Q: Do you feel like a prophet, after the WTC and Pentagon attacks? I imagine it was hard to take, seeing it actually happen when you’d been so deeply involved in the research. Where were you when it happened? A: I was at work and received word that an airplane had struck one of the WTC buildings. Since I work in a vault without TV, I thought it must be some hapless single-engine piper or something. When I received word that a second aircraft hit, I knew it was terror.
People around me immediately started saying how close the attacks paralleled my book. I was not pleased at all and said to one of them, “Don’t you get it? Probably ten thousand people are dead or are going to die. Whether there are parallels or not is not the point.” I’m certainly no prophet and don’t feel like one.
Q: I understand Tom Clancy got contacted by Washington, D.C. after publication of The Hunt For Red October because of all the specific (and supposedly secret) info contained in his book. Unless it would violate security, has anyone contacted you about your book or any info in it? A: I have not been contacted by any authority. I have contacted President Bush, Jeb Bush, and even sent a letter to Governor Davis of California. I did receive an email from one of Jeb Bush’s aides. He thanked me for the information and assured me that Mr. Bush had forwarded the material to the national level. Still nothing from Washington.
Q: What specifically got you interested in terrorists and writing about them originally? A: A discussion at work upset me. Several people were discussing (this was in 1997) that terrorists could never mount a large-scale attack here in America. I told them they were wrong and in the ensuing discussion, got the idea to write Holy War.
Q: How did you do your research into militant Islam (or should I say Muslim?) warriors and their cells? Were you able to conduct all your research from the U.S., or did you travel to Muslim countries for some of it? Can you tell us something about the avenues you used to do your research?
A: While a member of the USAF, I traveled inside the Soviet Union as an inspector. I found out that there were a large number of Muslims in that country. I did a little research via word-of-mouth inside the Soviet Union but the bulk of my research was done at the local library. I also called the local Muslim Mosque and received a lot of information. They were most helpful.
Q: I think it might be scary, doing this type of research. Have you ever been put into a situation that seemed threatening to you?
A: I have not been put into any situation that was even remotely ‘scary’. I do take certain precautions to protect my family.
Q: What are your thoughts about the cause of terrorism, i.e., did your research indicate it was caused by poverty and hopelessness primarily (terrorists in general), or as a vendetta against Israel and Jews (Muslim terrorists specifically), or a combination of those and other causes? Is religion always involved with terrorists? A: Religion is not always involved with terrorists. I wrote an article “Politics or Religion” before the September 11 debacle.
Basically, it says that sometimes it is impossible to separate the two. Terror is extremely broad. To localize a bit, terror by foreign nationals against America is generally caused by our foreign policy. While I believe that America is the greatest nation, by far, in the world, we do not always wear white hats. I do believe that as a nation we always strive to “do the right thing.” I am proud to be an American. Osama bin Laden has been vocal about why he hates us. Our stand with Israel and our apparent non-concern with Muslim concerns is Osama’s rallying cry. The Quran does not sanction terror!
Q: Are terrorists always “led” by wealthy people? Which do you believe came first, if so–that a previously wealthy person was attacted to a cause that already existed, or that being a terrorist enables some individuals with good brains and business sense an outlet and motive to acquire wealth, to feed the organization? A: Terrorists are not always led by the wealthy. One shift has occurred in recent years. Terrorist groups were largely funded by states. Now these groups are being funded by individuals. Honey, diamonds, and sadly, drugs on the streets of America are funding terrorists. To be clear, large sums of money are not needed. When Ahmed Ressam testified at his trial (this is the guy that tried to blow up LAX) he stated that he was only given fifteen thousand dollars. Most of that went to living expenses such as hotels and food.
Q: In the same vein (and I’m assuming you did believe this, not just happened on it for a story line), what things made you decide an attack on U.S. soil was highly probable? And why by Muslim terrorists?
A: The last decade has seen an increase in terrorist attacks against US sites outside the country. USS Cole and the embassies are a couple of examples. The LA Times carried an article about the trial of Ressam. In it they state Ressam, “testified in detail about how he and other jihadists in bin Laden-financed camps in Afghanistan were taught how to attack electrical power grids, airports, railroads, large corporations, hotels and military installations during millennium assaults. They also were taught how to track down and assassinate political figures, he said.” While this article appeared in July 2001, it mirrors what I believed in 1997 and 1998 while writing Holy War. We are an open society and are easy targets. My protagonist agonizes over this point on page 68 of Holy War. “We’re in trouble, big trouble. America is too open a society to prevent this type of attack. We’re too trusting, too faithful, and if you think about it, too honest.
America is complacent. We should have been working to prevent this from happening. A well-planned series of attacks by a small group of foreign nationals, with the help of American sympathizers, and backed by all the money necessary is capable of causing major damage to the American people as well as to America’s resources. Why hasn’t the FBI reacted already? And better yet, why didn’t America’s considerable intelligence resources know of the impending jihad and stop it before it began?” Muslim terrorists were an easy pick since they are the most well-trained and have the most hatred for America.
Q: And, did your research indicate a high probability of such a U.S. attack in the near future? If so, can you say how and what caused you to come to that conclusion? Did your story line grow out of that probability? A: Osama bin Laden had been threatening a Holy War or Jihad against America for some time. I believed that in 1998 he developed, or was developing, a plan to attack the American homeland. There were many indicators such as the attacks against American holdings overseas and the USS Cole incident. I believe that the lack of American response led Osama bin Laden to believe that Americans were cowards. I believe President Clinton’s weak response by attacking an empty or nearly empty training site by cruise missiles was the second worst thing he could have done. Doing nothing was the worst and President Clintion did that on other occasions. So, I believed that Osama thought he was strong and we were weak. He felt ‘right’ in his beliefs that Americans were corrupt, that they were evil, and that attacks were justified.
Q: Was your book intended as a real warning? If so, what made you decide to use fiction to put forth that warning? A: I wrote Holy War to ‘prove’ the possibility of attacks against America’s homeland. And that they would be easy to make by a small force. I used fiction, hoping that I could get it published before the attacks began. I hoped that many Americans would find the reading enjoyable and therefore gain some attention for my fears. Hindsight tells us that if Americans had kept their eyes open and notified authorities about suspicious events, we could have prevented SOME of the September 11 (if not all) attacks. One point, before September 11th Americans refused to have their ‘freedoms’ infringed upon, such as delays in airports for security purposes. Now, we are welcoming them.
Q: Again, did you primarily research Muslim terrorists, or terrorists in general? A: I only researched Muslim terrorists since I believed they were the most logical choice.
Q: I doubt any Muslim terrorist groups would have female members–does this seem, from your research, to hold true of all nationalities of terrorists?
A: This is certainly not true of all terrorist groups. Many have female members.
Q: I’m showing my ignorance here–are the Muslims and the IRA primarily the only terrorist networks–at least the only well organized ones? A: This is not true. There are many groups of terrorists. Until September 11th one of the most visible was a group in Columbia.
Q: Does it seem logical to you, given your extensive terrorist research, that something like the Anthrax letters would be the handiwork of a Muslim terrorist cell?
A: I don’t believe the Anthrax is the work of Muslim terrorists, although it could very well be. Anthrax is a poor weapon for terrorists because it is too difficult to spread. However, if terrorists simply want to sow terror then Anthrax letters are one viable method.
Q: I’m sorry, I haven’t read Holy War (yet! :>) ). Does it contain anything similar to recent events–i.e., attacks through airplanes, biological weapons, etc.? If not, what types of attacks does it cover (and don’t give away the ending, please–I do want to read it)? A: There are MANY parallels to Holy War. My terrorists shot down aircraft on takeoff, used chemical and biological weapons, and flew an aircraft toward the White House and diverted to attack the Pentagon.
Q: What is your sci-fi book To Live Again about? Does it follow a similar theme, within a sci-fi framework? A: My SF novel has nothing to do with terrorists. A scientist invents matter transportation then plots to store her ‘image’ on a computer so that the computer can recreate her if she dies. Interestingly however, my second, unpublished novel, Double for my Sins, and my third, also unpublished, Womack’s Dust, contain terrorists.
Q: Was To Live Again the first book you had published? A: Yes, To Live Again was my first written and first published novel.
Q: How did you get that first book published? Did you have an agent? (Many booksellers are frustrated authors, and it is always interesting to them about how an author gets that first book published.) A: Getting published was not easy. In fact it was most difficult. I spent seven years just finding an agent. Hundreds of letters to agencies were rejected and not one even asked for material to review. Most said they were too busy or were not taking on new clients. Many of the agencies I wrote about my work even advertised they were looking for new authors or that they were friendly to them. Still nothing. Finally, my wife (smart lady that she is) told me I should try the internet. So I did and within two months, I had an agent. Two years later I was finally published.
Q: Did you publish articles before writing To Live Again, or the other way around? In other words, the progression of your career as an author apart from research and writing on your job. A: I have written seven novels, two have been published. I wrote my articles after my success with To Live Again, trying to garner some attention for my second published work, Holy War.
Q: Tell us how you decided you wanted to be an author. Was it a natural outgrowth of your work, or did you get into your work because you are a good writer? A: I was encouraged for years to write. Family, friends, and coworkers all told me I should write because I told an interesting story. The clincher for me was when my supervisor told me that of all the people he had had work for him through the years, my work was the most succinct and effective in relaying the information he needed. Theodore Kleiser told me he never had to ask questions about a report from me, but almost always did for others.
Afterward, I seriously considered writing.
Q: Can you give us some info about future books you have planned? Are you working on one now? If so, when is it to be published? A: My promotional work for Holy War is consuming me right now. To be honest, I am itching to get back to writing. I have two novels I’d like to write. One is Kirlian Shadows, a book about an advanced photographic technique that ‘captures’ identities on film and No Stars without Night about a team of doctors ‘growing’ replacement bodies for themselves.
Q: What do you personally enjoy reading? A: I have always been an avid reader. The average American reads only 1,000 books in a lifetime. I passed that number somewhere in the fourth grade! I read everything from suspense to science fiction. Amazon.com really likes me, I spend lots of money there. I haven’t ever read a Romance novel and probably never will, but all the rest are fair game.
Q: Without being too nosy, what personal info about yourself would you like to give us, so we can get to “know” you as a person as well as an author? A: I am a fifty-year-old male with ten children. They range in age from 30 to identical twin boys who are almost three. I am married to a very intelligent lady who helped me in researching Holy War and provided some sound advice about one of my FBI characters. I work for the Department of Justice as a researcher (strange enough) but long to write full-time. My hobbies are racquetball, table tennis, golf, and fishing when I get the time.
Thank you, Max.
Interview by Shirley Bryant.