Arden Recommends The Spectrum Conspiracy by Craig Faris (interview included)

IMG_5449Book: The Spectrum Conspiracy

Author: Craig Faris

Genre: Fiction, Action/Thriller

Basic Description:  The ticking clock intrigue of ‘Angels and Demons’ and the fast-paced thrills of ‘A Clear and Present Danger. Special Agent Devrin Crosby is consumed by his past addictions, and one lethal mistake. Reduced to pushing papers, he is on the verge of leaving the FBI when the President’s assassination on live television pulls him back. Everyone saw who did it, and all the evidence points to a hate crime, but Crosby uncovers a far more sinister plot, a conspiracy involving a secret Government agency, a nuclear Trojan Horse and amateur thieves. Crosby and his partners are thrown into a race to find the assassins and save our country from not only the thieves, but also government thugs who are bent on protecting their ultimate anti-terrorist weapon. In order to save thousands of lives, he will have to unravel their secrets or risk losing everyone he loves. The clock is ticking, no one is listening.

Arden’s Thoughts: You know, sometimes when I watch Scandal I wonder if there is an element of B613 in today’s Republic (maybe) or if I embody all the good and bad of Olivia Pope (probably). I truly believe there is more than meets the eye with most governmental happenings, so when I came across The Spectrum Conspiracy I knew it was a book I had to read; and share with you all! From start to finish, this book kept me guessing. Luckily, I got to chat with the author, Craig Faris, and ask him some of my more pressing questions.

Instead of going into all of my thoughts, I want to jump right into my interview… It’s a little longer than my other interviews and so very good. I don’t want to waste time on my words when you can read his. Without further adieu, Mr. Craig Faris…

Arden: How in the world did you dream up the spectrum project?

Craig: Way back in 1973 I went to see a movie called Executive Action starring Burt Lancaster. It was one of the first films with the premise that the Kennedy assassination was a conspiracy that blamed the entire event on a patsy, Lee Harvey Oswald. In one of the scenes, they were practicing setting up triangulated fire with three shooters. Each shooter had 35 mm cameras that were mounted on rifle stocks so the conspirators could study the photos to see if the three-shooter situation would lead to a kill shot.

The thing I most remembered was that the cameras were on a rifle stock, which gave me an idea. What if the camera was actually a gun? Imagine how many cameras are pointed at a President every day? That was the seed of a plot that grew in my mind all those years. But, I didn’t know how to write and it wasn’t until 1994 that I discovered that I actually did have a knack for coming up with a story line. I was just untrained.

That year, I made my first major writing mistake. I decided to write a novel instead of something much easier, such as a short story. Three years and 226,800 words later, I finished my first novel. It was called The Speed of Light and it was a total mess. I still consider it to be my Master’s Degree in the wrong way to get published, much less learning how to write. I made every mistake there was: it was three times too long; it had way too many plot lines; way too many characters; and I was changing point-of-view mid-paragraph. Plus, I knew nothing about grammar and I couldn’t spell. Believe it or not, there really is an error message in Microsoft Word 3.0 that says, “There are too many spelling errors in this document to correct.” I still see it every time I open that file. I figured that if my computer was willing to give up on my first novel, then maybe I should as well.

So, the next day, I wrote an outline and I called it, “Spectrum.” All I had was an opening scene with a gun barrel hidden in the microphone tube of a video camera, and an opening line: “The President knows.” That’s all I needed because I knew the rest of it would take care of itself. That evening, I joined a writers’ critique group and that’s where I learned to write. Their best and most valuable advice was, “Never try to write a novel first. Start with short stories; the shorter the better.” Why? Because it forces you to edit and editing is EVERYTHING to good writing.

Arden: I kept telling myself it wasn’t real, but… is it?

Craig: Well, it is novel, so, of course, it’s fiction. However, there are many elements of the story that are based on real events and real science. President Reagan in his “star wars speech” not only declared that he wanted to create a missile defense system, but that he also wanted to make traditional nuclear weapons obsolete. What he really wanted was non-radioactive nuclear weapons. The Reagan administration pushed Congress to create a new, huge, super collider and North Carolina was actually in the running to have it located here. However, the contract ended up in Waxahachie, Texas just south of Dallas. It was planned to have a ring circumference of 54 miles, but suddenly, in 1993, the whole project was cancelled, even after 14.5 miles of its tunnel was dug. I found this odd, so I started looking into exactly what particle colliders were used for and discovered that the primary use is to send tiny particles flying into each other at the speed of light in order to produce matter and antimatter which would then be studied. Once I discovered that only one gram of antimatter could be equivalent to the energy stored in 23 Space Shuttle fuel tanks, which is true, I knew that I had found a plot element worthy of stopping a Presidential speech. One so plausible that it might actually have my readers asking, “Is this real?”

On the other hand, in the same way that some authors used to postulate that you could kill a person by injecting an air bubble into his artery (not true), I didn’t want to give potential terrorists a recipe on how to actually build a positron bomb. Therefore, there is one critical element of that plot element that is completely fictitious.

Arden: That’s fair! So, you had a lot of characters in your book. A lot of my readers are also writers, so this is a question for them as they write: How did you keep all of your characters straight as your wrote such an intense plot line? Do you have tips for them?

Craig: I have to thank my writers’ critique group for this and that’s why I feel that being involved in such a group is so important to new writers. Major characters need to feel real and relatable. Each of us has many flaws and so should your characters, but you have to be careful not to describe all of their characteristics in what we call an “info dump.” Always avoid a prologue, especially in a first book, because it is usually nothing but back story. Instead, our readers should learn this information because it is weaved into the story. For example, in the opening chapter we are introduced to Devrin Crosby, our main protagonist. He’s in a bar, holding a beer that is warm with the foam long gone. Why? Each Sunday, Crosby orders a beer because he knows that if he can hold and smell it without tasting it, he can resist alcohol for the rest of the week. Oh, he has a drinking problem. He’s also smart and talented, but instead of telling us, we learn it because he can solve a Rubik’s Cube in a matter of seconds and the main reason he comes to the bar is to play the baby grand piano.

The first rule of writing is to always start with the conflict. If you have no conflict, you have no story to tell. Then, you have to weave your characters into the conflict in such a way that each of their story lines becomes important and memorable. For example, in the Harry Potter series there were over 130 characters, but even though it has been years since I’ve read any of those books, I can still remember each one of them. That’s because they were so well written with all of their little quirks, flaws, and personalities. By doing this, we are inserting our readers not only into our story, but also into their situations where they can root for, love, or hate our characters.

I think one of the best reviews that The Spectrum Conspiracy ever received was from a reader who wrote, “This book has a lot of characters and a lot of plot lines, but in the end, it all comes together like Sunday dinner.” That really made my day. It’s that kind of comment that makes an author park his or her butt in a chair and write.

Arden: So many of us love a comeback story, but your main character’s comeback is intense. Why choose to have Special Agent Crosby go from pushing papers to such a major case?

Craig: I think it’s all about rooting for the underdog and Crosby has certainly had a run of bad luck. He’s been suspended and assigned to a desk job, so he started drinking and gaining weight. He’s also middle-aged, single, lives alone, and has no girlfriend. Even his former best friend, Kelly Rankin, has turned against him and makes fun of him in public. He’s ripe for a comeback.

It’s the same reason why we became so attached to Clarice Starling in Thomas Harris’ The Silence of the Lambs. Here she is, a trainee with the FBI who is sent, as a favor to her boss, Jack Crawford, to interview Doctor Hannibal Lecter who happens to be locked in a cell in the basement of the Baltimore Hospital for the Criminally Insane. Doctor Lecter is a brilliant former psychiatrist who is now an incarcerated cannibalistic serial killer.

From the very beginning, Clarice is in way over her head. She’s not even real FBI yet, but here she has this opportunity to do something really important, even though she initially is not even aware that Dr. Lecter’s insight might prove useful to Jack Crawford’s pursuit of a serial killer, called Buffalo Bill, who skins his female victims’ corpses.

The characterization in The Silence of the Lambs is some of the best I have ever read in my life. Yes, the movie was great, but the book is an absolute masterpiece. The very first moment we meet Hannibal Lecter we are already so scared of him that we want to yell at Clarice, “Don’t touch the glass!”

Conversely, Crosby, is an experienced FBI agent, but his reputation has been tarnished by being blamed for shooting the wrong suspect. His spiral downward is only hinted at in the beginning until an unexpected opportunity arrives. Now he has to rebuild his reputation despite being assigned a partner he can’t stand, who happens to be dating the only woman Crosby is interested in. How could you not root for this guy?

Arden: That is really true! Your reasoning behind the story of Crosby makes us even more likely to cheer for him. That said… who is your favorite character in the book? Why?

Craig: I think I would have to pick two characters and they both could be considered antagonists. There is something that is really fun about climbing into the mind of a villain. Maybe it is because it allows us to dream up diabolical scenarios without actually being arrested. First, there is Harold Sanders who works in the White House as their head of security. However, Sanders has a darker side and moonlights as a member of a super secret group called Project Spectrum. All of the members of Spectrum think of themselves as true patriots and if someone threatens the security of that project, he or she must be stopped, by any means, regardless of who he or she is.

I had a lot of fun writing Sander’s character especially when I would put him into situations that seem impossible to escape from. When choosing his name, I decided to pick the most unlikely name I could think of for a villain: Harold. It was like turning a character from Mayberry into a killer.

My other choice would have to be Lucy Harris (although she has many aliases). Lucy is a very strong character who knows exactly what she wants and how to get it. She has a complex, intense background which we continue to learn throughout the story, yet she is also very likable and is never afraid to use every asset at her disposal to wreak havoc on those who have harmed her or her family.  

Arden: Well, now knowing your favorite characters, my next question has to be, are you a conspiracy theorist or was this been a stretch for you to write?

Craig: I wouldn’t want to limit myself to only conspiracies. This particular story was full of conspiracies so it seemed like the perfect title. I love writing suspense-driven thrillers and they don’t always have to be in the form of a novel. I have been published seventeen times in short fiction, one-act plays, and this novel. Of those, I have been honored to receive thirty-one literary awards, thirteen of which were either first place or best of issue. My first novel, The Speed of Light, is quite happy residing in a box in my attic and perhaps like Harper Lee’s Go Tell a Watchman, it is probably better off there.

I write all of my short stories the same way I wrote The Spectrum Conspiracy. I come up with an attention-grabbing beginning and a satisfying ending. The middle just takes care of itself. The great advantage to writing short stories is that you can finish them in three days as opposed to three years for a novel and they can still be very satisfying. Many screenwriters would much rather expand a twenty-page short story into a movie script, rather than having to trim down a 350-page novel. It just has to be a great story.

Arden: Craig, this has been a great interview. Thank you. Before I leave you, is there anything else you’d like Arden’s Book Club readers to know?

Craig: My publisher is currently putting together a collection of sixteen of my award-winning short stories which we hope to have published sometime this year. The working title of the book will be called A Den of Rhyme which is also the title of one of my favorite stories in the book. The hardest part has been going back and editing all of those stories without rewriting them. I have rewritten a few, but only to make them better.

The Spectrum Conspiracy is available as Kindle, Nook, and Trade Paperbacks at Amazon.com and at Barnes&Noble.com and by order at some local bookstores in the area. I also keep a collection of trade paperback which I will be happy to personalize and ship to fans. Just email me at CraigFaris@Comporium.net for details.

Lastly, since 2000, I have spoken many times at various writers’ conferences and workshops all over the southeast. If you would like to have me attend one of your book club meetings (within a reasonable driving distance), I would be honored to attend and answer any questions about my book or the process of writing in general. There is nothing I enjoy more than sharing information with fellow writers and especially readers.

You can read reviews and see sample chapters and the book trailer for The Spectrum Conspiracy at www.craigfaris.com.

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