Writing is the best form of mental exercise, says author Eric Van Lustbader | books | Hindustan Times
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Writing is the best form of mental exercise, says author Eric Van Lustbader

The author of numerous thriller novels, Eric Van Lustbader, talks about ninjas in New York and a spy called Jason Bourne.

books Updated: May 23, 2017 18:19 IST
Piyush Jha
Author Eric Van Lustbader talks about writing thrillers, taking over the Jason Bourne series, the Nicholas Linnear novels, and more.
Author Eric Van Lustbader talks about writing thrillers, taking over the Jason Bourne series, the Nicholas Linnear novels, and more.(Youtube/Open Road Media)

My first introduction to Eric Van Lustbader was in the most unexpected of places — on Mumbai’s famous book-ridden pavements along Flora Fountain. Cheap pirated copies of his bestseller, The Ninja, were selling like hot cakes. I picked up a copy, and by the time I had finished reading the first page, I was hooked for life.

As luck would have it, I bumped into the man himself at the recently concluded Emirates Literary Festival in Dubai. The first thing I told him was how famous he was among Mumbai’s street book pirates. He shrugged, and with a twinkle in his eyes, said, “I once got a letter from a guy in Thailand — along with a pirated copy of my book with his photo on it. He was in jail for pirating my books and he wanted me to help out his family.”

Lustbader says he first thought of incorporating ninjas in a fantasy setting, but then reconsidered and decided to write about ninjas in a city like New York. (HT Photo)

Lustbader has been writing literally all his life. From penning poems as a child of six, to writing for music trade magazine Cash Box as a young man, he moved on to pursue writing as a lifelong career, and now has more than 50 internationally bestselling novels to his name.

He started the breakout Nicholas Linnear ninja-thriller series after first writing three oriental-fantasy novels. When asked about the books and the journey, he says, “My mother worked at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City (USA). The curator of Japanese art once directed her and me to the Ronin Gallery. I used to hang out there with expat Japanese, and that was where I first heard about ninjas. Initially, I thought I might use a ninja in my next fantasy novel, but, on second thought, I realised the idea transcended fantasy. I recalled an interview with [Alfred] Hitchcock, where he talked about watching a drop of ink fall onto a blank sheet of paper — order into chaos. And I thought what would happen if I dropped a ninja into the middle of New York City? The rest, as you say, is history.” Lustbader has indeed made history. The prolific writer is today regarded as one of the grandmasters of the espionage-thriller genre.

Among his most successful books is the Jason Bourne series, which he took over from Robert Ludlum after the latter’s death. When asked about how he stepped into Ludlum’s shoes, Lustbader was rather forthcoming: “I met Bob (Robert) Ludlum in 1980 at one of my agents’ parties. Bob had read The Ninja and loved it. We spoke about our philosophies, writing thrillers, creating characters and art. We discovered we had a lot in common and we became friends. Bob died in 2001, and the executor of his estate asked me if I would be interested in writing Bourne. But I told him I wasn’t going to write the books in Bob’s style and I wasn’t a ghost writer. I wanted my name on the books. He agreed to both requests.”

Lustbader is best known for his book, The Ninja, and for continuing Robert Ludlum’s Jason Bourne novels. (HT Photo)

Ludlum wrote three Bourne books and Lustbader has written 11 to date, making the series a worldwide success. While Lustbader’s professional life is full of thrill, his personal life is charming too, given that he married his editor. Victoria Lustbader, now his wife of many years, is a novelist in her own right, but her loving husband still speaks fondly of her time as an editor. “Years ago, when my publishers wanted to cut 100 pages from my novel Black Heart, they hired a freelance editor who cut virtually all my descriptions out. Naturally, I hit the roof. Then, Vic [Victoria] suggested that she take a shot at it. Man, what a fantastic job she did. She took out 100 pages, and I could not even detect the difference”. The novel went on to become another bestseller.

Speaking about writing, Lustbader smiles and says, “I was born to write. This is the best form of mental exercise. It keeps me young and I continue to learn about new things.” And does he walk the talk: the 70-year-old writer is in the process of experimenting and creating a series of interlocking e-novellas where readers could find out more about Nicholas Linear. To top all that, Lustbader will be releasing three different books over the next couple of months.

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