M.P. Woodward brings his audience into a world that tells an exciting and entertaining story that shows the interplay between the defense department and the intelligence community, by blending the military experience with intelligence officers while simultaneously creating realistic characters with everyday problems in The Handler series. I was honored and excited to meet and interview with M.P. Woodward. I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I did and check out his newest book release, Dead Drop.
TSM: Tell us about your newly released book, Dead Drop.
MPW: I envisioned a world where the Iranians have obtained what the intelligence community calls breakout, meaning they have enriched uranium to weapons grade. And once that happens, there’s a disagreement in policy between the Americans and the Israelis on how to handle them. The Israelis think they have evidence that suggests that Iran is going to arm up with nuclear weapons. The Americans want to make a diplomatic deal. And so the spies from each side fight it to get to the truth.
TSM: What sparked your passion for writing The Handler series?
MPW: I spent a lot of time as an intelligence officer focusing on that area of the world. And I wanted to tell an exciting, entertaining, and authentic story. I wanted to portray events that are realistic and could happen but also make the heroes and antagonists people with regular problems and regular people doing extraordinary things. Many of the heroes in novels are created to be flawless. I knew I wanted to include action, but I didn’t want my heroes to be like that. I also didn’t think any books showed the interplay between the defense department and the intelligence community, blending the military with intelligence officers.
TSM: How has your former work as a naval intelligence officer influenced your writing?
MPW: A great deal. I used to write WarGames for the U.S. Pacific Command. I had to envision scenarios but also have events that would happen that would be unexpected for the various commands involved. So it made me think a lot like, ‘How can I throw something unexpected at them?’ That gave me a good technical background, which got me towards authenticity. Still, storytelling really came more from my tech career. I was with Amazon Prime Video and spent time with producers, directors, and guys who have to tell stories for a living in a really adept book. They do it in a really short time window; they have to make it super entertaining. So I tried to analyze that and break that down in constructing novels.
TSM: What were the most challenging obstacles you faced during the writing process of Dead Drop?
MPW: Probably the research I did into Lebanese culture and Hezbollah. As I said, I wanted to make characters who seemed real, and I met many Israelis and a couple of Mossad officers. But I had difficulty getting to know people who could tell me what living under Hezbollah was like. I met some people who helped me from Beirut and told me a lot about living in Beirut and how Hezbollah functions there. I read books and things like that, but because I hadn’t lived there myself, that was probably one of the harder things where I spent a lot of time on research.
TSM: How long did your research take before you felt it was enough to be able to write?
MPW: The research took about four months. One very helpful thing was that the Israeli Defense Force put out a lot of information about Hezbollah and themselves as a public relations exercise. And so I could see the things that they were saying, the videos they produced and then double click back into books and stuff and so that, I find that following those trails down deep, becomes really, really affected because then you get ideas, you get new ideas on how things could shift and change too. So anyway, it was about four months leading up to it, and then you go deeper on certain topics.
TSM: Opposite to the previous question, what were the most enjoyable moments during the writing process?
MPW: I like writing the final ten chapters because you have a lot of momentum built up by then and you know your characters well. I’ve always envisioned the end scene. You can play around with these characters, these multiple points of view, as they converge on this end scene. I always do those last few chapters in one day, where you just write the whole thing through, and it’s really emotional. And that’s almost the payoff of writing the whole book because I don’t try to write for others. I write for myself, and others like it as much as I do. Great that I’ve done my job, but in writing for myself, it’s very satisfying because you feel like you’ve had the story stuck inside you, and you want to get it out. And now you’ve brought it to its conclusion, and it’ll be messy, and you can go back and fix up, but the race to the finish is fun. Your hands just take over on the keyboard.
TSM: Is there any advice you would like to tell aspiring authors you wished you knew when you started as a writer?
MPW: I have one answer for the writing process and one for the business process. In writing, people always ask, ‘Are you a plotter or a pantser?’ Books that take place over a few months involve a geopolitical plot and multiple points of view. You can’t really be a pantser. You’re going to end up wasting a lot of time. And so I believe in a loose outline. And certainly, when you get into the writing itself, you’ll invent new stuff. But particularly as a beginner, if you haven’t done it before, you have to know how the book will end; otherwise, it won’t, and you won’t make the right moves for each character. You’ll waste a ton of time.
My other advice for the writing process is to write it through once and not obsess about getting the language exactly right and everything else but to get it straight in your head. And you’ll add too much detail and all those kinds of things. But that’s what the second, third, and fourth drafts are for. I believe in getting all the way through in that loose outline and getting to the end.
For my advice on the business side, it is once you get an agent and if you get a contract. The thing that I didn’t know when I started was how long it took. How long the process really is. It’s at least a year between signing a deal and seeing your book in print. So if you’re a thriller writer, you have to think almost two years ahead from when you’re writing a book to when it’s going to see the light of day, and that’s something I didn’t necessarily know, but I do now.
TSM: Are there any upcoming projects you’re excited to work on?
MPW: There’s a third book in the series that I finished. It should be out next year. I am also working on a standalone project that is nearly done. And that’s outside this series, and it’s a geopolitical thriller set in China.