The String by Caleb Breakey 

By Charles Salzberg

Maybe it was in the stars that Caleb Breakey, who started out as a budding sports journalist, would wind up writing a crime thriller. After all, how many people do you know who, soon after returning from his honeymoon, wind up as a suspect in a bank robbery?

“My wife Brittney and I, just back from our honeymoon, were in a bank I’d been going to since I was a kid, to deposit our wedding checks. It just so happened that someone was robbing it while we were there. We made the deposit and drove away in a yellow Mustang, with a ‘Just Married’ sign on the back of it. Someone described our car to the police and they chased us down as we were headed out to Brittney’s family for a surprise dinner. We were pulled over on an overpass during rush hour traffic. They had me get out of the car, put my hands on my head, and drop to my knees. We were cuffed and read our rights. And the really weird thing was that one of the police officer’s daughters was the flower girl at our wedding—not that that did us much good.”

In the end, after concluding that the Breakeys had nothing to do with the robbery—just a classic case of wrong place at the wrong time—the police apologized. “They said, ‘Hey, these things happen and is there anything we can do for you?’ I said, ‘Well, this is still our honeymoon, so do you mind if we take a picture with you?’”

For a writer, nothing goes to waste and Breakey wound up writing about the incident for the “Here Comes the Bride” edition of Chicken Soup for the Soul.

No more chicken soup for Breakey, whose debut novel, THE STRING, features a master criminal known as The Conductor, a sociopath who’s conducting a deadly social experiment on a college campus, by delivering disturbing threats and twisted moral dilemmas to students and staff. The Conductor has two rules: #1: Participation is mandatory, #2: If anyone refuses to play, all threats will come to pass. The only thing standing in his way is Markus Haas, an ex-Navy Seal and now campus cop, and a couple of his friends who join the quest to put an end to The Conductor’s symphony.

Breakey was neither a Navy Seal nor a campus cop, but he has accomplished plenty in his 33 years. He was born and raised in Bellingham, Washington, about 15 minutes from the Canadian border. His grandfather started a car dealership that was passed down to his son, Breakey’s father, and then to Breakey’s two brothers. “I like to say I was the apple that not only fell from the tree but then someone picked it up and threw it, because there’s just not a lot of creativity in my family.”

Breakey was homeschooled until entering Western Washington University, at the age of 16. He was a journalism major and his dream was to become a sportswriter. After graduation, he found an internship covering the New York Yankees for the 2007 season.

Admittedly, he wasn’t a very good student, but he was always interested in writing. “It was tough for me to get good grades in anything but writing. That’s what I wanted to do with my life.”

His passion for storytelling began when he listened to an audio book called Circle Series, by Ted Dekker. “As I listened to it, my eyes were blown open because I saw how much more powerful it was to teach through story.”

His wife, Brittney, also wanted to write and so they spent all their wedding money purchasing 52 books on writing, including Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, and Stephen King’s On Writing. “While we did learn a lot from those books, over the years what we realized was that the best way to really learn and develop as a writer is to read and write a lot. There’s no secret formula. But we didn’t take some advice we really should have taken, which was to be a great writer you need to experience life. As Neil Gaiman says, you need to get your heart broken, which makes you a much better writer. Because you can’t write good characters if you don’t understand people and their situations in life.”

Breakey didn’t want to go into the family business, but he and Brittney had to make a living and so after struggling as a journalist, he found a job in a retirement community, where he and his wife could live on-site. “I loved talking to the people who lived there, listening to their incredible stories. Some of them were in their eighties and nineties and still going to concerts. They were wonderful, amazing people, and I still have friends from working there.”

After working that job for about five years the itch to write just became too strong not to scratch. At first, it was nonfiction. “I landed a two-book contract with Harvest House publishers to write about things like dating and the church. They weren’t bestsellers by any means, but they did earn out the advance.”

Ultimately, Breakey came up with an idea to put together a book of sermons from pastors across the country. The idea took off and now he’s CEO of Sermon To Book and Speak It To Book, one of the premier ghostwriting agencies for faith-filled influencers and thought leaders.

But that itch to write fiction just wouldn’t go away.

“When we got more stabilized financially, I started hitting the conference scene and I met an editor from Baker Publishing who ultimately signed me to a three-book deal,” he says. “THE STRING is the first in the series.”

The idea for THE STRING came after Breakey did a ride along with a friend who was a university police officer. “I jotted down tons of notes and asked lots of questions. Suddenly, this character, The Conductor, started talking to me. I wondered what it would be like if someone threatened me and I knew if I didn’t go through with whatever he threatened me with that a bunch of innocent people would suffer. I asked myself, what would I do in that situation? I didn’t know, so I started to write about it.”

Breakey researched parts of the book by interviewing FBI SWAT team members and he even got to be part of the training. “Just seeing how they operate was really fantastic and a lot of that detail made it into the book.”

Breakey is “a very deep person of faith. I’m a Christian, and although I’m not big into labels, I live by a couple of simple rules. Love God, love people. I want to walk humbly. I want to do justice. I want to treat others as I would want to be treated. Brittney and I have a primary goal, which is that we want people to feel very safe and welcome around us. We open our house up for hospitality and we love deep conversations. Our main thing is to make people feel safe, to feel like they belong. We’re very passionate about people.”

Since Breakey has a business to run, he doesn’t have a set routine as to when and where he writes. “Sometimes, I write at the end of the day. Other times, I wake up early and write.”

He begins with a general plot. “Just so I know where I’m going. For instance, there are many ways to get from New York to San Diego—bus, train, plane. My plots are like that. I know where I’m going, I just don’t always know how I’m going to get there.”

He writes longhand on notepads. “I need to write longhand so I don’t edit myself. When you write that way, there’s no delete key. I wrote THE STRING all in longhand. And then my sweet wife puts it into a Word document onto the computer for me.”

Now, he’s working on the second book in the series, tentatively titled The Hive. He knows where he’s going, he just doesn’t know yet how he’s going to get there.

In the meantime, he and his wife— who have been married eleven years—have three dogs that keep Breakey company. “They’re my little writing buds. They join me in my office and they’re absolutely fantastic,” he says. “We don’t have children yet, but we’re walking down that path and, Lord willing, we’ll start a family—but right now we’re just really happy as writers.”

*****

Fiction writing has been in Caleb Breakey’s blood since he was a teenager. He and his wife spent their wedding money on 52 books about writing fiction. Then, for years, he spent his days off penning fiction for 16 hours straight. Caleb loves fiction because great stories shed light on the truth of who we are as humans. They teach us without a lecture, inspire us without a speech, and entertain us without any props.

The first books he ever wrote were epic fantasies with big worlds and timelines. Then he asked himself, “What kind of story might take place within a small footprint and 48-hour timeframe?” The next thing he knew, Caleb was feverishly writing notes while riding shotgun in a 4Runner belonging to a university police officer, and a man who called himself the Conductor began speaking to him about The String.

Along with being an ECPA Award finalist and a winner of the prestigious Genesis Contest for fiction writers, Caleb is also the Founder of Sermon To Book and Speak It To Book, the premier ghostwriting agencies for faith-filled influencers and thought leaders.

Caleb writes in the beautiful Pacific Northwest alongside his wife, Brittney, enjoying visits from a mischievous mini husky and a smiley Shiba Inu.

To learn more about Caleb and his work, please visit his website.

 

Charles Salzberg

Charles Salzberg, is author of the Shamus Award nominated Swann's Last Song, Swann Dives In, Swann's Lake of Despair, Swann's Way Out, Devil in the Hole, named one of the best crime novels of 2013 by Suspense Magazine, and Second Story Man, winner of the Beverly Hills Book Award for best crime novel of 2018. He is on the Board of MWA-NY.

To learn more, please visit his website.
Charles Salzberg

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