Wednesday, January 2, 2013

An interview with novelist Erec Stebbins


A series of devastating attacks draws agent John Savas into a web of international intrigue. He must put aside his personal pain and work with a man who symbolizes all he has come to hate. Both must race against time to prevent a plot so terrible, that it threatens the stability of the world.

In a thriller that spans the globe in an ever-widening arc of mystery, intrigue and violence, all assumptions will be challenged.  In the end, only by transcending his own devastating loss can John Savas hope to stop the Ragnarök Conspiracy.

You have just watched the trailer and read the back cover copy for The Ragnarök Conspiracy, newly released by political and international thriller writer Erec Stebbins.  A self-proclaimed workaholic, Erec is a professional biomedical researcher with a flair for fiction.  Let’s get into the mind of this interesting character and those of his characters...



Erec, The Ragnarök Conspiracy looks like a fascinating book.  When did this novel become available, and how can our members find a copy?

Thanks, Kris.  The novel was released October 9th this year in paperback and ebook formats (Kindle and Nook).  It’s been in bookstores this fall such as Barnes and Noble, and of course, it’s available online at the major bookstores like B&N, Amazon, Books-a-Million.

The seed for this book was planted on 9/11.  What happened to you that day that inspired it?

The day was beautiful, clear blue skies, my two daughters dropped off at elementary school.  We had just settled into our apartment a little over a week before that, our living room still a mess of unopened boxes.
I came out of my first budget meeting for setting up my laboratory, and everyone was huddled anxiously around radios (portable radios were more common than going online back then).  When the nature of the attacks became evident, I returned briefly to my nearby apartment before going to pick up my daughters.  Manhattan was locking down - bridges, airports, schools.  We were under attack. Word came that the Pentagon had been hit. It felt like war. 
I looked out the window from the 18th floor, and saw a massive shadow of brown smoke due south from Downtown, blowing slowing into Brooklyn.  I knew.  We all knew then what had happened.
But it wasn’t the stream of ashen zombies walking North from the site, or even the convoys of ice-cream trucks rushing down the East River Drive and all it implied, or the distraught words of people who could not reach their loved ones that hit me the hardest.  Over the next few weeks, it was the sense of violation, of helplessness, seeing children draw images of airplanes and flaming buildings in the school that made me angry.
            Of course, it was only a small taste of what in so many places in the world is not so rare.  But still, I was angry.  I was angry that some spoiled Saudi prince could use his billions to threaten my children’s lives.   I was furious that Bush took his eye off the ball and pursued a trumped up war in Iraq, spilling American blood, innocent Iraqi blood, and inflaming the world when we had a just pursuit in bin Laden. 
            And I remember one day thinking that there are lots of rich, crazy, and possibly, angry Americans with access to many terrible resources.  Americans who might want payback.  I asked my wife: “So, where is the American bin Laden?” 
            From that day forward for many years until 2008, that question generated characters and a story in my mind that I finally had to write down.  That story is The Ragnarök Conspiracy.

Tell us a little bit about your protagonist, John Savas.

John Savas is at root a good man, but he was sorely tested, bent and nearly warped, by the pain of losing his son, a police officer, on September 11.  His loss nearly destroyed him, but he was salvaged when an experimental counter-terrorism FBI branch took a chance on him.  He had lost his job on the NYPD due to alcoholism induced by his son’s death, but at the FBI, pursuing terrorists and protecting the nation, he found a reason to continue.  A purpose.  He was like one possessed, and earned the nickname “Mad John” at the Bureau for his willingness to work at the edge of sanity in his pursuit of justice.   

In the novel, Savas faces the greatest test of his life in the character of Husaam Jordan.  Jordan is a devout Muslim CIA agent who Savas must work with to crack an escalating case of terrorist attacks.  Can Savas put aside his personal pain, his anger and distrust of the Muslim world?  As The Ragnarök Conspiracy escalates, the fate of the world hinges on his choices.

As a professional biologist who has also worked on biological weapons defense, I giggled at your statement that “in the natural world, truth is often creepier than fiction.”  Indeed.  Yet, The Ragnarök Conspiracy is not a science thriller.  How can a research scientist possibly avoid inserting this “true creepiness” into his thriller?  Are there any biological weapon references in the book?

It’s funny.  After I finished The Ragnarök Conspiracy, I tried to write a science-based thriller, and actually got about a third of the way through it, when I just had to stop.  My twenty years of being careful and OCD in science erected a wall that prevented me from taking the creative license required to write an engaging novel. I therefore have avoided writing about things that stray too close to my day-job, so there are no bioweapons references in The Ragnarök Conspiracy! But I hope that with a few thrillers under my belt, I’ll be able to relax a little and get back to a thriller that incorporates some scary biology! I just got done writing a piece for the Huffington Post on the double-edged sword of maintaining, even mutating, potentially “doomsday” microbes in the pursuit of science, so maybe that book still has a chance.

The publishing process is mutating today faster than the flu virus, and there are even more variables – strains, if you will - that can harm one’s health.  So I’d like to ask you: what was your publishing process for Ragnarök?  What is your advice for thriller writers looking to break into publishing now?

I should echo Frodo in Lord of the Rings when he says “Go not to the elves for counsel, for they will say both no and yes.”  Every situation is different, and especially in this dynamic and revolutionary period in writing and publishing, an author with a single novel under his belt should probably speak tersely.

What I would feel safe saying is that, except for the rare lottery winners, in any area of achievement, nothing comes without perseverance.  Obviously, there has to be some baseline of quality to the work, be it science or writing, but that is often not enough, or nearly the entire story.  “Luck” is always critical, but it is true that you make your own luck.  Not so much “make luck” as do all you can to put yourself in a position to maximize one’s chances for a break, and be ready to pounce.  “Chance favors the prepared mind” and all.

My own journey involved disregarding nearly all the rules of how one is supposed to find an agent (because I tried at first, and it wasn’t working), being patient and never giving up.  It took me three years after finishing the novel to find representation, and another year to find a publisher.  I was a hair’s breadth away from giving up on several occasions.  But I believed in my novel, and I don’t say “I quit” easily.

What are you working on now?  Will you ever write a science thriller?

Outside of my scientific work, which is very demanding, I’m involved in two writing projects.  One is a set of sequels to The Ragnarök Conspiracy involving John Savas and his FBI team.  The other is a thriller outside of that series with new characters. Science is making more inroads into the novels, and I may pick up my abandoned biological thriller after these books are finished.

What else would you like our members to know about you?

As I say on my websites, I want to create art with a certain kind of relevant edge.  To date, my novels are pursuing topics that I think will challenge readers, that are uncomfortable even as they are thrilling.  I’m a “left-leaning” author, and the thriller genre has been dominated since 9/11 by conservative writers.  I think it would be fun to shake that status quo up a bit, so, especially if you or friends like a different take on contemporary world events, you might like my novels!

Beyond science and writing, I am a great admirer of the Native American Flute, and have made stylized versions of these unique and haunting instruments, and even used computer aided design (CAD) to produce models that are fabricated with the newest 3D printing technologies.  I think the “additive manufacturing” technologies will revolutionize a lot of industry over the next century.  They are even using it in biology to print living tissue!  Something not even science fiction had predicted, I don’t think.  “I’d like a heart printed to go, please.”  “Would you like some vasculature with that?”

Please provide your website, blog, or other contact information you’d like readers to have.

You can find me several places online.  My author website is www.erecstebbinsbooks.com. My email is erecstebbinsbooks@gmail.com.  I’m also at Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5990247.Erec_Stebbins

If you are curious about the flutes, I even have some for sale on a website: http://www.cuttingedgeflutes.com

Finally, my university research is described here:
http://lab.rockefeller.edu/stebbins/



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