Thursday, September 26, 2013

Know Your Hunt to Read Authors: Eric J. Gates

I have to give it to our authors: they're a competitive lot. After the lovely Stacy Eaton dropped bya few weeks back to discuss her at-times harrowing day job as a police investigator (and issued a "no comment" when asked if she was, in fact, a masked vigilante by night...or not, since I didn't ask her, but maybe she'll be kind enough to drop by again so that I can ask her), I received a mysterious email from an even more enigmatic author on the site: one Eric J. Gates.

Forgive me for wanting this guy's autograph; as you'll soon see, Eric is a veritable James Bond of the literary world. I'm not even kidding; we're talking legit super-spy stuff here--very cool!

You can check out Eric's books on Hunt to Read here:

Leaving Shadows

the CULL

Full Disclosure


I recently (somehow) caught up with Eric to discuss crypto/cyberwarfare, using his hands as deadly weapons, and Eric's excellent military thrillers (now with a hint of vampire!). Enjoy!

Thanks for joining us, Eric! Honestly, given your background, I don't know where to begin. Let's start with a seemingly innocuous question: I understand you have a background in intelligence. How did that come about? They don't just throw a bag over your head and cart you off in a nondescript windowless van, do they?

Sorry, D.J., the windowless van’s been booked out by a colleague today. Maybe next time. My ‘intelligence’ work was related to Infowar projects (called Cyberwarfare these days) and I collaborated with several intelligence agencies, military units and even big business concerns in this respect. Exactly what I did and when, however…

What agencies and/or branches of the military have you worked with? If the answer is "I could tell you, but I'd have to kill you," please, PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, DO NOT TELL ME!

Don’t worry, I never give any advanced warning; only happens in bad novels. That’s bad tactics. Sure you really want to know?

Um...when you put it that way...

[Swallows heavily]

[Hand shakes ferociously as D.J. takes a swig of whiskey]

[Smiles nervously] Any interesting stories you could share with us from your time in the intelligence business?

Maybe one. But all names are obliterated to protect the guilty and it’s business-related, not spy stuff, okay. Once upon a time there was a ‘company’ that needed to have its data encrypted to be sent abroad for processing. Their license to operate in that country was at stake so the crypto had to be approved by a third party – that’s where I came into it. After some stuff straight from a Bond movie, involving threats, hidden microphone, stolen briefcases, fast car rides through crowded cities and such, I finally got my hands on the source code for the computer program, commissioned from another company, which was supposed to do the encrypting. They had taken 3 years and many millions to come up with this. I quickly realized it was the same technique used by the Romans to cypher their secret messages, just dandified into binary code (think Captain Crunch Decoder Ring, no less). In true Agatha Christie fashion, we put all parties in a closed room with a sample of previously unseen encrypted text. It took me ten minutes using a notepad and pencil to crack it. It was a paragraph from ‘Alice in Wonderland’. There were many ‘unhappy’ faces around the table that day. Can’t say any more about what happened after that though…

That's just flat-out awesome--I've wasted my life! Aside from doing some old-fashioned code breaking, I understand you're quite the accomplished cyberwarfare instructor. I can't imagine you get those kind of credentials from a weekend online course at the University of Phoenix; what led you down that particular path, and what was it like?

How do you know about the weekend online course…?

[Redacted as D.J. may or may not have wet pants]

After scoring 100% on a logic-aptitude test, I soon found myself developing Operating System code for cutting edge supercomputers and then specialized in information technology security. From there it was a hop, skip and a hack to cyberwarfare (called Infowar back in the day) and the world of spooks and such.

As if that wasn't enough, you're also a virtuoso martial artist with...

[Checks sheet]

[Spits out drink]

Fourteen black belts!? I could do an entire interview on this alone, but I'll limit it to three shorter questions: (1) How did you get into martial arts? (2) Which black belt was the toughest to get/are you most proud of? (3) Which martial art or activity is the most fun for you?

Okay, the short version: I told a lie to protect myself at school, claiming I knew Karate. That lie came back to bite me a few years later, so I made it into a truth and found I had a certain ability to pick up fighting systems. I’ve studied 26 in all over the years, some very old yet still very useful stuff that’s helped me stay in one piece on more than one occasion. All had their own particular challenges; perhaps the ones using so-called vital points were the hardest to master though. These days I prefer to train Japanese combat sword arts. There’s nothing like wielding a three-foot razor blade to get some respect!

Given your background, all of the extremely cool and in-demand skills that you have, the fact that no one will mess with you under any circumstances, might I ask, why write thrillers?

I have always been interested in writing. By 18, I had written a full-length novel and over 200 short stories. Unfortunately, my professional life made extreme demands on my time so it wasn’t until recently that I could return to my first love: telling lies on paper. I’ve had a fast-paced life so thrillers are a natural choice as my genre. I’ve also come across some weird stuff over the years, so all my books have a touch of the unusual about them, too.

When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?

I think I’d made the decision when I ‘liberated’ a typewriter from my Dad’s office when I was 15. It just took me a while to accumulate enough experience of the real world to make for interesting and original tales in my novels.

Let's talk a little bit about your books. The latest, Leaving Shadows, literally sounds like it could be a Bond movie--tell us a bit more about it.

I grew up with the Bond books; Fleming’s character really broke molds in its day and my first incursion into novel writing was heavily influenced by these. Although my previous three thrillers have involved Special Ops people, ‘Leaving Shadows’ is the first that revolves around present-day intelligence agents. It kicks off with the kidnapping of the Head of the Secret Intelligence Service (that’s MI6) and the use of a private rescue and recovery agency to get him back. But everything is very different from what it initially appears to be and soon various intelligence agencies, a wily Eastern Block arms dealer and the aforementioned Kidnap Recovery firm find themselves battling to control the most devastating WMD that Man has invented. It’s nail-biting stuff right to the very end. As usual, there are several real World events mixed into my tale, some that will surprise the reader and make them wonder what I know that they don’t.

In taking a look at the CULL, it sounds like a very cool read, sort of Tom Clancy meets Stephanie Meyer (probably leaning more toward the Clancy side of things--correct me if I'm wrong). Since various world powers don't, in fact, utilize vampires (or do they...?), where did you come up with the idea to blend vampires with a crime thriller?

This book was written as a birthday present for a family member, a keen vampire fan, but I wanted to do something original. My starting point was to define what I didn’t want to write. I wanted to avoid the teen romance/erotic bites of the current vampire trends and go back to basics. Vampire myths have been around long before Bram Stoker wrote ‘Dracula’ and I researched into those looking for an innovative approach, which I found. I also wanted to recover the sense of dread that Polidori and Stoker’s novels created in their readers’ minds. ‘the CULL is the result. Two female Homeland Security agents take on a serial killer who turns out to be much more, with creepy Vatican priests and hidden agendas rampant throughout. Fans have asked for more, so I’m currently working on two sequels to turn the tale into a trilogy (for now). I have a warning for potential readers, though: read it with the lights on, preferably not alone!

Full Disclosure
really sounds great: a small town, an enormous secret, the President gets involved. Anything more you can tell us?

The tale revolves around a small Southern Texas town, on its last legs as its inhabitants leave to find jobs elsewhere. Overnight it becomes a high-tech battleground as a result of the President’s decision to disclose something that’s been a secret for over sixty years. There are dark factions at work, and two assassination attempts are made against the President in the course of the novel. The town’s almost-retired Chief of Police finds himself partnered with a psychopathic covert agent as the township’s quiet life is forever destroyed by the actions of a drug lord and his henchmen, professional assassins and rogue military factions. It’s one of those ‘can’t put down’ books that keep you up at night wondering if what I’m describing could be the truth.

I have a hunch what 2012 is about--interestingly enough, I'm researching Ancient Egypt for one of my current works in progress. How did you manage to balance research time and writing time, and tell us a little more about the book?

You may be wrong in your hunch…

I have always been fascinated by the ancient Egyptians. When researching for ‘2012’, which I originally wrote in 2006, I came across the Khemetians who pre-dated the Pharaohs. They were an amazing society, in many ways even more interesting than the different Pharaoh dynasties that followed.  But don’t get the idea that this thriller is set in ancient times though; just the opening chapter. Then there’s a quick jump to the mid-twentieth century to meet the villain of the piece, followed by another skip to two storylines set in 2009 and 2012 which come together in the explosive and polemic ending. You’ll either hate it or love it – no middle ground – but you won’t forget it! It’s a complex novel where research alone took three years before penning the first word. World events have prompted two revisions to keep the book as close to reality as I wanted, so even if the date is now in our past, the novel is still a terrific read that will keep you turning pages well into the night.

If any of your books were to be adapted into a movie, any thought as to who would play some of the characters and/or what locations you'd want to shoot at?

Ever since ‘Full Disclosure’ was published, people have been saying it should be turned into a movie or TV Miniseries. Certainly it has all the elements of an intriguing nail-biter. With financial considerations being what they are these days, it would also be a relatively cheap movie to film as most of the action takes place in the small town located in Southern Texas, not far from the US border. The town is one of the characters in the novel and deserves to be treated as authentically as possible. The scenes in Washington, with the exception of the Capitol Subway assassination attempt could easily be done in a studio too. That just leaves the UAV drones as one of the most expensive parts to source. Regarding possible actors, I have no preferences.

In all seriousness, I'm sure you've come across a lot of sensitive or even downright classified information through your various gigs. Obviously without going into too much detail, is it difficult not to put some of that information in your novels when it might make them more realistic? Or do you find that you can strike a good balance between what to tell and what not to tell?

In dealing with that kind of information, when it’s not obvious or subject to specific legal constraints, then the rule of thumb is common sense. Of course things do find their way into the early drafts of my thrillers and are then removed as editing proceeds. Some remains although this is either ‘relatively public’ in nature, or heavily disguised so individuals are not highlighted. Some have written to me asking if Character X is really them, and we’ve often had a chuckle about that. What novelist doesn’t draw on their experience when writing fiction? I also include details not just of technology and how it is used, but of places and techniques (such as fighting methods and weaponry I’ve used) where I can to make things as realistic as possible without giving too much away or putting myself on anyone’s blacklists.

Lightning round time!

Place you want to visit that you haven't gotten the chance to yet?
[Lightning? Are you referring to ‘Leaving Shadows’ again?] China.

Mac or PC?
PC – tried Macs when they first came out, but stuck with Windoze.

Cake or pie?
Can I have both? Cooking is a hobby.

"If I had a billion dollars, I'd..."?
Try to help as many individuals as I can. There are many out there you could use a little assistance at certain moments in their lives. I’d do this anonymously though – I’m not interested in charity to garner publicity.

Favorite Author? Too many and constantly changing. I’m a faithful reader of at least a dozen authors though.

Favorite Novel and/or Movie of All Time?
Favorite movie, that’s easy: Young Frankenstein; causes a smile just thinking about it. Then there would be a long list of John Wayne westerns. As for novels, there’s not one that is an all-time favorite. With my quirky memory, I have only re-read three books during my whole lifetime, so even that’s not a good guide. I can usually pick up a book I’ve read before, read the first few lines and then remember the rest in considerable detail even if thirty years or more have passed since the initial reading. The three re-reads? All non-fiction. One that I might cite however is James Clavell’s Shogun; great story, loosely based on fact, and a superb description of a time and culture unknown by many westerners. I’d thoroughly recommend it – buy it after purchasing one (or more) of mine though, please ;-) Got to go now, my shoe-phone’s ringing…

Thanks Eric--great stuff! Be sure to check out Eric's books, Leaving Shadows, The CULL, Full Disclosure, and 2012, all on Hunt to Read. And be sure to check out Eric's other stuff at the following links:

Leaving Shadows

Full Disclosure

the CULL           


Author website (with extracts from all the novels and their Inside Secrets):

Eric’s blog featuring many guest posts from a wide range of authors:

D.J. Gelner is the Co-Founder and CEO of Hunt to Read. Check out his books on his Hunt to Read Profile. Contact him directly at

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