By David Healey
Author Lee Gimenez is one of those rare writers who still uses a pen and paper to craft his stories, often in a coffeeshop or sometimes in the backyard during these pandemic times.
Day by day, word by word, those pages have added up to an impressive collection of books in his acclaimed J. T. Ryan series, as well as standalone novels, including his newest thriller, BLACKSNOW ZERO.
BLACKSNOW ZERO—the title referring to post-nuclear snow—features a high-tech and twisty plot that seems worlds away from the author’s handwritten notebooks.
“It’s probably my most plotted book,” Gimenez says, adding that the details of the story were in part sparked by a trip he and his wife, Judy, took to China. “It’s mostly told through the eyes of a young FBI agent.”
According to Gimenez, BLACKSNOW ZERO unfolds as FBI agent Erica Blake investigates the death of a United States senator and uncovers a drastic, top-secret operation led by rogue American generals. Unless she can stop it, the doomsday event will take place in 30 days. Ominously named Blacksnow, the operation plans to free the United States from the crushing debt owed to the Chinese government.
Agent Blake also learns that China has secretly bought massive amounts of American debt, giving the Chinese control over America’s domestic and foreign policy, and making the US president a puppet of the Chinese government. Agent Blake’s life is threatened when she learns top-level people at the FBI are involved in Blacksnow. Not knowing who to trust, she enlists the help of her lover, CIA agent Steve McCord. As Blake’s investigation deepens, she also realizes Blacksnow could plunge America into conflict. With the deadline looming, the two agents rush to expose the conspiracy before the United States becomes embroiled in a worldwide war.
Even a casual reader of today’s headlines will realize the plot comes uncomfortably close to plausibility, given current events.
To add to the countdown construct, each chapter covers a day leading toward the potential doomsday, starting with Chapter 1 on Day 30. Gimenez says this made the plotting quite intricate because changing one plot point as he wrote could reverberate back through the whole structure of the book.
“I had to do quite a bit of research for this book,” Gimenez says. “One of the elements of the novel has to do with the ever-growing national debt of the United States. Because of this massive debt, the USA has borrowed large amounts of money from other nations, such as China, Japan, and other countries. This has made our country very vulnerable; in effect, our domestic and foreign policy can be influenced and even dictated by foreign countries, which is a dangerous situation.”
Along with the tense plotting and current-events elements, something else that makes the book stand out is that a male author wrote a female main character.
“She’s a tough, take-no-prisoners type of woman who also has a sarcastic side to her,” Gimenez says of Agent Blake. “I use that humor to relieve the tension of the deadly situation she deals with. Blake has an on-and-off relationship with her ex-husband, and in this novel, she seeks his help with the investigation. Their personal relationship creates its own drama and conflict.”
Gimenez really enjoys the dynamic between Blake and her ex-husband. “I like the approach of a woman and a man in the key roles,” he says. “They bounce ideas off each other. One gets in trouble and the other one comes to help.”
On a more personal note, Gimenez credits his wife with being a good sounding board for the credibility of his characters’ actions and dialogue, and she also helps with cover design.
In addition to his own world travels in the military and then as a business executive, Gimenez says several authors have influenced his writing. His list of favorites includes David Baldacci, Brad Thor, Robert B. Parker, Lee Child, and Janet Evanovich. Many of their books fill his home office.
“I love to read fast-paced, page-turning novels, and that’s the type of novel I like to write as well,” he notes. “I enjoy putting my hero and heroines in danger. My goal is to create cliffhangers at the end of every chapter. And most of all, I try to include suspense, tension, and conflict on every page.”
That approach has garnered him more than a little success with 15 published novels to his credit. In 2019, Gimenez was a finalist for the 2019 Author Academy Award, and he is a multi-year nominee for the Georgia Author of the Year Award. He was also a finalist for the prestigious Terry Kay Prize for Fiction.
Before his writing career took off, he worked in business management for several Fortune 500 companies. Prior to that, he served as an officer in the US Army. He is a graduate of Georgia Tech University and also earned an MBA degree.
These days, Gimenez is happy to keep filling up those notebooks in longhand and typing up what he’s written, giving him an opportunity to revise his words.
“I wish I could write and publish three novels a year, but that’s not realistic for me,” he says. “I research my topics and try to make my novels as realistic as possible, and that takes time. To write a good book, the writing process also takes time. Normally, I can write and publish two novels a year.”
His secret to success? It’s as simple as what keeps him coming back to those notebooks and his keyboard.
“You’ve got to love writing.”