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 and at Barnes& 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 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

Arden Recommends Vhonnelle’s Heart More Precious Than Rubies by Natalie L. McKinney (interview included)

Book: Vhonnelle’s Heart: More Precious Than Rubies

Author: Natalie L. McKinney


Genre: Christian Fiction, Christian Romance

Basic Description: Many struggle to believe that true love stories can still come true and that one day, they can actually have a love story of their own. Vhonnelle’s Heart is a beautiful love story of a couple’s journey to forever.

Vhonnelle’s story is one that will encourage all who read it to have hope in the power in love once again. This story serves as a message of hope for singles and married couples as well. As you read this story, know that love still exists, and it can be yours. However, the most beautiful love story begins with you loving you.

Arden’s Thoughts: Ah, love. It’s a vital need. Everyone wants it but so few of us really know how to give it. I was reminded recently of why I’d rather wait on the right person for me to date than settle for someone who is someone else’s Mr. Right. I’m a gal who wants to be romanced and for me, that includes making a plan, asking to participate in said plan days in advance, and honoring me as a woman. Plus, take out my trash.

What I enjoyed so much about Vhonnelle’s story was the lead character had the confidence in herself to stay true to her vision of her forever. Yet, she allowed room to be pursued by a man (who eventually captured her heart) even though she wasn’t totally sold on him at first.

This book is character-driven with lots of dialogue. Readers get to experience the characters getting to know each other, and experiencing some trying times, through their words. I think some folks will read this book and really want a relationship like what Vhonnelle and Simeon experience. However, these same folks will not believe it could happen for them.

Here’s what I think… I think what Vhonnelle and Simeon have is the ideal. And, no, most people won’t get the ideal. Not because it’s not their story, but because they don’t wait for their story.

I recently interviewed the author of Vhonnelle’s Heart, Natalie L. McKinney. I think you’ll enjoy how she sheds light on her book, and her main character.

Arden: V seems so personal to you as the writer, more than any of the other characters. How much of you is in V?
Natalie: It’s interesting that you pose this question; this is actually not the first time I have been asked this. Succinctly, yes, I do see pieces of myself in V. Friendship and sisterhood are cornerstones of my life and I wanted to highlight that in my book. My best friends push me to be great and I make it a priority to do the same for them. V can testify to the power of sisterhood as well. So, on that front, we are completely alike. In the book, the younger version of V struggles with self-esteem and the ability to truly love herself for who she is. I too, struggled with self-esteem and the ability to love myself was something that I had to work at for a while. So, as I created V in terms of a character, I wanted to make that connection between myself and Vhonnelle because I know other young women out there have struggled with something similar and I wanted to show that there is hope for the girl who doesn’t always like the person she sees staring back at her in the mirror every day. Additionally, I would say that V and I are alike because she’s a go getter. V has goals and at all costs she intends to achieve them. Plus, she’s brilliant and she loves any and everything that has to do with the 90’s.
Arden: Who doesn’t love the 90s?!? Haha! Faith is such almost an additional character in your book. Is there a reason why you chose to focus on it instead of a more worldly dating point of view?
Natalie: This is also a great question. I wanted to show how sweet relationships can be when they are ordained by God. In the world we live in I think many people date for the sake of dating without truly consulting the One that not only made them, but also the One who created their future spouse as well. Also, many people confuse the terms dating and courting. Dating can lead to many things both good and bad. But courting leads to the altar, it leads to marriage. In the book, readers will get a glimpse into courting and I think it will be a refreshing take on relationships. The last point that I would like to highlight with this question is that what V and Simeon have is a mirror of what my parents had (My father is deceased). I am grateful that I was able to see that example because if I hadn’t seen their love, honor, and connection to each other that was ultimately fueled by their individual connections to Christ, I may not believe that such a relationship goal is attainable.
Arden: Yes, I really saw the courting process within the characters. Seeing this caused me to rethink a thing or two in hopes that I’ll meet a Simeon of my own one day. With that said, is Simeon based on any man in particular or the perfect fantasy?
Natalie:  Simeon is based off of my father. Simeon is strong in his faith; he has the desire to raise a family, to cherish and protect his wife, and to be a champion in his workplace and community. Often times in movies or books, when a male love interest is presented, the audience only sees that character as having one of these traits and maybe two at best. But, Simeon has a great drive to be all of these things. My father was just like this. To be honest, when I get married I want the traits of my father and the traits of my husband to match because I have experienced the power of man who possess them and I would want the same experience for my own children.
Arden: We haven’t talked about one of the other characters in the book yet, Kanissa. What are your plans for Kanissa? Is her story one you plan to tell?
Natalie: I don’t want to give everything away now but Kanissa’s story is one that I plan to tell in my next venture as an author. Just as my audience has been touched by V as a character, I would like to introduce them in the same manner to Kanissa. Kanissa and V are a yin and yang and I would do a disservice to only serve my audience one piece of the pie.
Arden: I was hoping you’d say that about Kanissa! I feel like her story is just getting started. So, I know my viewers and readers will want to get this book. Where can they find it?
Natalie: You can find my book on Amazon! The easiest way to purchase it would be through my website: once you
Arden: Perfect! I’ve got links throughout this post too. Is there anything else you’d like to say to the readers?
Natalie: I would just like to say to my readers that nothing you go through is ever wasted. Sometimes when we go through things we wonder why it is us that are experiencing those things. You may even consider throwing in the towel; but don’t do it. If I had not gone through certain issues earlier in my life, I would not have been able to write a story that has the power to change the outlook of other people. Your gift assigns certain trials to your life, and on the other side of those trials is not only a story of how you made it over them, but also a path for you to be able to help someone else. The characters in my book have triumphed over the hurdles in their lives and you can too. If you are looking for proof of this, read Vhonnelle’s Heart.

Arden Reviews: Nemesis by Brendan Reichs (Interview Included)

IMG_2176Book:  Nemesis

Author: Brendan Reichs

Genre: Teen & Young Adult Mystery & Thriller, Action & Adventure, Fiction

Basic Description: It’s been happening since Min was eight. Every two years, on her birthday, a strange man finds her and murders her in cold blood. But hours later, she wakes up in a clearing just outside her tiny Idaho hometown—alone, unhurt, and with all evidence of the horrifying crime erased.

Across the valley, Noah just wants to be like everyone else. But he’s not. Nightmares of murder and death plague him, though he does his best to hide the signs. But when the world around him begins to spiral toward panic and destruction, Noah discovers that people have been lying to him his whole life. Everything changes in an eye blink.

For the planet has a bigger problem. The Anvil, an enormous asteroid threatening all life on Earth, leaves little room for two troubled teens. Yet on her sixteenth birthday, as she cowers in her bedroom, hoping not to die for the fifth time, Min has had enough. She vows to discover what is happening in Fire Lake and uncovers a lifetime of lies: a vast conspiracy involving the sixty-four students of her sophomore class, one that may be even more sinister than the murders.

Arden’s Thoughts: Y’all. This book blew my mind. I read it in 4 days. I only read books that quickly when I’m on vacation. I work with quite a few clients through my marketing business and Rodan + Fields business. They’re all paying me so I try to be the best darn steward of their investments as I can be.

Now, I promise you, all my work was turned in on time and very well done, but I didn’t sleep much the week I read Nemesis. I literally could not put down the book because every page felt like a cliffhanger swirled with a character development topped off with a plot twist.

I had no idea where Min and Noah were going, why they would be murdered (sorta) every two years, who was behind the conspiracy, and exactly how in the heck would Reichs find closure in a rapidly developing story that held as many questions as it did answers.

Lucky for me, I got to interview the author himself early on a rainy Saturday morning. Even in the middle of a clean eating diet, Brendan (we’re tight now so I can toss aside AP style) engaged me from the beginning of our phone conversation. Had it not been for my Southern upbringing that taught me to not over stay my welcome, I could have chatted with him for hours.

We recounted stories of his early days as a lawyer turned writer and our most embarrassing “only a book nerd could understand” fan moments. Mine involved chasing down John Grisham and Sarah Dessen at the same conference. His… well, you’ll have a chance to meet him on tour at a bookstore near you starting March 21. You can go visit him to learn his.

And we talked about Nemesis. Because our conversation was one of true creative types, sporadic with a hint of random, it wasn’t as linear as my previous author interviews. Hopefully, you’ll capture how engaging and personable he is as I share the highlights of our conversation with you…

Arden: Thanks so much for chatting with me this morning. I’ll be upfront with you. I don’t normally read books like Nemesis and enjoy them. I’m not a thriller kind of gal. But, wow! Your book is incredible. But, I’ve gotta ask… Where did you get the idea for this plot and your characters?

Brendan: Haha, I love that question. It makes me think I’ve created something a bit original and the twists and turns might surprise my readers.

The idea came from Highlander. I was toying with the finality of death. Then, what if you died but it didn’t really count. What if you saw yourself murdered, felt it, but then… you were alive again. What would that do to you?

And really, Nemesisis the beginning of at least a two-part series. I’m working on the next book and it’ll dive even deeper into what happens with Min and Noah… what their lives of dying and then, well not dying, do to their personal development.

Arden: Yea… it’s interesting how Min handles it versus Noah. I think the idea of several people being in a similar situation yet reacting vastly different will resonate with readers. For me, it had me wondering… would I be the best version of myself in this story, or the worst?

Brendan: True. I wanted people thinking deeper than the thriller portion of the story. I also wanted Min and Noah to be very different. I chose Min to be the stronger of the two because so often it’s the boy in the story being the strong one. I didn’t want that. I wanted my girl lead to be strong, empathetic and understanding, but really strong. I wanted Noah to be the weak one, the character barely holding it together. I think more girls need to see that in characters so I wrote that in mine.

And, I don’t like characters who are flat or one-dimensional. I want to show that not everyone is perfectly good or perfectly evil. There’s depth to who I write.

Arden: Ah! I love it. And the depth shows. I mean, when the one guy… (Ha! Just kidding. I’m not giving away any twists.)

Brendan: No! Don’t give away anything. There’s so much to uncover.

Arden: Just keeping you on your toes since you’re sans coffee this morning. So, do these characters come to you in your sleep? Do you see the plot unfolding before you as you watch college basketball? What does your crafting process look like?

Brendan: I’m a former lawyer and current MFA (Masters in Fine Arts) student. I have to know the broad strokes, and a lot of the smaller strokes, before going into it. But, then I’ll be in the middle of a day-to-day activity and the link to the entire story will come to me. I actually have a 6’x4′ whiteboard in my office. I’ll storyboard in my office, outline chapters, and then write a paragraph for each chapter.

Thrillers should thrill. For me, that means carefully crafting the story from start to finish. I need a huge outline before me to keep me focused on where I am now and where the story is taking me.

I write so my reader is engaged, entertained. And every time I finish a book, I’m convinced it’s the last time I’ll ever write. I’ve poured everything into that book.


Are you dying to meet Brendan and hear more about his latest book, NemesisWell, if you’re in and around the Charlotte area, plan to be at the Barnes & Noble in the Arboretum Tuesday, March 21 starting at 7 p.m. For more tour details and his other locations including the D.C. area, Charleston, and others, click here.






Arden Reviews: The After Party by Anton DiSclafani

FullSizeRender 3Houston, Texas.
Oil money.

These words invoke a saucy set-up to any summertime read, but hearing them used to describe the narrative doesn’t lead you to think the book will be thought-provoking; or incredibly irritating.

Yet, The After Party by Anton DiSclafani was both thought-provoking
and incredibly irritating for me.

Upon opening The After Party, we’re dropped into the world of the socially elite living in River Oaks (still one of the top ten wealthiest neighborhoods in the country) in the mid-1950s. Our main characters are Joan Fortier and Cece Buchanan. Joan’s our It Girl, the Kim Kardashian of her day. Cece’s her loyal sidekick, or handmaiden as she’s called later in the novel.

Joan and Cece have been friends since grade school… though friendship seems an incorrect term for their relationship. Cece worships Joan and Joan appreciates Cece’s worship. The two are magnets for each other, and even though everyone they encounter can see the completely unhealthy relationship in which they reside, they stay connected.

Joan’s portrayed as the town’s socialite and unpredictable queen. But, at 25, her royalty is slipping because society dictated she’s of age to be married. I found Joan a little over-the-top but mostly, I appreciated Joan. She saw a system she could never beat as a woman in the 1950s and somehow manages to get out from under the judgmental, tyrannical eye of her fellow socialites.

For me, it’s Cece who is so annoying. Her infatuation with Joan infuriates me. But, the more I wonder how a fictional character can anger me so, the more I realize how like Cece I can be. I am loyal to a fault. There have been people in my life I should have cut off long before I actually said “goodbye”.

And like Cece, I still wonder about these people. Are they okay? Are they happy? Do they think of me at all?

It’s that odd self-gratifying/hardcore-loyalist combo that drives the story for me. Cece’s other friends, and her husband, cannot understand the hold Joan has on Cece. As I put myself in Cece’s shoes, I feel her resistance to letting go of Joan. There’s something so idealist and pure in her pursuit of making Joan whole; yearning for her friend to be entirely happy.

But, there’s also a point where no human can make another human fully happy. We’re broken creatures and at some point, we have to let go of those who are breaking us.

It’s this lesson I took away from The After Party. Many people will love this book. I can appreciate it, but I spent way too much time being irritated to love it. But, I also couldn’t stop reading it and was fully invested in every character. So… I’d venture to say it’s a “must” for your summer time list.