My first contact with thriller author Chuck Barrett came via social media. I wish all my contacts proved to be as fruitful and friendly as this one.
A master of the suspense page turner, Chuck just released his third novel Breach of Power. I had the distinct pleasure of reading an ARC and before I was half-way through, I knew it was destined to be his best yet. (This review has nothing to do with a certain character/doctor who appears near the end.)
I am honored to have Chuck as my guest on Free Range Friday. Find his 2-book giveaway at the end of the interview.
1) All three of your books have great characters. What percentage of them is based on people you know or have met?
The Savannah Project had no character based on real people but rather a culmination of small characteristic traits of people I know/knew/observed, etc. Each character had their own group of traits that made up their own unique personality. The Toymaker was different. Two entire characters in it were based on real people. Kyli Wullenweber and Elmore Wiley, aka The Toymaker. Kyli won a contest to become a character in the second book. She is in real life as she is in the book…except for her occupation. I had to be able to work her logistically into the story. The character Elmore Wiley is based on a man my wife and I met on vacation one year. As with Kyli, I used his physical features, mannerisms, quirks…you name it…except for his name. That I made up. I actually struggled to come up with a name for him then one day driving home from work, it hit me. I looked at a sign I’d seen hundreds, maybe thousands on times—Elmore Wiley Cemetery—so I did some research and decided it was as good a name as any. Another tidbit about the character…the occupation of the character Elmore Wiley and the real man are the same. In real life, he makes gadgets for the espionage community.
In Breach of Power, the only real-life characters once again were Kyli Wullenweber and Elmore Wiley and the new villains, Scott and Heidi Katzer (son & mother). No other characters were based on actual people and it’s unlikely there will be any more. (Except of course Dr. Miller and Dr. Flanagan) There is a small level of stress associated with it. For instance, how will so & so like being killed off or being a despicable villain? Will they like or dislike their character? Believe it or not, it actually stifles the creative process if you have to worry about how your real-life characters will react while you’re typing a scene. So far I’ve been lucky and the real-life people have been pleased.
2) There is international intrigue/travel in your novels and I know you’ve traveled to some locations for research purposes. So which is it: do you plot out the locations of where the story will unfold and then go visit, or do you go places and realize the settings are what your novel needs?
The answer is both. The setting for The Savannah Project was chosen in advance. I wanted a story in Savannah, Georgia and I wanted it to culminate on St. Patrick’s Day during the big festival. I made several trips to Savannah to research that first thriller, including a stay over for the St. Patrick’s Day event.
In The Toymaker, most of the setting were international and had to be researched over the Internet as making trips to places like Yemen was out of the question. Some settings were chosen in advance and researched like Paris, and others were meticulously searched for like San Sebastian, Spain. I needed certain qualities in the town and San Sebastian best fit the bill.
In Breach of Power, certain locations were obvious, like Washington D.C. You can’t very well include the President without something to do with the White House. I visited Andersonville National Cemetery and knew I had to include it in a book and, because of the story line, I added Arlington National Cemetery as well. Nashville was another setting that called out to be included, so I grab my lovely wife and went to Nashville. And, yes, she did get tired of me dragging her from cemetery to cemetery while researching Breach of Power. And when I was in Fort Collins last winter, I knew Fort Collins was calling to be the final climactic scene.
3) I don’t write in the mystery/thriller/spy genre (not yet, anyway) but it seems to me that the urge to introduce a “new” character to twist the story tighter would be hard to resist. What’s the latest into a book’s writing/revision process that you’ve allowed someone new into the story?
No ‘totally new’ character has come in at the last minute, but in The Toymaker, Francesca Catanzaro had only one scene, the hand-off scene in San Sebastian, but at the eleventh hour she was inserted into a whole new prologue and then added for the final scene. It was when I added her to the prologue that I realized that Jake and Francesca were destined to become partners—that’s when I added her to the final scene. It was definitely a setup for Breach of Power.
4) So you have any manuscripts, full or partial that isn’t in the spy/mystery/thriller genre? If so, what is the central theme of it/them? If not, any thoughts about writing one?
Next up is a slight change of pace. I’m currently working on two new projects, one fiction and the other non-fiction. The fiction project is not another Jake Pendleton story but the first in a new series with one of the characters from The Savannah Project & The Toymaker, Gregg Kaplan. But for the Jake Pendleton series fans, don’t fret, Jake will return for many more adventures I’m sure.
First, though, a non-fiction “how-to” book on independent publishing. I’m shooting for mid to late summer on it and Spring 2014 for the Gregg Kaplan book.
In the first Kaplan book, I’m betting Gregg will get into whirlwind of trouble. And only time will tell if and when he can claw his way out of it.
5) Your journey to published author wouldn’t be described as typical (if there is such a thing.) Wanna be pilot turned air traffic controller to novelist. Extending out this seemingly disjointed (but successful) journey, what lies ahead?
I’m now on the path I want to stay on for a while. I enjoy writing and meeting new writers, and I enjoy traveling with my wife. The great thing about being an author is that you can write from anywhere. I don’t have to be in Northeast Florida to write. Much of The Toymaker was written in a log cabin perched on a mountain in the Appalachians of North Georgia. Some of Breach of Power was written in Fort Collins. I have been an aviation enthusiast in one capacity or another since 1978 and, although I’ll probably always have that desire, I like to tell people (including myself) that I’m reinventing myself as an author. It isn’t always easy but it is always fun.
6) Decision time: Book sales reach a point to where you can do one of two things: Have a business class jet (you pick) at your service for a period of 10 years; or you can own a single engine turbo prop of your choice and fly it yourself for as long as you want. Which do you choose and why?
I’ll take that TBM 850, please! When I flew for a living—if you could call it that back in the early 1980’s—I loved it. And I still love it. I would definitely want to fly myself back and forth from Florida to Colorado (so maybe Dean will take me fly fishing) and all points in between—a desk with a view. (Well, most of the time) As nice as that TBM 850 would be, I’d be tickled with a Saratoga…or a Skyhawk for that matter. It all boils down that ingrained do-it-yourself mindset, I guess.
Thanks Chuck for your time with this interview and appearing on my site. And you do understand that we don’t have to be actually “flying” to go fly fishing, right?
Chuck is giving away free transportation for one year in his new TBM 850 to one lucky…no wait, sorry. What I meant is that Chuck is giving away a copy of his first two books to one lucky visitor who leaves a comment. Contest is limited to residents of US and Canada only, but there’s enough international intrigue in both books to reach across several borders.