SURVIVING THE ENDGAME has a ripped-from-the-headlines feel to it. What was the genesis for this story?
SURVIVING THE ENDGAME is the sequel to my earlier novel, INSIDIOUS DECEPTION. In that thriller, the reader is introduced to an international conspiracy formed to corner the market for rare earth minerals. When the conspirators encounter opposition from the U.S. president, they plot his assassination and scheme to develop the presidential credentials of a U.S. senator under their influence. In the new novel, the presidential election becomes a deadly contest between the conspirators and those seeking their destruction.
How do you manage your research? Militarized drones played a major part in the story, and your depiction of their use was both frightening and very detailed. How big a future do you see for them? What about weaponized mini-drones? So far, the use of military drones has been one-sided. What predictions do you make when opposing belligerents use drones?
My positions with the U.S. Department of Labor—such as Chief Economist of the Wage & Hour Division—required planning and conducting programs of economic research and then analyzing the findings. The research I initiate for my novels uses the same process but is more free-wheeling and exciting.
As you note, I’ve found the use of drones to be a fascinating vehicle to advance the action in my thrillers. In INSIDIOUS DECEPTION a drone disguised as a Red-Tailed Hawk infects the President with weaponized H1N1. In the new story, drones launched from a U.S. air base are diverted to do the dirty work of the conspiracy. Drone development and use is the next-frontier arms race that will require new means of defense if we are to remain safe.
The story is very much the international, global-stakes thriller. Lots of characters moving across many different arenas. How do you manage to meet the reader’s expectations for the genre yet not have the narrative and plot come across as clichéd or formulaic?
The way I develop a story is to visualize the overall situation and then create the main characters, their personalities. From there, the heavy work is done by the characters themselves. I simply free them to pursue their goals and create the conflict that must be resolved. For the most part, I don’t know in advance where the story is heading. Of course, there may be the need for mid-course corrections but in general, the novel is written by its participants. This open approach avoids the dangers of a clichéd plot or formulaic results.
Alana’s death was a big surprise. Killing off the hero’s romantic interest always ups the stakes but it could also overshadow other elements of the plot. As you wrote the story, how did you manage to balance Rob’s despair over losing Alana with your need to move the story forward?
Alana’s death is indicative of the conspiracy’s lack of concern for the growing toll it takes on human life. There is a scene in which Anna Goddard, leader of the conspiracy, compares their killings with the collateral damage of U.S. drone strikes or the deaths that result from excess carbon emissions. On the other hand, when she is faced with death her attitude isn’t as academic and the conspiracy’s presidential candidate becomes haunted by the murders that are clearing his way to the White House.
Rob is all too familiar with the conspiracy’s death toll, having lost a young woman who he thought would be the love of his life in an early scene in INSIDIOUS DECEPTION. While Rob is once again heartbroken, eventually, he pledges to defeat the conspiracy with renewed vigor, to end the killings or die trying.
Another element that figured into your story was “blowback,” the unintended and often disastrous consequences of covert actions. Was that your attempt to illustrate the hazards and conceit of clandestine foreign policy?
Covert steps often are taken without dealing with the fundamental problems that created the need. While temporary relief may be achieved, the odds are that sooner or later we end up back where we started. A good example of this dilemma is the continued lack of democracy and sufficient income of large Middle East populations. We can intervene, take out offending or threatening parties, but without real change in the governing authority, long-term improvements are not obtainable.
In INSIDIOUS DECEPTION, a brilliant university professor, working on Congressional Fellowship with the conspiracy’s Senator, proposes a Middle East Union to deal with many of the region’s basic shortcomings. I developed that proposal working on a Middle East Dialogue sponsored by the Policy Studies Organization of the American Political Science Association. The process I used to design the proposed initiative was the subject of an article in Suspense Magazine and recently, the paper was published in its entirety in MIDDLE EAST CONFLICTS & REFORMS, a book of Westphalia Press, the publishing arm of the Policy Studies Organization.
I also noticed your use of a lot of equipment porn with emphasis on nomenclature and operating details. Are you a gadget geek?
I’m not a gadget geek but believe comprehensive and accurate descriptions of hardware that finds its way into my novels is required for the realism I try to instill. I want the reader to believe that the story is or at least could be happening.
What’s your writing process? Do you set daily word-count goals? What happens if you get stuck? What is the most difficult aspect for you in writing a novel?
I’m up early each morning, in the office by nine, and usually write until about three p.m. When I get stuck, I let things sit for a while. If that doesn’t do it, I get on the Internet and look for visual aids to get things moving. I find it difficult to assign names to my characters and often seek help from family. After work, during the nice weather, I may read on our deck, get to the golf course, or spend the rest of the day at the beach (we live on the Jersey Shore).
What books are on your reading table? What titles are your favorite and why? Are there any you go back to again and again?
Currently, I’m reading BLIND SPOT, a Jesse Stone/Robert B. Parker novel by Reed Farrel Coleman. I just finished THE LOST ISLAND, by Preston & Child.
What’s your next project?
I have two new projects on the horizon. I’m thinking through the next Rob Taylor thriller, in which three mysteries simultaneously converge on his doorstep, and I’m restructuring my first novel, experimenting with telling the story in a very different way.
Alan L. Moss is a unique and emerging voice in the thriller genre. His writing draws upon Ph. D. research capabilities and many years in Washington D.C. as a federal Chief Economist, Congressional Fellow in the U.S. Senate, and Adjunct Instructor at the University of Virginia’s Northern Virginia Center. In 2002, he put his government career aside and moved to the Jersey Shore to pursue his writing. His published novels spin sophisticated tales of conspiracy, love, sex, and subterfuge. After years of politics and bureaucracy, Alan has found the freedom of writing fiction an intoxicating and satisfying calling.
To learn more about Alan, please visit his website.