The Thriller Zone

On today's 171st episode of The Thriller Zone, New York Times Bestselling author Mark Greaney discusses his latest book, The Chaos Agent.

As Mark and I catch up, we reminisce about our previous interactions, as he explains his decision to incorporate the slow burn and tension in his latest thriller that allows readers to delve deeper into the protagonist's character.

We also delve into the topic of artificial intelligence (AI) and its influence on the story, as Greaney expresses his concerns about the potential dangers of AI, particularly in the development of lethal autonomous weapons. We also touch on the impact of AI on the writing community and the portrayal of the protagonist in a potential movie adaptation.

Later in the show, Mark discusses various aspects of his writing career, The Grey Man Series, and the vulnerability of his protagonist and the importance of creating a story that is interesting and keeps readers engaged.

As we close, Mark also shares insights into the future of The Grey Man series and the challenges of his being a busy writer. Greaney also emphasizes the role of a good editor (like Tom Colgan), and the influence of other writers on his work.

We conclude with a discussion about Mark's early burgeoning career as a "hopeful rock star" in his band BAD ENGLISH, where he played drums and wore very large permed hair. As always, we close with Mark's best writing advice, before we have Mark answer some fun Random Fire Questions, one of our favorite games.

To learn more about Mark, visit: MarkGreaneyBooks.com and as always, follow us at TheThrillerZone.com and be sure to SUBSCRIBE to us at YouTube.com/thethrillerzone.

Chapters

00:00 Introduction and Catching Up
00:52 The Slow Burn and Tension
08:21 Mark Graney's Busy Life
14:12 The Influence of AI in Chaos Agent
21:16 AI and the Writing Community
24:06 Ryan Gosling as Court Gentry
25:34 Writing a Vulnerable Protagonist
26:22 Future of the Grey Man Series
27:46 Lack of Control in the Publishing Process
30:36 The Challenges of Being a Busy Writer
31:05 The Difference Between Writing Grey Man and Tom Clancy
33:22 The Importance of a Good Editor
34:51 Influence of Other Writers
44:59 Best Writing Advice
47:50 Random Fire Questions



The Thriller Zone with David Temple is sponsored in part by Blackstone Publishing.

What is The Thriller Zone?

Join podcast host and thriller author David Temple as he gives you a front-row seat to the best thriller writers in the world. If you like thriller fiction in Books, Movies, and TV Shows, you’ll love The Thriller Zone Podcast.

David Temple:
So let's kick off the Thriller Zone Mark Greaney. Welcome back.

Mark:
Thank you. Thanks for having me back.

David Temple:
I think is this a three-peat or a four-peat? I think it's a four-peat.

Mark:
I feel like it's four.

David Temple:
Yeah.

Mark:
I feel like we spent a lot of time together, David.

David Temple:
Uh, I was noticing in the mirror this morning, you know, between the hair kind of receding a little bit and getting grayer, I'm like, Mark's gonna look at me and go, who are you? I just saw you like four years ago.

Mark:
Yeah, yeah, no, I saw you at BoucherCon in San Diego, I guess last fall.

David Temple:
Yeah.

Mark:
And yeah, I don't think you had the facial hair then, did you?

David Temple:
No, I was just, yeah, mixing it up, doing something different. Anyway, as I was thinking about this, I went to my hard drive and I said, oh, wait a minute. Which folder? One, two, oh, gee, I'm on the fourth folder for Mark. Yeah. And then I'm looking at the size of each file and I'm like, man, I've done a lot of work for that guy. I

Mark:
He

David Temple:
don't know where my residual check is. All

Mark:
checks

David Temple:
right.

Mark:
in the mail.

David Temple:
Thank you. Yeah, perfect. Dude, the chaos agent. All right. We're gonna, we're gonna spend plenty of time in this. I wanna, I wanna say out of the gate and I've now read where you got third. This makes 13, right?

Mark:
Yeah, it's

David Temple:
Baker's.

Mark:
my 13th great man

David Temple:
Gray

Mark:
book.

David Temple:
man.

Mark:
Yeah

David Temple:
Baker's doesn't. And I'm thinking, all right, I, I wasn't there at the first cause that was several years ago. I joined

Mark:
Mm-hmm.

David Temple:
you late in the game,

Mark:
Yeah.

David Temple:
but I'm thinking back, this is the fourth book I've read and I want to say. Yeah, it's my favorite one yet.

Mark:
Oh, that's great. I really love hearing that because the whole year I'm writing it, I'm thinking it's this is going to be the one where I get found out as being a fraud. So the reception to it's been really good. And that's, you know, that just totally lets a lot of tension out for me.

David Temple:
I can only imagine, Mark, being in your place in life, having that tension, but I've got it, and I've got specific reasons why. I love the slow burn out of the gate. That was a little bit different than some of your books. You sometimes come bounding out of that gate,

Mark:
Right, right.

David Temple:
but I actually appreciated the slow burn because it let me get inside court's head a little bit more. We got

Mark:
Yeah.

David Temple:
a little bit of the dynamics romance side of his life.

Mark:
Right. Yeah, that's exactly the reason I did it. It's like for this story, you want to see them trying to stay the hell out of trouble at the beginning and you can't stay the hell out of trouble at the beginning with that, you know, with there being too much gunplay. Other machinations are going on and there is assassinations early in the book, but Court is doing his best to stay out of it for the first chunk of it. He's unsuccessful. Otherwise it wouldn't have been much of a book, but at the same time, yeah, that was the idea, a bit of a, bit of a slow burn. The last book opened with him in a knife fight, um, next, next to a bomb under 40 feet of water. Um, so this one, you know, I always want to do something different.

David Temple:
And I applaud you, Mark. I really do. And a lot of folks will say, well, dude, I read a thriller so that you can get me ripping pages out of the beginning. I'm like, trust me on this, folks. Trust me.

Mark:
Yeah.

David Temple:
Go along for the ride.

Mark:
You, I try and put tension on every page and tension doesn't always mean, you know, things blowing up and people getting killed. There's tension in, you know, conversations and relationships between people and, you know, ticking clocks and all these sorts of things. I want that on every page of the book. So whether or not there, you know, I was a big Jean Le Carre fan. Nobody writes slower books than Jean Le Carre and maybe nobody writes more tense. books than Sean Lee Curry.

David Temple:
Yeah.

Mark:
You know, it's like, that's not a backhanded compliment. That's a hundred percent a compliment. I mean, it's magic what he does. And I don't do that. I mean, obviously my books have an element of diehard and predator in them or whatever, but at the same time, you know, I want to. I also want to, these are big books. So I have time to put a ton of action in and put the psychology in and, and these other developments that are not, you know, that are tense, but not, you know, just straight action.

David Temple:
And I'm not going to ruin it, but there's a scene where they're sitting on the balcony, and they're trying to hide. They're trying to stay away from the action. He and his girlfriend, they're trying to blend in. And trouble will find us. Let's not go looking for it.

Mark:
Mm-hmm.

David Temple:
And to your point, it's the way that you craft those sentences by, it's not, he was mad and did a dude. It was all the little tiny things that I've really seen this evolution of your writing to where you allow. And I hope this is a compliment. I mean it this way. The way you allow the audience to go, Oh, what is he thinking with that reaction and what is

Mark:
Yeah.

David Temple:
she thinking? You know, it's so good.

Mark:
Thanks a lot. Thank you very much. Yeah, at the beginning I wanted, so there's some tension. So, Court is in love for the first time in his life. They've had maybe the best four months of their life since the ends of the last book. But he really feels that this is, you know, time is running out on everything going so well. His paranoia is, and you know, it's all very well earned. And then, you know, I asked myself, if you were an assassin and you were trying to lay low and you finally let your guard down with somebody, and then you found out something they said wasn't a hundred percent true, regardless of the reasons for it, would you immediately start building those walls right back up? And it seems like you would. So I wanted to kind of explore that a little bit at the beginning and sort of have that relationship, which seems so perfect, you know, him question a little bit, like what's going on here.

David Temple:
And I again, this is a compliment and I don't want to compare you because you're your own guy and your own star That's shining bright, but there's a scene in James Bond I'm not gonna remember which one it with is it's certainly Daniel Craig near the end It's when Vesper was involved and you saw him fall in love for the first time instead of just you know shag a week and

Mark:
Yeah.

David Temple:
Then when he found that betrayal the way he just did a 180 and I was getting little memory hits when I was

Mark:
Yeah.

David Temple:
reading this similar way.

Mark:
Yeah, yeah. That's a Casino Royale. It's such a good movie. And,

David Temple:
Thank

Mark:
um,

David Temple:
you.

Mark:
and it's, uh, you know, I just, I, again, I just think about like, if I was in that position and, you know, I had all these, I have all this history and then there was something that I, even something that I didn't understand that the other person said or did, uh, I would probably just go into, you know, duck and cover mode and panic a little bit. And I think I wanted to show him doing that. I think in the first draft actually gave to my editor and he thought I was a little too. Like he just thought people would think it was, you know, the gray man's coming off too much like a, you know, a jackass. Um, and I toned it back a little bit and I think he was right for that. I think at first, you know, he was just literally like hitting the bricks and, you know, cussing her out or whatever. And, and, and now it's, it's a lot more subtle and she explains herself and things move on from there. So.

David Temple:
Tom Colgan is a good voice of reason in your ear, isn't he?

Mark:
Absolutely. Yeah, I always say that he most of the editing he does, he never actually says it out loud. It's just what I can hear his voice when I'm when I write it. He would disagree. He would be like, yeah, there's still a lot of it. There's still a lot of things I want to tweak in the writing. But now he's I this is my 24th published novel and I've done 22 of them with Tom and hope to do 22 more.

David Temple:
Yeah, I want to circle back to him in a minute because I think the world of him, but I want to I want to do a little bit of backup a little bit. And are we good on time? We got as much time as we need. Relatively

Mark:
Uh,

David Temple:
speaking.

Mark:
yeah, I've got an hour and 15 minutes. I've got another one. So yeah.

David Temple:
Easy peasy. Alright, now I want to ask what you've been up to because I want to take a step back as we come back to the Chaos Agent. And I realize it's pretty much the same with you. You're either writing a new book or inking a new Hollywood deal or attending to the wife and kids and growing gaggle of pups. Is that the same now? Is this all pretty much standard operating procedure for you?

Mark:
Yeah, nothing interesting has happened. I get, you know, I'm doing a lot of this publicity and a lot of people are like, well, what do you do in your free time? And I'm going like, sit and stare at the wall, I guess, uh, you know, have dinner, uh, sleep. Um, so I did two books last year. And when I say that, um, it's not exactly accurate because the, the second one, which I was trying to finish before Thanksgiving, I didn't get turned into late January. And, um, It's all through the holidays. I mean, I was present for Christmas day and Thanksgiving, I guess, but all the rest of the time I was working New Year's Eve, I was back here in my office till 10 o'clock at night. And it's just, you know, I've just been on deadline. The book just came together. The second book, not this one chaos agent, but the book I have coming out in June. Um, it, uh, you know, it just came together longer. So, you know, the last year has been tough because, you know, I, I used to just plot down and write 3000 words and, and it gets tougher the more you do it. And the more things you've already written, you have to think up something new and, uh, you know, you want to keep the stories fresh. So it, you know, the, the same amount of output takes me a lot longer than it used to, and I just have so many other distractions going on in my life. So, so

David Temple:
Sure.

Mark:
it's, it's tougher than it used to be. It's still, once you have the book done the way you want it and you're proud of it. It's, it's a, it's a great feeling.

David Temple:
And I have to imagine, Mark, a little bit of the challenge for you is that this book was finished some time ago, already been through all the ringers it needed to go, and you're already on to the next one and even the next one. So for you to take the time to sit down with us and talk about it, I'm sure your mind is a little bit of, OK, now, what was that? Oh, yeah, that's right. That was that plot.

Mark:
Yeah. At the beginning, when you start to do the press, you know, I have this, like, I don't think about it. I'm like, okay, I'll start on Monday or whatever. And then really closely before that you go, okay, wait, what do you know about this book that you've turned in last September or October? And then you just go, you know, like a lot of times I'll read, like people did read the early copies of it and we'll write reviews. I'll read the reviews of it to see what it's about a little bit. Not that I don't know what it's about, but it's just like, I've written an entire other book that takes place in West Africa, it couldn't be further from what happens here. And then

David Temple:
Yeah.

Mark:
I've sort of given a thin outline for the next gray man, the 14th gray man. So coming back, it's almost like coming back two books and, and going back into it. I just had to, I had to refresh a lot of my memories, especially about like artificial intelligence and some of the technological themes and, or ideas in the book. So yeah, I spent a few hours preparing for the onslaught of questions.

David Temple:
Well, I'm going to jump to AI in just a second, but do you still have, uh, somewhere there in front of you, your little cheat sheet? Cause you said this to me a show or two ago where you said, I got a little cheat sheet just to make sure I'm where is it?

Mark:
That's not it, David, stand by. There's more.

David Temple:
Oh my god!

Mark:
A little light on there just in case. And then that ought to

David Temple:
Oh

Mark:
do

David Temple:
jeez!

Mark:
it. And the thing is I don't even really look at it, um, because looking at it's a little distracting and so

David Temple:
Yeah.

Mark:
far I haven't needed it's just the way that I sort of manage stress, you know, it's like, if I'm fumbling for a word, I can always like go, I think it's on here somewhere. Um,

David Temple:
Thanks for watching!

Mark:
but so far I don't, I don't really think I've had to, I've had to look at it.

David Temple:
If it makes you feel any better, everybody thinks that I do all this show off the top of my head, but I have an entire screen right here with all of my notes for you, so that if I ever go blank and do that, that happens more and more.

Mark:
Yeah.

David Temple:
I just celebrated a birthday, so I realized, oh, that's where that stuff is going.

Mark:
Yeah.

David Temple:
So I'll do this little trick. I'll do... Keywords in bold so that I make sure I don't forget those and then I'll do italics when I make sure I want to go Oh, do I want to refer to that to the bath back? So yeah,

Mark:
Yeah, potential.

David Temple:
we're and

Mark:
I think that's smart. I mean, I'd rather be prepared and not needed than not prepared and needed.

David Temple:
Sure, sure. And speaking of that, there's something I've always wanted to ask you, and I can't believe I never have, and it's going to seem silly to you for a second, but the brackets around Grey Man, and I want to make sure I made a point. When did this started on day one, I think, and where did that come from, and whose idea was that? The little brackets.

Mark:
Well, it's definitely, I have no idea. It's definitely the art department at Berkeley and they're so, so good. They've really done a great job. I think what it's supposed to represent is what's called a bounding box. When you're electronic surveillance on something, it will put up like an automatic, I guess that's what it is. I'm not even sure if they know that, but yeah, I don't know. I'm every year when like one of the most fun times of the year is when they show me the cover for my next book. And it's usually, I haven't even written it. I've just sort of told my editor what it's going to be about. So they're like, you know, that's Cuba on the cover of that one. So I told them that this location was in Cuba. It involves robotics and stuff. So they went from there and the color scheme and the everything is just amazing.

David Temple:
Yeah, I'm going to put this up on the screen so that it's a better picture. But this is my favorite cover today. And you know, I'm a big fan of

Mark:
Yeah.

David Temple:
tasty covers. And I think it's the opposition of the colors of the purplish blue and the orange. And then you have, of course, court hidden inside of your

Mark:
Mm-hmm.

David Temple:
name. But it's in the drone flying by. I didn't catch that until about the third time I looked at it. And

Mark:
Yeah.

David Temple:
I was like, God bless America. That's a good one. All right.

Mark:
Yeah.

David Temple:
So thank you for answering that question. I want to say, I want to reiterate for a second as we dive into a little bit, this is easily my favorite book yet. And for so

Mark:
Thank

David Temple:
many

Mark:
you.

David Temple:
reasons, I started off with the romance and then the way that you bring in technology. And I'm going to drill down on AI in our time that we've got left. And I, it's that slow burn and the AI influence, because that is all the rage now. You can't even turn around without hearing AI this, AI that. And well, besides the nonstop action, but I want to ask, how is the AI influencing your topic of conversation these days? And matter of fact, what's the best way to describe how it plays a role in Chaos Agent?

Mark:
Well, you know, doing this press tour that I've been doing, after each interview, I kind of like self-reflect and go, man, you sound like such a Debbie Downer. You got to bring the mood up a little bit. Because you know, the first thing I'll say is that when I went into this and I chose artificial intelligence and these big commercial labs where the billionaires are developing the future. I you know, kind of ask myself, you know, like, well, what do you think about this? And then the more I dug into it, the more I dug into it, the scarier it was. And, um, you know, it wasn't hard to find, you know, potential villains or at least someone you could fictionalize as a villain. Um, so I just, you know, along the way, writing the story is when you do all your research, you come up with an idea first, and then when you're writing, you know, I do my research while I'm writing. And,

David Temple:
Mm-hmm.

Mark:
you know, I was just learning so much, I was getting so much information and a lot of it's kind of scary about, you know, where things are going in the future as far as artificial intelligence. And, you know, I don't want to be a Debbie Downer, but, you know, I keep telling myself, look, you went into this purposely looking for the dark side of artificial

David Temple:
Right.

Mark:
intelligence. So it can do a lot of really great things. So, you know, cure cancer or whatever that's on the horizon that it will do. It can also do some... some pretty awful things. And the way that the technology has exploded and exploded, it's ominous for anybody that looks at the downside of it. So I wanted to incorporate it into the story as realistically as possible. It's so important for people to understand this is not science fiction. This is all existing or emerging technology. And I really hope people will just go on Google and type in... Boston Dynamics Atlas and look at the bipedal robot that's like a human that can do backflips and you can do stuff you can't do and you can't knock it down or you know the robot dogs with the 6.5 Creedmoor rifle on their backs and the hexacopter drones that can drop the that can land on a rooftop and drop the robot dogs with the guns on their backs off and let them go. So You know, there's, there's so much out there in the world that is existing technology and a lot of these things are remotely piloted now by a human being. But artificial intelligence is getting smarter and smarter and smarter. You know, it's ACE, the SATs and the bar exam. So anybody that says, you know, anybody who feels let down by chat GPT, when you ask it to write you a letter or something, um, it is sophisticated in other ways. And, uh, it's also in its infancy. So, you know, God knows where we're gonna be in five years.

David Temple:
And to that chat GPT reference, most I think, I think I'm safe to say that your average bear is working around in the realm of that 3.5. Well, there's

Mark:
Yeah.

David Temple:
a four, 4.5. There's a five. There's a seven on the horizon. And it only exponentially gets smarter along the way, which is the good point and the bad point to your point. What scared me the most, perhaps in this story was when the The drones have the ability to target, react autonomously in some way, think faster on the fly, have no emotion attached, and take out targets at an unconscionable distance. When you start thinking about that and back to your dropping the robot dogs and so forth,

Mark:
Hmm.

David Temple:
the... It gets scary fast.

Mark:
Yeah, a lethal autonomous weapon is a weapon that's able to make its own decision on who to kill. So you have this thing called the OODA loop that everyone in the military talks about. It was invented by an Air Force pilot named John Boyd and it's OODA, Observe, Orient, Decide and Act. So any gunfighter, anybody in a tactical situation, anyone in a military situation knows about the OODA loop. This is how you fight. You observe something, you orient yourself to that thing, you decide what you're going to do, and then you act upon it. Well, if there's a human on the loop as like an ultimate circuit breaker, then that decide part, that O-O-D-A, the D, is handled by a human. But with artificial intelligence, they have weapons that can do it all. So the weapons actually making the decision, it's able to discriminate against targets and then say, I'm gonna kill that target. And there is all sorts of, everything I've read, there's so many ways that can go wrong. Even if you programmed in the rules of war, they would still kill civilians or whatever. So it's danger and it's coming, you know it's coming because Sun Tzu said,

David Temple:
for.

Mark:
speed, yes, speed is like the, you know, the essence of war. And so someone, let's say China takes their humans out of the loop, and they're able to fight wars at machine speed, thousands of computations a second. At that point, even though, you know, we morally and ethically have decided we're always going to keep, you know, human machine teams, as they like to say, in the Defense Department. You know, the moment the other guy is able to make 2000 decisions a second with every one of their weapons platforms and everything can be cognitized. They say anything that can be electrified can be cognitized in the future. So think about that. Um, and, uh, you know, that's, there's a lot to like be worried about. And, you know, the story is not a high tech story. I mean, there's,

David Temple:
Mm.

Mark:
there's this technology is involved because I think it's, it's interesting and it's important, but, you know, you don't need a, you know, a mathematics degree to understand my books because I don't have one either. Um, you know, it's, it's an action, you know, high octane, you know, shoot them up, but at the same time, all this stuff is going on. And I, and I wanted to, you know, Explain it and craft it in a way that makes sense to people.

David Temple:
Well, I find it really interesting there's so many of our mutual friends in the writing community are all up in arms When AI comes up with this pride, this is their very first worry AI is gonna replace us writers and I'm like AI will enhance your writing experience perhaps expedite your writing experience influence your writing experience, but the cognitive portion of it the the emotional attachment and that sense of realism can't be duplicated to quite the degree, right?

Mark:
I think that's true. Um, I also think, you know, so recently it came out that, uh, chat GPT had cold. All this information from bootleg books on Google, because everybody's books, mine included, you can find them bootlegged on, um, online. And so I can't remember how many hundreds of thousands of books that it read. And so you can go in chat GPT and say, write a 2000 word short story in the style of Mark Graney about a. man and a butterfly and a, you know, whatever, a pencil.

David Temple:
Hehehehe

Mark:
And, uh, it's probably not going to be that good. Uh, and the way I'm writing books, eventually I will get to that plot. So just stand, just stand by that. It won't take too long. But, um, yes. So it is definitely this thing where, you know, people were up in army, you know, people in the, in the writing community were, were like, oh my God, they, cause you can see whose books were used and I think they use like nine of my books or 11 of my books. And, uh, and people were going like, this is so fair, unfair. We're going to sue, blah, blah. And people would ask me for my opinion on it. And I kept going, yeah, this isn't the worst thing that AI is going to do to me

David Temple:
Ha ha ha!

Mark:
in the future. It's like, I'd love to be up in arms about this, but frankly, uh, I'm, I'm worried about a, uh, you know, a world ending event from all this. So I'm not going to be too fired up because they, it read mission critical,

David Temple:
Yeah.

Mark:
um, or something like that.

David Temple:
That is so hilarious. It is funny how the fear factor, for lack of a better term, arises in some ways that you're like, dude, there are way more scary things that are on the horizon than who's going to steal your idea for a book. You

Mark:
Yeah.

David Temple:
know?

Mark:
Although

David Temple:
Yeah.

Mark:
I will say one thing I find ironic and sort of funny is everybody thought automation and artificial intelligence would replace truck drivers, store clerks, things like that. And meanwhile, it's going up at, it's trying to create poetry and paintings with the generative AI, the visual stuff. You know, it's, it's doing all this other stuff and it's like, wow, it's going after a different set of people that everyone sort of imagined because, you know, everybody thought by now there would be, you know, automatic trucks driving people everywhere and we wouldn't need truckers. But now it's like, it's, um, you know, your AI is writing poetry. It's not delivering your, your lunch. So it's, it's interesting how we, we have notions about how things are going to work and can be wrong.

David Temple:
Yeah, it's creating St. Bernard's writing a surfboard carrying a birthday cake

Mark:
Yeah, exactly.

David Temple:
in photo realism. And I'm like, okay, spend

Mark:
Mm

David Temple:
your time there.

Mark:
hmm. Yeah. I was gonna say, if that's something you need, then that's something to get.

David Temple:
You know, one of the things I love about reading a chaos agent and now that especially since my bromance crush on Ryan Gosling is alive and well. When you get to see him play court gentry in a movie and then you say he does it so well and you're like, oh, yeah He is court gentry. Then when you pick up the next book and you have him in your mind, you're like, yeah That's my buddy ryan. I mean uh court doing the role,

Mark:
Yeah,

David Temple:
right?

Mark:
yeah, absolutely.

David Temple:
I

Mark:
Yeah, I think I was just gonna say that, you know, I liked him for the role because he wasn't, you know, big action star. He wasn't, you know, the Schwarzenegger of the 2020s or whatever.

David Temple:
Right.

Mark:
And that's how I write the character. And then when I saw him perform the role, you see that he's, the character is just like aggravated and annoyed and doesn't wanna be here. And when he gets hurt, It really bugs the crap out of him that it gets hurt. And that's always how I've written him. You know, it's like, he takes a lot of battle damage, but nobody can say that. You know, I just gloss over the battle damage. You know, I have him getting stitches. I have been breaking into, you know, medical facilities and, uh, you know, always in pain and always, you know, like trying to manage a wound while, while doing something else. And I thought, um, Gosling and I don't know how he did it. I never talked to him about it. I did talk. Russo brothers about, you know, how I saw the character. So he either got that from the screenplay or he got that from the pages of my book, or he got that from the Russo brothers. But I mean, it couldn't have been, you know, I couldn't have crafted it better on screen than they did.

David Temple:
And I love that one scene, I won't spend too much time on it, but I love that one scene where he's shackled to the park bench in the middle of that square

Mark:
Mm-hmm.

David Temple:
and he's like, oh really? This

Mark:
Yeah.

David Temple:
is gonna happen? This is how? You know, that throwaway. Oh geez, I'm and it's not like I'm a superhero. I should and

Mark:
Yeah.

David Temple:
it's like, oh God, how am I gonna get out of this? And I love that.

Mark:
From the beginning, I've always wanted to write him to where he's just barely getting through every single scrape. So every now and then I'll get an email from somebody that's like, Whoa, he's supposedly the best assassin in the world. And he's always almost getting killed. I'm like, yeah, I'm trying to make this story interesting. If you want to read a story where, you know, robo cop just goes through and kicks everybody's ass and, and you know, nothing bad ever happens to him and he never makes it, you know, I'm sure that book's out there, but it's not really

David Temple:
Sure.

Mark:
what I wanted to write from the beginning.

David Temple:
Yeah. Is it, is it fair for me to ask? Do you know, are you free to say, do you, are you aware if Ryan will continue playing this much like Matt Damon did with Jason Bourne?

Mark:
That's the idea. They've written another script. Um, Steve McFeely wrote it, uh, one of the writers of the first, uh, gray man, but also, uh, w had written several of the MCU films. Um, and, uh, and I met him at the premiere, talked to him for awhile. And so, yeah, they, they've, they've announced it. It's going to happen. They haven't announced when it's going to happen. Um, gosh, Ryan Gosling has only gotten like 10 times more famous in the past two years since it came out. So. I don't know if it's a schedule thing. I know he's involved in a lot of stuff, but, um, I hope to hear something pretty soon. And I, and I will hear about it the same way. Everybody else will hear about it. The last time

David Temple:
Sure.

Mark:
when it was announced on Netflix with Gosling and Chris Evans, I had not heard one thing about Chris Evans. I heard that Netflix was interested. I heard that the Russo brothers were wanting to do it. I'd heard that Gosling was circling the project, which, you know, in the 12 years it was in Hollywood, every actor you can imagine was circling the project. So it just didn't mean anything. And then it just showed up on deadline that they were doing this $200 million movie. And I learned at the same time everybody else did. And that'll probably be the case again.

David Temple:
See, I love these inside scoops because everybody thinks, oh, you know, Mark has his own chair on the set with his name on it. And he

Mark:
Yeah.

David Temple:
probably gets that. He has espressos delivered to him by hand every 22 minutes. And

Mark:
Yeah.

David Temple:
he's got the inside scoop on everything.

Mark:
Yeah, I'm freaking out about next year's book. That's always what I'm doing. And when I'm publishing this book, I'm freaking out about what I'm doing next. So everybody that thinks, you know, I kind of have this joke with my wife that when I go to an event and, you know, meet people, I'll look at a room of a hundred people and go. There's 10 people in here that can't wait to come up here and tell me what they want me to do with my free time because everybody wants me to read their book or this or that. And it's like, you don't really understand. I'm not glorifying the fact I'm busy. That doesn't make me important that I'm busy.

David Temple:
Right.

Mark:
It's just sort of like, I'm chaotically slammed, you know, just trying to make it through my day and people are like, you know, it'd be really great for you to start an organization of writers in the local community. And then you guys could have a meetings and you could bring in the, and I'm going like, Yeah, you know, you come to all my signings. So two a year, 25 books in 15 years. It's like, I don't know, I don't really have time for,

David Temple:
Thanks for watching!

Mark:
you know, every other thing. I get asked to read somebody's book, probably five days a week, five times a week. And you know, and I'm always like, are you asking me for a couple of weeks of my free time? Because that's what it takes me to read a book in my free time. And, you know, I'll do it some, but 95% of the time, I can't do it. And every now and then people just get mad and then they're just like, you know, oh, I can't believe you're not giving back to the community. And I'm like, I do give back. I just can't only give back because I'm trying to write 2000 words a day.

David Temple:
Yeah, and not to make it about me, but I find myself getting bombarded. I've got stacks and stacks of books

Mark:
I'm sure.

David Temple:
who want to get on the show. And listen, if I had my way, I would create an AI chip in my head to where I could just speed read every single book and then

Mark:
Yeah.

David Temple:
just crank out podcast after podcast. But, you know, I'm spending, I don't know, 20, 25 hours a week by the time I get your book and read it and break it down and make

Mark:
Yeah.

David Temple:
my notes. And then sit down with you in chat and then edit it and post it. And then I get an occasional, I got one this week, a guy going, really? Dude, I've been banging on your door for a year. And I'm like, I got five people that's been banging on my door

Mark:
Yeah.

David Temple:
for two years.

Mark:
It's, yeah, it's, you know, it's, it's just a fact, you know, that it's like, there's just a lot going on and you, everybody's doing their best. And, uh, you know, it's, you can't really judge people. Um, you know, like I understand people asking the question, or I'll have, I'll have somebody send me an email about something. And then when I don't respond in two hours, they're like, Oh, did I do something to offend you? And you're going like, Whoa, man, I've got 60 to 80 people that are, that are hit me right now and I'm doing

David Temple:
Yeah.

Mark:
my best.

David Temple:
Anyway, this is not Weiner's Corner.

Mark:
Hahaha

David Temple:
This is just simply this is just little facts of life,

Mark:
Yeah.

David Temple:
folks. I do want to ask this. It's interesting from the writer's perspective. What do you suppose? Because you've written so many books as we've just covered, the difference and the strongest challenge. Maybe that's a better way between writing Greyman. and Tom Clancy and I understand that they're two pretty much entirely different worlds, but I'd love to know just from the writer's perspective, what's the strongest challenge, biggest difference between those two worlds for you creating them?

Mark:
That's a good question. Yeah, I always said I never really had a trouble going back and forth between the two. They were different enough to where it felt like a different world. You know, the Clancy books are so big and broad and there's so many, I guess the answer to your question is in the Clancy books, there's a certain cast of characters that sort of need to be in all the books because people want it to... see them and I get that too. I'm a Clancy fan. I want to see them too. And if I picked up Mark Cameron's new book or MJ Woodard or Andrews and Wilson, the people doing Clancy now, and I picked one of those books, I would want to see what John Clark is doing or Jack Senior is doing. But I made a decision in the Greyman early on that my recurring characters, my sidekicks and second tier characters would come and go. and not, you know, I didn't have to check the box on each book to have them all in.

David Temple:
Sure.

Mark:
And in the Clancy world, again, I'm not knocking it. That's exactly how you should do it. If these people are so, you know, these characters are so beloved and, you know, people have been looking at it for 30, almost 40 years, you need to have them in there. But for the Grey Man, I wanted Zoya to appear in a book and then not be in a book, and Zach to be in a book or not be in a book, depending on how I wanted that story to go. So I do hear from fans sometimes, they're like, wow, there's no Zach in this book. And I think I'm thinking of the long-term health of the series and I didn't want to get into, you know, you have this cast of characters that all need a role. I'd rather pull the characters in who worked for the story. So I think that was the big thing. With the Clancy thing, it was just tough because it's like, all right, what is Dominic Caruso doing right now? And, you know, and I think that it lends itself to those stories because they are big and broad. You can't have this wide group of characters. But in the Grey Man, I wanted it to be a little bit more the camera is on court's shoulder for the majority of the time.

David Temple:
Right. And you know, the, the person who helps keep you, keeps that world in order is someone we mentioned earlier. And I want to take 60 seconds on our friend, Tom Colgan, because lifetime editor of yours, practically, uh,

Mark:
Mm-hmm.

David Temple:
having spent time with him on the show, I have found him to be one of the funniest and most engaging men I've ever met.

Mark:
Yeah, he's super entertaining.

David Temple:
He's way funnier than I ever would have expected. I don't know why you think an editor own, you know, I've got a, it's nuts and bolts, young man, nuts and bolts.

Mark:
Hehehehe

David Temple:
But that is not the case with Tom.

Mark:
Yeah.

David Temple:
How long have you two worked together and you gave me a hint of it at 20 books back and what in your opinion, so is that a check? It is, it is 20, isn't it?

Mark:
22,

David Temple:
22.

Mark:
I'm done, yeah.

David Temple:
Okay. And what in your opinion makes a good editor? I mean, outside of the obvious.

Mark:
I'm going to come at this from a very biased angle because I'm the writer, but to me, a good editor is somebody who's there when you need them and then lets you do your own thing. Tom will trust me to try something. He'll tell me what he thinks of it once I try it, but it would be tough. I would be not as good a writer if I wrote everything in my books. you know, thinking I had to have it approved before I even tried it. So, um, Tom is, I just have these amazing moments where I'm so confused and I'm so lost and these books don't, I'm not just a pantser that just, you know, from day one to the next just discovers, um, I don't know, do you know John Land, uh,

David Temple:
Oh yeah,

Mark:
a

David Temple:
oh yeah.

Mark:
great guy. I love John Land, but I was on

David Temple:
Yes.

Mark:
a panel with him the other day and he was talking about how he writes and I was like, I need that dude's brain in my head right now, um, because he, he can just pants it and, and write it out. And I'm like a stressor and freaking out and don't think it's good. And so I can go to Tom and be, and it's almost like, I don't even, I don't even know how to ask the question, you know, because I'm so confused about something in the story and I can work it, Tom will work it through. And it's always where I feel like I came up with the answer after talking with him, but I only came up with the answer because we were, we were going back and forth. He's coming up with, you know, the majority of it. So I think that's a super, the amazing skill of an editor is to, um, have the relationship that the writer needs. And, and for me, you know, I need somebody to come to during freakouts and I need somebody that's going to give me freedom to try something and. What I give him is when he comes back and says, this totally doesn't work, he wanted me to change the end of one of the Grey Man books, and I completely did not understand, but I do understand now. Not change the whole end, but just the little epilogue of where they're going next type of thing.

David Temple:
Sure.

Mark:
And I totally got it later, but I didn't get it at the time. Yeah, so what I give to him is I listen to his... You know, he'll come back and be like, yeah, I think you should do this. Or, you know, I don't, I don't know that I believe this motivation or whatever. I mean, I take that stuff to heart because he only does it, you know, when he knows his stuff and he doesn't, you know, do it every paragraph, it's only when he does it, I know to sit up and pay attention.

David Temple:
That's the thing. There's the magic key is being able to trust him to Know that look he's seen it all he's read it all

Mark:
Yeah.

David Temple:
So if he's gonna jump in and he knows how you work, he's not gonna come in and go Well, I'm just gonna show you I know what I'm doing, you know,

Mark:
Hmm.

David Temple:
he's gonna go. All right sparingly I think you got something better that you can do right here.

Mark:
Absolutely.

David Temple:
Yeah

Mark:
Yeah, that's, that's what he does. And he, and he does it really, really well. And, um, you know, I turned in a book that I didn't feel comfortable with the first draft and he read it and he came back and he's like, you know, you're worrying about nothing, it's really, really good. The pace is great. I was concerned about the pace and at different parts. And, uh, and then I took that from him and I was like, all right, he's wrong. It's still a mess,

David Temple:
Thanks for watching!

Mark:
but he's. telling me to relax for the next

David Temple:
Yeah.

Mark:
draft and move on. And so I wrote another draft and now I feel good about the book. But it's sort of like, instead of him coming back and going like, yeah, man, you're right. This is a disaster. It wasn't a disaster. I was exaggerating things, but it wasn't where it needed to be. And instead of him coming back and stating the obvious to me, we've worked together for so long. He knows that I really do make changes and fix things up on subsequent drafts.

David Temple:
Yeah.

Mark:
But it is nice to take the steam out of the kettle, why have him going, all right, I've read it, I like it. Keep going.

David Temple:
This is one of the funniest things I have learned about you over the years is that you, like several people who've been on the show, and you especially, for someone as talented as you are, and I'm not just blowing smoke up your skirt, but to do this volume of work, it's so funny to watch you still neurose over this when you know you've got it in the bag and maybe actually... Psychologically, that's a great thing because if you weren't worrying, it's like the people who don't get nervous before a really big event. You go, why are you not nervous? This is really huge. Is it that you don't care? You've taken it for granted or whatever? Anyway, anyway, that's one thing I've always admired about you. And I, I find it so funny to this day.

Mark:
Thank you. You know, I always feel like there should be a better work life balance where, you know, I come in here just fired up and knowing that I've got this and trusting that I'll think it up on the day. And it's not like that. It's sort of like when I can't figure something out in my story, which I mean, if you think of it, 170,000 word book, like the chaos agent, you're making more than 170,000 decisions. You're deciding every word you don't write. You're deciding what point of view, you know, your plot twists and all that you're making. a million decisions to write a book. And if there's something that I can't figure out, it's like, well, why would this character need this device so much that he's willing to kidnap the other guy's children for it? What's the point of that? I'll sit there and labor over that when I'm working out, when I'm walking my dogs, when I'm eating dinner, you know, I'm out at the grill, and I'll do it at the computer. And I don't trust myself that some morning I'm just gonna wake up and my eyes are gonna like... launch open, I'd be like, Eureka. You know, that it doesn't really happen. I sort of solve things in stages after lots and lots of like tooling over it and working over it. And so, um, you know, I'm always happy. I'm happy with every book that I've finished, but I'm happy with none of my books when they're about 95% done. Cause there, there's so many little things that I still have to work out. So I think that keeps, keeps me humble. Cause I always feel like I'm about five minutes away from being discovered as a complete fraud.

David Temple:
That is so funny to me. Now here's the interesting question. When you're sitting at the dinner table, do Alison and the kids, do they go, uh, Mark, uh, come back, come back. Where'd you go? Cause maybe during dinner you're working on something.

Mark:
Yeah, Alison does for sure. Not so much sitting there. It was, there'll be that thing and like, what are you thinking about a lot? You know, and it's

David Temple:
Sure.

Mark:
like, I don't know what other guys are thinking about, but I, you know, I'm thinking about like, how are they going to get the bomb on that boat, you know, and, and that goes on all the time. There's a hilarious thing that happened to me a long time ago. And it's, it, it'd been funnier if you were there, but, um, when my nephew was really young, he's 19 now, but he was probably like five. And he was over at my house with my brother and sister-in-law and he had a couple of toys. And one of them was like, he had a metal Air Force one, and then he had this like black metal limousine and he was doing this flying thing and putting one on the other. He was just playing, he was three or four. And my brother Trey was like, look at Mark. He's sitting there going like, wait, do that again. Uh, yeah,

David Temple:
Thanks for watching!

Mark:
yeah. I like what you got there. Let's as if I was going to take that idea of like landing. Um, driving a car onto the back of Air Force One or vice versa, but it was funny. I mean, it's people can sort of see that I'm always trying to like glean stuff out of stuff.

David Temple:
Yeah. When Tammy and I first got together, we'd be taking road trips out to see the kids in Colorado, and it would be silent for a long time and I'd just be sitting there driving. This is me driving, by the way. And she'd go, let me guess, working on a character. Oh, yeah. Yeah. I was just wondering how he was going to break out of prison if he only

Mark:
Yeah.

David Temple:
had blah, blah. Yeah. It's so hilarious. You know something I noticed at the end is we're getting ready to wrap up. I noticed that your acknowledgments. This is probably the shortest acknowledgments

Mark:
Oh, that

David Temple:
on

Mark:
makes

David Temple:
any

Mark:
me sound bad. It makes

David Temple:
No, no,

Mark:
me

David Temple:
no

Mark:
sound like I don't appreciate anyone. Ha ha

David Temple:
No,

Mark:
ha.

David Temple:
what i'm getting at is I have read a couple of books recently where their acknowledgments were nearly a novella

Mark:
Jack Carr. I don't

David Temple:
I wasn't

Mark:
know if

David Temple:
going

Mark:
you've

David Temple:
to

Mark:
read.

David Temple:
say it.

Mark:
No, I mean, I think it's like I read it and I'm going like, man, you've written a whole nother book. It's like,

David Temple:
Bye.

Mark:
I'm always so late with my acknowledgements because I'm late with the book and I'm late with my edit. You know, I'm just, I'm always just scrambling. And then the acknowledgements, I've honestly forgotten to put people in there who are like real important. I'll put them in the next book that they had nothing to do with.

David Temple:
It's just merely an observation. There's no judgment. I mean,

Mark:
Yeah.

David Temple:
I don't care. You know, I just found it so interesting because I'm so glad that you named out our mutual friend, Jack Carr, because I was

Mark:
Mm-hmm.

David Temple:
like, Jesus, Jack, that's an, that's an entire epilogue right there.

Mark:
Yeah,

David Temple:
You could

Mark:
he's

David Temple:
have.

Mark:
put me in his acknowledgments. I'm like, what'd I do? You know,

David Temple:
Yeah.

Mark:
but no, I mean, you know, like we're friends.

David Temple:
Yeah, I want to, I want to, I want to ask you this. Who would you say has had perhaps the strongest influence? As you mentioned, Jack Carr, and I think of I watch you and a bunch of your buddies on social media. Who do you think's been the strongest influence on your writing career to date?

Mark:
I mean definitely Tom, my editor,

David Temple:
Sure.

Mark:
but as far as other writers... Probably Josh Hood. I don't know if you've had him on before, but

David Temple:
Oh, yeah.

Mark:
Josh and I are really good friends. We go shooting together. We're always talking about stuff. When he's standing on a bench with a noose around his neck, he calls me and vice versa. I do the exact same thing to him. And he just read the second half of a book that I was working on that I was not happy with. Boom, just idea after idea. He's got a great mind for that. Brad Taylor's a good friend of mine, and we talk about the business and all this other stuff. And so that's also very helpful for me. I have a good relationship with everybody. There's really nobody in the industry that I don't get along with. There's people that I don't get to see enough. And then when you go to one or two conferences a year, and you're there for four days, and you have 15 things to do, and... Yeah. 50 people you want to hang out with. Um,

David Temple:
Yeah.

Mark:
but yeah, Josh would be the one that is like, he's, uh, he's given me like great ideas and, you know, we've talked through, uh, you know, like difficult things. So probably Josh.

David Temple:
Okay, well, you know, you reminded me that he was on the show once and I need to bring him back because he is... I did not know he was such a prolific ghostwriter as well.

Mark:
Yeah, yeah, he's done ghost writing, super smart guy, SWAT, airborne office, airborne,

David Temple:
Yeah.

Mark:
I guess the 101st, I'm gonna get it wrong. He's either in 82nd or one of, he's in the 82nd. I'm

David Temple:
There

Mark:
not,

David Temple:
you go.

Mark:
I don't know, one or the other. Yeah, great guy, great guy.

David Temple:
All right, there's two more things I want to do before we wrap out of here, because I know you got a deadline to meet. We've done this before. You know, it's my standard closing question. I do it every single show for every author. It's best writing advice for aspiring writers. I know yours has been pretty consistent all along, but sometimes I find over the years the advice shifts a little bit. So I want to check in on Mark's best writing advice.

Mark:
The best one I'll give right now is the single most important thing you need when you start a project in this genre. I can't speak to other genres and it probably is different, is to intimately know what your villain wants. I mean, I

David Temple:
Mm.

Mark:
feel like I can build everything out from there. If I have, you know, an antagonist with a... with some wants and some goals, then I can go from there. I can plug the good guy in to try and thwart the ideas. I mean, obviously characters are super important because if people don't care about the characters, then you're completely dead in the water. But the initial thing, like if I was sitting down, I've never written a book, I was sitting down, I wanted to write, I can write, but I had no plans for a book. I would be like... who's my bad guy and what do they want? Or honestly, what do they want? And then I'll figure out who it is. Once you have that initial thing, you can expand on that and expand on it and expand on it and eventually you have a story. For a chaos agent, I was looking at people like Elon Musk, these multi-billionaires that have these massive AI labs and the defense department wants to work with them and Chinese wants to steal their material or create their own versions. of things. And I just thought, wow, that this nexus between, you know, business and ego and greed and ambition and military's necessities and all the money that's involved. It's like, wow, that's so rife for trouble. It's like, well, what if some entity had developed artificial Uh, almost like, uh, an intelligence agency attached

David Temple:
Mm-hmm.

Mark:
to offshore banks. So it can buy people and order things and ship things and, uh, you know, socially engineer people. And I just thought like, wow, that is, that's like an incredible device. Now, how does my hero factor into it? And, you know, you expand from there and you, and you turn this initial kernel of an idea, which was, you know, that's, you could write that in a paragraph. and you turn that into a 170,000 word book six months later.

David Temple:
Folks, did you hear that? There's a little master class for you. Nicely done.

Mark:
Thanks.

David Temple:
Alright, only because it's you and I kind of stopped doing this because people are... Tension spans are shortening, but I... you know that thing I do random fire questions? I got three of them real fast. Kind of funny. I want you to play with me, will you?

Mark:
Mm-hm. Yep.

David Temple:
Alright,

Mark:
I'll

David Temple:
you've

Mark:
try.

David Temple:
been... alright, here you go. Number one, you've been asked to compete with Jack Carr, Don Bentley and Brad Taylor in a shooting contest. Who of the four will perform the best and who's going to come in last?

Mark:
Brad Taylor will come in first. Jack Carby right there. I would come in last. Bentley would probably shoot better. Although he's an officer. People joke that officers can't shoot, but I'm not an officer. They also joke about people who aren't officers who can't shoot. So yeah, I would handle the weapon safely. I would hit my target. I would do everything right. I would just do it at a glacial pace.

David Temple:
Okay.

Mark:
because that's how I am. So I think Brad or Jack would win one or the other. And, uh, and then Don would be right behind him. And then I would, I'd bring up the rear.

David Temple:
Okay, fair enough. Number two, you've just learned that part of a future film deal hinges on your performing in a scene as part of your former hard rock band Bad English. Will you A, play drums like you did in the 80s, B, sing as lead vocalist, or say no freaking way and pass on the entire deal?

Mark:
I'd play drums and hopefully they have some good CGI or whatever special effects. Cause I can't play like I used to. I have a, I have a drum set now and it's always frustrating because it's like, God, I used to be so good at it. And it just feels foreign to me, but oh my God, I'd love to do that.

David Temple:
Yeah,

Mark:
Um,

David Temple:
okay.

Mark:
I would, I'd need something done with the hair. I guess they could handle that.

David Temple:
Which leads me to number three, addendum. You lose a bet with your wife, Allison, and she asks you to grow your hair long again, complete with perm. You

Mark:
Yeah.

David Temple:
lose the bet, yes or no?

Mark:
Yeah, it's like my stepkids. It's the funniest thing in the world. When they see me wearing like makeup and long hair and a perm, um, they just. Die laughing. Like they send

David Temple:
I'm sorry.

Mark:
it to their friends, you know? And I'm like, Hey, laugh all you want. But in 1987, that works. You know, that was

David Temple:
Yeah.

Mark:
working for me. Um, golly, no, there's no way I would, there's no way I would, I would do a perm again. I don't care. I would, I would, uh, I'd have to, I'd have to pay her in jewelry or something.

David Temple:
Okay, fair enough. Well, I am going to be featuring the photograph that I have of you.

Mark:
Oh, you have one? That's fine. I'm, you know, it's like, I can laugh at myself. And again, I will say in 87, I was doing just fine. Thank you very much.

David Temple:
Yeah, yeah, sport in the do.

Mark:
Yep.

David Temple:
Love it. All right, well folks, the book, of course, again, is The Chaos Agent, and the website, if you want to learn more, markgrainybooks.com. Mark, as always, just a thorough pleasure.

Mark:
Well, it's great to see you, David. Thank you for having me back. Hopefully we can do it again.

David Temple:
I'm expecting to see you around the water fountain cranking out books for decades to come, brother.

Mark:
I hope so.