American Blood by Ben Sanders is out today, and he kindly stopped by to answer a few of my questions about it! Please give him a warm welcome!
Will you tell us a bit about American Blood and what inspired you to write it?
American Blood is set in Santa Fe and Albuquerque, New Mexico. It’s about a former New York City police officer named Marshall Grade, who is living in witness protection after he botches an undercover operation with the mob. His instructions (obviously) are to keep a low profile, but his past catches up with him when he becomes involved in a search for a missing local woman. I’ve always loved character driven fiction, especially thrillers, so I knew early on that the story would have someone like Marshall at the helm. In terms of the setting, my first three novels took place in Auckland, New Zealand, so I wanted to write something that had a radically different backdrop.
What makes Marshall Grade such a compelling character? Why do you think readers will root for him?
Like any good fictional hero, he takes unilateral action in the face of danger in order to help other people. As a reader, I always found that kind of trait appealing, so hopefully people will want to spend a lot of time with him. He has an interesting background too: being a former undercover cop, he’s accomplished in the art of dealing to awful people, but he’s essentially self-taught, which I think gives him a nice point of difference. He has a sense of humour, and is very particular and obsessive in many respects. I had a lot of fun writing about him, so hopefully readers find him equally entertaining.
What kind of research did you do for the book, and what is your writing process like?
I spent two months in New Mexico and New York researching locations, so that was a great excuse for some travel. I wrote the first draft in about three or four months, and then spent another four months honing and revising. I’m one of those writers who never plots anything, as I find it takes me twenty or thirty thousand words before I know what all the characters are aiming for. On writing days, I walk my dog for an hour in the morning to get all the ideas moving, and then begin work around ten am. I always start by reading the previous day’s output, and then I attempt to move the story forward in a logical manner.
You have a background in engineering, but have you always wanted to be a writer? Will you tell us more about yourself and your background?
I’ve wanted to be a writer since I started reading crime novels at the age of about thirteen or fourteen. I wrote for a hobby in the evenings after school, and I still have my first unpublished manuscript in a shoebox under my bed. I’ve aspired for a long time to work as a writer, but I was worried it just wouldn’t be possible. When I left high school I studied engineering at university, and wrote three crime novels which were published here in New Zealand. After I graduated, I worked as a structural engineer for two years, and then when I got the contract for American Blood at the end of 2013 I was able to switch to writing full-time.
What’s one of the first things that you can remember writing?
Probably that unpublished first manuscript that still lives under my bed. It’s a terrible story, but working on it night after night for eight or ten months taught me that I do genuinely love writing.
Why crime/suspense? What do you enjoy most about writing, and reading, in the genre?
I like stories about interesting, relatable people in horrible situations, so crime is an inevitable consequence of putting characters in great danger. Suspense is what I love most about the crime genre – it’s crucial to all stories, but I find it’s most potent when characters have violent, conflicting ambitions.
What are some of your favorite authors? Is there anyone that has particularly influenced you?
My favorite crime authors are James Ellroy, Elmore Leonard, Lee Child and Michael Connelly. Child and Connelly got me hooked on the genre when I was a teenager, and Ellroy and Leonard demonstrated to me the importance of style. My first attempt at fiction was a bit of a stylistic mishmash, so it was a good lesson to discover the importance of consistency, basic as that may seem.
If you could experience one book again for the first time, which one would it be?
THE DAY OF THE JACKAL by Frederick Forsyth. I read it when I was eleven, and I thought it was amazing, because it appeared to contain illegal knowledge – I did not know people were allowed to write about the things Frederick Forsyth wrote about. It was the first thriller I read, and it opened up a whole new world of fiction to me.
What are you currently reading?
UNDERWORLD by Don DeLillo. It’s enormous, but enormously good.
What’s next for you? Is there anything else you’d like to share?
I’m currently working on the sequel to AMERICAN BLOOD, so hopefully that will be released toward the end of next year.
Keep up with Ben: Website
About American Blood:
In Ben Sanders’s American Blood, a former undercover cop now in witness protection finds himself pulled into the search for a missing woman; film rights sold to Warner Bros with Bradley Cooper attached to star and produce.
After a botched undercover operation, ex-NYPD officer Marshall Grade is living in witness protection in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Marshall’s instructions are to keep a low profile: the mob wants him dead, and a contract killer known as the Dallas Man has been hired to track him down. Racked with guilt over wrongs committed during his undercover work, and seeking atonement, Marshall investigates the disappearance of a local woman named Alyce Ray.
Members of a drug ring seem to hold clues to Ray’s whereabouts, but hunting traffickers is no quiet task. Word of Marshall’s efforts spreads, and soon the worst elements of his former life, including the Dallas Man, are coming for him.
Written by a rising New Zealand star who has been described as “first rate,” this American debut drops a Jack Reacher-like hero into the landscape of No Country for Old Men.