5 Questions with Dan Fesperman

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Former Baltimore Sun journalist Dan Fesperman is the author of 11 spy and crime novels bursting with real-life international inspiration. His latest, “Safe Houses,” was released this past July.

Q: Tell us about your time with The Sun.
A: I started at The Evening Sun in 1984, then moved to The Baltimore Sun. I covered the Gulf War in Kuwait, then went to the Berlin Bureau. I was the backup person for the Middle East, so I went there a few times. My last foreign assignments were in Pakistan and Afghanistan after 9/11. I covered a little bit of everything. I was fortunate; I sort of caught the last train. A lot of those jobs don’t exist anymore. [The Sun] used to have six foreign bureaus. Now it has none.

Q: What attracts you to spy stories?
A: Journalists have a pretty natural affinity with spies. We like spy tales because they’re sort of behind the news. No one is sure what they do or don’t do. Their whole job is ferreting out things that people don’t want them to know. That’s what journalists do — and then we publish it.

Q: Is writing novels anything like journalism?
A: The research is. I try to get things right, to make it feel like the place really is. Those are the same skills. The hardest part was getting used to the idea of being in charge of [my] own world. If a character isn’t working out, I can change the age, change the demographic. I’m not chained to the words in my notebook.

Q: Do you have a favorite of your own books?
A: Not really. The one that’s closest to the experiences I’ve had is probably the third book [“The Warlord’s Son”]. The main character is a journalist. But I move on. Writers aren’t very faithful to our past books. There’s too much energy for the book you’re working on.

Q: Speaking of … what’s next?
A: There’s a new one, set in Hamburg. One of the secondary characters from “Safe Houses,” Claire Saylor, will be the main character. It’s not a sequel, more a series. There will probably be a third. My books are normally stand-alone, but I’m just enamored with this character.

I Spy
Dan Fesperman recommends these three thrillers.

“Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy,” by John le Carre
The spy novel that sets the standard for all others for characters, mood and writing.

“Case Histories,” By Kate Atkinson
This deceptively breezy read breaks so many rules of the genre but does so in an intelligent manner.

“Gorky Park,” by Martin Cruz Smith
This 1981 ground-breaking novel abut Moscow investigator Arkady Renko is still a great read.

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