“Rambo meets Breaking Bad, but for good reasons.” That is how New York Times bestselling author Bob Mayer described his latest thriller, New York Minute, to me earlier this year, and he was right on the money.
A graduate of West Point and former Green Beret, Mayer published Eyes of the Hammer, the first novel in a franchise that would later become known as his “Green Beret series,” back in 1991. Since then, he’s written more than 75 books, across a number of genres—including thrillers, sci-fi, and even nonfiction—selling over five million copies around the world.
His latest effort, though, might be his best work yet, as New York Minute is one hell of a rip-roaring ride through the streets of New York City during the summer of 1977 . . . it’s also a prelude to his bestselling Green Beret series, with nonstop action and rich, vivid descriptions that help transport readers back to ’77 during the infamous Blackout. New York Minute should find its way onto thriller enthusiasts’ TBR lists this year as one of the top beach reads available.
Just ahead of the book’s release, Mayer agreed to go on the record for our Five Questions segment, and I asked him about everything from how he came up with the plot idea for this book to what advice he has for new and aspiring authors. Read the full Q&A below, then click here to order your copy of New York Minute, now available in paperback, e-book, and on Audible.
TRBS: To get started, how did you come up with the story idea for this book?
Mayer: “My pitch is Rambo meets Breaking Bad, but for good reasons.
“After writing science fiction for a while, I wanted to get back to my roots in thriller. I wanted a different type of protagonist: someone who is not only not bulletproof but has cognitive and emotional issues both from his childhood and his military background; i.e. a real person.
“I also wanted to delve into the concept of good versus evil. To sum: who not only protects the sheep from the wolves but kills the wolves? Another wolf. Except the protagonist, Will Kane, has forsworn his past as an elite killer. He is uncertain of what he’s doing. Unlike someone who wears a uniform or is part of an agency, he is on his own, so every choice he makes is on him. Thus New York Minute is a slow burn, unlike the usual thriller that starts with a bang. Kane is gradually drawn, against his will, into a deadly situation that will require him to tap into his hard-earned warrior skills. This is the launch of a new character for me but is really a prequel to my 2 million copy selling Green Beret series. Kane is Dave Riley’s uncle; Riley makes an appearance as a 17-year-old in this book, about to go into the service.”
TRBS: What kind of research did you have to do before actually sitting down to write this one?
Mayer: “When I read Jack Reacher’s bio it resonates with my own life—Reacher graduated West Point a year after me; was in Lebanon during the bombing when my unit, 10th Special Forces was; the Strasbourg parent like my wife’s mother; etc. I grew up in the Bronx and after West Point, served in the Infantry and Special Forces, then left active duty and spent a year in the Orient immersed in martial arts, much as my protagonist does. Even when I introduce Son of Sam into the periphery, a girl I’d gone to school with had actually been shot by him in 1977. My uncles and father were cops or firemen and worked for the city. I had to check some things to make sure my setting in New York City in 1977 was as I remember and to look at things I didn’t directly experience.
“It was intriguing to write about a time with no cell phones or personal computers. Will Kane actually has to go to a pay phone to drop a dime. In the second book, one of the characters has a pager, one of the first available, and that’s a novelty. A lot of things we rely on for present-day life, and sometimes plot crutches, such as cell phones, CCTV, google searches, et cetera, didn’t exist then.
“For thriller readers, this will be a change of pace to an earlier time. New York City plays a huge role in the story and it was radically different than it is now.
I spent a lot of time before writing the first word in developing an eclectic cast of characters and fully developing Kane’s unique background, not just in the military, but personal. Some of what Kane has experienced in his family life is in my own background, which makes it doubly personal.”
TRBS: What is your writing process like? Are you an outliner, do you keep set writing hours, or have a target word count each day?
Mayer: “My process has evolved over 77 books. I am more of a ‘streamer’ now. I trust my unconscious to plant the what and then my conscious to figure out the why later. I’ve written so much over 30 years that I instinctively can tell when I’m going off track. I let the story evolve, which often surprises me; therefore, it surprises the reader. The characters determine the story, not me.
“I also wrote these books in a different point of view that any of my previous titles. We never leave the protagonist, Will Kane, and therefore we only know what he knows. But as the author, I have to be aware of what’s going on that affects the story that he doesn’t know.”
TRBS: As a longtime novelist and New York Times bestseller, what advice do you have for new and aspiring authors?
Mayer: “You must possess GRIT. Professor Duckworth, who has studied it, drew her conclusions from people who’d succeeded in two things I’ve gone through: Beast Barracks and Special Forces. Her conclusion: Perseverance and passion trumps talent.
“Have what Terry Gilliam calls mule-like stupidity. Swap out the word ‘films’ for ‘books’ and: ‘If you really want your films to say something that you hope is unique, then patience and stamina, thick skin and a kind of stupidity, a mule-like stupidity, is what you really need.” You can’t beat a Python for advice.”
TRBS: Lastly, now that New York Minute is set to come out, what’s next for you?
Mayer: “I delayed publication of this book so that I could write the first three books in this series and release them 90 days apart. Lawyers, Guns and Money picks up the story on September 16, 2019, followed by Walk on the Wild Side on December 9, 2019. One of the advantages of being an indie author is control over my publishing schedule.
“Because I’m in such a unique position as an author, having the advantage of owning over 70 titles of my backlist, I have more options than most. My goal is to break Will Kane out as an indie thriller success and the people who will make it that are your readers. Nothing but great times ahead.”
Praised as “One of the hardest working, most thoughtful, and fairest reviewers out there” by #1 New York Times bestselling author Lisa Scottoline, Ryan Steck 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.