Author Introductions #26: Jake Needham

Hello!

I hope you’re all having a very happy week, so far. I have been a busy bee, speaking at the London Books Fair and at an Amazon Academy in Glasgow, both of which were very enjoyable (more on that, in a separate post!). For now, I’m back at my desk and raring to introduce you to another fantastic author in my ‘Author Introductions’ series.

This week, I’m delighted to introduce Jake Needham, an American screen and television writer who began writing crime novels when he realized he really didn’t like movies and television very much. Jake has lived and worked in Hong Kong, Singapore, and Thailand for nearly thirty years. He is a lawyer by education and has held a number of significant positions in both the public and private sectors where he took part in a lengthy list of international operations he has no intention of telling you about (more’s the pity). He, his wife, and their two sons now divide their time between homes in Thailand and the United States.

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Let’s find out a little more about the man behind the writer…

  1. Tell us a little about yourself – don’t be shy! 

I was a screenwriter before I was a novelist. It was entirely accidental, but I was.

I had practiced law for a couple of decades doing mostly international work, and I found myself involved in a complicated and unpleasant corporate merger that involved companies in half a dozen different countries. To get the deal closed, I ended up buying a piece of the target company myself, mostly because no one else wanted it. It was a very modest little Hollywood production house that was making movies for cable TV in the United States.

Since I was stuck with the company, I did my best to make it profitable and I tried to focus it more tightly on what I thought it could do well. I dashed off an outline of the sort of movie where I thought the company ought to be focusing its efforts and a copy of that outline accidentally got sent to one of the cable TV networks the company worked with. Several weeks later the development people at the network called up and asked me to write it for them.

‘Write what?’ I asked.

‘The movie you sent us that treatment for,’ they said.

‘That wasn’t a treatment,’ I said, ‘it was a business plan.’

‘That’s okay,’ they said, ‘we want to write it anyway.’

And that, girls and boys, was how I became a screenwriter.

2. How about your latest book – what can readers look forward to when they pick it up?

I write crime novels set in the cities of contemporary Asia because I’ve lived in Hong Kong, Singapore, and Bangkok for the last thirty years. These days we maintain homes in both Bangkok and Washington DC and divide our time between them more or less equally, but I’m still setting my novels in Asia.

It matters a great deal to me to get the atmosphere and feeling of the places I write about exactly right. Libris Reviews said, “Needham writes so you can smell the spicy street food mingling with the traffic jams, the sweat, and the garbage.” I’ve always liked that and I try hard to meet that standard in every book. In my most recent book – DON’T GET CAUGHT – I think you can look forward to experiencing Hong Kong and Bangkok in a way that is real and vivid. After you read it, or any of my books for that matter, I want you to think you could go to the places I wrote about and feel like you’ve been there before.

3. Who is your hero in real life and in fiction?

I’m at a complete loss as to how to answer this one. I guess I’m just not a guy who has heroes, neither real ones nor fictional ones. Sorry.

4. Who are your three favourite writers – and why?

Raymond Chandler, Ross Thomas, and Graham Greene.

Because they set the standards that we all try to meet every single day.

5. When you’re not writing, what is your favourite way to spend your time?

When I was a graduate student in history, my primary interest was the American civil war. I still enjoy visiting the battlefields whenever I can and walking the same ground where so many brave men fought for what they believed in. Sometimes when I stand on the same rocks where those men stood a hundred and fifty years ago, I can hear the guns. Every now and then I think maybe I’ll give up writing crime novels and write a historical novel set during the civil war. Maybe, but writers like Michael and Jeff Shaara have already done that so brilliantly that I’ll probably never work up the courage to try.

I’ve also got a pretty interesting collection of firearms, both antique and modern, and I’m a fair shot myself. I try to get out on the range at least once a week to stay sharp.

6. What do you consider to be your greatest achievement?

I’ve published ten books and have a couple more in the works. Every time I look up at my bookshelves and see the spines there I think, ‘Well, damn, ain’t that something?’

7. What was your favourite book as a child?

Hardly anyone today knows the name Richard Haliburton, but in the 1930’s Haliburton’s adventures were chronicled in a series of books that were best sellers in America. When I was about six, I found a copy of Haliburton’s Complete Book of Marvels at some relative’s house and I was instantly enthralled.

The book was made up of a series of adventure stories. Haliburton swam the Panama Canal from end to end, slipped into the city of Mecca disguised as a Bedouin, crept into the Taj Mahal in the dead of night, climbed the Great Pyramid of Giza, and dived into the Mayan Well of Death in Mexico. He retraced the expedition of Hernando Cortez to the heart of the Aztec Empire, emulated Ulysses’ adventures in the Mediterranean, duplicated Hannibal’s crossing of the Alps by elephant, and climbed both the Matterhorn and Mt. Fuji.

I learned from that book that I could go anywhere in the world I really wanted to go and do anything I really wanted to do. It was a magical discovery, and it shaped the rest of my life.

8. Have you read any books recently that have really captured your imagination?

No.

[Blogger’s Note: *Sad face!* The writing world needs to up its game!]

9. If the Prime Minister knocked at your front door and asked to borrow a book, which one would you recommend they read?

Do you mean among my own titles? I don’t like to recommend a specific title of mine even when readers ask me to do it, and I always find some way to duck the question. Fiction is such a matter of personal taste that I have a morbid fear of pointing the reader to a title that doesn’t appeal to them for whatever reason and losing that reader forever. Of course, they might get to the same place on their own, but that’s different. At least it won’t be my fault.

If you mean among another writer’s titles, I’d give him a copy of Raymond Chandler’s THE LONG GOOD-BYE. No other novelist has ever done what I do now better than Raymond Chandler did it.

10. Finally, if you could be any character from a movie, which would it be? 

Let me give you the name of an actor instead, but an actor whose on-screen persona became one of the great movie characters of all time: Robert Mitchum. Roger Ebert called Robert Mitchum “the soul of film noir.” Who wouldn’t want to stand in those shoes?

I actually had a modest acquaintanceship with Mitchum right at the end of his life. We met after he had retired to Santa Barbara, California, and I was spending a good deal of time there for various reasons. We were at a very dull party together and at some point he proposed we ditch the party and find a congenial saloon. I readily agreed. I had a few more drinks and he had a great many more drinks, and we became reasonable enough friends to do it again several times before he passed away.

 

…Thank you, Jake! I enjoyed reading your answers and learning about the life experiences that probably shape your writing and give it texture. I’ve visited China and Indonesia but not in any great depth, so perhaps after reading one of your novels I’ll be able to fill in some of the gaps – I’ll look forward to it.

Until then, I’m wishing you all a very happy and healthy week ahead!

LJ x

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