By David Healey
When you’re interviewing a thriller writer who is an expert on cybersecurity and computers in general, it’s a bit embarrassing if the microphone doesn’t work on your Skype account.
There’s author Eric J. Gates on the other end of the video, on the other side of the Atlantic, patiently holding up a notebook page on which he has scrawled, “No sound.”
Like any good thriller writer used to wrestling with the intricacies of plot, Gates is every bit the patient problem solver, and soon the interview goes on in real time.
“There you are,” he says in his mellifluous British accent, sounding delighted. “We have sound!”
As the British might say: Keep calm and interview on.
It’s interesting that for his newest book, PRIDE & EXTREME PREJUDICE, this British writer focuses on the FBI and an American cast of characters. He explains that a long international career has helped inform these plots and characters.
The new book is actually a novella comprised of two interlinked stories that feature characters from Gates’s previous books. In the first story, FBI Senior Special Agent Thompson has been on the trail of an assassin known as the Lion for many years. With retirement on the horizon, Thompson seeks to finally settle the score but finds himself outwitted at every turn.
In the second story, Army Intelligence Captain Bridget Mason comes across a secret that puts her life in danger. She and her intelligence colleagues work to get to the bottom of who is selling out coalition troops in Afghanistan.
According to the author, Captain Mason really helped to inspire this project. As Gates tells it, readers were saying, “Can you tell us more about her?”
In a sense, it’s a prequel meant to lay out Captain Mason’s backstory. “The greatest opportunity was to describe the characters in a raw state of personal evolution, far removed from what the reader encounters in the novels, yet clearly they will get there,” Gates says, adding that Mason’s story is based, in part, on actual events. “One of the things I am basing this on was the CIA actually being involved in drug smuggling over there.”
Three characters from other books also make appearances, which will please Gates’s readers. He also enjoys the challenge of weaving stories and characters’ pasts together.
“Some of what [Mason] does and some of who she is was shaped by her past, so I thought, let’s go back and see what made her that way,” he says.
In terms of characters and story, Gates says there’s one question he wishes someone would ask him about his use of female protagonists. “Most, if not all, of my books feature very capable females in protagonist roles. They don’t need rescuing by hero-type males as they are more than capable of looking after themselves,” he wrote in announcing the book. “They are not macho-types in female bodies, however. Each has their own personal evolution that brought them to where they are. For example, Tessa McGee grew up in a family of paid assassins; Bridget Mason lets her ambition to progress in Army Intelligence often lead her to take life-threatening risks on her own.”
Gates has not limited his work to spies and intrigue; he has also written a popular vampire series that kicked off in 2013 with The Cull: Bloodline. The novel started out as a stand-alone story meant as a birthday gift for his 13-year-old niece and evolved into a five-book series featuring Irish vampires, largely based on legend and myth. “There is quite a substantial history and mythology to explore,” he says.
Again, he focuses a great deal on his characters, who evolve over the course of the series. However, he cautions readers not to expect any Twilight-esque romance.
When not writing, Gates enjoys soaking up the surroundings in Spain, where he has lived with his wife since 1982. He resides on the country’s east coast, a two-minute drive from the beach, in a small village with everything the couple needs. With Spain’s high-speed train system, they can be in the big city in a couple of hours for a day out.
“I have a little hideaway,” he says of his writing space. He describes it as not being big enough to swing a cat in, and if he rolls his chair a bit too far it hits the back wall. However, it’s a great retreat for buckling down and writing.
“I write better if I’m in a place where I’m not distracted,” he says.
It’s also a place where he can spread out, if in a cramped way. “I am not the tidiest of writers,” Gates says with a laugh. When he finishes a book, he does tidy up the space… and then the whole process starts over again.
Another project he’s been working on is the conversion of some of his titles to audiobooks. He says that hearing someone else perform his work for the first time was quite an experience. “I was amazed by the way the narrator managed to put me there. It was a spooky experience. I have a lot of respect for how people narrate.”
With his background in martial arts—he holds 14 black belt degrees in various disciplines—and a former career in cybersecurity, Gates often fields questions from other writers as an expert on these topics. (It’s important to note that he doesn’t believe that AI will replace writers anytime soon. Whew.)
Like many writers, and as a cyber guru, Gates sometimes wonders if his search history online might raise a few eyebrows, but that comes with the territory for thriller writers who are wild and free in their imaginings while hunkered down in a cozy office with tea and biscuits at hand.
Next up for his fans will be Chasing Shadows, due out in September. This will be the second book in his Shadows series, which launched in 2013 with Leaving Shadows.
Award-winning author Eric J. Gates has had a curious life filled with the stuff of thriller novels. Writing operating systems for supercomputers, cracking cryptographic codes under extreme pressure using only paper and pen, and teaching cyberwarfare to spies are just a few of the moments he’s willing to recall. He is an ex-international consultant who has traveled extensively worldwide and speaks several languages. His specialty, information technology security, has brought him into contact with the military and intelligence communities on numerous occasions. He is also an expert martial artist, holding 14 black belt degrees in distinct disciplines. He has taught his skills to police and military personnel, as well as to the public.
He now writes thriller novels, drawing on his experiences with the confidential and secret worlds that surround us.
To learn more about the author and his work, please visit his website.