1. What gave you the idea for From Within the Firebird's Nest?
In the beginning, I was mapping out the story of a young Arab man who was misled into jihadism by a manipulative teacher when I read an article about numbers stations. The stations gave me a method for Abdul-Malik Kaseem, the young man, to gain access to something much more substantial and catastrophic than anyone could have expected. Bringing in two characters from my earlier books, Evan Davis and Maksim Bondreovich, I was able to continue their good guy versus bad guy dynamic, weaving them into Abi's story. As the story began to develop, I included more and more things from current and recent history to give the story depth and the plausibility needed for a reader to more thoroughly enjoy it.
2. How has your perspective as someone who has served in the military and worked for the Dept of Defense influenced your work as a novelist?
The wealth and depth of experience that can occur over a military career provide realism and multiplicity unavailable elsewhere. As a result of that path, every geographic location used in every book I've written thus far, are places where I've been. When I was in Berlin, I went to the Glienicker Brücke (Bridge of Spies) at the height of the Cold War in the early 80s. If you did not know the history of the bridge, it might seem nondescript and unimportant--it was the events that occurred there that make it memorable. Likewise, the people that I have met, befriended, and worked with from many different cultures tend to show up in my book. This makes the characters fully developed rather than stereotypes or presumed personas.
I once heard a person saying that the draft forced people from many different regions, wealth levels, and backgrounds to meet and work with each other in a way nothing else in American society does. I have to agree with that. Unlike where you live or work--which might be determined by your geography, or what school you attend--which might be determined by wealth. Service in uniform and with the federal government forces a uniting with people who were unlike you but with a common goal to serve the public good--and many times in a location far, far away from home. The job takes people to unfamiliar situations and causes them to overcome their own assumptions and prejudices based on an actuality they are experiencing. Nothing could be better to unite the people of the diverse country such as the United States.
3. What were the most challenging aspects of writing your latest novel?
Making sure that everything worked. When I read a book that takes me on a journey into something I'm unfamiliar with or provides me with clues that can be sorted out or examined, I expect those things to be real and to work. In all of my books, I aim to ensure that everything within the story is as close to real as possible. All of the codes listed in the book work, the descriptions on how you could decrypt a message that was encrypted using a book also work. It may seem trivial, but to some readers, it is essential because they may want to try to decrypt the codes themselves. I realize that such things are not universal, I even got into a discussion about it with my editor, but for that one reader, they will find that extra bit of realism it makes them enjoy the book even more.
On a less intricate level, I also make the locations and scenery as factual as possible. In the book when Dieter goes to visit Fyodor in Munich, the description of his journey to the restaurant is entirely accurate--a reader could duplicate that trip by getting on the trains and subways mentioned and make the same exact journey. This may not matter to some readers, but if you had made that journey yourself you would expect it to be described accurately in the book or the book would lose plausibility.
4. How have readers been responding to the novel so far?
At this point, the book has only been out a month, so I am just starting to get feedback on what people think, and I am very flattered by the reception that the book has been getting. It has been well received overall, and in addition to good reviews, I am getting some surprising queries via email about topics I did not expect.
I have had readers write me about some of the more minor points in the book that I felt were an interesting asides when written, like Ashely's family heritage. Now I know they were appreciated; nothing could be more complimentary. I have also gotten queries about the fate of characters beyond the book and if I plan on bringing them back in the next "Evan Davis Tale." For some yes, for others no; but to hear that I have created a character worthy of interest or concern does make me feel a great sense of satisfaction.
I have also heard from readers who have their own ideas about the directions I should have taken the story. I see those as complimentary too--it means I created a story that the reader delved into so deeply they started to ponder the world I created. Some of my favorite books are those that I spent time thinking about how I might have changed things within the story.
5. What else would you like readers to know about you and your work?
My function is to be a storyteller--to take the reader on an enjoyable journey. I am not here to present you a particular political narrative or to examine social issues unless they relate to the story that I'm telling. I think there are plenty of authors out there who write books with an agenda or to support a particular narrative. You will not find that in my books. What you will see, is an exciting story with characters that you can relate to and enjoy as an escapist form of entertainment. To me, that is why you pick up a work of fiction in the first place.