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The Fascination Of Mystery And Chaos
Eric Van Lustbader
interviewed by Cristopher Hennessey-DeRose

When Eric Van Lustbader's first fantasy novel, The Ring Of Five Dragons, hit the stores in 2001, the author perhaps better known as the man behind international thrillers like White Ninja, The Miko, and The Sunset Warrior, to name but a few, delved into the world of the fantasy series, in this case, The Pearl, proving that in that genre as well that he is indeed a force to be reckoned with, and a man of many passions. In 2004, he also tried his hand at carrying on the legacy of Robert Ludlum's character of Jason Bourne in his novel, The Bourne Legacy. This interview was conducted shortly after the release of the movie The Bourne Supremacy, and the release of Lustbader's own 'Bourne' novel.
Eric Van Lustbader
What kind of research did you do for the tribal dynamic, especially for The Veil Of A Thousand Tears (2002)?

I have a good friend who's an Arabist. He travels to the Middle East all the time, speaks perfect Arabic and has even lived in several countries there. I spent a lot of time with him getting to know how Arabs think - especially the tribal, nomadic Arabs like the Saudis. It was quite an experience and affected deeply how I depicted the tribes in Veil.

Several authors have found that they needed to write under pseudonyms in order to stretch out creatively, such as going from international thrillers to fantasy, how have you've been able to avoid this?

I think my fan-base is wide and varied enough that they've become used to my going back and forth. After all, I started writing fantasy with The Sunset Warrior trilogy (that subsequently became a series of five novels) before writing The Ninja, my first international bestseller.

How did the writing of Mistress Of The Pearl (2003) differ from the novels before it?

It differed significantly because in the middle of the first draft, my father fell ill and died. I thought I'd be prepared for it (he was ninety and had had a quadruple bypass some years earlier - an operation from which he almost died), but I was wrong. In the aftermath of his passing, I began to think about love - all the forms of love, not simply romantic love - the love a child has for his parents, love between siblings. The result was that the final version of Mistress is underpinned by an exploration of all the forms love can take - some to disastrous effect. After all, which of us has not has his heart broken or had broken the heart of someone who loved him?

What would your readers be surprised to learn about you?

I've had three careers. I was a public school teacher in New York City. I worked in the music business for 15 years with such greats as Elton John, Bruce Springsteen, John Lennon, etc. Through those first two careers, however, I never stopped writing, so I guess it was fated that I become a published author.

What were the genre novels that you read as a youngster?

All the Raymond Chandler mysteries; Lord Of The Rings; Dune, of course - Frank Herbert's exploration of political and religious in-fighting was of great interest to me, a sociology major in college.

What's your opinion of David Lynch's version of Dune?

The film was dreadful, quite unwatchable, and I didn't care for the recent TV miniseries. I am of the opinion that some stories cannot be adequately filmed. Dune is one of them.

Is there anything new for us to learn about the hermaphroditic technomages, the Gyrgon?

Tons. You don't expect me to tell you, though, do you?

Are any of your characters based on anyone you know?

Any good writer processes everything he or she sees, hears, loves, hates and fears. These everyday observations get processed and in some form or other come out through the fingertips. I suppose there are bits and pieces of people I know in my characters, but none are actually based on people I know. Rather, they're people I'd like to know!

Some downright bad things happen to your most beloved characters. Does a reader need to actually like a character to be so affected by his/her downfall?

Absolutely. That's one of the keys to good fiction writing. I have no patience for so-called 'great' storytellers who nevertheless have no idea how to create a real three-dimensional character. Why should I care what happens to any character if I don't believe he or she could exist and don't empathise with the character?

You've gone from thrillers to fantasy; any interest in science fiction?

I'm not big on describing hardware; I much prefer exploring the ways in which people interact.

It can be argued SF isn't just about hardware; it can be more about ideas?

Of course - Philip K. Dick is a prime example of this, but hardware does play a huge role in most SF, which seeks to predict (and warn about the dangers of) the future. Fantasy, on the other hand, is more concerned with teaching us the lessons of loyalty, morality, friendship and love - Lustbader's Four Pillars of Fantasy.

Do you have any pet peeves about the genre?

Oh, yes. 'Epic fantasy' is totally without humour - except for my books, of course! In the beginning, I had the devil's own time convincing my editor to accept Thigpen. But in my opinion without a bit of comic relief, all the action and angst becomes dull and boring.

Good point. What do you think about comic-fantasy and all those genre spoofs?

I'm for anything that's good.

What are your plans for your next book - will it be fantasy or thriller?

At the moment, I'm at work on an outline for a new thriller that has me very excited.

I noted on your website that 20th Century Fox has revived their interest in your novel, The Ninja. Who would your choice be for casting?

Well, Nicholas Linnear is half-Japanese, so I would say Keanu Reeves, because he's the right age and he has the right look.

What can you tell us about writing The Bourne Legacy?

I can tell you it was a heckuva lot of fun to write, that I enjoyed every single minute of it, and that I'm extremely proud of it. In fact, it's the thriller I've been wanting to write all my career: It is non-stop action, but befitting the character of Jason Bourne it's also deeply, deeply emotional.

How did knowing Robert Ludlum as a friend affect the way you wrote Legacy?

I know Jason Bourne inside and out. I don't even have to think which way he'd react in a situation - I simply know. And wherever Bob is now, I know he's as thrilled and proud as I am that his creation has been Bourne again.

Do you have a personal favourite of Ludlum's 'Bourne' novels?

The Bourne Identity was Bob's best novel, period.

What is it about Jason Bourne that makes readers want to continue following his exploits?

First off, he's a tragic figure. He's lost an entire family - wife and two children. Secondly, he's a man of tremendous integrity immersed in a world of treachery and double-dealing. Finally, he's a man who cannot remember his past. I think this makes him fascinating and, in a way, unknowable. The reader cannot wait to be drawn into his next adventure, because it's sure to reveal another piece of the puzzle that is his former life.

What was writing a post-9/11 espionage thriller like - did you approach it any differently?

Of course... The world is always changing, and your writing has to reflect that. It's interesting to me that after 9/11 the thriller reader wants to learn about the people who, for whatever reason, want to oppose us. I think very little is really known about Islam and Islamic fundamentalists in this country, and so there are a lot of misconceptions. Part of what I wanted to do when I sat down to plot out The Bourne Legacy was to give form and meaning by way of both background and well-rounded characters to those people who were opposing Jason Bourne. I want readers to learn without even know they're doing it.

Do you feel Matt Damon was an accurate portrayal [in The Bourne Identity movie]?

I never would have thought of Damon as Bourne, but much to my surprise he created a real-life, flesh-and-blood Jason Bourne right in front of our eyes - kudos to him, Tony Gilroy (the screenwriter) and Doug Liman (the director). I understand that the second film, The Bourne Supremacy is even better.

Is there anything you'd like to say to 'speculative fiction' fandom at large?

It seems to me that back in the day speculative fiction fandom was more accepting of genre-busting books. Nowadays, everything in the genre is sub-specialised, i.e. fantasy, epic fantasy, hard science fiction, etc. I think this is a shame, because speculative fiction was born from brilliant writers bent on breaking out of the conventional genres to which they'd been bound for decades.

Does that mean you're opposed to 'genre' labels, as some writers are?

Absolutely. People should approach a book for what it is, not seek to put it in a category first and allow that to decide whether or not to read it.

What made you want to make the jump from thriller to starting your own fantasy series, The Pearl?

The question of technology versus spirituality, which is the core theme of The Pearl series was simply too big and complex to be able to do in anything but a fantasy series.

Going back to your first novel, The Sunset Warrior, what can you tell us about the writing of it, and the inspiration behind it?

I'd loved SF and fantasy ever since high school. One day just after I'd graduated college, I ran into an old high school buddy who I hadn't seen in years. It turned out that he was writing a western series for Avon Books. I thought: Well, if he can do it, so can I! I wrote it on an old manual typewriter my parents had given me for a HS graduation present. I worked so hard and long on it, my father came to my door one day and made me take a vacation!

It seems to me Sirens (1981) is heavier on the psychological aspects of a thriller. Would you agree?

I was a sociology major at Columbia and at one point was going to become a psychologist. I love dissecting people's motivations - there are always so many layers, and most of them are contradictory.

With White Ninja, did the erotic content provide any sort of difficulty in its publishing?

Not at all.

Also, with White Ninja, what made you choose to explore the bad guys' psyche as much as its hero?

Why shouldn't I? Villains are always more interesting to me than heroes. Evil is always more fascinating to write about than good. Besides, the better you get to know the villain, the more frightening he or she becomes.

Having worked in music industry, what sort of music do you listen to while writing?

Right now I'm listening to Franz Ferdinand. The soundtrack to Lost In Translation is awesome. Moloko. Bel Canto. Calexico. Paul Oakenfold. An eclectic bunch, and so many more... I must have 20,000 CDs!

Does the mood of certain types of music help with inspiration or concentration?

Of course! I have to match the right music with the right mood. It's all a matter of 'feel'.

What's the continuing appeal of the oriental themes/culture that you have such a passion for?

The eastern way of life - that is, to let go of everything and accept the chaotic nature of the universe is the polar opposite of western thought, which seeks (and, of course, fails) to control everything.

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