Though he is perhaps best known for his contributions to Robert Ludlum’s Jason Bourne franchise, for my money, Eric Van Lustbader is doing his best work in his latest series, which kicks off with the just-released thriller, The Nemesis Manifesto.
Here, Lustbader introduces readers to Evan Ryder, a badass female operator who works out of a clandestine program buried deep within the Department of Defense. For Ryder, things kick off when her boss tasks her with finding the last remaining agent alive that had been looking into a secret shadow organization known only as Nemesis. Previously, the list held six names, but in the last several months, five had been killed—meaning it’s up to Ryder to track down the sole survivor, Patrick Wilson, and find out what he knows before it’s too late.
The story takes its biggest turn, though, when Wilson dies and Ryder and her partner find themselves targeted by Nemesis . . . leading to a heart-pounding final act that’s as good as anything else hitting bookstores this summer.
Just before his book came out, Lustbader agreed to go back on the record for our Five Questions segment, and this time I asked him about everything from how he’s filling the time while social distancing to how he came up with the action-packed story idea for this book.
Read the full Q&A below, then be sure to order your copy of The Nemesis Manifesto, now available wherever books are sold.
TRBS: What a book! I just read The Nemesis Manifesto and I have to tell you, I think this is some of your best work yet! How did you come up with the story idea for this one?
Lustbader: Thank you, I’m quite proud of it. First of all, you have to understand I started this novel before Trump was elected. Pretty much everything in the novel has come to pass. Secondly, I always start a new project with the characters. I wanted to create a female field agent without super-human powers, who didn’t carry an arsenal of exotic weaponry, and who had an extremely difficult and frightening past. Above all, I wanted her to be relatable, and for her to be a real female. To this end, I enlisted my wife-editor, Victoria, to go over the fight scenes, especially. As a result, Evan goes about things rather differently than male field agents.
As for the idea, I keep up with the news and my brain is always extrapolating. I’m forever thinking, What would happen if events I read about are taken to the next several levels.
TRBS: What sort of research did you have to do before actually sitting down to write this book?
Lustbader: My research is both analytical (like the NSA) and boots on the ground (HUMINT). Reams of documents pass through my hands, and then I speak to various people, who pass me on to others, and so forth, depending on what I’m looking for. I feel I should point out that while the bones and flesh of my story are absolutely based in reality, on a granular level I’m more inclined to use my imagination or, again, extrapolate from a known base.
TRBS: What is your writing process like? Do you outline, have a target word count that you try to hit each day?
Lustbader: It used to be, back in the day, that I’d just wing it. That got me into some blind alleys in the first 100 pages of the story, so now I work up a semi-outline, meaning I know where the story is going (more or less!) before I write each part. Still, characters develop organically. Because they’re real in my mind, they tend to make decisions that often surprise me. But there’s always a strong motivation behind them! The one thing I cannot abide is writers changing their characters in aid of the story. That happens time and again on TV series, it seems to me. I don’t have a set target. I write each day until I’m spent. Sometimes it’s five pages, sometimes five paragraphs. Each day is different, an adventure. Fun fact: I named my hero Evan Ryder after Evan Rachel Wood, who I adore. I wouldn’t mind her playing my Evan in a film or TV series!
TRBS: How are you passing the time while social-distancing? Read any good books?
Lustbader: You know, it’s interesting. I’m watching less TV and reading more. The last several novels I’ve read have been terrific: Take Me Apart by Sara Sliger; 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World by Elif Shafek; The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett;
The Soldier by Neal Asher; Unconquerable Sun by Kate Elliott.
TRBS: Lastly, what’s next for you now that The Nemesis Manifesto is set to come out?
Lustbader: I’m just finishing up the second novel in the Evan Ryder series, The Kobalt Dossier. It will be published around this time next year.
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.