By George Ebey
Author Allen Leverone’s new thriller, Final Vector, features a terrorist plot set in the world of air traffic controllers. I recently caught up with Allen who had much to say regarding his firsthand knowledge of aviation, story construction, and robotic cats.
How does Final Vector differ from other aviation related thrillers?
Aviation thrillers represent a very small minority of books in the thriller community, despite the fact that just about everyone flies and most people share at least a passing interest in aviation. And of the aviation thrillers in the marketplace, the vast majority are told from the pilot’s perspective. John Nance has carved out a fine literary career for himself doing exactly that, and as a commercial airline pilot with decades of experience as well as a television news aviation consultant, Mr. Nance has the credibility to do so.
I believed there was room in the small community of aviation thrillers for a different type of book—one told from the air traffic controller’s perspective. After nearly thirty years of ATC experience, the last twenty of which have been spent working traffic at Boston’s Logan International Airport, I can testify to the fascination people have with my job and their curiosity about what it’s like.
But Final Vector is not just an aviation thriller—you don’t have to be a pilot or air traffic controller to enjoy the book. I worked hard to keep technical jargon and procedural stuff from bogging down the story, and in the end, it is a tale of a man doing his best against incredible odds to prevent a tragedy from occurring.
Though this story allowed you to call on your extensive experience as an air traffic controller, did you learn anything new while conducting your research?
I learned more than I thought I would ever want to know about various types of weapons, including the Stinger shoulder-fired missiles used by my fictional terrorist organization in their attempt to assassinate U.S. President Robert Cartwright by blowing Air Force One out of the sky. I had a certain degree of awareness of these weapons thanks to my air traffic training, but a lot of that material is classified, and I worked extremely hard to ensure the only information contained in my book is available to anyone willing to take the time to research them.
I also intentionally fudged certain details, regarding Stingers, as well as regarding security at FAA facilities. Some of the details in Final Vector are fuzzy, some are simply inaccurate, because I take very seriously my responsibility not to provide any type of blueprint for some crackpot who might want to use my book as a roadmap to committing mayhem. I work with controllers and pilots—Hell, I am a controller—and the last thing I would ever do is put my fellow aviation professionals at risk.
You are the author of many short stories which have appeared in several anthologies. How did this background help you to prepare for the larger format of a full length novel?
That’s a tough question, because the story formats are so different. In some ways, I find it easier to write a novel than a short story, because a novel gives the writer the luxury of time and space to develop characters and story arcs and to build suspense. In a short story, every word carries a lot more responsibility than in a novel—if it doesn’t do something to advance the plot, and in a significant way, it’s gone.
On the other hand, writing a novel, obviously, takes a much greater commitment, time-wise and energy-wise. I pounded out some of my best-received short stories in a matter of days to maybe a week, including rewriting, editing, the whole shebang. To complete a novel, from the initial conception through the final rewrite/edit/polish, it takes me anywhere from three to six months, sometimes longer. The process is a grind, but it’s exhilarating at the same time.
Once Final Vector is released, do you have plans for follow up projects? If so, can you tell us a little about them?
Absolutely. I am actively pursuing publication for a traditional thriller I finished late last year titled The Lonely Mile. In it, a divorced hardware store owner one step away from a bankruptcy filing stumbles upon a kidnapping in progress and does what we all like to think we would do—he steps in and saves the young victim. But the perpetrator escapes and immediately vows revenge, setting his sights on the man’s teenage daughter, eventually kidnapping her. The reluctant hero, Bill Ferguson, forms an uneasy alliance with the beautiful lead investigator on the case as he races against time—and his own feelings of guilt—to save his only child.
The situation is not exactly as Bill Ferguson thinks it is, though, and he just might discover he is in much farther over his head than he ever imagined.
You live at home with your family and your cat, Midnight , whom you say has survived many adventures. Care to share any?
What a great question! I wish I could get inside Midnight’s head; I would have more story ideas than I could ever write. A few years ago he came home limping on three legs, trailing blood through the house, before hiding under our bed. We finally got him to the veterinarian where we discovered he had suffered several shattered bones in his right rear leg. The vet used rods made from tiny nails to reconstruct Midnight’s leg bones, then casted the leg. We never found out what caused his devastating injury, although the vet theorized that maybe he got stuck under a fence and panicked, yanking his leg and shattering it.
He’s had other adventures, too, including liver problems which caused us to have to feed him through a tube for several months and from which I later found out the vet did not expect him to recover. But recover he did, and he continues his adventurous existence today. I like to call him Midnight the Robo-Kitty.