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Award-Winning Debut Launches with a Bang

By Millie Naylor Hast

Avanti Centrae’s favorite stories make her blood race and her heart pound. Is it any wonder, then, that the former IT executive, whitewater raft guide, Aikido instructor, and international traveler would find thrillers appealing? Her award-winning debut, THE LOST POWER, launches with a bang this month.

Strap in for the story New York Times bestselling author Steve Berry calls “a good ole’ fashioned rip-roaring adventure.”

A thousand years of history hits home when sniper fire upends the lives of Maddy Marshall and her twin brother, Will Argones. The twins must search for the truth behind the sniper’s bullets, a journey that ricochets from Northern California to Spain, the Middle East, and beyond, and tests the limits of their endurance. Will Maddy’s IT and Aikido skills and Will’s engineering know-how be enough? Will the mysterious Bear, who joins them on their quest, turn out to be friend or foe? And will they ever find Alexander the Great’s weapon and the symbol of ancient power that sets the stage for this incredible story?

The Big Thrill was eager to find out—so we caught up with Centrae to learn more about THE LOST POWER and her writing journey.

In addition to Berry, she found kindred spirits in James Rollins, Dan Brown, and Clive Cussler. Because of their success, she felt their readers also would enjoy her style. Her love of action, international cat-and-mouse games, and adventure on and off the page drew her into the world of writing.

A variety of sources, including her experience in Silicon Valley, influenced this story, she says. “During that time, I learned a lot about the power of technology, for both good and evil.”

Technology threats play a role in this story. “For example, in THE LOST POWER, Russians want to find an ancient source of material that can power e-bombs.” Such directed-energy weapons could destroy US early-warning systems and disrupt our electronics. “It doesn’t take a tech degree to realize that we would be in deep trouble without semiconductor technology. Can you imagine a world in which your cell phone, computer, and TV were melted like a Salvador Dali painting?”

Before writing, Centrae produces an outline “so detailed that it’s like a just-add-water recipe.” She updates the outline as plot points change. “The plot twists were especially fun to come up with and weave into the story. I loved solving puzzles when I was a kid, and story plotting is my favorite, because it all has to fit together, like a Rubik’s Cube.”

She started with a visual of the story’s ending—“Maddy’s body language at the dramatic, lightning-soaked climax.”

From there, she layered on over many iterations. “It took more than a year of research and creative ideas before I was happy with how it all fit together. One day I realized that writing, for me, is just like remodeling a home. When I fix up a house, I start with the theme, pick something, like…countertops, and keep layering on with cabinets, flooring, etc. Writing is the same. I begin with the genre, pick a theme, focus on the ending, and keep layering on characters, plot twists, locations, etc. The outline is where I keep track of it all.”

The plot came to her as a series prequel: adult twins are slowly pulled into a “vortex of violence” while the shadowy VanOps organization watches. Complications pile on, such as “Maddy’s background with a non-martial art, a lingering high school disagreement, and an old pal who’s not what he seems.”

Maddy and Will aren’t intelligence professionals, but Centrae “liked the idea of starting the series while the protagonists were still everyday people. I was captivated by an idea: How does a person learn to kill? Especially if she has strong ideas about non-violence? To become covert agents, I figured the twins would have significant emotional hurdles to cross, especially in light of their recent loss, so this story confronts those challenges head on. It was a risk to include emotional growth in the genre, but the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. I think the vulnerability helps readers bond with the characters and makes all the danger and action more exciting.”

Centrae has always been fascinated with the special bond between twins, because her mother and aunt were twins. “Without giving too much away,” Centrae says, “I can tell you Maddy and Will lose a loved one. Grief, shared danger, and fear for their lives force them to travel together. They have to find out why the sniper attacked them at the vineyard, and why they remain in the sniper’s sights.”

If Centrae could meet her characters in real life, here’s what she would tell them: “I’d tell Will to keep his wrist straight when throwing knives, I’d tell Bear not to keep secrets from Maddy, and I’d tell Maddy to remember to ‘listen, and feel The Power.’”

Centrae’s research led to surprising discoveries. “I didn’t realize that nearly all of today’s European ruling class is related to Isabella and Ferdinand, the Spanish monarchs who funded Columbus, or the ins and outs of how lightning can take a ball shape. I wasn’t aware that Alexander the Great covered the shields of his troops with lorandite to blind opposing armies. Also, I didn’t know the potential destructive power of e-bombs, how they can melt electronics like a Salvador Dali painting. But the most surprising thing I learned is that superconductor materials can float in the air! They exhibit a levitation effect under the right circumstances.”

In writing this story, having confidence in her abilities was her biggest challenge. “Although I had a lifelong dream of becoming a bestselling author, I wasn’t confident I’d be any good. In between corporate jobs, I tried my hand at being a reporter,” but when she compared herself to a colleague, she “didn’t like what I saw, so I didn’t write for a long, long time. When I hit 50 I decided I had to try again. Eventually I realized comparing myself to others is not at all useful. Better to focus on what I can do well.”

Centrae’s next book will be The Moses Map. Maddy and the clandestine VanOps team will have to fight through shadowy ruins in Mexico, Turkey, and Egypt to find a mother lode of supremely dangerous material being sought by America’s enemies.

Another dangerous quest to keep us on the edge of our seats.


Millie Naylor Hast