Author Eric J Gates was a new name to me when I was asked to review the book, Outsourced. As a fan of suspense thrillers, I was very pleased to do so. What I found was a fast paced and well crafted novel, filled with suspense, that included something more. One small piece of fantasy. Perhaps a better word would be ‘paranormal.’
This historically based detail added so much intrigue—and fun—to the plot, that I’m already looking forward to another of Mr. Gates’ books.
It takes a clever author to weave the two together into a story that seems plausible and even realistic. His books Leaving Shadows, 2012, and Full Disclosure are also stand alone novels with their own twists. Of course, his Cull series began as a stand alone as well.
Reader demand encouraged the series that currently contains four books. We may see that with the characters from Outsourced as well. We’ll let the author himself tell us more.
We were delighted when Mr. Gates agreed to an interview with us for Jaquo. I’m sure you will enjoy his responses as much as we did. With his fascinating background including code breaking and martial arts, it is easy to imagine many more books to come.
Thank you again Eric for taking the time for our interview!
You have such an interesting history before you started writing. Will you share a little of that with us?
There’s a lot concerning my ‘previous’ life I am unable to disclose, so I will need to be brief. I had this crazy idea when I was a teen that I wanted to be a fiction writer (‘Paperback Writer’ by the Beatles was all the rage at the time, so subconsciously that may have had something to do with it). However, and despite liberating a typewriter from my Dad’s office and scribbling over two hundred short stories and a novel, Destiny decided I was going to become a Geologist! Yes, a Rock Hound!
Much to everyone’s surprise, especially mine, shortly thereafter I ended up playing with supercomputers (I must have caught Destiny on an off day). From there I drifted into the security of these beasties and spent the rest of my ‘first’ life solving others’ problems with them. Yes, I did have a few adventures along the way, including some really crazy stuff like jumping between skyscraper rooftops, getting shot at (on the same day – is there no pity?), cracking a super-secure (they said) cryptographic code in ten minutes using pencil and paper, and some stuff involving the intelligence community. Along the way I also picked up a stack of martial arts skills and trained with special forces, intelligence and elite police units. These days I’m trying to do something far more difficult though: write thriller novels.
How did you go from that background to novelist?
Truth be told, all of the previous years were just about gaining the experience I needed to write fast-paced novels. Shush, don’t tell my ex-bosses…
I’ve always had the notion that sooner or later I would realise my dream of being a ‘paperback’ writer ( ‘cept its digital now – must ring Mr McCartney and ask him to change the words). I used the time leading up to the opportunity to gather experience, as I mentioned, and learn as much as I could about the skills involved in writing novels. So with this in mind, it wasn’t really a change; more a programmed transition.
How do you see your past influencing your books?
Oh, YES! I mentioned I’ve done some really crazy stuff over the years and I have so many anecdotes (sadly most of which I can’t talk about) that finding material, and characters, for my tales is not difficult. At any given time I’ll have three or four ideas on the go, with another couple or three floating in the subconscious fighting to materialise as storylines. Do real people and events appear in my books? My past is alive, just the names changed to protect the guilty. Sometimes I receive communications from individuals who think they recognise themselves in my novels, asking if it is them – I always deny it, though. Remember that old writing adage: ‘Never piss off a writer; they’ll get their revenge in their next book’…
Did you decide to write a book because you had all these ideas, or did you decide to write a book and THEN come up with ideas? Was it always going to be suspense thrillers?
I carry a notebook with me everywhere, and if anyone reading this interview wishes to become a writer, that’s a practice they should adopt too. I don’t really need it to recall things as I have a quirky memory and tend not to forget stuff, but it helps when playing with ideas and potential storylines, as well as connecting unrelated items so they make for original tales. Ideas just seem to pop up everywhere if you let them by keeping an open mind (and this will probably annoy other writers who have a hard time of generating stories) often I am spoilt for choice. It’s not that difficult to take an idea and fabricate an outline for a novel using problem-solving techniques. To help others who have not been trained in these, I explain several, with examples, in my ‘How NOT to be an ASPIRING Writer’ book.
As to the genre, when I was a teen I read mainly science fiction (Asimov, Simak, Heinlein, Herbert etc) and thrillers (Fleming, Gardner, Le Carré and a host of others) and when I started writing back then, those were the two genres I adopted. I don’t write sci-fi these days, yet the events I describe in my books, the technology in the tales (sounds like an episode of ‘Bones’!), is so state-of-the-art readers would be forgiven for thinking it’s sci-fi. For example, I have received several emails from readers of ‘Outsourced’ asking if the MAVs (Micro Aerial Vehicles) surveillance drones I described are inventions of mine or not – they are very real indeed and their proliferous use is only limited by today’s battery technology. I have a lot of fun with this stuff too: in ‘Full Disclosure’ I created what is in essence a western showdown, just this time someone with a high-tech sniper rifle against a couple of drones. We live today in what I consider a science-fiction world and use on a daily basis many of the gadgets the classic sci-fi authors would instantly recognise.
One thing I do apply to my thrillers though, something that makes them stand out from other writers, is the application of the tried and tested ‘What if?’ question. That way I can incorporate devices that can change Destiny, or genetically mutated creatures, or the manipulation of weather by military satellites into what are otherwise fast-paced tales of action and mayhem. They are techno-thrillers with a twist. A reader once christened my novels as ‘suspense thrillers with a touch of strange’, and it’s the best description anyone has ever come up with for them so far. Again, my own experience has shown there is a lot of ‘weird’ stuff out there, far more than most would acknowledge, and some of it makes its way onto the pages of my novels. What, you thought they were fiction?
When you start a book do you generally know the plot and how your book will end?
I have evolved a methodology which works for me at least. I know I’m ready to write the tale when I know exactly how it will end. Literally, if I can pen that last chapter now, then the project is green-lighted. The next step is to figure out where it will start (preferably with a bang and oodles of intrigue, as they are thrillers after all). Then it’s just about filling in the middle. Easy, see – don’t tell James Patterson. At any point in the creation of a novel, I am writing to a goal (that ending) and although it’s not written in stone, it helps avoid the dreaded writer’s block that plagues other writers.
Do you prefer an outline as you start your books or do you let your characters lead you?
I call myself a Plantser (nary a Plotter nor Pantser be). All writers know their characters will try to grab the narrative and run with it, given half a chance, and this is a good thing up to a point, as it allows the writing to be fresh and dynamic; the novel can breathe. Yet, the tale must have a beginning, middle and end and some sort of structure that connects all three. Therefore a degree of planning is essential. Using my ‘start at the end’ approach, I will create freeform block diagrams which describe plot points or interconnecting scenes (never many, four or five short scenes at the most) and this produces a mini outline to keep the characters’ rambling in check whilst giving them, and the events of the tale, freedom to evolve.
Am I correct that your Cull series didn’t start out as a series? What changed that? Are you expecting to add more to that series?
Yes, Merry, that’s correct. After writing ‘Full Disclosure’ I was chatting with a cousin of mine via the Internet and she asked me what my next project would be. Now the ‘Twilight’ movies and books were all the rage and, with my dry British humour, I said I had to write a vampire novel next as everyone else was doing this. She immediately responded with ‘Oh, can Katie (her, then, twelve year old daughter) be in it as she loves vampires?’ Hoisted by my own petard, as the French would have it (don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it!). ‘the CULL’ (the lowercase ‘t’ is deliberate as the name resembles a syringe on the covers) was born. I intended it to be a stand-alone novel, as had all the previous ones, and a birthday gift for Katie. Yes she did get a character in the book, one of the two female protagonists, but, with typical mismanagement, I made her character a sixty-two-year old ex-NSA super-spook – she’s still not talking to me.
And that was that… until my Inbox started to fill with emails demanding more of Katie Lindon and Amy Bree, her disgraced ex-FBI partner. Apparently the interplay and dialogue between these two had hit a nerve. So the (now) first book was renamed (‘the CULL – Bloodline’) and the sequel, ‘the CULL – Bloodstone’, took the tale on an international adventure. This was followed almost immediately by book three, ‘the CULL – Blood Feud’, and book 4, ‘the CULL – Blood Demon’, has just appeared. I have decided that book 5 will be the end of the overall story arc, however, and that’s a project I have lined up for next year. Its title: ‘the CULL – Blood Kill’, and in it I’ve placed Amy and Katie on opposite sides of a very complex situation. They have come full circle from being friends to deadly enemies; that’s not Frenemies, is it?
The moral of the tale is simple: respond to what your readers want; they know best what they like (and don’t voice the humorous idea you have about zombie ants taking over the World – you’ll find yourself writing it.)
A Golden Rule for me though is if I’m not having FUN writing a book, I shouldn’t be doing it. If a novel becomes a chore, something you dread tackling every day, that will be subtly conveyed to your readers in ways you don’t intend (word choice, plot direction, pacing, themes etc.). Equally, if the novel entertains you as you create it, it will probably have the same effect on your readers.
The way you included a bit of supernatural into your book Outsourced was very clever. The book didn’t become science fiction, but just enough to raise curiosity. What inspired that twist of supernatural?
This big, wide world we live in is rife with strange and mysterious occurrences. Not only do I utilize these overtly in my books but I love putting small references (I call them Winks) to many others which the readers can follow up on if they want too. For example, many readers focused on the Cintamani Stone in ‘Outsourced’ (a real Tibetan myth and the US Government and Roerich’s involvement with it is documented fact) yet missed the fun bit about the crocodile in the British river (the river was the Avon, the city Bristol, and there’s even video). In the same vein, when I was writing ‘Leaving Shadows’ which deals with the weaponising of the weather (based upon real US Air Force Strategy documents) I threw in a scene where Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome is struck twice by lightning – sound familiar? It fitted my argument so perfectly I could not resist the Wink.
If the reader and the author are sufficiently open-minded and willing to see what’s out there, our small blue marble in space is replete with the unexplained, just sitting there, waiting for a thriller writer to come along and have some fun with it.
Writers writing about writers always makes for an interesting approach. How did you decide to use the two of them as your main characters in Outsourced?
When I decided the protagonist of ‘Outsourced’, Nic Stiles (whose name is a deliberate pun), was going to be a writer of thrillers, I was not basing him on myself. I wanted someone who would be willing to accept the ‘strange’ nature of the gift he received and would at least ‘experiment’ with its properties. The idea of having a second author involved was two-fold. On the one hand it provided Nic with a nemesis in his daily life, someone he blames for his own shortcomings, and it also created a credible basis for the odd relationship that develops between the writers and Bridget Mason, the tough Intelligence operator they come up against.
I was aiming for that scene in the cafeteria from the very beginning. It’s an onion. Its outer layer is complex because it’s the real-world manifestation of the Schrodinger’s Cat conundrum (when Stiles slams the box on the table – does it contain Mason’s objective or not), and her reaction is not what you might expect. Then I peel away a layer, and in the next scene you get to see what else was going on from Mason’s point of view. Next, I do the same from Stiles and Beasley’s viewpoint. Everyone was playing everyone else, so the question of who ‘won’ is thrown out there for the reader to decide. Now writing that scene with only Mason and Stiles just doesn’t work. Beasley is the catalyst that made it fun and brought out the unexpected response in Mason. His character was inspired by the ‘Lone Gunmen’ from the X-Files series; someone who prefers a conspiracy theory answer to whatever facts are telling you, and a nice counterpoint to Stiles’ more down-to-earth approach.
Any chance Nic Stiles and Grayson Fallon will make another appearance? Will they perhaps be a series too?
Well, a funny thing happened to me on the way to the keyboard… the same thing that occurred with ‘the CULL’ series where readers wanted more of the protagonists and their personal dynamic and didn’t hesitate to let me know, is repeating with the three protagonists of ‘Outsourced’. Yes, Nic Stiles, Phil Beasley (Grayson Fallon – that’s a spoiler!) and Bridget Mason will be back …and soon. It’s all about developing a tale that will do them justice.
Any clues on where it will go?
I have an idea which I’m working on now. It involves something real and weird that has been happening for some years now and is without any easy rational explanation. No spoilers, folks, but it’s Phil Beasley, naturally, who stumbles across it and involves the others.
May I ask what you are working on now?
I’ve rescheduled a project, the sequel to ‘Leaving Shadows’, to respond to my reader’s demand for more of Stiles, Beasley and the hard-nosed Bridget Mason and that project is the one on the go now.
I can see you with a plethora of ideas floating about, either in your head or saved on your computer. Do you already have other plots forming in your mind? Does each book lead to new ideas?
I currently have half a dozen ‘ideas’ in the works, some more advanced than others. For a while I’ve been looking for a solid tale to reunite two of my characters from an earlier book, Kris and Snow from ‘Full Disclosure’, and when developing the mission Amy Bree tackled in book 4 of ‘the CULL’ I realised I’d created a problem that needed to be solved, as a by-product. That got me thinking and, combined with something I read a few months back in a science magazine, I now have the beginnings of a new tale. That’s a project I’ll work on next year, though.
Do you find you spend a lot of time considering who your characters will be before you ever start writing or do you get to know them as you write?
Even when you think you know your characters before you start writing a book, they will do and say things that will surprise you and offer new directions for the tale. Recognising when this deviant behaviour could lead to something interesting, and fun to write, is part of the enjoyment of creating interesting stories. Sometimes a character will evolve rapidly over a few chapters; in other cases I need to slow down their development because the story arc is spread over several books as is the case of ‘the CULL’ series. Events that occur in each of the stand-alone tales within each book in the series force the characters to react and evolve, which in turn has to be reflected in the two overall story arcs that exist in the series. In this instance, I planned out their individual progression to tie in with the theme of the series; how we as a society and individuals handle change.
Who do you like to read? Who inspired you?
I love a good suspense thriller and am always on the lookout to be surprised by an original take on the genre. It’s sad that, despite all their griping, many ‘established’ Traditionally Published authors tend to lose their ‘will to fight’ and do something original as they become more successful, though perhaps they are just responding to the dictates of their publishers’ business models. I have come across some fantastic Indies who are proffering scintillating imaginative tales because they are still battling to get noticed. I am an advocate of ‘Extreme Reading’, the sport of discovering fresh talent on your e-reader. Join me, will you?
What may at first seem contradictory to what I’ve just said is that my own inspirations are authors who are considered today far more ‘classic’: Charles Dickens, Ian Fleming, and John Gardner (the British author). Dickens wrote what in essence were social commentaries dressed up as the thrillers of his time. Many of his books first came out as episodes published in newspapers, all with their respective cliffhangers. Fleming created iconic characters, both as protagonists and antagonists, and broke just about every rule in the book governing how a novel should be written when he produced the Bond novels. Lastly, the late John Gardner added spoofing irreverence to Fleming’s books with the creation of his own spy thrillers, liberally spiked with dark humour. He was so successful, he was contracted to write continuation novels in the Bond series. I try to include a little of all three concepts in my own work.
Are there other genres you would like to write one day? Such as science fiction perhaps?
It’s in the hands of Destiny, or whoever has the Cintamani Stone, perhaps. I have written a few very short pieces for flash fiction competitions that are a little outside my suspense thriller paddock, though these occasionally are reborn in other guises. As a parting wave, here are three examples:
A November 2011 finalist for a 150 word or less competition run by a Spanish newspaper – it’s a little longer in English due to the translation:
The Sins of our Fathers (© Eric J. Gates 2011)
Smiling like a madman, I scribble the math formula in the margin of the newspaper’s front page, making my way to open the door. There she stood; thirtyish, thin and tense, holding a huge pistol. Pushing me inside, she talks, between sobs, of 2043; of how my radical new theory makes time travel a reality. It also brings weapons so powerful, war is inevitable; a cruel, vile war; only one million left alive… in the whole world. Then the war-crime trials and a sentence both pragmatic and severe. “This is madness!” I cry, “It’s all made-up!”
“You want proof? You’ll have your proof,” she says, her tears cascading upon her cheeks. In these last seconds, I hear “Good-bye, Dad”; I feel the hammer-blow of the bullet hitting my chest; I see my future daughter dissipate in the air; I hear the pistol fall to the floor. I die…
… and a new future unfolds.
This one was on Twitter. To celebrate Halloween, the challenge was to tell a tale of horror in 140 characters or less including the hashtag at the start:
#ST140 Darkness. Stale air. Damp soil on the coffin. Pain. I feel pain! I’m alive! Help! No one hears… Buried!
Now if you’ve read Book 2 of ‘the CULL’ the above may seem familiar – it was where I had the inspiration for the opening chapter of ‘Bloodstone’ – just goes to show how great trees from little acorns grow – 140 characters to a full length novel.
Finally, another competition called for a short tale inspired by a song on YouTube. I chose Eric Clapton’s version of an old 12-bar Blues classic from 1929, ‘Rollin’ and Tumblin’’:
Sleigh Ride. (© Eric J. Gates 2012)
Riding high above the wheels, her left foot tapping the rhythm as the guitar man pounds the blues from vibrant steel strings. Echoes of home in her mind. Thunder from the engine, counterpoint to the beat. The eighteen-wheeler transporting her to her daughter’s Christmas laughter. Tight hugs, doting clinches waiting at the end of the road. Presents on the seat beside her. Headlights fixed on a deer. Wheel wrench; crimson on the ice. Cargo and gifts strewn afar. Too fast; too late; too slow; no date.
But my soul surges with the fast rhythm of the suspense thriller, so here’s something to get your adrenaline pumping. This had to be 100 words or less: 98, made it! Phew!
The best laid plans… (© Eric J. Gates 2013)
“A noise, downstairs.”
Before she could reply, his legs swung from the bed. Carpeted stairs muffled his descent.
Imagination seeking to fill the void?
Little time, much to do. Reaching the front door, unlocking, swinging it open. Two steps outside, the stone waited. A crash of glass; entry established.
Back inside, at the desk, seeking the illegal gun bought weeks before. A robbery gone bad in the making.
A stranger levelled his weapon. A silenced shot.
The new widow stood at the top of the stairs as the killer left the house…
‘Outsourced’ features a New York-based writer of thriller novels who receives a mysterious package from a fan. That fan turns out to be a professional killer. That’s just the start of the writer’s problems; problems that escalate way beyond anything he could have imagined on the pages of his novels, as death and destruction follow rapidly.
Just when matter cannot get any worse for the novelist, he learns a high-tech Intelligence agency has been tasked with obtaining the contents of the package too, and they will stop at nothing to achieve that goal. They have their own global agenda. The agent assigned to the task is out of her depth working on US soil and her methods are unsuited to a civilian environment. As pressure mounts for her to achieve results, she becomes more and more radical in her approach.
And, if that’s not enough… the sender wants it back, and his methods are even more direct and violent! He believes the contents of the package were used to try to kill him and his aim is to recover them and exact his revenge on the writer.
Eric J. Gates has had a curious life filled with the stuff of thriller novels. Writing Operating Systems for Supercomputers, cracking cryptographic codes under extreme pressure using only paper and pen and teaching cyber warfare to spies are just a few of the moments he’s willing to recall. He is an ex-International Consultant who has travelled extensively worldwide, speaks several languages, and has had articles and papers published in technical magazines in six different countries, as well as radio and TV spots. His specialty, Information Technology Security, has brought him into contact with the Military and Intelligence communities on numerous occasions.
He is also an expert martial artist, holding 14 black belt degrees in distinct disciplines. He has taught his skills to Police and Military personnel, as well as to the public.
He now writes thriller novels, drawing on his experiences with the confidential and secret worlds that surround us.