Douglas Corleone on Writing, Legacy, and Craft

Douglas Corleone discusses his writing journey, character creation, and balancing intense action with emotional depth, sharing insights on his upcoming psychological thriller and continuing Robert Ludlum’s iconic series.

Douglas Corleone, the international bestselling author known for his gripping contemporary crime novels and continuation of Robert Ludlum’s Paul Janson series, has captivated readers worldwide. His debut novel, One Man’s Paradise, garnered critical acclaim as a finalist for the Shamus Award and winner of the Minotaur Books/Mystery Writers of America First Crime Novel Award. This success set a high bar that Corleone continually surpasses, especially with his upcoming psychological thriller, Falls to Pieces, set for release in February 2025.

Corleone’s dynamic career includes the creation of multifaceted characters like Simon Fisk, driven by personal loss, and the morally complex defence attorney Kevin Corvelli. His ability to blend intense emotional narratives with relentless pacing and meticulous research distinguishes his work in the crime and thriller genres.

In this exclusive interview, Corleone delves into the inspirations behind his characters, the emotional depth of his storylines, and the rigorous process behind crafting his high-stakes thrillers. He also shares insights into his experience stepping into Robert Ludlum’s legacy and his unique portrayal of the legal profession. Join us as Douglas Corleone discusses his journey, his craft, and what readers can expect next from this masterful storyteller.

Your debut novel, One Man’s Paradise, was a finalist for the Shamus Award and won the Minotaur Books/Mystery Writers of America First Crime Novel Award. How did these early accolades influence your writing career and your confidence as an author?

The early accolades set a bar I try to top with each successive book. I accomplish that best with standalones (or one-offs) rather than series. My first standalone is The Rough Cut, published by Severn House. My next is the psychological thriller Falls to Pieces, which is set on Maui and will be released in February 2025. My standalones possess the same urgency as the first novels in the Kevin Corvelli and Simon Fisk series, One Man’s Paradise and Good as Gone, respectively. With each new set of characters, I’m given new opportunities to make each novel more compelling than the last. 

In Gone Cold, Simon Fisk is driven by the haunting memory of his kidnapped daughter. What inspired you to create a character with such a deeply personal and painful backstory, and how do you maintain the emotional intensity throughout the series?

I started writing the Simon Fisk series roughly a year after my first child was born. I’d kept my earlier series light and wanted to write something darker, something that would shake me to the core when I stood at the computer every morning. Good as Gone (originally titled The Unspeakable) accomplished that to an extent I hadn’t anticipated. In the States, Good as Gone was marketed as an action novel, which drove me to write its successor Payoff in a similar manner. The third novel Gone Cold brings more of a balance. It drives home the darkness while also providing enough action to satisfy the readers who’d come to love Simon for his, let’s say, less vulnerable side.

Good as Gone involves a former U.S. Marshal who only takes on certain types of cases due to his personal history. How do you balance Simon Fisk’s professional expertise with his personal vulnerabilities to create a multidimensional character?

Simon Fisk tries to approach each missing child case in the way he would as a detached law enforcement officer. But given Simon’s trauma, that’s impossible. His missing daughter Hailey impacts him in every way imaginable and, as much as he tries to keep his distance, each case inevitably becomes personal, which – thanks to Simon’s passion for saving children – is exactly what the parents of these missing children need.     

You were selected by the Estate of Robert Ludlum to continue his Paul Janson series. What was it like stepping into the shoes of such a legendary author, and how did you approach maintaining the integrity of Ludlum’s characters while adding your own touch?

Writing Robert Ludlum’s The Janson Equation was a phenomenal experience. I approached the series by studying Ludlum’s original novel The Janson Directive, concentrating on the dynamic between Paul Janson and Jessica Kincaid. Ludlum’s brilliant characters possessed a certain moral ambiguity that I felt had been lost since the author’s death. I pushedto bring that ambiguity back and the payoff came when Booklist described The Janson Equation as “a step-up to the Ludlum brand.” 

Your novels, including Payoff, are known for their relentless pace and high-stakes scenarios. Can you share your process for constructing these fast-paced thrillers, and how do you keep the tension high from start to finish?

When I’m writing, I try to keep the pedal to the metal. I prepare with plenty of research, so that I have several different directions to get to where I’m going. I work with an outline but constantly revise it to reflect the growing depth of the characters and the additional layers of the story. During the writing process, I read the work constantly, revising as I go. By the time I type “The End” I know the book well enough to go in, decide what doesn’t propel the story forward, and eliminate it, while raising the tension in those scenes that truly work. 

Last Lawyer Standing features a defense attorney navigating complex legal and moral landscapes. What research did you undertake to accurately depict the legal intricacies in your books, and how do you think your portrayal of the legal profession stands out in the crime and thriller genres?

With Kevin Corvelli, I set out to write an unconventional series of legal thrillers that better reflects the complex moral circumstances that every criminal attorney struggles with at times. I most wanted to avoid the cookie cutter lawyers I found in so many titles – those who not only always do the right thing but also somehow always know the right thing to do. Kevin’s youth and traumatic history – and my experience as a criminal attorney in New York – allowed me to place the lawyer in some uncharted moral territory.

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