Monday , December 4 2023
Jeff Abbott talks about writing another thriller that takes the reader by the seat of the pants and doesn't let go

Interview: Jeff Abbott, Author of The Last Minute

I wasn’t sure if Jeff Abbott would be able to follow up the adrenaline and excitement of his last book, appropriately titled Adrenaline, but with The Last Minute he has pulled it off.

The Last Minute is Abbott’s second book in his series about Sam Capra, a betrayed CIA agent and parkour enthusiast. I was moved to read Adrenaline and interview Abbott after hearing him speak at a booksigning at BookPeople in Austin in June 2011, when that book was published.

The fellow Austin author agreed to let me interview him again for his new book, which comes out this week. He is speaking and signing books at BookPeople again on Monday July 8 and the employee, Scott Montgomery, who helped arrange that first interview just published his own positive review of The Last Minute a few minutes ago. Scott’s review is spot-on but does contain spoilers.

Both books about Sam Capra move fast and easily fit the definition of a thriller. You, the reader, can’t help but get caught up in the excitement and adventure as Sam deals with criminals and CIA agents, and at times it’s hard to tell which ones are worse.

Adrenaline starts off with a great plot device: Sam’s seven-months pregnant wife calls him at work and tells him to get out of the office–he does so and almost immediately the building explodes, killing everyone inside. Meanwhile, his wife is gone–he saw her being taken when he ran out of the building. While she saved his life it looks suspiciously like he had inside information, as did she. Without giving away too many spoilers let’s just say he learns things in his life, especially with his wife, were not what they seemed. He is chased and tortured by the CIA and others as he tries to prove his innocence while also trying to sort out what exactly is going on.

The Last Minute continues the action as Sam works to get his baby back from a shadowy international criminal organization called The Nine Suns, which has members working for the CIA and other government agencies.

The good news is The Nine Suns offers to give him back his baby–the bad news is what they are insisting he do in exchange: He has to hunt down and kill someone and even if he does so he can’t be sure he will even get his son back. Meanwhile, the CIA wants Sam to turn over Milla, a partner who has been helping him. This, of course, leads to lots of good action scenes taking place all around the world. 

Without giving away any more I will encourage you to pick up this book–if you like good thrillers you will like Adrenaline and The Last Minute–and proceed to the interview.

Would you mind setting the stage for The Last Minute is a direct sequel to Adrenaline, the first book in the Sam Capra series. In it, former CIA agent Sam Capra is trying to find his infant son, hunting the international criminal network that has kidnapped his baby. He’s told he can have his son back as long as he commits an impossible murder: finding and killing the one person who has the evidence to  destroy the bad guys. 

How did the ideas for this new book come about?

Since The Last Minute directly follows Adrenaline, many of the ideas for it (but not all) came from thinking about the first book. One that wasn’t, though, is that I take a very minor unnamed character from Adrenaline who only appears in one scene and make him a major character in The Last Minute. That was an unexpected idea, and since it wasn’t planned when I wrote Adrenaline, it was a fun challenge.

Was it hard picking a plot line that kept up the frenetic energy and, well, adrenaline of your last book, Adrenaline?

No, not at all. A parent searching for their child is a very emotional and propulsive plot, inherently. I am glad readers seem to find the book frenetic, but all that energy is wasted if there is no emotional investment in Sam and his search for his son. So I can’t just think about the action, the muscles, I have to think about the heart as well.

Do you outline your books extensively before you start or are you one of those writers who writes and then waits to see where things go?

I outline in some detail, but even after the outline is done I often get a new idea that is an improvement, so the outline is a living, breathing thing as well. I also re-outline when I’m two-thirds done, to be sure that there is an emotional payoff from all the plot lines and to be sure the story is as tight as it can be.

I read somewhere that The Weinstein Company has kept up the film option on your novel, Panic, and is now looking to adapt it into a television series. What do you think of that option? I know some writers, like Craig Johnson, who seem thrilled by how (at least so far) the television adaptation has been done on his books, while other authors like Robert Crais fight adaptations of his books. Do you have any thoughts along those lines?

No one forces me, or any other writer, to sell a film option on the books. If you don’t want to run the risk that the filmmakers may adapt your work in a way you don’t like, then you don’t sell the option. You know when you sell it that they will have to make some changes, just because film and TV are different media than books. Panic, Collision, and now Adrenaline have all been optioned, and are in varying stages of development, and I’m happy about that. It’s their movie or TV show, but it’s my book. The book is the book, and no adaptation changes that.

What kind of research did you do for this book? Do you have someone in law enforcement or espionage who you are able to show your books to in order to help keep things as accurate as possible?

I travel, a lot, to research the locales for the books. I have professional contacts that I can ask questions of, or show them scenes to vet. You meet a lot of interesting people this way, and as long as you’ve done your prep work so you’re not wasting your time, the experts are usually really happy to help.

Should readers read Adrenaline before this one? I notice you provide some backstory but would you hope readers start with that one or does it matter?

Since The Last Minute is a direct sequel to Adrenaline, yeah, I think readers will get the most out of Sam’s story if they read Adrenaline first. I do know of readers in Britain who read The Last Minute first and enjoyed it, and every single one of them that emailed me said they immediately went and read Adrenaline, not realizing they’d read the books out of order. I also wrote a e-book only short story that bridges the time between Adrenaline and The Last Minute, called Sam Capra’s Last Chance, which was fun to do. It’s not required at all to read it but it was an interesting experiment in e-publishing for readers. But for readers who come to The Last Minute first, I did try to give them information from the previous book without it being pedantic.

What did you learn from all the praise you got from Adrenaline? When I interviewed you for that one and asked about critical acclaim you wrote, “Adrenaline was the only book this summer to be both a Today Show and Good Morning America best summer read pick and an Amazon Best Books of July, and all that happened within a week.

It was amazing, and with all the other reviews it felt like winning the publicity Triple Crown. I have no control over how people respond to the book, but it was all very exciting and humbling.”

Looking back now can you take away anything from that experience beyond perhaps pressure to repeat that success?

People can’t buy a book they haven’t heard of, as my fellow author M.J. Rose says, so the attention is nice just because it makes people aware of the book. And it is exciting and humbling. But it doesn’t change the daily work of writing. You can’t believe the praise, or the damnations, you get. You just have to sit down and write the next book. I mean, it’s not all uncommon for a writer to get a ton of publicity for one book and then not get as much for the next one. I don’t worry about that because I try to worry about the one single part of the job I can control: the writing of the book. If I do that well, I feel, good tidings generally will follow and readers will stick with me. I mean, this is typical: I got some really great news on the book one day, and five minutes after getting off the phone I was scooping dog poop out of my yard. Balance is a good thing. I think, and you were working on the third in the series.

What are you working on currently? The next book in this series? Are your books still coming out earlier in England than in the U.S. due to your change in publishers? Last time I interviewed you this book was already done, I think, and you were working on the third in the series.

I am in the final rewrites on Sam Capra #3, and it will come out simultaneously in the U.S. and the U.K. in 2013, and have started Sam #4.

Have you given thought to how many books there will be in the Sam Capra series?

I’ll write about Sam as long as he interests me, and he interests readers. I have given some thought to the long-term shape of the series, but I don’t say, oh, there will be only seven books or twenty books. I do have a lot of ideas for Sam novels, so hopefully I will get to write them all.

Lastly, was there anything you wanted to say that I forgot to touch on? Perhaps something about Austin since you and I both live here? Is it a good town in which to be a

I do think Austin is a great town for writers; we have a lot of them here. But I grew up in Austin, and so I didn’t move here because it was a creative mecca; I was just lucky to live here.

About Scott Butki

Scott Butki was a newspaper reporter for more than 10 years before making a career change into education... then into special education. He has been working in mental health for the last ten years. He lives in Austin. He reads at least 50 books a year and has about 15 author interviews each year and, yes, unlike tv hosts he actually reads each one. He is an in-house media critic, a recovering Tetris addict and a proud uncle. He has written articles on practically all topics from zoos to apples and almost everything in between.

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