Monday, February 1, 2021

Paul Vidich

Paul Vidich’s fourth novel, The Mercenary, is now out from Pegasus Books. His debut novel, An Honorable Man, was selected by Publishers Weekly as a Top 10 Mystery and Thriller in 2016. It was followed the next year by The Good Assassin. His third novel, The Coldest Warrior, was widely praised in England and America, earning strong reviews from The Wall Street Journal and The Financial Times.

My Q&A with Vidich:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

My latest novel is The Mercenary. A mercenary is a soldier who works for profit – not honor, glory, or in service of his country. I chose this title because it suggests a world in which ethics are set aside and money is all that matters. It suggests a tear in the moral fabric of patriotism and service. My goal with the title is to pique potential readers’ interest so they pick the book up to see what it’s about. The title operates like lighting in a room – it provides atmosphere and shading and invites the visitor in.

What's in a name?

I put great weight on a character’s name. I usually try several before I settle on one that feels right for the story. Names suggest a great deal about a person – origin, language, ethnicity, and readers bring to the name their own assumptions. Aleksander Garin, the novel’s protagonist, is usually referred to just as Garin, a name with deep roots in Russian culture. Erast Garin was one of Russia’s great stage actors. Nikolai Garin-Mikhailovsky wrote popular novels. And the protagonist in Chekhov’s story, ‘Ward 6.’ Dr. Ragin, a perfect anagram of Garin. But Garin is also a name that appears in France, South America, England and elsewhere. The name has an ambiguous provenance, which is what I wanted to achieve with a character who hides who he really is, and works in the shadow world of spies.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

I was not a big reader as a teenager, but the books I did read were adventure stories. I was drawn to Graham Greene, John Le Carré, some of Rudyard Kipling, and Joseph Conrad. These books bring great writing and empathetic characters into the service of a compelling story – usually in an exotic setting. My teenage self would not be at all surprised by the book I’ve written. I, like many authors, write the type of books that we like to read.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

I research a book for six months before I begin writing. In that time, I develop the characters, establish the setting, and come to know what story I want to tell – and what themes I want to explore. When I first put pen to paper (I write everything long hand in notebooks) I know how the book will end. Sometimes the end will change in later drafts, but I always have the North Star of an ending that guides the writing.

Having said that, there is more at stake in a novel’s ending than in the opening pages. A novel’s opening will draw the reader into the book’s world, and most readers are forgiving of the novel’s first pages as long as the story offers promise. An ending, however, has more at stake. A good ending brings a story together and pays off the patient reader’s eighteen or twenty hours with the book. A bad ending, a trite ending, a tired ending, an ending that doesn’t satisfy, can ruin a good book. So, there is a lot at stake. Although I know how my novel will end when I begin writing, it is a tricky thing to pull it off. I fuss over the final pages until I am satisfied. As I like to say, a book’s last impression is its lasting impression.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

My character’s biographical details are quite different from my own. I don’t rely on my life to come up with story lines, plots, or characters. I do, however, bring a moral vision to my novels that gets expressed in the opinions of my characters. I write literary spy novels that deal with the nature of justice, honor, betrayal, friendship, and trust. My characters embody different and often contradictory sides of those themes. My characters don’t resemble me, but their opinions and struggles are ones that I ponder. The world of spies is a Petri dish for the deceptions of human relations, where love can be expendable, betrayal a form of honesty, lies a legitimate currency for good, and the crimes of bad men in the service of good causes get excused.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

Movies. I spent my college years studying movies and the ones I adored still cast a shadow on my writing: The Third Man, Lawrence of Arabia, It Happened One Night, North By Northwest and Psycho. I began writing novels thinking it was a good path to a career as a screenwriter, which in turn, I thought would be a way to direct movies. Happily, I never got to screenwriting, and stopped with novels, but movies have always fascinated me.
Visit Paul Vidich's website.

--Marshal Zeringue