When Kristi asked me to guest blog about the “backstory” for my new novel, Running Dark, I couldn’t have been happier, because researching this novel presented a lot of challenges. My first novel, Running from the Devil, is set in Colombia, and I traveled there for research. Colombia can be dangerous, a fact driven home by the men in fatigues, machine guns and German Shepard dogs guarding my hotel, but for the most part daily life functions normally there. Not so, Somalia, where my second novel, Running Dark, is set.
In Running Dark, my protagonist, Emma Caldridge, learns that the man who she first met in Colombia is on a ship in the Gulf of Aden under attack by pirates. In the hold of the ship is a chemical of unknown origin. The contract security company, Darkview, asks her to board the ship and analyze what’s contained in the hold.
Books, like movies, are written long before they are published, and I started writing Running Dark long before the Somali pirates burst into the media. The premise for the novel came from an actual event. Several years before, pirates had fired rocket-propelled grenades at a cruise liner in the Gulf. The grenades damaged two staterooms, but the ship deterred the attack by firing repeated blasts of a long range acoustic device. The idea of modern-day pirates attacking a cruise liner fascinated me, and I clipped the article. When it came time to write my second, I pulled out the article and started researching.
My first attempt at researching the protocol for a cruise ship under attack was less than successful. I contacted the cruise line company that ultimately owned the actual ship that had been attacked, and met with a wall of resistance. The spokesperson scoffed at the idea of Somali pirates taking a ship the size of a cruise liner, his take on the event was that they were crazy, but he nevertheless flatly refused to assist me. As he put it, “we can’t fully explain to you the lack of enthusiasm we have for your project.” (I remember laughing at that line, and after a moment he laughed, too). I understood his wish that I not write a scenario that might make people afraid to take a cruise, but the event had already occurred and the ship’s attempt to evade successful, so I pressed him for just the facts. Nonetheless, it was a no go.
Desperate, I started searching the internet for a retired cruise line captain that would be willing to answer some questions, and I hit pay dirt. I found Commodore Warwick, captain of the Queen Mary 2 for thirty years had just retired. I contacted his son, who put me in touch with his father. I had the impression that Commodore Warwick had seen it all in his years at sea. He answered some of my questions regarding crew size and confirmed that “Running Dark” (my term) where the Captain turns off all the lights on a liner and disables radar is illegal, but he doubted anyone would fault the captain in such a circumstance.
I still had problems to overcome. I had never been to Somalia, and the insurgents were shooting at planes that were attempting to land in Mogadishu. Even relatively peaceful Hargeisa seemed a tough place to reach. But the Chicago Tribune came to my aid. They had run an interesting series on Somalia. I contacted Paul Salopek, the author of the story, by email. Mr. Salopek answered my questions in record time, usually late at night (at least in my time zone it was late at night) and from God knows where. He told me about the oppressive heat in Berbera, that many of the pirates were fisherman that only pirated in the off season, and that khat, the amphetamine type drug that is legal and sold throughout Africa, usually arrived by noon and after that it was difficult to get any business done in Somalia.
Sixty thousand words into the manuscript–an average thriller ranges from 80,000-100,000–the pirates took their first oil tanker. I received emails and phone calls from friends across the country who knew that I had been writing about them, but now understood what the heck I was writing about. No one in the maritime industry was scoffing at pirates anymore. All who knew about my project commented on my prescience, but it was definitely coming back to bite me, as the UN began to write one resolution after another to address this new threat. I revised the manuscript just as rapidly, doing my best to keep it current. What emerged was Running Dark.
Part of the joy of writing Emma Caldridge as a protagonist is that she is a modern woman, not afraid of danger but not a damaged soul looking for retribution, part of a male/female team, nor is she a superhero. She survives by her wits and intelligence. I write the men in the story as respecting her as an individual and flirting with her as an equal, which is much more satisfying than some of the objectification that is currently in vogue in the movies. I figure that it’s fiction, and I can write the best of male/female relationships, so why not? The books are action adventure novels that get your heart racing and keep your mind engaged. I hope the readers enjoy reading them as much as I enjoy writing them.
All the best,
I have 3 autographed copies of this book to giveaway thanks to Harper Collins (I was able to get them autographed when Jamie came to our library!)
There are a few ways to enter:
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All entries can be left in one comment. Giveaway open to US only. Giveaway will end on Sept 29. Winners will have 48 hours to respond. Any unclaimed books will be given away on twitter at that time.
Publisher/Publication Date: Harper Collins, July 2010