Hi, John! Thanks for coming back to talk about your newest thriller! The Exiled Element is now the fourth novel in the Becker series, right? What has the journey been like?
Yes. We're up to Book Four already. It's hard to believe.
Thus far, the Beck journey has been mind expanding, both for me and my books' characters. The book plots have seen Beck and his capable wife, Beth, return to Beck's hometown of Red Wing, Minnesota after a twenty-year career serving his country as a "military intelligence operative." The intent was to find a more settled environment in which to live a "normal" life with their two teenage daughters. But life for the Beckers continues to be anything but routine, even in Red Wing's insular surroundings.
In THE 19TH ELEMENT, Beck uncovers a threat to Red Wing's local nuclear power plant. A terror cell consisting mainly of disgruntled Americans, and supported by al Quaeda, has a plan to attack the plant in a way that will release a vast cloud of radioactive gases, imperiling lives in the Twin Cities and indeed, in all of the eastern U.S.
Book Two, THE MISSING ELEMENT, finds both Beck and Beth embroiled in an international cyber-espionage plot centering around a specific piece of high technology sold by a an international computer company headquartered in a Minneapolis suburb. To defeat the cyber-terrorists, the Beckers must first solve the mystery of a missing technology guru, and bring her captors to justice.
Book Three, THE COVERT ELEMENT, sees a Mexican drug cartel attempting to extend its drug manufacturing capabilities to rural Minnesota, where large scale meth production is there goal. In this installment, Beck's right-hand man, Terry "Bull" Red Feather, has a visitor from his mysterious past -- a comrade-in-arms with his own agenda for addressing the cartel. In this book, both the characters and the reader learn sad truths of cartel brutality, and vulnerabilities in U.S. law enforcement's drug interdiction strategies.
Finally in the latest book, THE EXILED ELEMENT, Beth Becker takes center stage as she accedes to a CIA request to return to it's employ at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, Egypt. Someone has assassinated the newly elected Egyptian President, and an insider in Egypt's Intelligence Directorate wants to speak only to Beth about a matter of grave international concern. Meanwhile, Beck has a sniper to deal with in sleepy Red Wing, as a U.S. Senator with a deadly secret comes to town on a campaign swing.
Whew! The Beckers are busy folks. But the readers haven't been left behind. In each book, we learn something new. It might be about cutting-edge military technology, or the rise of the Mexican drug cartels. Or it could be nuclear power plant operations and security. Or perhaps, a dose of geopolitics and culture in the midst of Egypt's Arab Spring. There's never a boring moment for those who want to learn more about the circumstances and technologies that underlie today's headlines.
Well . . . I've rambled on. Have I answered your question?
Yeah, that was great. So after spending so much time with the Beckers, do you feel they're part of your own family? What's the relationship between the Beckers and the Betchers like?
Of course, I possess exactly the sort of "man of mystery" background as my protagonist . . . NOT! Actually, there aren't many similarities between the Beckers and the Betchers, at least not in terms of physical attributes or occupational background. It is only by virtue of a great deal of research (both in-person and scholarly) that I have been able to discern Beck's mode of operations.
On the other hand, Beck and his author think quite a bit alike. We both believe in preparedness, following through on commitments and obligations, standing by our friends and family, and bending the rules a little when they don't make sense. And like Beck, I am fortunate to be married to an extraordinary woman who is supportive of my, sometimes seemingly unusual, adventures . . . not the least of which was retiring from a successful legal practice to write novels (which held no guarantee of remuneration).
Aside from the above, both the Betchers and the Beckers enjoy Bull's larger-than-life persona and Gunner's by-the-book brand of law enforcement. And my characters inhabit a lot of my own geographical surroundings. They occupy my house. They live in my hometown. And they interact with composites of people I know well.
In other words, the Betchers and the Beckers are "close," but this series isn't autobiographical. :)
Has any one of the series been more of a challenge to write than the others?
I can't really say that one book has been more of a challenge to write than the others. But each did require its own unique efforts. For instance, in researching THE 19TH ELEMENT, I needed to spend quite a bit of time getting the chemistry and avionics details right. I flew with a small plan pilot, availing myself of his expertise concerning small airports. I also interviewed a nuclear chemist and a local law enforcement officer to make sure I plotted the particulars of the assault on the nuclear plant authentically and with a high degree of plausibility.
In THE MISSING ELEMENT, the biggest challenge was to explain the inner workings of computer chips and how these little black squares of semiconductor and copper could pose a world security threat.
The biggest obstacles in writing THE COVERT ELEMENT and THE EXILED ELEMENT were more related to getting the cultural elements of the books right. For THE EXILED ELEMENT, I had five different native Egyptian consultants, including one who read over my local Cairo scenes for authenticity. (Incidentally, these five were all originally FaceBook friends who became more following the 2011 Egyptian popular revolution.) These books still required technology research; but correctly conveying the cultural issues was the most difficult.
Is there one Becker novel that resonates with you more? One that is particularly special to you for some reason?
I think THE 19TH ELEMENT will always hold a special place for me. It was my first novel and the action takes place almost exclusively in and around my hometown. The plot also deals with nuclear power, its possibilities and it perils. With a nuclear power generating plant literally on my horizon, the novel's action present concerns that hit close to home. In addition to the plot, this first book allowed me to create and introduce the core cast of characters for the Becker series. These are people who are, at the same time, remarkable and approachable. I expect that these characters will remain friends of mine, and friends of the readers who get to know them, for a long time to come.
Has general feedback been particularly good for one more than the others, or does it seem like you've managed to hit every installment out of the park?
LOL. I have to say that I am very pleased with reader reactions to all four Becker books. Generally, if a reader likes one of the books, s/he will enjoy them all. But out of the park? I'm not calling reactions to any book "out of the park" . . . yet.
That's great! I know I have most of them waiting on my Kindle. I've been slacking there. I started Covert but stopped, because I wanted to start in the beginning. So I got Missing and 19th, but like I said, I'm slacking. Reading The Stand has taken up all of my summer:) What can you tell your readers about The Exiled Element? Any surprises in store for them?
Readers have been asking for a story that features Beck's amazing wife, Beth. She's been a part of all the books to one degree or another. But THE EXILED ELEMENT is my response to reader pleas for "more Beth."
There are two main plot lines in THE EXILED ELEMENT:
1) Beth is recalled to active duty with the CIA to address an emergent situation in post-revolution Cairo, Egypt. Her computer encryption/decryption skills are needed there with the increase in classified signal intelligence surrounding the revolution -- and the assassination of the newly elected Egyptian President. But the main reason she accepts the assignment is that someone in Egyptian Intelligence has asked for her by name, though Beth can't imagine who. Beth spends most of the book at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo "working" her connection for the mutual good of the two countries. Unfortunately, her superiors at the CIA have their own duplicitous agenda that places Beth in harm's way. Would they be the CIA if they didn't?
2) While Beth is on her own in Egypt, Beck remains in Red Wing helping Gunner with security arrangements for a "visiting dignitary." With Gunner's law enforcement expertise, and Beck's insights into the politics of big name security assignments, Gunner puts together a solid security plan for the visitor. But an over-confident and less than capable private security team overrule a few of Gunner's suggestions, allowing a determined sniper an opportunity that thrusts Red Wing into the national spotlight.
Of course, Bull also plays a role in this book. I couldn't leave my reader's favorite character out of the action.
Probably the most unusual aspect of this book is the revelation of how Cairo and Red Wing -- two cities with little in common -- share one important link that drives the action in both places.
Does that wet your whistle?
It sure does! I think I've asked you this in the Magnificent & Interview Event we did a while back, but refresh our memories... Hollywood wants your Becker franchise, they give you final say in casting. What actors are you pairing your characters with?
Mark Wahlberg as Beck.
Tea Leoni as Beth.
Ron Howard as Gunner. (Or maybe Brad Pitt would be a fun switch-up.)
Rodney A. Grant as Bull.
Do you have another Becker story in the works?
I am, indeed, working on Becker Book Five. I'm still in the research and plotting phase, but readers may rest assured that all their favorite characters will be back and better than ever.
Thanks for having me over for this interview, Shawn. It's been a pleasure.
Thank you, John! And good luck!