Narcolepsy grew from an idea that I’ve had for many years – what happens when the governments and the banks and the pension funds and the states all go broke and the only people with money are criminals? Would the authorities one day be desperate enough to take a bailout from criminal elements to prevent the financial systems from collapsing?
And if the answer is yes, how would it work?
I started writing in earnest when I got divorced in 1991 and decided that writing was something that I could do and should do and could hopefully do commercially. I started out by writing a movie script based upon a short story entitled “Smooth Criminal” that involved the perfect crime committed by a powerful telepath and a character, Jenny Sixa, who is a “consultant” telepath brought in by the police to solve crimes because, within limits, she can access the last thoughts in the victim’s mind, which in turn, would typically give her some clues as to the identity of the killer. However, in the first victim in the book, she sees her name in the victim’s last thoughts, planted there by the killer.
After about a thousand re-writes, that script got optioned but it was a typical “when pigs fly” option, meaning, I would get paid if someone paid the producers to pick up the script. Then I saw the movie The Producers, where the Tim Robbins character says that a Hollywood studio gets asked to say “yes” to 50,000 projects a year, and typically actually says yes less than 10 times.
I thought, wow, those are absolutely lousy odds, and I thought I could get a book published about my character faster than I would ever become a movie mogul.
I found an agent and Bantam Spectra picked up the resulting novel (now called Circle of One) and a sequel, entitled The Stranger.
Sci-Fi is a really vibrant community, and I’ve had the privilege to meet a number of the masters in the field, but after the Jenny Sixa books, I thought I wanted to move into thrillers. My agent at the time suggested I do a thriller with a black main character (since I’m black and lots of black authors were hitting the bestseller lists at the time) and I did, which in 2001 resulted in a novel called Blowback, which was ultimately published by Harper Collins. All told, it sold about 15,000 copies, recouped it’s advance, but the problem was that I’d taken my agent’s advice a little too seriously, and I’d created a character named Richard Whelan who was a little too…racial.
The man had, well, issues. It was a very fast paced book, which is the kind of novel I love to write, but I got lots of feedback along the lines of, “dude, loved the story, but why is he so…black???” And the reality was that a high octane national security/political thriller was not the kind of genre that the African American audience naturally gravitates to. So the early hardcover edition, published by Harper imprint Amistad, had a cover blurb that made it seem more like a relationship novel with guns than a thriller. My publisher fixed the positioning in the paperback edition, which then sold pretty well, and the Blowback paperback cover is a model for the Narcolepsy cover.
So in Narcolepsy (which I would define as Narco/Lepsy, or the process of being lulled into a false sense of security by narcotrafficantes) began with this idea of the west being broke, and whether someone would turn to criminals to float the financial system in a time of crisis.
The novel is set in the not too distant future, (“Ripped From Tomorrow’s Headlines!”) where the European sovereign debt crisis can has been kicked as far down the road as it can by stopgap measures in four countries, Spain, Greece, Italy, and Portugal. There are no more bailout funds left, and the Americans are broke. (Or maybe struggling to keep the government open-slash-renegotiating the debt ceiling). The head of the fictional World Bank is negotiating with the Chinese to inject money into these same countries, and the Chinese are not interested because to them, it seems as if this is a never ending black hole.
Meanwhile, in the fictional World Bank’s offices in London, the hero Myles Saldana is an analyst running credit risk models on Spain when his boss calls him and tells him the new rates to apply to Spain’s central bank debt. Saldana replies that the rates are crazy, because they would push Spain’s central bank into default, and the financial markets would go bezerk.
It is at this point that the story, in the first two chapters, begins to take a darker turn. Arnold, Myles’s boss, calls him into the office and tells him that he’s sending him a list as “insurance” just as commandos break in looking to secure the mysterious list. They kill Arnold and pursue Myles because they figure out he has the list, and the chase is on across London to Paris and finally to Geneva, with Myles trying to understand the significance of the list, its relationship to the burgeoning financial crisis triggered by Spain, and his own fate for being in possession of such a toxic item.
I wrote this book during the summer of 2012 and thought it was terrific, but couldn’t get an agent remotely interested in it. That was when I decided to self-publish Narcolepsy (although I certainly didn’t do my SEO scores any favor with that name) as well as a “reboot” of the Richard Whelan character in a novel called Credible Threat.
I think Narcolepsy occupies a unique place in the thriller genre and I am 80% through the sequel. I am also excited about Credible Threat, because it involves an assassin threatening the President of the United States who claims to have been the second gun in Dallas in 1963 – a claim that at first blush doesn’t seem credible…but then again when shots are fired…
So, I enjoy writing, I think novels and plots have a rhythm and a depth and a velocity that I really enjoy exploring, and I love bringing diverse and interesting characters to life. I think Narcolepsy does this, I think Credible Threat will do this, and I am grateful to have an audience.
The last thing I will say is that I work for an absolutely astonishing organization called World Vision International, the Christian, child focused humanitarian relief and development non-profit. We work in roughly 100 countries around the world and in some of the most difficult contexts imaginable.
My work with them has taken me to some amazing (and heartbreaking places) including, for example, the “Hotel Rwanda” in Rwanda that was the basis for the movie of the name (the actual name of the hotel is the Des Miles Collines) Vietnam, where I heard a tour guide talk about how the Vietnamese kicked American butt during the war, the so-called “killing fields” in Cambodia, and the Garden of Gethsemane in Jerusalem, where Jesus, betrayed, was captured and began his journey to crucifixion.
As I write this, I’m sitting in London, soon to be traveling to Bangkok and Tanzania over the next thirty days, among other places.
In effect, I like to think that my work involves doing my small part to prevent the futures that I write about.