10 Questions with John Altman


1.        Mr. Altman, thank you for this opportunity to be interviewed for my blog. Your new spy thriller, DISPOSABLE ASSET, comes out on September 1. Please tell us a bit more about this book.

The book is about a CIA assassin who kills an American defector in Moscow and then finds herself on the run from the Kremlin, the Russian mafia, and her own agency. Thematically, it’s also about Edward Snowden – with whom the defector shares some characteristics – and the modern surveillance state.

2.        Who is Cassie Bradbury and how did you come up with her character?

Cassie was directly inspired by La Femme Nikita and The Little Drummer Girl. But really she represents a side of me – as does every other character in the book. Every character in any story, I think, represents a facet of the person who wrote it.

3.        How much is real and how much is fiction about what you cover in DISPOSABLE ASSET?

The story is entirely fictional, although parts have been inspired by reality – Snowden, Putin, the CIA’s history of Dirty Tricks. The tactics and equipment used in the high-tech manhunt to find Cassie – satellite cameras, facial recognition software, parabolic microphones, remote accessing of cell phones without users’ permission, et cetera – are also real.

4.        How is this novel different from other spy thrillers in this genre?

I like female antiheroes, which is unusual but not unprecedented. I may also place more emphasis on character, and less on plot, than the usual spy thriller author.

5.        How do your write? Outline or not?

No outline – I make it up as I go. But I do have major plot beats in mind before I start writing, and then aim for them. And there is a lot of rewriting, over and over again.

6.        How important do you think are reviews in the success of a book?

Unfortunately, as I tend to do better with reviews than with sales, not very important! Critical darlings are rarely bestsellers. And many great bestsellers have been critically panned.

7.        What is your greatest satisfaction as a writer? Greatest disappointment?

Having a book, a chapter, a scene, or even just a single line turn out well is the greatest satisfaction. The disappointments are legion – everything that DOESN’T turn out as desired, which is most of it.

8.       What was it like to work as a musician? What instrument do you play?

I’m an amateur musician – I play a bunch of different instruments with equal ineptness. The musician thing is something that was in my original author bio and just won’t go away.

9.       What are your favorite pastimes?

I spend most of time these days either writing or raising my two young children. What free time I do have is spent reading, or watching TV or going to movies. I’m still mourning the hole in my life left by the end of Mad Men.

10.      What is your next book going to be about?

I can’t tell you while I’m working on it – that takes all the juice out of it for me!