Before September 11, 2001, bestselling author Robert Ferrigno was known as a cooler West Coast version of Elmore Leonard. His mysteries put a modern, whacked-out L.A. spin on noir fiction, and if there was a political point of view expressed, it might have been a rough libertarianism.
But when he decided to get political, he went all out. His audacious novel Prayers for the Assassin was a dazzling dystopian mix of social/political satire and spy thriller that proposed a future America ruled by Sharia law. Suddenly Ferrigno’s patriotic and conservative convictions were on view for all to see.
The Assassin trilogy became a huge favorite with conservatives — and was decried just as soundly by the advocates of political correctness. Mark Styen’s positive reviews of the books were even used to haul him before the Canadian Human Rights Commission.
Like fellow mystery writer Andrew Klavan, Ferrigno began doing overt poltical commentary as well as working within the popular culture. He wrote a series of columns for Andrew Brietbart examining the Obama White House from the point of view of Bo, the president’s dog; and his blog on his website would feature brilliant bits like this about gun control and pop culture in the wake of mass shootings: We Are Not the People We Used to Be.
Ferrigno’s new thriller, The Girl Who Cried Wolf, is available as an e-book (and at $.99 for the Kindle download on Amazon, the best value I can think of). It hearkens back to the old Ferrigno darkly comic/noir, but with his new political sharp elbows fully employed. In it, a small group of eco-terrorists kidnap Remy Martin, a beautiful heiress, hoping to benefit both the Cause and their personal cause as well. You see, it takes money to live free of modern conveniences.
They are a little surprised at how calmly her billionaire father takes the news, not realizing that this just may be the most ill-conceived kidnapping since The Ransom of Red Chief. Remy’s job as an entertainment lawyer and her posh upbringing may make her seem like a soft mark, but calling her a handful would be a considerable understatement. Then there’s the fact that Remy had just begun dating an ex-cop security expert who takes his failure to have protected her very seriously indeed.
The kidnappers are surprised at how well Remy takes to being held in a wilderness paradise—but that’s just the beginning of their surprises.
I caught up with Robert Ferrigno to talk to him about the changes in his writing, including huge changes in the business of writing, and how a conservative operates in the pop culture.
Forsmark: I really loved you in the old Incredible Hulk TV show. Who is your favorite movie Hulk?
Ferrigno: It’s a little-seen classic, HULK SMASH!, starring Chris Christie as the Hulk and Ann Coulter as his alter-ego, Bruce Banner. Went straight to video.
Forsmark: Your books used to always feature anti-heroes (at best), and while you haven’t exactly gone over to conventional white-hat men of valor, you are writing more about men of action than you used to. Why the change?
Ferrigno: I’m still a far cry from men of valor. After Vince Flynn blurbed my first assassin book, I went back and read all of his books, and they had a real effect on me. There’s something ennobling about his protagonist, Mitch Rapp – reading about Rapp’s exploits makes me glad that there really are such people out there, protecting us, but I’m too aware of my own frailties to be able to create a character like that. The white hats on my guys are always a little smudged, and that’s the way I like it.
Forsmark: Do you think you will ever write another book with a sleazy tabloid journalist or small-time drug dealer who finds unexpected heroic depths?
Ferrigno: Of course! I love those guys. I’m a lapsed fundamentalist Christian who still believes that at the core of all that’s best in religion is a belief in redemption. My favorite short story of mine is called “The Hour When the Ship Comes In,” about a very bad man who does a very good thing without thinking, and gets himself killed for it. The story carries the dying bad man on a walk along the beach in Southern California while he tries to come to grips with why he did such a foolish thing. Redemption comes through pain sometimes. These are the most interesting characters to me as a writer because sin and failure are wired in to the human organism. It’s how we deal with it that defines us.
Forsmark: Your writing took a definite right turn after 9/11. Was that the result of an ideological shift on your part, or just a change in emphasis?
Ferrigno: Definitely a change in focus, a greater sense of urgency. 9/11 changed everything, or it should have. It raised the stakes to life and death; unfortunately, we are a distracted people — 52% of us anyway — and that’s just the way our betters like it. I knew within two weeks of 9/11 that I was going to write a book set in a future USA that had as its premise that the US had lost the war on terror, had suffered through another civil war, with only the South staying Christian and the rest of the country becoming a Muslim republic. The tricky part was figuring out how I could explain it. Wasn’t that hard. One of the characters, Sara, quotes from a history paper she wrote in 10th grade called “How the West Was Really Won.”
Though the jihadi attacks of 9-11 had little direct, long-term impact on the United States, the true importance of the 9-11 martyrdom was that it induced the former regime to over-extend itself in fruitless military engagements around the world. The political and economic consequences of this U.S. response were profound and long lasting. After their failed attempt to create democracy in the Islamic homeworld, the Crusaders fled, grown weary of war, eager to return to their idle pursuits. This great retreat left the West no safer than before, but instead drained it of capital, manpower and, most importantly, will.
When the U.S. troops trickled home from their wars of conquest, the former regime was confronted by a prolonged economic downturn, and a jobless recovery that only exacerbated the gap between rich and poor. A cruel, godless Capitalism sent increasing number of jobs overseas, where labor costs were cheaper, leaving millions at home unemployed, and embittered. Unlike education in Muslim nations, God was not allowed to be spoken of in American schools, and the children and adults could draw no moral sustenance from a permissive culture that celebrated immorality and materialism.
After the end of martial law, a new generation of pragmatic, modern American Muslim leaders stressed the importance of transforming the popular culture, as a means of affecting the larger population. Thanks to the generous funding of the Kingdom, a 24-hour Islamic television network offered programming geared to a young, non-Muslim American audience. This network featured innovative graphics, videos, and interviews with entertainers and sports stars who had converted to the true faith.
Forsmark: I think a fan at a book signing after, say, your first four or five books, might have been surprised to hear you say something conservative; now you have written for Brietbart and been mentioned as a prime example of Islamaphobia by the Canadian Human Rights Commission (congratulations on that, by the way).
Ferrigno: Yes, I take great pride in getting Mark Steyn in trouble with the Canadian Committee for the Promotion of Virtue, not that he wasn’t doing a fine job on his own. To get to your question, I always thought my politics were expressed, albeit subtlety, in all my works. I want to give my readers something to think about, but I want to make sure they get a good ride. While many of my readers are people in law enforcement and the military, my protagonists are never such “professional” heroes, who are paid to do brave things. I prefer writing about people who are morally compromised but for reasons sometimes not even known by themselves, do the right thing.
Rakkim, my hero in the Assassin trilogy, is a Muslim elite warrior who has lost his faith after numerous undercover missions to the Christian Bible Belt, seduced by the freedom he sees there. He quits the Fedayeen and operates a club in the Zone, like Rick in Casablanca. Remy, the female protagonist in The Girl Who Cried Wolf is a pampered rich girl who comes into her own when she’s kidnapped by three environmental terrorists. She uses her brains and her courage to claw and fight her captors, and discovers a strength she wasn’t even aware of. My kind of conservatism is individual-based, where right and wrong are not determined by the HR department.
Forsmark: You went from writing about political Islam, to a book about violent Greens, also, I would contend, a political religion. What made you pick environmental extremism as the target of your satire this time?
Ferrigno: Greens are a soft target. Pompous and unself-aware, they hate modern civilization while utterly dependent on it, luddites with iPhones, the Khmer Rouge with better PR. Who wouldn’t find the blathering pedigree that is Bobby Kennedy Jr., or Saint Al Gore ripe for satire? The mockery in The Girl Who Cried Wolf has a serious intent, though. The Greens are proud monkey-wrenchers, determined to slow progress, whether it’s tearing down hydro-electric dams, blocking industrial development to protect the latest victim species, or destroying research on genetically engineered food crops. Well-connected eco smugs have stymied domestic oil and gas production for the last thirty years, damaging our economy and leaving the country vulnerable to our good friends in the Middle East.
My book focuses on the Green footsoldiers, slogan spouters who got tired of demonstrations and Days of Rage windowbreaking, and took things to another level. Characters like this are more interesting from a narrative standpoint because the reader is more familiar with them, whether the college kid home from school as a proud vegan disgusted with what’s in his parents’ refrigerator or the hipster muttering “breeders” at the couple pushing a baby stroller past Starbucks. The best way to make a point is to make it true and make it fun. That’s why I wrote the book.
Forsmark: Why is it that so many people who claim to love the Earth live in big cities?
Ferrigno: Because they would starve if they had to make it on their own. Government cheese doesn’t grow on trees.
Forsmark: Well, the Greens should like your latest story; since it’s an e-book, no trees were harmed in the making of this novel!
Ferrigno: I think they might love the delivery system but hate the content.
Forsmark: What do you think of your shift from traditional publishing to the electronic world? Will you consider going back for a future novel? Do you think you will make The Girl Who Cried Wolf available as a mass paperback?
Ferrigno: My agent and I discuss this regularly. The problem with deciding to go the traditional route is that the publisher owns the rights to my work; by self-publishing, I retain all the rights. It’s a balancing act and I’m not sure where we go from here.
Forsmark: Have we seen the last of Rikki and the Islamic States of America, or is there a possibility to take that vivid dystopian world you created in another direction?
Ferrigno: I’m very flattered and pleased and can report that I get emails regularly asking me the same question. The glib answer is that considering that Obama has just declared the war on terror over — to great jubilation in Iran and Libya — the media has cast the surviving Boston terrorist as just another disaffected youth — Holden Caulfield with a bomb — and the IRS is targeting Tea Party and religious groups… why write another book? The newspapers are covering it quite well!
The deeper answer is that I spent eight years doing nothing else but writing the trilogy, and there was a cost. I was deeply pleased with the result but utterly exhausted. The Girl Who Cried Wolf restored me to my former energy and good spirits.
I still carry the characters of the trilogy in my mind and soul, and I too wonder what they are up to. There are, as always, other considerations. My publisher was never totally onboard with the trilogy. The first book was a NY Times best-seller. Yea! When I turned in the second one, my editor mentioned that a lot of people were starting to wonder if I actually believed what I was writing. I told him I did. The third book might not have even been published, except the second one was a finalist for the Edgar, Best Novel, the most prestigious award for mystery or thriller writers. So… I would have to talk to my agent before starting another installment.
Forsmark: Can you think of another author who started a trilogy off with a New York Times bestseller and then had his editor lose interest?