Interview with thriller author Heath Daniels


Novelist Heath Daniels helps me kick off the
week. We’re talking about two of his thrillers, Three Kisses and Day of
Judgment.
The novels fall into categories that include international
intrigue, adventure, diversity, tolerance and acceptance, and fast-paced action.
Bio:
Heath Daniels
is a pseudonym for a semi-retired university professor who began writing fiction
seriously when approaching retirement. Because he continues to write and
publish professionally, it is preferable to use a pseudonym so that readers of
both his fiction and his professional writing are not confusing personas.
He grew up in
the Southwest US in a family of modest means, working-class blue collar. He was
definitely a “fish out of water”, but developed strong convictions about
respect for others, their religions, ethnicity, race, and the greatness of
diversity. Spiritual convictions developed below the surface, but did not
emerge in full force until about the same time as becoming a committed writer
of fiction that entertained but also subtly informed and conveyed his feelings.
Being the
first in his family to attend a university while having parents and other
extended family members who did not appreciate higher education, did not help
the situation. It did start the focus on the need to use his brain and
creativity, rather than manual labor, to develop a career. It’s a good thing he
was “too smart for his own good”, as many family members described him, because
otherwise he would not have been able to earn a living and support a family.
After a
bachelor’s degree and a year working entry level in a profession, the universal
draft of the 1960s was about to attempt to make him into a foot soldier. His adept
efforts allowed him to enter the US Air Force as an officer in a professional
“desk job”. Six years on active duty gave him the first significant opportunity
to travel internationally with an assignment and travels throughout Latin
America. Later continuing into the Air Force reserve while pursuing other
career paths, he was assigned to Headquarters US Air Force in the Washington,
DC, area which provided many insights that found their way into the books.
Meanwhile,
pursuing a PhD and a career, while also raising a family, he put fictional
writing on hold, but thoughts lingered in the back of his mind. Some 25 years
later, his academic career took a major turn when he began taking positions
internationally, wherever interesting job offers came his way. The positions in
different European countries, and especially in the Middle East gave great
insights into themes that found their way into the books. Some three years ago,
he semi-retired and moved part-time back to the Southwest US where he grew up.
Currently, he lives part-time in northern Europe and part time in the Southwest
US, while devoting more time to fictional writing and also continuing work for
a European university part time.
Welcome, Heath. Please introduce us to
your novels.
Day of Judgment is the sequel to the first book Three Kisses, but is written to be read
as a stand-alone story.
In Three Kisses, al Qaeda uses Russian medical technology to infiltrate an exact
duplicate of a US Army officer of Arab-American descent for nefarious purposes.
The doppelganger is discovered by a coincidence by a fellow colleague, a Marine
Corps officer, who takes matters into his own hands rather than have his
private life discovered. Two young Arab-American men of Yemeni descent are
duped by a self-designated Muslim imam to cooperate in the plot, but are caught
up. Action moves through Mexico, Cuba, and Iraq while US intelligence and law
enforcement personnel unravel the plot.
In Day of Judgment, would-be terrorists
infiltrate a mosque in the Washington, DC area as a base from which to silence US
intelligence-gathering activities. They find willing young men among
disaffected Palestinian-Americans, including two who have lived the good
American life in bucolic southwestern Virginia, but had that life disrupted by
local hoodlums. An unlikely group of a brilliant, young, Arab-American-Muslim
attorney; an equally brilliant young Islamic theologian and University
professor; the commander of U.S. Marine Corps guards at a sensitive location; a
gay “middle American” Arabic language specialist; and a nurse and artist are
brought together unwittingly to help unravel the plot. A select group of US
intelligence and law enforcement personnel not only discover the perpetrators
but also discover other Arab plots to foster unrest in the Middle East.
What inspired you to write these books?
As described
further in the afterword to Three Kisses,
in the 1980s while watching a TV program about the Soviet Union infiltrating a
duplicate of a US Army officer into the US for nefarious purposes, the thought
popped into my mind that this would make a good plot for a book. Family
commitments and career put the idea out of my mind, but it lingered in the
subconscious. Fast forward to New Years 2006, when I was living in the Middle
East, the idea resurfaced with the change that al Qaeda would realistically be
the perpetrator with the help of a Russian. The idea was kicking and screaming
to come out and I would have no until I started writing. As time went by, the
original theme from the old TV show became the thread that moved the plot
along, but other inspirations popped into my mind to write a fictional story of
intrigue, adventure, and action, but one that conveyed a message of diversity,
tolerance, acceptance, and prevalence of good over attempted evil.
When I
finished the first draft of Three Kisses,
I thought my writing career was over. After all, I was no longer young. The
characters from Three Kisses tapped me
on the shoulder and said ‘you are not finished with us yet’. The result was Day of Judgment, a title with a double
meaning of judgment by the U.S. judicial system as well as a major premise of
Islam. Key characters, most of whom did not know each other before, moved up in
their careers and lives and settled around Washington, DC. Along with other
characters, they began unraveling another type of plot to infiltrate the US
from the Middle East, and involve unwitting Arab-Americans. Again, intrigue,
adventure, and action, but conveying a message of diversity, tolerance,
acceptance and prevalence of good over attempted evil.
Excerpt from Three Kisses,
at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio:
That sure isn’t like Patrick, Frank thought as he finished. He’s so attached to Elsie he’d know to the
minute when her plane’s due to land … and he bolted out of there without washing
his hands.
[Frank]
washed his hands, returned to his desk, got a cup of coffee, and sat up suddenly
with a jolt, spilling coffee.
Wait!” he exclaimed to himself: That wasn’t Patrick. ….
He
became aware they were staring at him as Felicia asked: “What’s wrong, Frank?”
He
answered: “I just spilled coffee on my shirt, damn it. I’d better run wash it out
before it stains.”
He
rushed back to the men’s room saying to himself: Can think here a few moments. He pushed the liquid soap button, turned
on the water, and began to wash the coffee stain with his fingers, thinking: That’s why answers don’t sound like Patrick.
Someone’s taken his place and looks just like
him. What’s he doing here? We’ve got lots of classified cutting-edge weapons systems
under development. Is he after something classified? Yes, of course; he was in the
classified safe. Did he torture Patrick to get the combination? Wait. No. He didn’t
go until after I’d opened it. What’s Patrick working on? Maybe Termite, the deep
penetrating tiny grenade to be used in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Wait. Iraq. Afghanistan. Insurgents. God,
al Qaeda’d love to get this. Al Qaeda? Arabs? Patrick’s Lebanese and Arab. They
find some other Arab who looks like him? He can’t be on his own. A terrorist cell
behind him? There’re sure enough activities on this base that lots of people’d like
to get into. Foreign technology assessment unit’s a prime target; fighter planes
and weapons the U.S. is reverse-engineering.
What now? Turn
it over to Security Police or the Inspector General? What reason do I give? …. Tell
’em he’s acting funny and has classified material. Since when is it a security breach
to act funny, especially if he has a cold?
Even if I’m right, Okinawa all over again.
I report and I’m the one investigated. Didn’t find anything about me there except
maybe a Japanese whore. Here they’d find lots. Not ready for career suicide even
if I am pissed off at the Marines. Damn it, this’s a threat to the country; everything
the family and I’ve stood for.
Won’t know what he’s up to unless I
watch and follow, see where he goes. Wouldn’t do anything on base; must be taking
it off-base. Must be driving Patrick’s car. Wouldn’t know my car unless he forced
Patrick to tell. What’d he do with Patrick? Kill him? Dump him in the Miami River?
Call Fred. He’s a policeman. Take him
out myself one-on-one if he’s unarmed, but what if he has back up? Wonder if
he’s on duty today. Supposed to meet at the Serpent tonight, so not working then.
Phone’s on my desk and can’t call from here. Find Patrick’s car, wait for this guy,
and follow.
As
soon as he went back to the office, he said: “I’ve got a meeting this afternoon
and can’t go like this. I’ll have to go home and change shirts. I’ll take the things
for the meeting and not come back until after, probably midafternoon.”
Felicia
said: “See you later then.”
In
the parking lot, Frank said to himself: Patrick’s
car’s right up front where he usually parks. See if I can get my car closer
ready to follow him.
After
parking his two-year-old cream-colored Mercury Mountaineer nearby, he called
and said: “Hey Fred, Frank; you on duty?”
*pause*
“Need
your help if you’re not too busy,” he continued.
*pause*
“Someone’s
made a double of a guy in my office and he has classified information; may be a
terrorist,” he added.
*pause*
….
“Yeah,
sure, turn him in to the Security Police or IG,” Frank said with a smirk. “Might
as well put on a pink uniform with a big sign saying I’m gay. Seriously, it’d be
like Okinawa; the guy who reports gets in trouble.”
*pause*
“In
my car ready to follow him,” Frank continued.
*pause*
He
said. “Can you come quick? I may need back up.”
*pause*
“Good,”
Frank said, “your unmarked cruiser. Take 675 around Dayton towards the base. I’ll
let you know where I am soon as something happens.”
*pause*
“Great
idea,” Frank concurred. “Luie usually works only mornings at the bakery and Paco’s
off today I think.”
*pause*
“See
you soon!” Frank concluded.
Excerpt from Day of Judgment in Washington, DC:
After
nightly news on television, Joe and Omar headed for their bedrooms. Suddenly
they heard a loud noise.
Joe
said: “Sounds like an explosion.”
Hearing
sirens and seeing flashing lights of fire engines and ambulances out the
window, Omar said: “It looks like over by 21st and R.”
Joe
shouted: “How could I have been so stupid!”
“Huh?”
Omar asked.
Joe
replied: “I focused on explosives to bomb the NSA. He wanted them to set off in
the bar.”
“Oh,
shit!” Omar exclaimed.
“Remember
Frank and Paco’re going there tonight with Brad and Jason,” Joe said putting on
his winter coat.
Both
rushed to the scene bundled for the clear cold night and were confronted by a
policeman who said: “Sorry you can’t come any closer.”
Friends
of ours were in there,” Joe said. “We want to get as close as we can to find
out how they are.”
“I’m
clergy in case I can help,” Omar added hastily.
“Oh,
yeah,” the policeman said cynically. To Joe: “And who are you? The church
secretary?”
“No,”
Joe answered indignantly. “I’m a lawyer.”
“Oh,
yeah,” the policeman continued. “You got ’em covered both ways. One saves their
souls while the other gets their money and turns it over to the church.”
Joe
retorted: “I work for a major U.S. government agency; I’m not in private
practice. My friend here is an imam at the Islamic Center.”
The
policeman asked: “What’re you doing here?”
“I’m
an Islamic clergyman,” Omar said assertively. “I suspect not many Muslims were
inside, but I thought I’d inform you I’m clergy as a courtesy in case I can
help.”
Joe
said: “I hope you’re not jumping to conclusions and engaging in ethnic
profiling. We’re law abiding citizens who respect law and order. We expect to cooperate with the police.” Omar’s not a citizen, but oh well, he said to himself.
The
policeman said: “Step aside. We’ll get you if we need you.”
….
Omar
exclaimed: “That’s Frank!”
They
moved closer watching EMTs load Frank’s stretcher into the ambulance. Paco,
limping and with cuts on his face and neck, attempted to climb in.
One
of the EMTs said out of Omar’s and Joe’s earshot: “Sorry, we’re using
ambulances for those who can’t walk.”
“He’s
my friend; I’ve got to be with him. He needs me and wants me,” Paco said
pleadingly.
“Sorry,”
the EMT said. “We make exceptions sometimes for close relatives and that’s not
you.”
“But
I’m a nurse; I can help,” Paco pleaded.
The
other EMT said: “Hey, man, I understand; I have a boyfriend too, but rules are
rules. Besides we really need the space for those who’re badly injured. If
you’re a nurse, maybe give first aid to some others; we’re shorthanded.”
….
“That’s
Jason,” Joe shouted.
“And
that’s Brad,” Omar said seeing Brad with a large gash running down the side of
his head and face.
Jason,
too, attempted to climb into the ambulance and the EMT whispered into his ear.
He
dejectedly said: “OK,” and walked away in a daze.
The
female police officer saw him and directed him to the car with Chad and Paco.
Jason
said to Paco: “You can’t go with Frank either.”
Paco
muttered: “No.”
The
car and ambulance with sirens blaring drove away.
Joe
suddenly broke through the police line rushing to ask: “Where’re you taking
them?”
“DC
General,” she replied half shouting.
Joe
quickly ran back to Omar and said: “Come on, we’re going to chase ambulances.”
What exciting story are you working on
next?
The trequel
has already been written and is being copy-edited with lots of tweaks. Many of
the same delightful characters are brought forward a few years along in their
lives and careers. They have moved to new locations that would be logical for
the next phases of their lives. They were not attached to Washington, DC, in
the first place. New characters come into their lives to deal with new
challenges facing them. The issues of immigrants and refugees in the US are
foremost and exacerbating in the midst of major political shifts in the
country. Anti-Muslim sentiment also emerges as a theme. It should be available
in 2018. Buy, read, and enjoy!
When did you first consider yourself a
writer?
With
hindsight, as a child in Junior High School (usually called middle school these
days). From time to time, I fancied myself as a journalist and self-published
very crude one-page “newspapers” to circulate. Later in university, in English
classes that required writing papers, I wrote fictional short stories based on
characters and the lore of the university campus. After a hiatus of many years,
I finally came to view myself as a writer some ten years ago when Three Kisses came to life.
Do you write full-time? If so, what’s
your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find
time to write?
No, not full
time, but it is beginning to become more than just a part-time hobby. Because I
am only semi-retired, I still do things for the university in Europe where I am
professor emeritus, mostly collaborating on research writing and editing, all
writing related, but a different type of writing. Also, I spend a fair amount
of time traveling and just becoming a stereotypical retiree. Symphony concerts
and theater take some of my time.
What would you say is your interesting
writing quirk?
Bringing life
to characters. Creating their quirks, developing their personalities and
involving them in activities and adventures.
Also bringing
light onto otherwise obscure communities. All places, no matter how large or
small, have much to offer and it is fun to describe them. Places like
Russellville, Alabama; Lafayette, Virginia; Lackawanna, New York; Ruidoso, New
Mexico, and upcoming Redwood, Texas.
As a child, what did you want to be when
you grew up?
A journalist.
I worked three years on the high school newspaper. Growing up, I looked at
schools that excelled in journalism, like the University of Missouri. Lack of
parental support and finances, kept me to the university in my home town. It
was a leading school in business administration, so circumstances took me
there. As time went by, I repeatedly heard that accounting was about numbers. I
always replied that not so. Accounting is about communication; the nearest
other profession is journalism. Accountants prepare and communicate information,
some of which is numerical. Like journalists but with more numbers. Not as much
room for creativity as novelists, though.
Anything additional you want to share
with the readers?
Please give
me all of your thoughts, ideas, and feedback. I really like to hear readers’
thoughts and suggestions.
Links:
Thank you so much for being here today,
Heath. All the best with your writing!

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