Author Vince Flynn talks about his health and his new book at his home office in Sunfish Lake, Minn.Andy King, for USA TODAY
Author Vince Flynn talks about his health and his new book at his home office in Sunfish Lake, Minn.Diagnosed with stage III metastatic prostate cancer in November 2010, the best-selling thriller novelist says people are shocked when they see him out and about. "They expect me to look like total crap," he says. "I guess I'm supposed to show up with no hair and no eyebrows."Not today. Flynn, at 45, is the epitome of a good-looking man in the prime of his life and still producing best-selling anti-terrorism CIA page-turners that are the darlings of conservatives. His 13th novel, Kill Shot (Atria/Emily Bestler Books, $27.99), will be published Tuesday. That said, Flynn acknowledges that his battle with cancer has not been a cakewalk."The road is far from over. … I had some problems last summer," he says, referring to the disintegration of his ischium (hip) bone because of cancer eating it away. Kill Shot is Flynn's 12th Mitch Rapp novel. Rapp is on the run after a hit gone wrong targets him as a terrorist.His medical roller coaster ride has included hormonal therapy and more than 40 radiation treatments, which made him " fatigued" but halted the advance of the cancer that had spread beyond his prostate.He first knew something was wrong when he experienced extreme pain and fatigue on his last book tour."The first 48 hours of my diagnosis were hellish," he says. "Things just seemed to get worse and worse. We (he and his wife) were sneaking around the house, whispering so the kids wouldn't hear us. It was horrible."But I feel great now," he says, adding that recent scans have shown healthy bone growth and an 80% reduction of the cancer in his hip. He is no longer in any pain. "My doctors are very happy. We have this under control."Flynn's can-do attitude isn't hurting things, either. It's evident in everything from his rapid-fire upbeat chatter to his easy laugh. He's beyond grateful for this new lease on life, although he acknowledges that surgery could be down the road."My doctors warned me repeatedly that if you don't stay positive, you don't do well," says Flynn, who dedicated his newest novel to them.Fan club of presidentsFlynn's doctors at the Mayo Clinic would not talk about his case, citing patient privacy. But Philip Kantoff, who heads the prostate cancer program at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, says Flynn's prognosis is good if his cancer remains contained and spreads no further. "Assuming that's the case, it's a controllable and potentially curable entity. It usually requires a combination of more than one treatment."Flynn has a lot to live for. A beautiful wife, three "great" kids (a stepson, 16, and two daughters, 11 and 9), and a sprawling suburban Minneapolis mansion on 5 wooded acres where today he is sitting in front of a fire in the smoking room."I'm a bit of a libertarian," he says of his cigar smoking. "But I rarely do it anymore. I'm enjoying it less and less."Instead he recently hired a chef to produce all-organic meals, and he's taking better care of himself, all in an effort to continue living the good life of a wildly successful author, praised by presidents.Among them are Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, who has called Flynn "a little too accurate" because Flynn's books are often so true to CIA actions around the world. Once, while catching a ride in Bush's limo from Andrews Air Force Base, Flynn was grilled by the then-president on where he gets his information. "I started to stutter," Flynn says with a laugh.Friends in high placesHis 2004 Memorial Day, for instance, describes a raid very similar to the one that killed Osama bin Laden last year. Often his books have been put on security review by the Pentagon before they are released, and they are even used by the Secret Service to identify possible lapses in their security."It used to astound even me," he says of his "clairvoyance." All he does, he says, is "connect the dots. I just look at what's going on in the world."It doesn't hurt that he chats up the likes of Gen. David Petraeus, the head of the CIA, and Sandy Berger, national security adviser to Clinton. His conversations always remain confidential. "I can't go into details about them," he says.It's a far cry from the days almost 20 years ago when Flynn, a Twin Cities native working in sales for Kraft Foods and then commercial real estate, began reading voraciously in an effort to conquer his childhood dyslexia. In the process he fell in love with espionage novels and decided to try writing one himself. His first book, Term Limits, was self-published in 1997 after Flynn received 60 rejection letters. After its immediate success, an agent signed him with Pocket Books. He has since moved to Atria.Flynn says his books are "entertainment, educational and serve as cautionary tales." Heading the charge is rough-and-tumble CIA agent Mitch Rapp, who has been going about his covert anti-terrorism business since Flynn's second novel, Transfer of Power.With 2010's American Assassin (which reached No. 2 on USA TODAY's Best-Selling Books list), Flynn transported the rogue Rapp back to the beginning of his career. The new book, Kill Shot, is a second prequel. A third is planned but not yet written."I always wanted to go back to tell the story of how they turned Mitch into an assassin," he says. "But now I'm ready to get back to the here and now," he says. There's too much going on in the world today for Flynn to ignore and not work into his thrillers.(CBS Films has optioned the rights to the Rapp character and will soon announce its plans to create an action-thriller movie franchise.)Post-Its and power napsToday Flynn writes in a second-floor office in the carriage house a few steps across a courtyard from the mansion. It comes complete with a fireplace, a daybed and enough counter space for Flynn to cover with note cards that he uses as reference when writing. The counter is bare today except for one Post-It. On it is written: DOUBT AND FEAR IS THE ENEMY."It's a good motto if you're going to fight cancer," he says.Flynn's wife, Lysa, 45, once a model for the then-Dayton's department stores in Minneapolis, agrees."You have to have this great attitude," she says. "What you find out is that someone always has it worse than you do. It's life and we're all affected."Flynn's longtime friend and editor, Emily Bestler, says Flynn's diagnosis put him behind a year, a fact that frustrated him far more than it did her. She understood his need for a year of intense treatment."It was no normal year," she says. "He was then writing with pain but never complaining. He was brave and had an amazing attitude. And he came through. It's his best book," she says of Kill Shot. "He only gets better."Because Flynn had to stay close to home for treatment, Kill Shot was the first novel not written at his cabin on Deer Lake in Wisconsin."I'd go up there all week and work like a maniac." He'd pour himself a glass of red wine, get on his pontoon boat with a yellow pad in hand, and head out on the water. He'd then ask himself one question: "What's going to happen tomorrow?"Now, when things aren't going well, he walks across the room to the daybed and takes a power nap. "It's what every writer needs: a daybed."Friends on the rightAt signings and readings, Flynn tends to attract men with conspiracy theories to share. "I'm always polite. I'm never dismissive with my fans. But it doesn't work to heat things up. I'm careful to not throw red meat to the crowd. I'm not talk radio."But he does have a close friend in talk radio: Rush Limbaugh. He and his wife attend Limbaugh's annual winter weekend of golf and gab in Palm Beach."One of the nicest guys you'd ever want to meet. And one of the smartest guys I've ever met," Flynn says. Limbaugh sent his private jet to pick up the writer so he could attend the weekend during Flynn's recent cancer treatment.Flynn's fans include a who's who of the conservative world, who often provide blurbs on the back of his novels.Glenn Beck has even praised Flynn's books as "conservative porn."Flynn says he has fans on both sides of the aisle. "But if the scales tip toward a more conservative audience, it probably comes from the pro-military, CIA and law enforcement theme of the books," he says. "And the idea that the United States is not the problem."But unlike Limbaugh or Beck, Flynn is hesitant to jump into political waters.Does he want to talk about the GOP candidates?"Not really," he says with a laugh. "Some scare me. Some I like."For more information about reprints & permissions, visit our FAQ's. To report corrections and clarifications, contact Standards Editor Brent Jones. For publication consideration in the newspaper, send comments to email@example.com. Include name, phone number, city and state for verification. To view our corrections, go to corrections.usatoday.com.