I was born a lone wolf. Nature vs. nurture--the endless debate. In my case, there is no debate. Being a lone wolf is my nature. I am an outsider. Of course, when I was young I had no idea what I was--I just knew that beyond not being a joiner, I didn't fit in anywhere. By the time I was nine, I was more interested in being with girls than with boys. Already I felt them to be more interesting, more flexible in their thinking, and, of course, sexy. In the coming years, my novels would feature strong women who struggled in childhood and, through that struggle, learned to get what they wanted--by guile, by using their unique assets, both in mind and in body, exploiting the weaknesses in men.
Lone wolves--true outsiders--are more rare than you think. I myself never ran into one until the night my agent introduced me to Robert Ludlum. The year was 1980. My first mainstream novel, The Ninja, had become an international bestseller, staying on the New York Times bestseller list for a remarkable 24 weeks. The Bourne Identity was also published in 1980, launching Ludlum to a whole new level of bestseller-dom.
Against all odds, and despite being an outsider, Bob wanted to meet me. He had read The Ninja and loved it. We sat in a shadowy corner and talked all night long about our respective heroes--Nicholas Linnear and Jason Bourne. It amazed us that they were both outsiders--observers of a corrupt world filled with conspiracies that often stretched across oceans. What also astonished us was how much of ourselves we'd put into these particular characters.
The origin of Bourne came from Bob, who, several years prior, had inexplicably lost his memory for five or six hours. Like all good writers, he started thinking about what it might be like for someone to lose his entire past. Voilà! Jason Bourne was born. I had read a number of Bob's novels, but it was Jason Bourne who appealed to me. The key to successfully continuing another author's character is to understand him from the ground up. My friendship with Bob made this possible, but it was because I, myself, am a lone wolf that I got Bourne in the most fundamental way. That keen affinity made understanding him--and writing about him--both easy and fun. I had found another comrade-in-arms.
The origin of Nicholas Linnear is somewhat more complex. In college, I had fallen in love with Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock prints. Through an art gallery, I met a number of Japanese people from all walks of life. One day, I overheard them talking about ninjas. I was immediately hooked. What came to mind was one of my favorite outsider films, "North By Northwest," in which an ad exec gets mistaken for an undercover spy. Naturally, chaos ensues. Chaos became the operative word. Some years later, in talking about the making of the film, Alfred Hitchcock said he was drawn to it because of the opening premise. He said it was like taking a sheet of paper--a neat and orderly world--and dropping a splash of ink onto it. Chaos!
I had my premise: Set a ninja--an agent of chaos--into modern-day New York, and let the action rip. But action and a great villain weren't enough. My protagonist had to be an outsider. Further, he had to be someone who could lead the uninitiated reader into the arcane worlds of Japan and the ninja. Talk about your archetypal outsider: Nicholas is half-Asian, half-British. Having lived his early life in Japan, he is an outsider in every way imaginable.
It's been a long time since I've written about Nicholas Linnear, but my legions of fans make sure he's never far from my mind. His revival in the novella, The Death and Life of Nicholas Linnear, came about because of the success of the first three novels in ebook form. Finally, I thought it was time for him to come out of hibernation.
But how to do it? I didn't want to simply continue the story that was left off more than 20 years ago. I wanted Nicholas alive and well in our modern-day world. As the Bourne films are doing with Jason, I wanted to bring Nicholas to a whole new generation of readers, to widen his scope, to open his eyes to today's world, set him down in it, and see how he reacts, how he copes with its problems. The result, I hope, will please both his older fans and the ones who will come to him with the future still ahead of them.
Eric Van Lustbader is the author of both Bourne and other best selling novels including the Nicholas Linnear series.
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