Ahead of the highly-anticipated release of Enemy of the State, the sixteenth Mitch Rapp novel—and the third written by Kyle Mills—I was able to catch up with Mills by telephone while he was at home in Wyoming gearing up for his book tour.
To kick off the conversation, I knew that Mills had seen American Assassin at a private screening (as did I), so I was excited to ask him what he thought of the film (I thought it was awesome) and, specifically, what he thought of Dylan O’Brien playing Mitch Rapp.
“I loved it,” said Mills excitedly. “I thought they did a great job and that the characters really captured the essence of what Vince was going for. That’s what’s important. I don’t think specific plot points—or whether it took place in 1998 or whatever—was important. It was capturing the characters, and they achieved that.”
As for O’Brien taking on the role of Rapp, Mills told me, “I thought he was fantastic. I can’t imagine anyone else playing him after seeing the film.”
Switching gears, I asked Mills about his writing process and how he comes up with ideas for his books.
“I mostly just write 9-5 and don’t do anything too fancy. I sit around in my basement. I don’t think much about the next book. I might, like when I’m watching television or something, think of something and write that idea down and dump it in a folder…and then I forget them.”
Several years ago, after he signed his first three-book deal to continue Vince Flynn’s bestselling Mitch Rapp franchise, Mills told me in an interview (which I wrote for Life Sentence Mag) that he hoped to write a sequel to Kill Shot, the second prequel novel that Flynn wrote (after American Assassin).
As most readers know, Flynn passed away in 2013 after battling cancer, and never got to finish his planned prequel trilogy–leaving a five-year gap between Kill Shot and the next book (Transfer of Power), chronologically speaking, in the series.
While Mills wasn’t able to write that book as part of his original deal, I asked him if he had any interest in doing that now that he’s signed on for three more books.
“Absolutely. I would love to do that,” confirmed Mills. ” And I will float it for the book after I’m writing, but I don’t know. It seems like with the movie, with Dylan being a young guy, it’s something readers might like.”
I would personally love to see a sequel to Kill Shot and, apparently, I’m not alone.
“I get a lot of emails about this and it’s funny, after Mitch, the character I get asked the most about [from the early books] is Greta. So I would love to do that. I’ve never written a historical fiction thriller book before, so I’ll see if–after the next book that I’m working on right now–I can get anybody excited about it.”
Greta, for those who don’t remember, was the love interest of young Mitch Rapp in both American Assassin and Kill Shot. Because of how things are left, fans still aren’t sure what happened to her character.
As the conversation turned towards the many fantastic characters in Flynn’s universe, I couldn’t help but ask Mills who his favorite character is to write, after Rapp, of course.
“Honestly, now it’s Grisha–probably because he’s my character.”
Indeed, Grisha Azarov is perhaps the best new character the Rappverse (the fun term Mills uses when talking about the universe Mitch Rapp operates in) has seen in nearly a decade. A highly-skilled Russian assassin, Mills introduced Grisha in last year’s Order to Kill, giving Mitch Rapp a truly formidable opponent for the first time in his career.
As we continued to talk about favorite characters and the Rappverse in general, I asked Mills to expand on the topic–especially since in his new book, Enemy of the State, he brought back some fan-favorite characters whom readers haven’t seen in years.
“Vince left such a rich universe of characters that there is a lifetime of them in there. He left characters that were so interesting and you wonder what happened to them,” said Mills, careful not to provide any spoilers about the book itself.
With this being his third book in this series, I asked the author if he was more comfortable writing Flynn’s characters now than he was in the beginning, and followed that up by asking which of the three books he’s contributed to the series was the most fun to write.
“Yes, much,” said Mills in regards to him being more comfortable now. “I had no idea how The Survivor would be received. The fact that fans were fired up about it, and I think the fact that the fans embraced me as being able to write the Mitch Rapp stuff was really important. It’s possible that even if, you know, I wrote a terrific book, that it wouldn’t have mattered–that they weren’t ready to embrace somebody else writing these books. But that hasn’t been the case.”
There is no doubt that Vince’s loyal readers have embraced Mills and what he’s done to keep one of the most iconic characters the thriller genre has ever known alive and well. As for which book was the most fun to write so far, Mills said it was Order to Kill.
“The Survivor was really stressful for me, and Order to Kill really came together. I felt like I understood how to do it, and I felt a little freer with bringing in some of my own style. I was very nervous about that with the first book, and there’s a little more humor and things like that in Order to Kill, and then again in Enemy of the State.”
When reading, it’s obvious that Mills has interjected a tad more of himself into these books, while at the same time staying very true to Flynn’s characters and the type of thrillers he was known for writing. I personally love what Mills brings to the franchise, and hope we continue to see more of his style in these books moving forward.
“I think it’s kind of organic in the sense that you cannot sustain the forgery thing forever,” said Mills, talking about how he tried to emulate Flynn’s style in The Survivor. He uses the word “forgery” because he wrote that book hoping that readers who didn’t know that Flynn only wrote three pages wouldn’t be able to tell where his own work begins.
In reality, Flynn left no notes and wasn’t one to outline his novels, which gave Mills little to work with. To make matters more difficult, Flynn, who Mills says was “at the very top of his game when he passed away,” had continued a story arc from the previous novel. So not only did Mills need to try to write using Flynn’s voice, he had to do his best to figure out where the author was taking the story and try to match him step for step.
It was a tall order, but Mills delivered in a big way. The Survivor was a #1 New York Times bestseller in all three fiction categories and was widely praised by fans and critics. Still, while that book was a huge success, the Wyoming-based author is still more comfortable now that he’s allowed more of himself into the books.
“I think now what you’ve seen with Enemy of the State is that it’s always where I wanted to land. It’s still very much a Vince Flynn thriller, but I’m not super confined by sentence structure and those little details like word choice and all of that. And then, again, it’s sort of like the movie. The key is to capture the characters, and if you can do that, I think it opens up a little bit of freedom at hand for what you can do with them.
“So that was the goal, and Enemy of the State is essentially a sustainable style that I can write in. Eventually, I think it would drive you crazy to–with every sentence you wrote–to wonder, ‘Would Vince have written it like this, or would he have put that adjective somewhere else?’”
With the recent news that Steve Berry was set to write his first novel from Cotton Malone’s point of view, something other authors–like Lee Child, who penned several first-person narrative thrillers–have done from time to time, I asked Mills if he’d ever consider writing a novel entirely from Rapp’s point of view. He couldn’t have been more adamant, providing a resounding nope.
“No. I think there are definitely readers–and I think, strangely, a large number of them–who don’t like first-person thrillers. Second, I don’t like to cheat when I write first-person, and by that I mean I don’t like to switch into the third-person if I’m writing a first-person book. And I don’t like to write in first-person from multiple characters’ standpoints.”
When we circled back around to the idea, Mills added, “To me, a first-person book is told from the viewpoint of one character–guy or girl. So to do that back and forth would be to completely change the structure of a Vince Flynn thriller because I would have to have Mitch Rapp in every single scene.”
There’s no question that putting Rapp in every scene would drastically reduce which characters Mills could work into the story, so count me among those glad that he’s not planning to try that now or anytime in the future. That topic, however, did provide an opportunity for me to ask him which characters he thought are essential to the franchise.
“To me,” answered Mills without hesitation, “Irene Kennedy, Scott Coleman, and then, of course, Mitch Rapp are the foundation of these books.”
That statement should thrill fans, as most would agree that those characters are critical to making these books feel authentic moving forward. It was one of many moments throughout the interview that Mills demonstrated a thorough understanding of what fans are looking for with these books–plus it opened the door for us to delve deeper into where these characters are at and where they might be headed.
I asked Mills if he imagined Irene Kennedy–for whatever reason–leaving her post as director of the CIA anytime soon, to which he quickly responded, “No, not at all.”
We then moved on to discuss Mitch Rapp himself and, more specifically, the way Mills has played up the fact that Mitch is a total badass…but without going overboard, of course.
Throughout the last three books, there have been several times where it’s been made obvious that other characters within the Rappverse think highly of Mitch in regards to what he’s capable of doing to those who cross him or dare to stand in his way. In the new book, there’s a great scene where someone is ordered to ram the locked gate at Rapp’s home, and they’re terrified to do so because, well, it’s Mitch Rapp’s gate.
The poor character would rather disobey a direct order than mess with Rapp.
It’s fun to see other characters viewing Rapp the way we see him as readers and fans of the series, and I asked Mills about that and whether or not he does that on purpose.
“That is definitely a technique I like. I think when someone acts really badass, that’s one thing. But when it comes to swagger, I don’t picture Mitch Rapp with swagger. I think a really interesting way to develop a character like that is through other people’s eyes. So that’s how you get the swagger–people see him that way, but he doesn’t necessarily see himself that way.”
When asked how he sees Mitch, Mills didn’t hold back.
“To me, Rapp sees himself as a guy who does what needs to be done. He doesn’t like it, doesn’t not like it, it just has to be done. So I like viewing him through other people’s eyes.”
Truthfully, the “swagger” Mills talks about is one of the many things he brings to the series. He offers a fresh take without reinventing the wheel. At times, it feels like he writes these books from a fan’s standpoint, and he did confirm that he’s a fan of the series himself, which is why he works so hard to get even the smallest details right.
As the conversation moved towards the future and what’s in store for Rapp down the road, I asked Mills if, in twenty years, Rapp was more likely to follow in the footsteps of Irene Kennedy or Stan Hurley.
“I see him more like Hurley. Taking on a sidekick and bailing out only when he has to or something like that. When he’s sixty-four, yeah, more like Hurley for sure.” Mills was quick, however, to point out that he has no intention of that day coming anytime soon.
To wrap things up, I asked Mills about the next book–which is still untitled–and what fans can expect in the seventeenth Mitch Rapp thriller.
“The next book is probably one of the most large-scale geopolitical thrillers in the series. Lots of big things at stake, and Mitch having to operate in unfamiliar territory on a very grand scale.”
If that doesn’t get you excited, I don’t know what else will.
Special thanks to Kyle Mills for taking the time to talk about all things Mitch Rapp. The one major takeaway I had from our conversation was just how much he cares about not letting Vince Flynn’s fans down. Each time he talked about Vince, his family, or the characters he created, Mills (who is both very smart and very funny) was always respectful and often spoke with admiration. Come Tuesday, there’s going to be a lot of happy Mitch Rapp fans, as Mills’ latest work is perfect for longtime readers of this series.
Enemy of the State, the epic sixteenth installment in Vince Flynn’s bestselling Mitch Rapp franchise, and one of the year’s must-read thrillers, comes out everywhere on September 5th, 2017. Make sure to head out and get your copy as soon as possible!
Praised as “one of today’s finest book reviewers” by New York Times bestselling author Gayle Lynds, Ryan Steck is the editor-in-chief of The Real Book Spy, and one of the thriller genre’s most well-recognized critics. He currently lives in Southwest Michigan with his wife and their five children.