Barry Eisler Interview, plus links to author biography, book summaries, excerpts and reviews

Barry Eisler

Barry Eisler

An interview with Barry Eisler

Barry Eisler answers questions about the lead character of his book, John Rain, a martial arts expert and assassin; and how he, Eisler, comes to know so much about both espionage and Japan.

Q. Why does Rain like single malt whiskey?
This is a tough one to answer -- why does someone like a certain color? Or a certain way of making love? Beyond the idiosyncrasies of taste, though, Rain's affinity for the single malts might be related to their character, which is formed, more than that of any other spirit, by the environment. Wood, water, air, soil. Barley and peat. The shape of the pot-still. The location and length of maturation. The proximity of the sea. Change one of these or a hundred other variables, and you will produce a recognizably different malt.

And then there's the taste -- so many complex flavors and smells, and yet, when done right, cohering in something harmonious and even sublime.

In all this Rain might find a microcosm of human nature.

Rain also likes the mood of single malts (a case of synesthesia?), something most perfectly expressed in Bar Satoh, a singular whiskey bar in Osaka that, not coincidentally, plays nothing but jazz, and that makes a Tokyo appearance in Rain Fall.

Q. Why does Rain like jazz?
This is another tough one, because musical tastes tend to be idiosyncratic, and our stated reasons for liking something will, upon examination, usually be revealed to have been built on a preexisting emotional foundation.

Most fundamentally, Rain just likes jazz's moods. Romance and playfulness and longing and elegy -- all these appeal to him. In jazz Rain hears mono no aware, "the sadness of being human." And, because of jazz's emphasis on improvisation, to a remarkable degree the music reveals the character of the musician. No wonder Rain couldn't help falling for Midori...

Q. Why does Rain do judo?
Rain is experienced in many martial arts -- American boxing and wrestling, and Japanese aikido, judo, and karate. In his mind, the grappling arts -- wrestling, judo, jujitsu, sambo, submission fighting -- are the most combat-relevant because, as the Gracies of Brazilian jujitsu fame have proven, most fights go to the ground and it is difficult to stop a grappler from getting hold of you if he wants to. Rain is also a proponent of Peyton Quinn's dictum that "training is more important than technique," and grappling training by its nature is more easily practiced "live" than other forms of training.

This is not to say that other unarmed combat systems have no value. In fact, Rain believes that you need to derive your own system from the diligent study and application of multiple styles. But his view is that grappling is fundamental to combat; thus, his personal system is based on grappling.

More than anything else, Rain believes, as Marc "Animal" MacYoung will tell you, that, for combat effectiveness, awareness matters infinitely more than whatever style you practice. No style can save you once you've wandered into a well-set ambush. But your awareness might prevent you from walking into that ambush to begin with.

Q. Did any of the events in Rain Fall really happen?
Although the depth of Japanese political corruption detailed in Rain Fall might seem so outrageous that it must be fictional, it is all real. The names, numbers, and incidents that Midori and Franklin Bulfinch relate to Rain during the course of the story are straight out of the headlines of publications like The Economist and Forbes. In addition, over the course of the last decade a number of would-be reforming politicians and bureaucrats have in fact died under mysterious circumstances (suicides with no note left behind, curtailed investigations, cremation without an autopsy despite requests by family members, etc.), and there are rumors in Japan that there is a "natural causes" assassin or assassins behind these events. The plot of Rain Fall can therefore be thought of as a (not necessarily) fictional explanation for true events that are taking place in Japan today.

Q. Are any of the characters in Rain Fall based on real people?
I've been lucky enough to meet a number of remarkable people in my life, some of whom have influenced the characters I've created.

Beyond that general statement, I'll add that anyone who has seen the performances of jazz pianist might find herself thinking of Midori Kawamura...

Q. Where did you work in the US Government?
My paychecks came from the US State Department Foreign Service.

Q. Have you ever known a real assassin?
Can't answer that one. John Rain is a work of fiction... although he may not realize that.

Q. How do you know so much about the spy stuff that appears in the book?
Realism is important to me in my writing -- not just in depictions of tradecraft, but also in my descriptions of martial arts and unarmed combat, the layout and feel of Tokyo, and the nature of the political corruption that drives the story forward. Everything I've written about in Rain Fall is either derived from direct personal experience or researched through extensive reading and interviews. The information behind the novel's spy sequences can all be found in what the government calls 'open sources.'

Q. Will there be more books? A franchise?
The contracts in all ten countries in which publishing rights were sold were for Rain Fall and a sequel. The sequel Hard Rain was published in the summer of 2003. Whether John Rain wants to go on beyond that is hard to say today. He writes these books in first person, so we know he's going to live, but will he want to go on killing? He's conflicted about that. We'll see.

Unless otherwise stated, this interview was conducted at the time the book was first published, and is reproduced with permission of the publisher. This interview may not be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the copyright holder.

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