When it comes to churning out nail-biting suspense thrillers, you won’t find a better author than Joseph Finder, who dazzles yet again with his latest standalone novel, Judgment.
Having been a long admirer of Finder’s work (Guilty Minds is one of my all-time favorite thrillers), I struggled to cut my first interview with him down to just five questions, but ultimately managed to ask him about everything from how he came up with the plot idea for this story to when we might see Nick Heller again. Finder, whose latest work introduces a Massachusetts judge who finds herself being blackmailed when a recent moral misstep comes back to haunt her professional and personal life, was gracious with his answers–which you can see below.
Scroll down to read the Q&A, then make sure to order your copy of Judgment, in stores everywhere January 29th.
TRBS: Judgment is just the kind of fast-paced, suspense-filled thriller your readers have come to expect. How did you come up with the plot idea for this book, and what kind of research did you have to do before actually sitting down to write?
Finder: “All of my standalone novels involve ordinary people plunged into extraordinary circumstances. Something happens, often some small thing and their lives are turned upside down. I got to thinking about judges for some reason, and how respected they are in our society — and yet how vulnerable they are. They always have to be on their best behavior. So an idea presented itself: What if an ambitious, up-and-coming judge, who’s always played by the rules, never got a speeding ticket or a parking ticket for that matter, slipped up? What if she had a one-night-stand a thousand miles from home — and just when she thought it was over, it came back to ensnare her? It had to be a ‘she,’ because I think people judge women in these circumstances more harshly than men. So that’s really throwing a lot of rocks at your main character, which makes for an interesting narrative.
“The research for this book was really fascinating. I interviewed five judges, all of them women, including Superior Court judges, a federal judge, and one retired chief justice. All of them were deeply impressive people, great dedicated judges. Fair-minded and even-handed and deeply committed. The retired chief justice Margaret Marshall is an eminent and widely respected jurist, an amazing, seemingly indomitable force, and it was fascinating to explore the various pressures on her life.”
TRBS: What is your writing process like, and what advice do you have for new or aspiring authors?
Finder: “I start with a what-if? An intriguing premise. Something that makes my scalp tingle. What if a respected and ambitious judge makes one slip in her personal life and it turns out to entrap her in her professional life? That’s what drives me to start a novel. As for my process, I brainstorm for a few weeks, make notes, come up with the characters. I do my research, which is now mostly online and easy — and I used to have to pay researchers! —and make some more notes. Then I take the plunge, starting in on the draft. And I write, knowing stuff’s going to be cleaned up later, just getting it down. Some writers revise, some don’t. I definitely do. My best advice for new or aspiring writers is to read a lot. Uncle Steve King says it, so it’s true. You have to learn how these things, these novels, work. Take notes. Often you reach a point when you’re just starting where you’re reading a novel and thinking, This is crap. I could do so much better! I found I learned just as much from reading bad novels as from reading great ones. So: read a lot. And take notes.”
TRBS: You’ve written both series books and standalone thrillers. How are they different, from a writer’s perspective, and which is harder to write?
Finder: “Oh, I think a series is easier than standalones. Definitely. The only reason I keep doing standalones is that I keep thinking of ideas that could only work as standalone novels. Those are usually stories where someone’s life is upended. But they’re harder to do than a series entry.
“On the other hand, there’s also a great creative pleasure in the series novel. You can inhabit this character book after book, and the characterization can get more granular and specific and interesting. Before long you’ve created a character, over the course of the span of books, that’s fuller and more fleshed out than anything you can do in just one book.”
TRBS: Speaking of series . . . your last Nick Heller book was Guilty Minds, which came out back in 2016. That’s one of my favorite thrillers ever, and I still get regular emails, messages, Tweets, and DMs from Book Spy followers about that one, most of them asking when Heller might return. So, while I have you, when might Nick Heller return?
Finder: “So nice to hear your enthusiasm for Guilty Minds; thank you. I’m writing another Nick Heller right now, and I find that I really love being in his head. And his body, because he’s both tough and stubborn. And fearless.”
TRBS: Lastly, now that Judgment is set to hit bookstores, what’s next for you? Do you take time off or jump right into the next book?
Finder: “I started the Nick Heller book I’m writing now months ago. After I finished Judgment, I took maybe a week off, during which I read and thought about the next book. It doesn’t stop, but that’s OK, that’s the kind of life and work I chose. And I get to do.”
Praised as “one of today’s finest book reviewers” by New York Times bestselling author Gayle Lynds, Ryan Steck (“The Godfather of the thriller genre” — Ben Coes) has “quickly established himself as the authority on mysteries and thrillers” (Author A.J. Tata). Steck also works full-time as a freelance editor and pens a monthly thriller column for CrimeReads. For more information, be sure to follow him on Twitter and Facebook. He currently lives in Southwest Michigan with his wife and their six children.