Thursday, December 17, 2015

Steve Vincent: Writing US politics from Australia

HALLIE EPHRON: Steve P. Vincent lives in Australia but his series featuring Jack Emery are political thrillers set in the US. In his photo, Steve comes across as a stealthy guy whom you wouldn't want to cross paths with in a dark alley. But his bio makes him sound more like a bloke with whom it would be fun to share a pint:
Steve P. Vincent lives with his wife in a pokey apartment in Melbourne’s north-west, where he’s forced to write on the couch in front of an obnoxiously large television. When he’s not writing, Steve keeps food and flat whites on the table working for the man. He enjoys beer, whisky, sports and dreaming up ever more elaborate conspiracy theories to write about. He has a Bachelor of Arts (Hons) in Political Science and History. His honours thesis was on the topic of global terrorism.
Welcome to Jungle Red, Steve, and please, explain yourself! 

“You do what? Why?!”

Those are usually the questions I get asked right after people realize I’m Australian and that I write about US politics. My Jack Emery series of novels – The Foundation, State of Emergency and the new release Nations Divided – feature an Australian protagonist helping to fight against political conspiracies in the United States and around the world.

The series has been praised for its accurate depiction of the US political system, something I studied at university and put a lot of work into making sure I represent as close to perfect as possible. Yet I still get asked the question.

So here’s a few reasons why I choose to set my novels in the US political system rather than the Australian one.

US domestic politics is far more interesting!

In Australia, most people are pretty apathetic about politics, because both major parties are pretty similar and because voting is compulsory. In fact, we even get a fine in the mail if we don’t vote. Despite this, the country is usually well run and most people are pretty well off.

In the US, there’s political dynasties and your leaders are more interesting than the old white guys we get. There’s also far a greater divide between the major parties, and within the major parties. Then there’s other things that seem crazy to us – like filibusters and debt ceilings and the turkey pardon.

Internationally, the US can actually achieve something!

The United States has the economic, military and diplomatic punch to get stuff done internationally when it chooses to. Australia… not so much. This is great for a fiction writer, because it lets me craft all sorts of interesting, giant conspiracies that have global ramifications.

What’s more interesting: a novel about the US and China being on the brink of nuclear war because of a terrorist attack in Shanghai, or a novel about Australia and New Zealand having a tense political standoff because of the ban on apple imports?

I like to eat!
A wise man once said: write books about Australian politics and you’ll know what it is to starve. Well, not really, but it feels like someone might have. In addition to having more options for plot and characters, lots of authors set their books in America because it’s a bigger market. Ah, capitalism!

I like to impress people at parties!
Though being an author doesn’t get you the number of free drinks that being a rock star does, there’s still a chance that somebody might buy me a beer. I think my chances are greater if I can impress them with my deep knowledge of the electoral college system, rather than the Westminster system.

Donald Trump…!
Though we do have our own version of The Donald – a larger than life mining billionaire named Clive Palmer. He currently sits in Parliament, owns a dinosaur theme park and is rebuilding the Titanic. Despite this, his contribution to public policy has been fairly minor. Let’s see if you guys do...

HALLIE: We rarely talk politics here on Jungle Red, but an American future with Donald Trump at the helm would be a horror story, not a thriller. Speaking for me personally that is.

As this blog goes live, it's the dead of night in Melbourne, so we may have to wait for Steve to speak up. But that shouldn't stop you from asking questions. Do US politics seem more of hotbed for a thriller than Australia... perhaps too much so?

Steve P. Vincent is the author of the Jack Emery series of political thrillers – The Foundation, State of Emergency and Nations Divided. Connect with him on the web, Facebook, Twitter or Goodreads.


  1. I can certainly see where United States politics might provide a significant amount of fodder for a thriller, given the antics of many politicians . . . especially around election time.
    Now I shall have to check out Steve's Jack Emery books.
    A dinosaur theme park????

  2. Wait--you study U.S. politics and you have to make up conspiracy theories?! Wow! And you Aussies can have Donald Trump, please!

    Pretty soon I'm going to be trapped in my house by all the books I want to read--Jack Emery's going on the pile!

  3. Ha ha ha! We do indeed have plenty of much fodder in American politics for conspiracy theories an thrillers. But sometimes it feels as if the scariest things we can think up just haven't YET happened. Scary times.

  4. This is so interesting Steve! I love that Australia makes people vote. And yes we do have the Donald, sigh.

    My hub and I visited your country last January and fell in love. We stayed in Melbourne a few days along the way--I should have shouted hello!

    Anyway, I agree with FChurch, the TBR pile is teetering!

    question: do you have an American reader who reads before you send it to the publisher? Have you lived or visited here?

  5. Oh, gee, more books to read! I agree with FChurch about the strong possibility of being trapped in the house by piles of books. (But we could kill time by reading our way out of the mountains of books and over to the door or closest window!)

    Steve, I definitely need to look for your books. How much of what you learned while doing your thesis has helped you with your novels? Do you have friends or relatives in the US who give you their perspective on US politics?

  6. This sounds SO great. I lived in Washington DC during Watergate..and every day we'd open the Washington Post and see the patsy. Amazing.

    I love the idea of fining people if they don't vote--but there's no way to assure it's an educated vote,--that's the problem.

    DId you see on MADAM SECRETARY that the president of Russia is now a beauty queen who was once married to a business mogul-? Hmmmmm. And I won't say how he "Left" office.

  7. I was up half the night with a sick son, but I still think this is the second time in as many weeks I've seen Steve and Jack Emery. I think the universe is giving me a sign...

    With such a cast of characters in American politics, how can you NOT have an abundance of conspiracy theories?

  8. Welcome, Steve! I also write on a sofa, so I feel we are kindred spirits... Mary Sutton, I hope your son is better today....

  9. I used to greatly enjoy the Scobie Malone series (Jon Clearly) which occasionally brushed up against political topics. I was interested in the diffs between our system and the Australian one. Totally understand the comment about wanting to appeal to a wider market, however!

  10. An educated vote isn't the goal, Hank. Just participation. The theory is that if everyone participates, and knows they are going to do so, they will need to at least discuss it with their family and friends. Lots of countries have mandatory voting, which I'm intrigued by, since I'd had no idea until a trip to South America.

    Mary Sutton, no kidding, about the cast of characters. Or, really, caricatures.

  11. That should be Jon Cleary (no extra L).

    And, Hank, we love MADAM SECRETARY. Even if the plots are largely unbelievable (esp Henry's role in the current plotline), we love watching her balance work and family life.

  12. Steve, I can see the apple imports imbroglio making a great comic caper novel, a la Donald Westlake!

    I don't know why I, and an American author, am always a bit surprised by a Brit or Australian setting their novels in the US. It's no more of a stretch than setting books in the past - less, perhaps, because the writer can visit the setting or talk to the inhabitants. Much more difficult to do that when the novel takes place in 1915!

    I guess American politics are interesting in the same way the word is used in the "ancient Chinese curse": May you live in interesting times...

  13. Oh, Julia... we certainly are doing that.

    If Laura AND Hank recommend it, I shall have to try Madam Secretary.

  14. I'm a Republican. Donald Trump scares me. Of course, I question what his role in this election really is, but that would get me into conspiracy territory.

    So obviously the US makes for wonderful political thrillers.

    Oh, and I'd argue that the parties aren't as far apart as they want us to think they are. But again, that's a topic for a different time and place.

  15. My hubby has dubbed the Donald "Trumpkin Spice"--a combination of the dreaded holiday season latte and the color of Mr. Trump's hair.

    Steve, I would love to read your books! I'm glad someone enjoys American politics. Me, I'd take the Apple Embargo any day...

  16. Steve, if your books are as witty and interesting as you are, and I'm betting they are, then I know I want to read them. As Hallie stated at the beginning of the post, I think it would be fascinating to sit and talk with you, and, yes, I'd buy you a pint.

  17. You're welcome, Steve. Someone in the world has to provide political entertainment and I guess that's us. Although sometimes England pitches in. And France. And Italy. Now I don't feel so alone!

  18. Hi guys – forgive the omnibus response to all of your generous comments, but I was happily sleeping while you all had a good chat. Thanks so much for reading and engaging with the post. I appreciate all the kind words and whoever has now added me to their overflowing TBR pile. I’ve typed out a few individual replies as well and I’ll be engaging throughout the rest of my day / your evening and for as long as you’d all like to chat.

    Joan Emerson: Yes, a dinosaur theme park. Although since I wrote the post a week or two back, Mr Palmer looks to have gone broke and lost much of his money. Something about a mine going bust. So his theme park might not be there much longer…

    FChurch: I understand the bane of a TBR pile, mine collapsed last week and kill several small children. I would be proud to have Jack on yours.

    Lucy Burdette: I’m from Melbourne and still live there. Next time you’re around shoot me an email! And yeah, I’ve got a few Americans who beta-read my stuff and I’ve spent several months in the US. With each book it gets more comfortable, but there’s still the odd turn of phrase that slips through :)

    Deb Romano: The thesis helped, but so did the undergrad study. My brother in law is from Denver and I spend a lot of time travelling through the States every few years. Now it’s a tax deduction!!

    Hank Phillippi Ryan: Oh, a compulsory vote is no guarantee of a smart vote, that’s for sure!

    Mary Sutton: Tell me about it. I’ve got about 5 years worth of novels plotted out, but no time to write the damn things.

    Susan Elia MacNeal: I’m very shortly going to be upgrading to a home office. I purchased the chair the other day. It’s exciting stuff.

    Julia: The apple imports would have been a great novel. Unfortunately, the dispute was settled amicably. Sums up the problem with Australian politics, really, for the most part everyone is too damn sensible.

    Deborah Crombie: You’re more than welcome to read the books! Haha. The first is free on Amazon at the moment.

    Kathy Reel: That’s an offer I’ll never refuse. Thanks for the kind words.
    Pat D: Don’t forget the Irish, Pat. Don’t forget the Irish.


  19. I'm late to posting on this thread, so perhaps no one will see it at this point, but there is one series of political "thrillers"/mysteries/satires set in Melbourne, Australia that I really like. It is the Murray Whelan series by writer Shane Maloney.

    I really enjoy their humor/satire, and I've learned a fair bit about Melbourne/Victorian state politics (that's the state of Victoria not Victorian England) by reading them. The characters, plots are writing are first rate.