Friday, July 31, 2009

The Lost Throne by Chris Kuzneski

I was recently contacted to review The Lost Throne by Chris Kuzneski. I hated turning it down, but my TBR pile is threatening to become the highest mountain in the world, and I didn't want Chris to wait so long for a review.

I have been given permission to post this Q & A session with the author. For more information about Chris and his books, you can visit him online at You'll find reviews and an excerpt from The Lost Throne there.

A Conversation with CHRIS KUZNESKI

Q: You’ve had an interesting career as an author, from self-publishing The Plantation to becoming famous overseas and now making it big in the United States. Can you tell us about the twists and turns?

Obviously my career has taken some unexpected detours along the way. I taught middle school and high school English for five years before I had saved enough money to take a year off and write a novel. I wasn’t sure if my effort would pay off or not, but I know I would have hated myself if I hadn’t tried. Unfortunately, at the end of the year, I had a manuscript, The Plantation, but no agent to represent it.

After being turned down by every agency under the sun, I decided to take a different approach. I figured if anyone could identify with my predicament, it would be other writers who had gone through the same process at the beginning of their careers. Hoping they would be supportive, I wrote personal letters to several of my favorite authors, asking them to read a print-on-demand version of The Plantation. Amazingly, most of them agreed to do it, and before I knew it, the endorsements started rolling in. And I’m talking big-name authors like James Patterson, Nelson DeMille, Lee Child, Douglas Preston, James Rollins, and many more. Needless to say, I was stunned and overjoyed.

After that, I got an incredible agent (Scott Miller at Trident Media) and started working on my next novel, Sign of the Cross. Just about the same time I finished it, Dan Brown released The Da Vinci Code. Thanks to him, publishers around the world were desperate for the next big religious thriller, and my book fit their needs. In less than a year, I went from being self-published to being translated into over twenty languages.

Q: You alternate between two mysteries throughout the book, seemingly different stories involving Interpol Homicide Director Nick Dial and ex-Special Forces operatives Jonathon Payne and D.J. Jones. As a storyteller, was it difficult to keep the pacing and the plotting of the book going while writing both sides of the story?

Believe it or not, I think it was easier to write two separate storylines than one cohesive plot, especially for a novel of this scale. In my mind, dual plots gave me a lot more flexibility as a writer. If my three characters had been in the same city, following the same clues at the same time, their movement would have been a juggling act, a constant battle to keep them out of each other’s way. Personally, I think that would have become claustrophobic—not only for me, but also for my audience. By writing two plotlines, I had the freedom to alter the tempo any time I wanted. For instance, if Nick Dial had an introspective chapter, I could follow it with an action scene for Payne and Jones. Or vice versa. Of course, the biggest problem was bringing the two storylines together at the end of the book. Once I figured out how to do that, the rest was easy.

Q: Where did you first learn of archeologist Heinrich Schliemann? How did his story provide the inspiration for The Lost Throne?

I was a student at the University of Pittsburgh, taking a course on the Greek Classics. One of the lectures focused on Heinrich Schliemann’s life, particularly how he used The Iliad to discover the lost city of Troy. Or, how he didn’t. That was the incredible thing about Schliemann. No one knows what to believe because he was such a brilliant con man. Half the time he was taking credit for things that he didn’t do, the other half he was denying things that he actually did. As an author, that gave me a lot of fodder to work with.

Q: While Schliemann plays an integral role in The Lost Throne, much of his life was even too bizarre to include in your book. What was the strangest Schliemann story you uncovered?

Anytime Schliemann would invent a new fact about himself—for instance, he claimed he had dinner with the President—he would actually change his diary to cover his tracks. Sometimes he even glued in additional pages if he didn’t have enough room for all the fictional details. Keep in mind, I’m talking about his personal diary, something only he got to read during his lifetime. How bizarre is that? I’m not sure if he did it to help keep all of his tales straight, or he did it because he knew scholars would read his diary after he had died. Whatever the reason, it spoke volumes about the man and his ego.

Q: Are you a student of Russian history? How much of one did you become while writing this book?

For some reason, I’ve always been fascinated with the city of Saint Petersburg. Even though it’s located in Russia, it has a Western feel to it. Most of its architecture is French or Western European. The city is surrounded by water like Venice. And compared to Moscow, the populace is widely diverse. That being said, it is still governed by Russia, which means it’s a dangerous place for Payne and Jones, two ex-American soldiers, to be searching for an assassin. One false move, and they’d be in a world of trouble.

In order to make my setting realistic, I had to do a lot of research. One of the coolest parts of the book—at least from what I’ve been told—is an extended chase scene through the streets of Saint Petersburg. To make it accurate, I printed dozens of pictures of the buildings and landmarks and attached them to a street map of the city. Therefore, when my characters ran down a street, I knew exactly what they would be looking at.

By the time I was done, I felt like I could drive a taxi in that city. Who knows? If this book doesn’t sell, I might learn Russian and go over there for work.

Q: Have you ever been to Greece?

Yes, I visited for a week and saw most of the major sites. After spending a few days in Athens, I toured the countryside, stopping at Delphi, Mycenae, Sparta, Olympia, and many towns in between. I also took a boat to some of the islands in the Aegean, which was probably my favorite part of the trip. The islands were simply gorgeous.

Q: How do you conduct your research for a book like this? With locales and characters spanning the globe, how do you ensure you get things right?

Thankfully, my books are fiction. So if I screw something up, I get to claim that I did it on purpose. I mean, talk about no pressure!

That being said, I was trained as a journalist, so I always strive to get things right. Back when I was in college, that meant dozens of trips to the library, digging through the stacks, trying to find multiple sources to support your conclusions. Nowadays, I can do the same thing with the touch of a button. Without the Internet, I couldn’t have written a book like The Lost Throne—at least not in a year’s time. A decade ago, it would’ve taken me a minimum of three years to do all the research.

Q: What was the most interesting thing you learned while writing this book?

Even though I had heard of Mount Athos, I didn’t know much about its history or its role in the Orthodox faith. But the more I researched that place, the more I realized that it needed to be in my story. It’s almost like a separate country inside of Greece—similar to the relationship between Vatican City and Italy, but not as distinct.

Q: Whereas many thriller writers feature an alpha-male protagonist, you have three in The Lost Throne. Was that at all troublesome while you were writing?

Since I’m an alpha male, it wasn’t tough at all. I pretty much just described myself in every scene… Kidding, just kidding!

Actually, in all seriousness, I try not to think of my characters in black-and-white roles, like alpha-male or heroine. Writers who do that tend to write stereotypical characters, and that’s something I want to avoid. So in my mind, I wasn’t creating three alpha males, I was simply creating three different characters.

Q: Do you identify with one of them more than the other two?

The thing I love the most about my books is the witty banter between Payne and Jones. Those guys definitely have my sense of humor. Sometimes, especially late at night, I crack myself up writing their dialogue. Of course, the next day I read it again and realize half the stuff doesn’t make any sense! Oh well, I’m the same way in real life. I rarely make any sense, which probably explains why I’m single.

Q: Payne and Jones belonged to a military group known as the MANIACS. Does such an organization exist?

During times of war, the U.S. Military has experimented with all-star squads. That is, taking their best soldiers, regardless of their branch, and throwing them together on important missions. Over the years, these squads have gone by many names, and some of them still operate today.

In my novels, Payne and Jones are former members of the MANIACs, a Special Forces squad that they once commanded. MANIAC is an acronym that stands for Marines, Army, Navy, Intelligence, Air Force, and Coast Guard.

Q: Do you plan to continue your books as one series, or would you like to spin Dial off into one of his own?

From the moment I created Nick Dial in Sign of the Cross, I realized he had spin-off potential—whether I wrote it myself or had someone co-write it. I might have to give Clive Cussler a call and ask him how he launched his NUMA Files series.

Out of curiosity, do you have Clive’s number? Seriously. Do you have it?

Q: What are you working on next?

I’m close to finishing the next Payne/Jones thriller. It’s called The Prophecy, and it focuses on the lost work of Nostradamus. Putnam will be releasing in Summer 2010.

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Katie Grinch
Publicity Manager

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