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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Path of Jen is a political thriller following the harrowing journey of a young Iranian-American girl that’s kidnapped. Some events in the book were chillingly similar to real life events. Did you take any inspiration from real life when developing this book?
Current events certainly inspired my writing, and there was no shortage of material. We experienced the refugee crisis in Syria, the unprecedented growth of ISIS and all of their atrocities, and multiple attacks by radical Islamist across Europe and the US. I feel fortunate that the idea for this book came when it did, although in my heart I truly wish it wasn’t so relevant. This book lays bare a multitude of polarizing issues. On the surface there is the main issue of radical Islam and the very real threat it poses to the entire world. I do not apologize for presenting the truth as I see it on that matter. That alone is enough to inspire some, anger others, and turn off a whole bunch of potential readers. So be it. Underneath the issue of radical Islam lies the unquestionably connected and saddening issue of women’s rights. Horrific injustice is perpetrated against women under Sharia Law every day. That is one of the main reasons I chose to make Jen’s heritage Iranian, and Tehran as her place of abduction. Iran is a country with rich culture and history that only recently leapt backward to a near medieval stance on women’s rights and individual freedoms. Jen’s observations and experiences explore and expose the inconsistent message to young women that a male dominated Muslim culture whispers with a seductive smile.
Jen goes to Tehran on a family trip where she’s kidnapped and transported to Syria. I thought the details of the locations were fairly accurate. What experience do you have with Arab culture?
Many of the places and scenes in the book were taken from my own experiences as a soldier in Iraq. Suicide bombers, IEDs and Extremists were a near every day occurrence, and they instilled a heightened sense of awareness in me that I will never be able to let go of. While in Iraq, I visited the Iraqi monuments to the Iran-Iraq war near the Green Zone in Baghdad. That began my curiosity into Iranian culture and history. When I discovered the Islamic Revolution of 1979, I began reading on the subject of women’s rights. I found that some of the best advocates were women who live in, or have lived in, Iran, and their stories were heartbreaking. To effectively capture the other areas Jen was likely to visit, I turned to my laptop. I spent many hours reading travel blogs, browsing photos, and researching everyday life in Iran and Syria.
I enjoyed Jen’s character, she is intelligent, headstrong, and uses her wits to stay alive. What was your process in creating her character?
The idea for Jen came to me one day while I was quietly remembering one of the medics I served with in OIF2. She was visiting the bazaar inside the Green Zone, in October of 2014, when two suicide bombers blew themselves up, killing and injuring several Americans and Iraqi nationals. I wasn’t with her on that day, but I remember her describing the blood, carnage, and utter chaos. I noticed a subtle change come over her. She would never be the same, I was sure of it. One of the lessons we learned from Iraq and Afghanistan, was that we could never become complacent. As fast a we could devise a new armor or defense, the jihadists would devise a new way to defeat it. What would be more devastating than a suicide bomber? The answer was, combining the violence and terror of a suicide bomber with the madness and fear of a deadly viral outbreak. It’s difficult for a man to write from the perspective of a young woman, and I struggled with it at times. I posed questions to my own teenage daughters when I wasn’t sure if I was on the right track, and I utilized female proof readers. I also drew from my own experiences with women as a firearms instructor, Marine, Soldier, and trainer. I find that women are often quick to pick up the mechanics of firearms manipulation, and I crafted Jen to have that naturally intuitive characteristic. I decided that above all else, I wanted her to have integrity and personal courage, but I also wanted my own girls to think she was a badass.
What is one thing that you think that is misrepresented in the media about Arab culture?
I think westerners are under the misconception that Arab is synonymous with Muslim or Islam/Islamic. For some reason people confuse race, culture, and religion when talking about the middle east in general. There are many races and cultures in the middle east, and although Islam is the dominant religion, there are others including Christianity. That misconception is relatively harmless, though. The real misconception is the one portrayed every single day by the media. There is a very strong message being delivered to the world that Islam is strictly a religion of peace and to question that is wrong. Somehow, it is considered intolerant and unfair to point out the crimes committed against women, gays, and children under Islamic Law, but the same is not true for Christianity. A Christian who doesn’t want to bake a cake is a threat that must be dealt with, but a radical Muslim who kills a nightclub full of Americans because of their sexual orientation is only a problem because he was able to buy a gun.
What is one thing that you hope readers take away from Path of Jen?
I want the reader to know that having a personal relationship with God is not something to be ashamed of. I want them to know that the spirit of America is still alive and strong, and under new leadership we can truly be great again. In one sentence: it’s not what life throws at you that’s important, it’s how you handle it. Believe it or not, those three sentences are connected.
Kidnapped, sold, now running for her life. Jen is an American girl who struggles with her Iranian heritage. At sixteen she is kidnapped and sold into slavery. Follow her journey as she fights for her freedom, stands up for truth, and finds her faith. Filled with action, intrigue, and suspense, Path of Jen will get you fired up and tug at your heart all at once.
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