Gazelle in the Shadows follows Elizabeth as she navigates a dangerous web of lies, betrayal and murder. What was the inspiration for the setup to this intriguing novel?
The inspiration for this book came many years after the events happened in my life. Over the years, I rarely spoke about my former life as a diplomat in Yemen during the Iraq/Kuwait war nor my student life in Damascus but to those I opened up to, I was encouraged to write a book. Then in 2011, the civil war in Syria began and I felt a conviction to let readers know about the traditions and kindness of the Syrian people and the history and beauty of the country I had witnessed before the devastation.
Elizabeth is an interesting and well developed character. What were some driving ideals behind her character?
Elizabeth’s driving ideals are to make her father proud by proving herself to him and to find love. Once a daddy’s girl, her relationship with her father deteriorates in her teenage years as her father implements stricter rules on her than on her older brother. She had always been an avid reader, dreaming of traveling to foreign lands. Her travels help her to escape her father’s harsh judgment and provide her with an opportunity to prove her worth to him and to herself. Because of her sheltered life, first with a Catholic upbringing and then in a diplomatic bubble, she is both emotionally and physically unprepared for her journey to Syria. She is remarkably naive and trusting of others and lacks rudimentary information about the country in a pre internet era. Her journey opens her up to the harsh realities of life where people are not always as they appear and after a series of innocuous and seemingly unconnected events, she not only discovers love but betrayal too. Facing many dangers, her strengths and courage are put to the test and ultimately she comes to appreciate her family and herself in new light.
You are a former employee of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London. How has your experience helped you write this book?
I worked in the Foreign Office between 1986 and 1991, initially in London and then in the British Embassy in Sana’a, Yemen Arab Republic. My experiences undoubtedly helped me to write my novel as the genesis of the story was born from my three years serving in Yemen. As told in the book, I unwittingly met the infamous George Habash, the founder of the PFLP, in Aden. This actual encounter played a crucial part in the story. Other true stories from my service involving MI6, the British secret service and foreign diplomats helped to create the twists and turns in the story arc.
What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?
After graduating from Durham University, I went to work in Dubai, UAE for an oil shipping company. As I like to write fiction based on reality, the sequel is based in Dubai and my experiences working there. I am currently writing a story which follows Elizabeth who enters the ranks of the MI6. She is sent undercover to Dubai where she unearths an Iranian plot to undermine British and American interests in the region. The question is, will she meet Hussein again?
In the mid 90s, Elizabeth Booth is a young British college student studying Arabic at Durham University. With some travel and work already under her belt, she excels at her studies and is sent to Damascus to immerse herself in the language. Taken aback by the generosity and kindness of the people there, she easy slips into a life in the ancient city. She has friends, her studies, and even a handsome boyfriend. But things aren’t always what they seem. Soon, in a world where mistrust and disloyalty are commonplace, Elizabeth finds herself navigating a web of lies, betrayals, and even murder involving MI6, deadly terrorist factions, and the shadowy Syrian secret police.
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Voice of a Crimson Angel is an intimate and thrilling story that leads up to your debut military science fiction book. What was the inspiration that made you want to explore a prequel?
Creating VOCA was something that was on my mind for many years, but it seemed too monumental a task to handle. It wasn’t until I was in the midst of writing Ballad of Demise that I began to see a grand tale in the making. I took that single scene of Julissa Marconi from Reverence and then imagined what her life had been like up to that point and after. That was the only push for the new trilogy. Many reviewers asked questions about how the characters got to where they are, so I figured it was an opportunity to give them answers. It turned out to be a fun experience.
Your currently studying history at the University of Riverside. How has your major helped you write your story and develop your characters?
A TON. The sad but fascinating aspect of history is that the story of the oppressed vs. an oppressor is a familiar one. From ancient Rome to the Spanish Empire, to the British and French empires, superpowers have always had their reign unimpeded for decades before eventual collapse. I wanted to build up the history of the United Nation Republic before it too faces its ultimate crisis. Whether it is still standing when the dust settles is to be determined in future installments.
I also drew influence from the revolutionaries of old, people such as Che Guevara and George Washington. Once the VOCA trilogy is completed, I believe people will see the connections in a new light. History was also a valuable tool in discovering how a revolution starts. First come the words, then the fight to crush those words, and then bullets. The term ‘regime change’ is one perhaps not widely known by the average person, but it is an unquestionable factor in global history. The U.S. has often played a pivotal role in such operations, among them Guatemala, Vietnam, and Iran. The more I read, the more The Expansion seemed very possible.
When writing, do you look at current events, and use them as a springboard for ideas or try to incorporate them into your story?
Current events play a big role most definitely. In VOCA Part I, we see a world where warfare is basically common place. The majority of the people either ignore or don’t care about the conflicts abroad. Once again, I looked to the U.S. The U.S. has been involved in some sort of war for almost its entire history, from the Civil War, Spanish-American, the World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, and now the war on terror. Vietnam was the first U.S. war to not split the American conscious on a massive scale. Since 9/11, the U.S. hasn’t slowed down its war game, now in Niger, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and other countries. Despite this, there are no longer large protests confronting this reality. As we listen to music and watch the latest films, the war machine goes on expanding.
These issues, primarily our war driven economy, were the focal points for me in writing the VOCA trilogy.
Any chance you’ll write a prequel that shows the rise of Chancellor Venloran? Kind of like how Star Wars episodes 1-3 showed the rise of Darth Vader? In either case, what do you think that would be like?
I actually have played around with this idea, and the framework is definitely there. I can imagine a young Venloran who sees his country struggling and decides to act. In a way, he’d be comparable to Joseph Halsey, which would be a great foil. It would take time to plan out, especially since I have much planned for the Reverence series. The idea is very tantalizing, though. As of now, I’ve only hinted at the rise of the UNR. For this envisioned ‘prequel-prequel’, I would go in depth to the formation of the UNR Party itself.
The evilest of deeds start with the best of intentions.
Julissa Marconi’s life has never been quite the same since her husband slipped into a coma. Her relationship with her daughter is hanging by a thread, she’s lost all her friends, and she’s retreated to the bottle amidst her sorrows. Truth is, Julissa is struggling to find a reason to wake up in the morning. That all changes when the mysterious Dr. Neeson offers her a chance to discover the truth, and reclaim her life. With the help of the scheming Captain Halsey, Julissa finally has a reason to fight again. She’ll have to act fast, however. Her nation, the United Nation Republic, is hungry for aggressive expansion and the ravenous Chancellor Venloran will stop at nothing to achieve his own twisted goals. Return to the world of the Reverence series with Voice of a Crimson Angel Part I: Persecution, the long-awaited story that sets the stage for the entire saga.
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Dreaming on an Arabian Carpet is a genre-crossing novel with elements of romance, mystery, and suspense as well. Did you start writing with this in mind, or did this happen organically as you were writing?
I’ve learnt much from reading about other people, and their stories. I’ve always enjoyed entering different worlds. But it haunted me that I was seeing a world that nobody else was sharing. Perhaps its my background; I was born in a migrant camp of refugee parents, and have spent my life travelling the world. I’ve lived and worked in so many countries. Believe it or not, for a time I lived in Syria, Iraq, and Libya – these are places in the book – and the people I met were all normal; all just trying to get on. But when I returned back to the West, the images portrayed of these places in the news horrified me. I decided to tell a story set in the Middle East. No clichés; no stereotypes – I wanted to tell it how it really is. I took real people I knew, and I took the real problems they faced; loves, family, work, and religion. I wanted my readers to meet ordinary people in the extraordinary circumstances of that Arabian world so far away from everyday life in the USA. I wanted my readers to wonder if this could possibly be true, then to slowly realize it was, and be amazed.
Ricky has a tumultuous but passionate relationship with Breeze. What was your inspiration for their relationship?
When writing about the characters – not only Ricky, Breeze and Leoni, but all of them – I did my best to make them as blameless as I could. I mean by this, that I wanted the reader to picture themselves in the dilemmas they all faced, wonder what they would do, and then be able to sympathize with how each character actually reacted. I thought of it as a chess game. If you were in poverty, how far would you go to escape? If you were alone, to what lengths would you go to find love? What was the best move? The answer will always be a trade-off. But given the incredible barriers they all faced, none of them could have it all; it came down to making singular choices – choosing one dream; one priority. And in making their choice, each character sacrificed the dreams of others. Well, I have to say, it surprised me how readers reacted. In all the reviews I’ve had, readers either love or hate Breeze; they think Ricky is incredibly spineless or courageous. If there is no middle ground when the facts are clear, what hope do people have finding compromise in the uncertainties of real life?
Ricky was a well-developed character that continued to develop throughout the story. What were the morals you were trying to capture while creating your characters?
Religion was an important part of the story. Ricky is a lukewarm Christian – a Filipino Catholic – living in an Islamic world. Walid, Ricky’s devout Moslem friend, is the sounding-board against which ideas about faith flow back and forth. And then there is Breeze, a daughter of Chinese parents who had endured the amoral excesses of Mao’s Cultural Revolution. She is immune to religion. How do we live with religion’s patent contradictions? How do we reconcile the mutual-exclusivity of different faiths? And yet, how do we find a moral compass – meaning and purpose – with no faith at all? These questions clash as Ricky and Breeze navigate their many problems. Ricky’s journey is ultimately one in which he loses the things he wants, but takes on the person he needs to be. Whether you are religious or not, the message in the story is that Truth alone makes you strong. We are all dependent on each other, whether we like it or not, and for that we need to be united one with another. Dictatorships never last; neither coercion, deceit nor unwelcome dependencies. Only a common Truth can hold a family, community or nation together. But in order to build relationships with others, you first need to find that Truth in yourself.
What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?
My next book will be released in July, 2018. It’s called; When Spring Comes Around. It is a story set in Japan during the 2009 financial crisis. I lived in Japan for some ten years and spent quite a bit of my time working in the securities sector. Let me admit that this too is a story based on real events. Haru, an options trader, is about to be assigned overseas, to New York. But as is the policy of the company, he needs to be married before he can go. The problem is that Haru doesn’t even have a girlfriend, and has no experience with women. His boss introduces Haru and the other company bachelors to prospective brides as they sit under the cherry blossoms at the annual Spring Festival picnic. As fate would have it, sitting amongst them is one of the office girls for whom Haru has developed a fantasy. In the end, Haru dutifully marries Reiko, but also begins an affair with Emily. When the financial crisis hits, Haru loses his job, and finds himself exiled to a menial sales position in far-away Akita in northern Japan. There, alone and humiliated, he wrestles with his passions and the burdens of supporting a heavy mortgage and new unknown wife back in Tokyo.
Kuwait is a country where the poor from around the world gather to serve the rich. Ricky, a Filipino, is among them. He left his IT job in China to forget the sudden and violent break-up with his Chinese girlfriend. Seven months on and Ricky gets a phone call from Breeze. She wants reconciliation. Alone in a foreign land, and isolated by an unfamiliar culture and religion, Ricky agrees. He is reassigned to Tripoli, Libya, and plans to meet up with Breeze along the way, in Cairo. From there the adventure begins. Through Saudi, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Libya, Kuwait, and finally back to China, Ricky and Breeze struggle with the legacies of poverty, dislocation, past loves, and family obligations, as they seek a path to their hopes and dreams. This is the tale of two people who want and need each other, but whose destinies refuse to stay intertwined.
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Necessities tells the story of David Lewis, a double amputee Iraq War veteran who has taught himself to box and run half-marathons. David is bitter and angry but determined to succeed despite his injury. He has a promising career as a reporter for the Cleveland Post. His life is turned upside down when Cordelia Lehrer, with whom he had a brief fling in college seeks him out. Cory’s father is the publisher of a chain of an ultra right libertarian newspapers. Cory is looking for a newspaper man who can win her father’s approval and father an heir. David buys into the arrangement and finds himself in the middle of dysfunctional family wars and an increasingly difficult marriage, especially after young Tony, the heir, is born.
Coming in November 2017
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J A C S
A BOOK OF SHORT STORIES
GEORGE J. MARDO
JACS places people in hard or surprising situations and challenges the reader to accept when the characters do not follow a traditional arc. George Mardo writes in such a way that seeks to subvert the easy plot points and story lines most readers have been familiar with in most recent years. Typical of a short story collection JACS contains a variety of stories.
The first story, Jackpot, follows two older men who have a racehorse bestowed on them. The catch is that the horse has never entered a race and both men play the part but are surprised to find themselves happy when things do not go their way. The next is, Amy, where the reader follows a girl who has strange dreams and holds onto them. The story really gets underway when she tells her grandfather about them and he confesses to having the same dreams. Candera is a hard story to read, since it follows a nun that was sent to the Congo and her tribulations of being captured by terrorists, raped, and becoming pregnant. When forced to try, and send the child away to be adopted, Sister Candera refuses. The last, Sorrow Has No Opposite, is more of a short, fictional biography that follows a Iraqi boy named Boutros Suffady, who undergoes a horrific tragedy and eventually finds happiness in life that he thought he lost.
Mardo has a talent for needling into a character’s perspective and teasing out what emotional heart strings should be pulled for the reader. These stories on their face may sound overwrought or framed in such a way to be emotionally manipulative, as it would be usually expected but Mardo avoids this with clear heartfelt authenticity. If nothing else, the author captures the “slices of life” that some may take particular pleasure in.
Some of the stories tend to be stronger than others and that will depend on the reader who wishes to give this collection a chance. The stories would be considered more literary based on the more character focused stories and lack of any real genre conventions. These small narratives are not adrenaline bouncing thrillers, nor are they dark and mysterious mysteries or horrors. What these stories do capture is the grounded reality that all of us abide in and these experiences all these characters’ share are to enlarge our scope.
JACS is recommended to more mature readers who are seeking different experiences on the page. The stories provide a unique lens that the reader only dons for a short time but will be left wondering long after reaching the end.
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William Burke’s Voodoo Child is an engaging, if not slightly creepy, adventure to a tropical island plagued by greed, witchcraft and humanity. With Maggie Child as our main character, this strong female lead finds her life turned upside down when a tour in Iraq ends up landing her in a research facility. After undergoing an intense experiment it’s her wits and savvy that spring her, and fellow captive Glen Logan, from their captors. Using her family connections Maggie ends up bringing Glen along for the ride as they escape to the Caribbean Island of Fantomas. Neither of them is prepared for what lies ahead. The island has descended into chaos thanks to the joining of a money-hungry woman and one of the strongest spirits in Voodoo lore. This isn’t a tropical vacation that will leave you with a tan. You’ll be lucky to leave with your body intact.
Don’t let the eighty-four-chapter count intimidate you. Many of the chapters are short, carrying important information in succinct little pages. Burke knows how to engage his audience as his cast of strong female leads aren’t ready to lay down and accept their fate. Maggie, Sarafina and Lavonia are the three main characters of this tale and they couldn’t be more different from each other. On one hand you’ve got Maggie, who is an army chopper pilot who isn’t afraid of anything and not about to take sass. Sarafina is the lovely Voodoo priestess who has inherited her title at a young age, but don’t let her youth fool you. Lavonia is a greedy former beauty queen looking to make a fast buck and is ill-prepared to deal with the consequences of her desires. These three cross paths in the most interesting of ways on the small island of Fantomas. Burke weaves his tale and captivates his audience with ease.
Voodoo Child is the first book in a series and it does an excellent job of setting the stage for the story to come. The first volume can make or break a series and Burke seems to understand that as he lays out the world in which his characters live. The relevant characters have their back stories tenderly flushed out and the basics of Voodoo, which is an obvious major part of the tale, are carefully explained. Since Voodoo is a real religion Burke must have had to research and ensure that what he is portraying in his story is correct. The care in which he takes in explaining the various rituals reveal that he did indeed do more than spend five minutes Googling the subject.
If the chapter count hasn’t scared you off you’ll find yourself entangled in a mess of zombies, arrogant humans and spiteful spirits out to take what is theirs. The chaos has meaning and while there are horrific moments in the story none of them feel overdone or out of place. If horror stories are your thing, you’ll definitely find what you’re looking for within the pages of Voodoo Child.
Pages: 333 | ASIN: B01H9E4HDA
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Soldiers of Dragon Company are out on patrol in Iraq when they’re quickly ambushed by Al-Qaeda leaving two soldiers missing in action while the rest of the soldiers on patrol are left dead. Everyone in the army wants the perpetrators found, but the commanding officers want the two missing soldiers found quickly to save their careers rather than to help the grieving families. An ex CIA operative, Eric Ritter, is tapped to find the Al-Qaeda cell and missing soldiers. Moral lines are clearly drawn and Ritter crosses them several times through the novel leaving the question of, ‘who really is the bad guy?’ The ending of the novel offers little in the way of moral direction and serves to offer an even darker contrast to the novel, hence the title, ‘Into Darkness’.
There are several things that this novel does right. The essence of a soldiers life in Iraq is confidently captured down to the smallest detail. You can obviously tell that the author has been to Iraq and is calling on his own life experience. I rarely found any hiccups in the writing and dialogue flowed easily. The story switches back and forth between the US soldiers perspective and the perspective of the insurgents, but I felt like there were several chapters that didn’t move the story forward at all and could have been summarized and combined with other chapters to pick up the pace of the story. The only other issue I had with the novel is the misplaced focus of detail. An example, when an explosion goes off the author describes the event with a simple “BOOM!” There’s a missed opportunity here to paint a beautifully destructive picture of an explosion ripping through vehicles, people, and lighting up the night sky while in the next chapter were treated with mundane details of a briefing room layout that’s given an entire paragraph. Also, simple character movements and placement were given a hefty amount of real estate throughout the book, but I think this is normal for new authors as they decide what should be left to the reader’s imagination and what should be left out. For this being a military novel I felt that there was an awful lot of talking and maneuvering going on between the characters which might suit some readers that prefer dialogue over a straight up firefight. In the end, ‘Into Darkness’ truly captures the essence of a soldier’s deployment and deftly blurs the lines between good and evil.
Published January 16th 2013 by Triplane Press
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