Interview with Ian Graham

The Perseid Collapse Kindle World Interview Series:

Thriller writer and Virginian: Ian Graham

Ian GrahamToday we hear from one of my early thriller writer buddies. Ian and I met while I was heavy into writing the Black Flagged series, a hardcore covert operations/political thriller saga. Ian had recently launched his first Declan McIver book, a story about a “reformed” IRA black operative thrown back into a world of violence, and we hit it off grand—as his character would say.

I admire Ian’s writing style and the story building he demonstrated in the Declan McIver-Black Shuck series, so it was natural for me to reach out and ask him to contribute a story to the Perseid World. We’d talked in the past about my leap from writing thrillers to post-apocalyptic books, so I hoped this might pique his interest. I think it did more than spark a little interest. Ian has published one novella, The Amsterdam Directorate, and is feverishly working on the second installment. It probably goes without saying, but The Amsterdam Directorate is a natural extension of his talent as a thriller writer, and an unveiling of new skills in a new genre. Without giving away the rest, let’s here it straight from the man himself.

I mentioned your story building talent in my opening paragraphs for a reason. Beyond the taut thriller beats and compelling action found in your Declan McIver novels, I gathered a sense that you had spent an immense amount of time creating the background surrounding Declan’s early years. In my view, this contributed heavily to the success of a complicated and tortured character, and I wasn’t surprised to see that you took a similar approach to The Amsterdam Directorate.

Right. I chose to make the only connection between the original series and my novella the initial event. Everything else is entirely new. The Amsterdam Directorate explores a new geographic area and new characters, but in a familiar post Jakarta Pandemic United States where the economy is decidedly weak, militias are a part of everyday society, and the government is largely invisible outside of the larger cities.

Ian Graham

I know readers will agree that you’ve created a complex, rich world that stands on its own within the Perseid World. With The Amsterdam Directorate, you’ve demonstrated one of the key approaches to writing in Kindle Worlds, especially in a world as vast as The Perseid Collapse. The “event” described in the original series affects everyone in the United States, and has serious repercussions around the world. Introducing readers to a new perspective reinvigorates the series and proposes new challenges. Plus, it gets readers out of New England…even I was starting to feel a little claustrophobic in my series. 😉

Beyond your knack for world building, what else really transfers strongly from your previous work?

My stories always revolve around characters that have very traumatic past experiences in their lives that color and even dictate their actions in the present to a degree. That’s continued in The Amsterdam Directorate. As I read myself into the Perseid series, what I really wanted to know more about and delve into was the experiences of people between the events of the Jakarta Pandemic and the Perseid Collapse. What did they have to do? Did the world just return to normal when the last vestiges of the plague were gone? History would tell us no. If you look back at major medical events like the Black Plague, you see that the aftermath was a time of enormous societal change. The old ways died and each time a sort of new world was born. But sometimes it took decades for the change to take hold and like anything, the old ways didn’t just go away quietly—they fought hard for their survival.

That’s the world I dropped my characters into. Like the Fletchers in the original series, the characters in The Amsterdam Directorate are at a point where several years have passed and things almost seem like they could become normal again even though there’s still a deep fear and uncertainty about the state of the world.

Like Declan McIver, in your Black Shuck books, Reverend Jacob Craft is indeed a character defined by personal trauma. His presence in the story is like a dark, overcast sky, lending an emotional anchor to a post-apocalyptic situation already wracked with trouble. We’ll talk about him in more detail shortly.

Before that, I want to address a unique aspect of your story. When we first discussed your idea for the novella, you had a ton of questions about my vision for the post-Jakarta Pandemic world. I had to do some deep thinking…scary thought for me. To me, the story in the Jakarta Pandemic was more about what happened to the Fletchers and their friends, within the narrow scope of their neighborhood. As the story progressed, the focus pulled inward, until they were essentially locked inside their homes. You had a different vision of the post-Jakarta Pandemic world, based on the story setting you chose, which once again demonstrates your strength for world building.

All right. Let’s hear more about your main character.

In just about every way, Reverend Jacob Craft was your typical rural-to-suburban American male. He was a high school football star with an ego to match his status, until a mid-season injury put an end to those hopes and dreams. Then, in the fever of patriotism that many Americans experienced after the events of September the 11th, he joined the Army and shipped off to Afghanistan. Unfortunately real war wasn’t quite the heroic Hollywood-like experience he’d imagined, and after a few tours in country, he returned to his community with a host of demons gnawing at him. After attempting to chase them away with alcohol for a number of years, it was a determined member of the opposite sex that set him right and introduced him to a higher calling. Then the Jakarta Pandemic happened, and events like those in Afghanistan came to the home front. Fortunately for those around him, Jacob was able to hang on and pull his community together in the face of more than one type of threat. The aftermath of these events is where we find him as The Amsterdam Directorate opens.

I wanted to make all of the characters, but most certainly Jacob, realistic and relatable, giving readers the sense that these could be your neighbors. They could be the guy next door, the farmer down the road, the pastor of your church, and I hope that comes through to people as they read it.              

I think you nailed his character, and the characters supporting him. The story has a strong “regular people rising to exceptional circumstances” feel, which readers in the post-apocalyptic genre appreciate. I could probably take a lesson from this.

The elements found in your thriller series successfully support The Amsterdam Directorate. How do you feel about stepping into the post-apocalyptic realm?

I tried to follow the post-apoc and prepper themes, because those are what interested me most about the world. I’ve been a big fan of the Walking Dead since it began airing, but my primary interest in that series has never been the zombie / horror elements, which really serve more as a backdrop to me. What interested me from the beginning is the idea of TEOTWAWKI or “the end of the world as we know it.” I’ve been itching to explore that for awhile now and The Perseid Collapse Kindle World provided the perfect opportunity.

I think you’ve found a new home, or a cabin in the woods (more prepper friendly), when you want to take a break from the covert ops thriller world.

This is a fun question for me, because it’s a matter of public record how often each of the authors writing in the Perseid World publish work. When I discussed the details of launching the world with my “handler” at Kindle Worlds (shout out to Sean-he’s good people), I remember saying, “I think we’ll have two, maybe three novellas at launch.” We had a tight timeframe to get novellas ready for the launch. The first wave of authors, which included Ian, blew my theory away! What happened? Red Bull. Methamphetamines? I’m not liable for any substance abuse addictions incurred while writing in the Perseid Collapse world. I think that might be in fine print, somewhere.

From the moment you contacted me about this and told me the launch date, I knew I was going to have to work extremely hard to get finished on time, much less have a sensible, edited, and formatted product. This is the first time I’ve worked on a deadline and I must say that I’m very happy with the results.

That’s it? Hard work? I’m tired of hearing that. It sets the bar too high for me. I was hoping for a Misery like story, where the crazed creator of the Perseid World, or Sean from Kindle Worlds, takes you prisoner and subjects you to enhanced interrogation techniques until you’ve finished the novella. Hobbling if you try to escape. Hard work, huh? Not even a few Sam Adams beers? Ian’s nodding in my mind. I knew there was more to it than hard work. 😉

I’ve mentioned your Declan McIver character. I think readers will be interested in this well received series. Care to expand?

VeilofCPatriotsSignsMy other works are primarily in the political thriller genre and tell the story of a former IRA volunteer named Declan McIver. Declan has tried to move on from his past, but is pulled back into the shadows by circumstances well outside of his control and is forced to fight for the life he’s worked so hard to build in America.

Like The Amsterdam Directorate, the Declan McIver series is centered around characters fighting to keep hold of the things they hold dearest. As such there’s a high degree of action and adventure in each and a lot of common themes. There’s even a sort of prepper element to Declan in that he’s prepared himself and his home for the possibility that someone from his past will one day come looking for him. That possibility is never far from his mind and that shows in how and where he lives as well as the kind of things he’s invested his time and money into.

Characters fighting to keep the things they hold dearest. I believe this is the core of thriller writing. I didn’t know this before I started writing, but when I look back, this is the nexus that connects all of my stories. Awesome.

Everyone’s story is different, which is why I always ask. How did you become a writer?

It was a dark and stormy night and there sitting on my grandmother’s antique roll top desk was a typewriter…

No, not really. It was much more mundane than that. Ever since I was a little boy I’ve simply loved stories. It didn’t matter what it was as long as there was a larger-than-life hero, soaring deeds of daring or a quest to save the world from some sort of wicked fate, I was there and more than happy to act it out in the living room and daydream about it for days afterwards. As I grew older and people started looking at me funny when I rolled across the floor in my Indiana Jones fedora, I turned to scribbling down daydreams in notepads with the idea of “someday” doing something with them, though I had no idea what.

In 2010 my daughter was born and at the same time the industry I was involved in was going through a rough transition. So I saw the writing on the wall that it was time to start looking for something else. For some reason that’s really hard to explain I just couldn’t get the idea of writing a novel out of my head. So I said a disbelieving “okay…” to that still, small voice in my head and went to work. Three years later my first novel Veil of Civility was published to great reviews and here I am. I couldn’t quit now if I wanted to. Writing has become a part of who I am and has given me a creative outlet for all of my ideas and seemingly useless knowledge that I’ve collected over the years.

That’s far from mundane. In fact, we share the exact same motivation for taking the leap to putting our words in a novel. After three “restructurings” at my job, I knew it was only a matter of time before the game of corporate musical chairs would leave me half standing, half sitting, trying to squeeze myself onto a chair that had been occupied by someone just as worried as me about job searching in their forties (or fifties) in a shrinking job market.

Do you have a background related to your writing?

Nothing spectacular to speak of. My background is in small business. I’ve owned and operated (and still do) several businesses including real estate rentals, car washes, and mobile auto glass replacement, but my passion has always been reading, watching, or listening to stories (fiction or non-fiction) about incredible people involved in incredible things.

When I began my own writing journey I was convinced that the popular writers must have backgrounds in things like the military and intelligence and was shocked to learn that two of the most popular authors in the thriller genre, Tom Clancy and Vince Flynn, actually had backgrounds similar to mine. Tom was an insurance salesman with a lifelong interest in naval warfare and Vince was a self-described “grape nuts salesman.” This was hugely motivating to me and despite never having met either man, I owe each of them a little debt of gratitude simply for being who they were.  

Tom Clancy was always a favorite of mine, which fueled my temporary jump out of post-apocalyptic writing. I think most of the truly popular genre fiction authors have little background in the writing world.

I confess this often, but I’ll do it again. Prior to writing The Jakarta Pandemic, I had never heard the word “prepper.” Survivalist, sure, but I was neither of these things. What about you? And I’ll completely understand if you don’t want to share the details of the forty-story silo buried on your property, as long as I’m invited.

The “end of the world as we know it” is something that has transfixed me for a long time, but always in a fictional setting. I never considered that it could actually happen until I realized just how fragile our society really is during a recent, unexpected windstorm.

During this storm trees fell, windows shattered, and most significantly, the power was knocked out for a large portion of the area in which I live. My family and I live in a newer section of town where the utilities are almost all underground and fared pretty well, getting our service restored within about 24 hours. So, no big deal. But for other people in the older areas of town where poles had to be dug up and replaced and wires had to be restrung it became a very big deal as the outage stretched from days into weeks. All said, it took about three weeks for every single resident to have service restored to their homes. In that time, there were shelters (at churches and schools) full of needy people, fights breaking out in places like public libraries where people wanted to use the power outlets to charge items like cell phones, and a collective shrug from the local government who wasn’t the least bit prepared for any of it. To make a long story short, there was a general sense of anxiety throughout the area for several weeks and it made me realize just how little it would take for things to spiral out of control.      

I think becoming a father was a major factor in the realization as well. The idea of not being able to provide for my family, especially my little girl, is terrifying to me. So, my family and I are having some conversations about emergency preparedness and such. I won’t say I’m a full on “prepper” just yet, but I may be before too long.

I can only think of one response to your last sentence. You have to cue up the raspy Yoda voice. “You will be. You will be.” For obvious reasons, The Jakarta Pandemic got me thinking seriously about what it takes for a family to survive a disaster. The Perseid Collapse series was like a PhD study, with Randy Powers as an adjunct professor. It’s hard to create these stories, without changing your mindset. Within a month, you’ll start to notice that your Amazon browsing history is mostly prepper related items, then the brown packages will start arriving weekly, if not daily. My advice is to somehow intercept these packages before you wife sees them. Less questions that way.

Inevitably, your wife is going to figure it out, and want to know why a significant portion of the children’s college savings is going to things like tactical tomahawks, waterproof matches, MREs, and rifle optics. What will you tell her? What is your most convincing, and fully vested end of the world scenario?

There’s a ton of scenarios that could technically happen, but I think the major one is something like I just mentioned above; a natural disaster of some sort that effects a broad section of territory and just throws things into a tailspin. In that situation you wouldn’t want to be out on the road trying to get somewhere else. You’d be better off in your own home with enough supplies to ride out the panicked reactions of other area residents.

When I think of prepping, this is really what I think of. I don’t think you can prepare for everything and nor should you try. I think you should focus first on the short term. Can you stay in your home for one, two, three weeks, maybe a month and be able to eat, drink, warm up, cool down, protect yourself, and ultimately live a relatively normal existence without having to rely on grocery stores, gas stations, and the availability of public utilities? That’s the question I think every head of household needs to take a hard look, answer honestly, and then get to work. That’s where I’m at.  

Make sure she reads your novellas, and all of mine. I’ve been able to slide quite a few items past the censors that way. I think I added a .308 to my collection (I mean necessary stockpile) by including a chapter that reinforced the need for a heavier caliber rifle. This writing gig pays off in more ways than one. And anyone that tattles will be unfriended on Facebook.

What will you write next in that beautiful writing cabin? Check out his digs. Amazing.

Next up for me is two more Perseid Collapse novellas that will round out the story of The Amsterdam Directorate. The first “sequel” if you will is going to be ready on or around March 20th and the last installment on or around April 30th.

After that, it’s back to work on the long-awaited second Declan McIver novel. I have it nearly completed, but might wait until the third quarter “reading season” begins to publish it. Generally speaking spring and summer aren’t good times to publish because that’s when people are putting down their e-readers and looking outside for sources of entertainment. We’ll just have to see if I can sit on a completed product that long. I’m horribly impatient. 🙂

The Amsterdam Directorate being your first foray into the post-apocalyptic genre, do you think you’ll revisit the genre with your own future books?

I can totally see that happening. My first love in any story is action and adventure and I can’t imagine a genre with more unexplored opportunities for that than post-apoc fiction. While on vacation last summer I had an awesome idea for a post-apoc novel that involves a family on the run from a truly gag inducing TEOTWAWKI and an old civil war fort. So, who knows…it might happen sooner, rather than later. In the mean time, I hope readers will check out the Declan McIver series for a look at what I’m capable of in novel-length fiction.

I sincerely hope we see a stand alone post-apocalyptic novel by Ian Graham. Until then, it sounds like readers have a full novel length read ahead of them with The Amsterdam Directorate series.

Take a look at Ian’s website HERE, and check out his other work. You won’t be disappointed.

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