Mark Greaney Author Interview
Thriller author Mark Greaney's popular series introduces readers to the legendary covert operative Court Gentry, aka the Gray Man. The series third, Ballistic, was recently released and there are plans in the works to bring the adventure to the big screen. (Brad Pitt is on board to play the titular Gray Man.) Today we sit down with Greaney for a chat about his globetrotting spy, the research he does to bring the series to life and how the author feels about the film adaptation that is currently underway.
RT BOOK REVIEWS: Your spy, Court Gentry, is a living legend. What would he credit as a key to his success as a covert operative?
Mark Greaney: He would credit his ability to maintain a low profile until the moment of action — Gentry isn’t flashy — he tries his best not to draw attention to himself. Being the Gray Man means he moves through the world without anyone around him knowing he’s there. Not because of some supernatural power, but rather a keen sense of tradecraft that is practically applied. But even though he can slip into and out of situations unseen, things often “go loud,” and at that point his decades of battle-hardened training kicks in. He flips a switch inside and does what he has to do to survive.
RT: They say you can learn a lot about a man from the weapon he chooses to carry. So we'd like to know what is your hero's weapon of choice and what does it say about him?
MG: There is an adage in the firearms community — the gun you have on you when you find yourself in a gunfight is better than the ten guns you left at home. Court Gentry uses what is available to him, but normally he prefers the Glock 19, a very concealable 9mm semi-automatic pistol. Many consider the “G19” to be a boring weapon. It’s square and chunky and not particularly chic, but when you pull the trigger it always goes bang. It is a practical tool, stripped bare of flash, just like Court Gentry himself.
RT: In this novel, Court seeks revenge for a friend's murder — and must protect the man's surviving family. How did you craft Court's relationship with Eddie?
MG: Court is a guy who hasn’t made a lot of friends in his career for operational reasons. Also he is a little socially awkward and lonely. But I imagined a time when he would have been forced into close proximity and all but compelled to make friends with someone. A few weeks locked in a cell with a friendly guy like Eddie certainly made an impact on Court, especially after Eddie helped Court survive the ordeal.
Now, more than a decade later, Gentry’s respect for this friendship, as well as his own code of honor, makes it impossible for him to turn his back on Eddie’s family.
RT: Your newest Gray Man novel is full of crime lords, drug cartels, rouge government agents, which of these bad guys did you like writing about the best?
MG: I really enjoyed writing the character Daniel de la Rocha. He is the boss of The Black Suits, a meth-based cartel located around Jalisco. He is young, handsome, charming, and somewhere well beyond sociopathic. I based his cartel on actual organizations in Mexico (La Familia Michoacan, los Zetas, the Beltran Levy Cartel, etc.) I did a lot of research on these and other actual groups and the practices of their leadership. It’s a bleak world, but I learned a lot about how power is obtained and held through terror and violence.
RT: Our reviewer adored how multifaceted Court Gentry is. She calls him a hero that readers can really relate to. So we'd love to know, what's something that you know about the Gray Man that hasn't made it into the series yet?
MG: I know what happened in Kiev. (Those who have picked up any book in the series will understand the reference.)
RT: Can you share a detail about Court that has changed since you first envisioned the character?
MG: That’s a very interesting question. When I first envisioned the character it was just for the novel The Gray Man. There was considerable back-story that I developed, but there wasn’t a bigger story arc planned — only the details of the book I was writing. As we expanded one book into three I got to flesh him out more.
I’d have to say that the core of the man has not really changed from the beginning; we’ve just been able to see more depth to him as time has gone on.
RT: In your previous two novels Court faced the threat of being eliminated — permanently — by his old employers, and then is plunged into the conflict in the Middle East in his second adventure. Of the three books you've written so far, which took the most amount of research? And what is the most interesting fact you've learned?
MG: As far as research, Ballistic took the most work. I spent almost a month in Mexico travelling around with a backpack researching the locations and scenes for the book. I had gone all over Europe for The Gray Man, and to Ireland for On Target, but for shorter periods of time. Plus, some of the places I went to in Mexico were pretty sketchy — namely the drug war-torn Pacific Coast just south of Sinaloa and the dangerous Mexico City neighborhood of Tepito.
As far as interesting facts, there are too many to mention. For the series I have done a lot of training with handguns and rifles and battlefield medicine, and my study of the tactics and skills and mindset of a gunfighter has done more to develop the character of Courtland Gentry than any reading or travel I’ve done.
RT: We've heard rumors that Brad Pitt has signed on to star in the film adaptation of your series. Can you tell us where in the process production is at now?
MG: I hear the studio is hoping to film next year with Brad Pitt. I’ve read the most recent version of the screenplay and I think it is terrific. There is a great team at New Regency and they are very energized about bringing the story to life, so I am hopeful it will happen soon.
RT: So far you've published one Gray Man novel each year since 2009, do you have plans to continue the series?
MG: I’m hoping for a 2013 release of Dead Eye, number four in the series.
RT: We know that next month fans can check out Locked On, which you co-wrote with Tom Clancy, what was it like to work with the author?
MG: It was truly the proudest moment in my life to be asked to help out with the novel. I still remember buying my first Clancy book, Patriot Games, in a grocery store in Memphis TN, when I was twenty years old. I have all my Clancy novels lined up on a shelf and they span about four feet of shelf space, so clearly I am a huge fan who has been given an incredible opportunity. I’m really happy with how the book turned out and hope everyone will pick it up and look it over.
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