Hollywood and the New York media did in the ’80s and ’90s—for two straight decades, three really—and then not say a word about Islam?
TNI: They give it a pass. This double standard brings me to ask you about Hollywood. Have any of your books yet been optioned for film?
TNI: Now this is your ninth book, all bestsellers—and none of them have been optioned by Hollywood. But we have had Redacted, which made about $25,000 and had maybe 3,000 people see it. I had more people go to my blog yesterday than went to all of the theaters to see Redacted. But Hollywood has made movie after movie after movie of this kind; and the only theme they have in common is that America—its symbols, its military, its government—is the bad guy. As long as you portray America as the bad guy, it will fly in Hollywood.
"Hollywood is an industry where people live and die by what other people think of them."
Flynn: Yes. That’s the type of movie that Hollywood wants to make. And it goes back to this same thing: We’ve lost our moorings to our moral underpinnings in this country. Hollywood is an industry where people live and die by what other people think of them. They want acceptance; they want the Oscar; they want ticket sales; they want people to think they are smart and that they care and are compassionate. So they go to all of these parties with all of these like-minded people, and they all talk about “diversity.” “Look, we have a white man, a black man, a Hispanic, a woman—we’re very diverse.”
Well, you know what? In my colorblind mind, you have no diversity there if you all agree with each other. Real diversity is having people who think differently and getting them together and trying to find solutions. But Hollywood is filled with a bunch of like-minded sycophants right now, who all think the same way.
TNI: It’s infuriating to me.
Flynn: [My series] has become too valuable of a commodity, so now, they are in this game of chicken. They don’t agree with the books; they don’t want to make a movie and have their friends give them crap. They are afraid that the Muslims might get upset if they make a movie that really goes after Islamic radical fundamentalism. But they are still looking at [producing] it, thinking, “My God—business-wise, this might be a really good decision. No one has bought the rights to this damn thing yet; and he’s got one of the biggest audiences of any fiction writer in the country. How much longer can we ignore him?”
TNI: Yes. It’s just like Jack Bauer [the anti-terrorist agent on Fox TV’s “24”]. “24” has gotten protests from—
Flynn: —the Council on American Islamic Relations. Yes, they don’t like “24,” and they don’t like me.
TNI: So they’ve tried to make the show more acceptable by featuring a lot of non-Islamic terroists. I’m waiting for Scottish terrorists to show up on “24.”
Flynn: It drives me nuts.
TNI: The most controversial thing associated with your novels is the fact that Mitch Rapp will torture terrorists or do anything that he needs to do to stop them. That was especially true in your latest novel, Protect and Defend, where the whole resolution hinged on it. But many people regard torture as intrinsically evil—just like pacifists regard war as intrinsically evil, no matter if it’s for self-defense or whatever.
Flynn: Torture—it’s just a nasty thing. It’s not good; it’s not nice.
TNI: So are flamethrowers.
Flynn: Yes. Here’s where I sit. It’s real simple. If al Qaeda signed the Geneva Convention, put on a uniform, stuck their flag in the ground, and said, “Let’s meet on the battlefield,” I would say: “Absolutely. Torture—you can’t do it. Period. End of discussion.” But we have an enemy that won’t put on a uniform, has not signed the Geneva Convention, hides behind men, women, and children, and then attacks men, women, and children—civilians.
I think it’s a joke that we are even having this debate, as a nation. I think that torture should take place only for high-value targets where we know they are withholding information that could help us bust up cells, financing, organization, and possible operations.
The problem is that because we are a civilized society, and because we’ve lost our mooring—we’ve lost our attachment to our Judeo-Christian beliefs—we’ve gone off on this little safari with PC. We think that we have to say things so that people will think, “He’s smart, he’s compassionate, he cares, he’s got a good heart.” The reality is that if you were to ask the American people, “When Mitch Rapp starts to torture some bad guy who knows where the nuke is, are you sitting there in the privacy of your home crying and saying, ‘Please stop torturing this guy’? Or are you saying, ‘Get him, Mitch! Get the information out of him!’”
TNI: Right. And I think that is one of the appeals of the character. He doesn’t let anything stand in the way of justice.
The Writing Craft
TNI: I did a piece on my favorite thriller writers [“The Best Thriller Writers—Ever,” April 2007] and said that you give me the feeling that I’m peeking in the keyholes at the CIA and the White House. Obviously, you’ve developed all kinds of high-level sources now; but even very early on, in Term Limits, you included a lot of “trade craft.” How did you learn that stuff?
Flynn: I think I am blessed with the ability to get people to trust me. Part of it is when I give my word, people know that I mean it. And I never realized until much later how competitive I was. What saw me through a lot of the down times was me just not quitting, because quitting wasn’t an option. The dogged determination to find these people, talk to them, network, go out and have beers with them, and shoot the bull.
TNI: You did that before Term Limits then?
Flynn: Yes, while I was doing research for Term Limits. My brother Timmy, who is a St. Paul cop, caught a bank robber one time. Through him I met some guys at the FBI, and through them I met some other people. I’m bartending in St. Paul and a buddy of mine was the big Miller distributor in town. He says, “I’ve got a buddy who I went to college with who is in the United States Secret Service. You should talk to him, he is in town for Christmas.” So we went out and had drinks and hit it off.
Writers are storytellers, and you endear yourself to people if you are a good storyteller. Growing up in my house, you would sit around the dinner table with no TV on, and you just listened to mom and dad and my grandma and grandpa tell stories.
TNI: It’s an Irish thing, too.
Flynn: I don’t think it is by accident that a lot of Irish Catholic authors have had a lot of success.
TNI: I assume that at a certain point you vet some of the sensitive stuff past these sources and say, “Have I screwed up?”
Flynn: And I’ve had them come back and say, “You are too close—you’ve got to take some of this out.”
TNI: You said you try not to read reviews. Why?
Flynn: If you ask someone to review a book, they are going to find its faults. Reviewers, a lot of them, tend to be frustrated writers who don’t understand the proper way to review a book—especially the New York elite reviewers. The good reviewers do the same thing that the Cannes driver does. They don’t test a Ford pickup truck against a Porsche 911. They put the sports cars in one category, the sedans in the other, the SUVs in another. And the good reviewers will judge a thriller as a thriller.
"A thriller is supposed to be a sports car."
A thriller is supposed to be a sports car: It’s not going to be judged for its luxurious ride and flowery character descriptions. It is action—keep the pages turning. The few reviews that I have read [about] me will say, “Really lax in character development, blah, blah, blah.” Well, guess what? I start doing Snow Falling on Cedars–type character development, my book gets three times as big as it is, and I will put your ass to sleep in five minutes. I get better feedback from my fans.
TNI: Lee Child was of the opinion that all stories are character-driven.
Flynn: Lee and I part ways on this a little bit. Lee designs his novels around the character or what they are going to do. I do some of that; but also, for me there has to be this geopolitical hook. I write in kind of a different area. Lee will write very localized, good guy/bad guy stuff, a local city. I am trying to write more of the national political stuff. So I’ve got to think like I’m going to shoot a movie. That’s how I start a book. I start thinking: Where are some of these big scenes going to take place? Is it going to involve Special Forces, FBI—who is going to be involved? Who is going to be shooting and killing? So we come at it slightly differently.
TNI: His are cinematic too, but the nature of the conflicts is different.
Flynn: Part of the gift, at least for me, is the ability to look at a puzzle that is missing half of its pieces and fill in the picture. I think a lot of writers have that gift. Like Lee—we think a lot alike, in the sense that we are very linear. And Lee is very good about understanding place and time, and how he has to move his characters from one place to another—hard geographic locations—and then describing those locations and creating a sense of urgency.
I also think that writers who are filled with self-doubt and loathing can’t write a book a year. It’s not going to happen.
Flynn: No way. You have to have a certain level of confidence. And you can’t complicate it. I say this all of the time: It’s not that complicated. People look at me and go, “Yeah. Right.” I just say, No, it isn’t.
Rule number one: Understand who your audience is. Who are you trying to reach?
It’s a huge marketplace. Am I trying to write a book that sci-fi fans want to read? No. If they happen to read it and like it, great; but that is not my audience. So always remember who your audience is. And then from there, relax. Focus on pacing; get the details right, the research; and write a great page-turner.
Here’s a baseball analogy. These players, when they are hot, are not thinking about their swing. They step up to the plate; they might think, “Tuck that right elbow in right before the ball is delivered.” There might be some little key to get your weight going in the right direction. But by and large, they are stepping into it, keeping that back elbow up. They are not thinking, “Am I breathing in or out? And what I am doing with my left toe? Am I going to step into the plate—”
TNI: I am going to shock you. I don’t know whether you read my Lee Child interview, but he used exactly the same baseball metaphor.
Flynn: Oh, you are kidding!
TNI: He used that baseball metaphor. He was talking about exactly the same thing—self-consciousness and how it kills you. He was saying that you can’t be thinking, “Well, I have to please this demographic or that demographic.” You know who your audience is; but then it’s just communicating with that person, and you can’t be self-conscious.
Flynn: Well, you can go too far. If you become so self-absorbed that you are saying to yourself, “I’m so liberated, I don’t need to think about my audience; I’m just going to write.” Now, there are a lot of great writers who write great books, from a technical and creative standpoint, and they lose their audience because they want to “grow.” You see it with musicians every once in awhile. They want to do their kind of music, and then they go and make—
TNI: Something inaccessible.
Flynn: It’s narcissistic. The studio, the label is telling them that this isn’t going to sell. So you have to make a choice. I’m 41. I’ve got three kids I have to send to college. I am a capitalist, an individualist, and I enjoy making money. So if I want to make more money, I have got to keep perfecting what I’m doing—or, at the bare minimum, keep that level of performance. I’ve got to bat .300 every year. It’s not complicated; why screw with it? If you’ve gotten .300, you’re going to the Hall of Fame.
Flynn: So why would you all of a sudden decide to change your stance or something? So I don’t. Now, am I going to write about Mitch Rapp forever? No, but I’m not going to go write the feel-good romance novel.
TNI: I’m heartbroken.
Seriously, I think your characterizations have grown over time, significantly. The focus at the beginning was more action. But now, the depth of the characterizations—you’ve said that you had tears while writing what happened to a character in one novel.
Flynn: Consent to Kill.
TNI: So, what do we have to look forward to next?
Flynn: The Grinder—that’s the working title.
TNI: The Grinder?
Flynn: Didn’t I ever tell you my story about the grinder? I went to dinner with the president of Hormel Foods, who grew up working in the slaughterhouse in Austin, Minnesota. He said he wanted me to come down and tour the slaughterhouse. I said no—I like my sausage; I don’t want to see how it’s made.
TNI: So there is a metaphor going on here.
Flynn: The meat grinder. And Rapp plays a minor role.
TNI: So this is a Scott Coleman—
Flynn: Scott Coleman is going to be in it, and [CIA Director] Irene Kennedy.
TNI: We’re going to have to see how you’re going to make Irene recuperate after what you put her through this last time.
Flynn: People want her to find a love.
TNI: Yes, well, that is tricky.
Anyway, thank you, Vince. This has been great.