Interview with Barry Eisler
Wednesday, September 1, 2004 Posted: 05:20 PM JST
Barry Eisler's latest book in the Rain series, 'Rain Storm', has come out and is getting good reviews. Last year I had an interview when Barry. He was still preparing for his latest book and travelling to Macau, Rio de Janeiro, Hong Kong and Tokyo. I asked Barry lots of questions about the main characters in the book and his answers are still relevant now.
Interview orginally published September 2003
How was the character of John Rain born?
I was on my way to work one morning in Tokyo, riding the Hibiya-sen as usual, when a vivid image came to me of two men following another man down Dogenzaka in Shibuya. I still don't know where the image came from, but I started thinking about it. Who are these men? Why are they following that other guy? Then answers started to come: They're assassins. They're going to kill him. But these answers just let to more questions: why are they going to kill him? What did he do? Who do they work for? It felt like a story, somehow, and I've always liked to write, so I put pen to paper (literally -- I moved to the much superior word-processing method later) to find out more. The more I wrote, the more I got interested in the story and the characters, one of whom eventually became John Rain.
Do you find anything of yourself in John Rain?
We both like jazz and good single malt whiskey, of course, and we're both Akiko Grace fans. And we both do judo, although Rain is a lot better than I am. He's older and more experienced than I, and some of his experience has produced a cynicism that I understand but don't necessarily share. And I'm not an assassin... honestly! Although my wife does sometimes worry about me, what with the strange books I read for research ("Be Your Own Undertaker: A How-To Guide;" "21 Techniques of Silent Killing;" "How to Disappear Completely and Never Be Found," to name a few) and the places my imagination seems to insist on visiting...
Why did you decide to put an assassin in Japan, a country which always advertises itself as one of the safest places in the world?
Japan is certainly safe if you're talking about street crime. Crime of the more organized variety, though, is more prevalent, albeit less visible. Over the past decade, there have been numerous deaths of would-be reformers under bizarre circumstances: suicides who left no note, bodies cremated before autopsy despite family requests to the contrary, and other anomalies. For more on this, read Benjamin Fulford's columns in Forbes.
In fact, this past September 12, Japanese freelance journalist Satoru Someya was found dead near a pier in Tokyo Bay. According to police reports, Someya's body was wrapped in a weighted chain, his hands were tied with rope, and he had eight stab wounds in his back and two gashes in his head. Someya reported for various magazines about organized crime in Tokyo under the pen name Kuragaki Kashiwabara. In July, he published a book titled Kabukicho Underground about Chinese criminal groups operating in Kabukicho, and he might have been killed in retaliation. Part of what's interesting, and possibly worrying, about Someya's death is that the police seem to have been quick to suggest that he was in debt, and might have been killed by one of his creditors (an inefficient way to collect on a debt, though, isn't it?). Maybe there's some truth to this; maybe it's part of a cover-up.
If the government is complicit in some of these deaths, it would have an assassin, or assassins, on the payroll, preferably someone skilled in making death appear to have been of "natural causes." Maybe someone like... John Rain?
Your characters don't seem to venture much outside of the (urbanized) cities of Tokyo and Osaka. Is there any particular reason for that?
Two reasons, I suppose: first, I lived in Tokyo and Osaka and only visited the countryside, so I know the cities better. Second, Rain's targets are themselves urbanites, to the city is where he can typically get to them. Maybe a third reason, too: I love Tokyo and Osaka and love writing about them.
How did you develop the character of Tatsu of Japan's keisatsu-cho? For someone working in a large Japanese hierarchy he is very atypical. Is he based on someone (or several people) you know?
Tatsu certainly is a maverick. I've known a few people who have inspired various elements of his personality and outlook, but mostly he's the product of my imagination.
Are Midori and Naomi based on real people or your idea of the perfect woman?
I don't really think there's a "perfect woman" any more than there's a "perfect man" -- we humans are always so imperfect, aren't we! But Midori and Naomi both have qualities that I admire. They're both bright, tough-minded, and confident. They're beautiful and sexy and they appreciate this, but they don't dwell on the fact and it certainly isn't what defines them. Midori plays piano and Naomi can dance -- I wish I could do either!
Midori is a bit older than Naomi and more accomplished; she has a value system that I respect, a system that Rain runs up against and finds attractive even though it sometimes causes him to question some of his assumptions and rationalizations, with resulting discomfort.
Naomi is a little less fully-formed than Midori, and her personality and worldview are more of a work in progress. Although he's certainly attracted to her and they have great chemistry, Rain is accordingly less affected by Naomi than he is by Midori.
Okay, I admit it: I'm in love with them both.
You paint a pretty bleak picture of Japan and its economy, politics, social fabric and future. Is this the way you see Japan, or did you paint this picture to fit the story?
All of the problems I write about in the Rain books -- the corruption, the scandals, the pervasiveness of organized crime -- is true, and comes straight from reporting in publications like The Economist, The Far Eastern Economic Review, Forbes, and books like Alex Kerr's Dogs and Demons. Of course, Japan is much more than the sum of these problems, and there is much to admire and even envy about the country -- but Rain lives in a noir universe, and the bad and the ugly grow prominent as a result.
In Hard Rain there seem to be more explanations about Japanese customs and society than in your first book, Rain Fall (or perhaps that's my imagination?). Is this a result of feedback from readers, input from editors, your own insight after finishing Rain Fall, or is there another reason?
The truth is, I hadn't really thought about this until you pointed it out. Interesting. Maybe Rain is getting more reflective with age?
There are rumors of a movie option. Can you tell us a bit about that?
Yes, Jet Li, star of Lethal Weapon 4, Romeo Must Die, The One, Kiss of the Dragon, Cradle to the Grave, the forthcoming Chinese language Hero, and countless Hong Kong action films, has purchased the film rights, so perhaps we'll see a "Soon to Be a Major Motion Picture" banner wrapped around a future paperback version...
What's next for Barry Eisler and John Rain?
I just signed with Putnam for two additional Rain books, so more Rain is on the way. To try to figure out where Rain is going, I look for inspiration in real life events of the day -- in other words, I try to place fictional characters in a non-fictional world. In this case, I've been struck by the confluence of two post-9/11 developments. First, it's clear to me that the CIA has gotten the green light on assassinations, regardless of what euphemism is used in place of that uncomfortable word. For example, a few months ago, a CIA-controlled Predator drone blew up a bunch of Al Quaeda operatives in Yemen -- an act that would have been politically infeasible before 9/11.
Second, the government is classifying certain American citizens like Jose Padillo, the "dirty bomber" from Chicago, as "enemy combatants" and trying them in military tribunals -- essentially stripping them of their traditional rights of due process as US citizens.
But not everyone the government wants to move against is an Al Quaeda operative abroad, reachable by Hellfire missile, or a sufficiently guilty-seeming US citizen at home, reachable by military tribunal. There is of course a third class, a class that the government would like to see removed but would have to remove less obtrusively, more deniably, then by the methods that have reached the papers thus far. I ask myself, if today the US government had access to a guy like John Rain, would they use him? If so, how? Who would they want him to go after? What would get Rain to play ball? Follow these questions, and you'll see the structure of the next Rain book taking form...
One more hint: for research on the next book, I've been to Tokyo, Hong Kong, Macau, and Rio de Janeiro. It's a dirty job, but someone's gotta do it.
Click on the book cover to buy at Amazon.com.
Keywords: people_focus book_news books thriller novel
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