It was in the early fall of last year that the name of Kim Aleksander crossed my radar on Twitter. He caught my attention for three reasons: in the first place, he was an American writer living abroad (Thailand), he was writing a technothriller, and he had just started reading Pandora’s Grave. That’s always a dead-certain way of getting my attention.
Needless to say, it was with a great deal of anticipation that I awaited the release of Kim’s thriller, False Positives, in December, which is winning well-deserved accolades from Amazon reviewers. Today, I’ve invited Kim to sit down with us for the debut of Written With a Thrill, a series of interviews I will be conducting with my fellow thriller writers, both independent and traditionally published.
Stephen: Congratulations on the long-awaited publication of False Positives. Why don’t you tell us a little about it?
Kim: Well, first let me thank you, Stephen. I’m honored to be the first interviewee for Written With a Thrill. I’m delighted that I got your attention. Frankly, you got mine as well. I’m glad we’ve found each other’s books. The power of social media to connect people from far and wide is a remarkable phenomenon. And, for the record, Pandora’s Grave is a heck of a thriller. I enjoyed it immensely.
Stephen: Well, thanks, Kim, but let’s get this back on track before it turns into a mutal admiration society. False Positives. . .
Kim: Yes, False Positives. It’s a story about Marnie, a woman who might be seen as a typical modern American. She’s smart, driven, and independent. She’s also a bit of a techno-geek. Her job is that of a high-tech consultant. It’s when her firm gets contracted to work for the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center that things start to get a bit dicey. In short, she discovers that the system that she’s created for them has some issues. While her system is supposed to be used to unearth and thwart terrorist plots against the U.S., it acts like it’s programmed to kill people—every Muslim on the planet for starters.
Stephen: I’ll admit, I had a bit of a chuckle when the computer dropped that bomb mid-book. A Machiavellian solution to be sure. . .
Kim: Indeed. So in a sense, her quest begins as she determines to root out the ghost in the machine. Of course, she wants to know why her system is buggy, but she also wants to know what makes terrorists tick. Marnie’s journey is one of discovery. She meets some very interesting people along the way. There’s a Georgetown professor who’s devoted his life to the study of Islam, a Berkeley hippie who’s also Vietnam veteran, and a cast of other characters that help her learn and grow. What Marnie ultimately discovers is that her system’s bug, isn’t really a bug at all. The system is doing exactly what it’s supposed to do, and the forces behind its murderous nature are some of the most powerful people in the world who will stop at nothing to see their ambitions realized. And now, she’s in their way.
Stephen: Now that sounds like a dangerous place to be—better her than me. Moving on, Kim, readers are always interested in what prompted someone to become an author. To begin with, where were you born and raised? Describe your upbringing and early life for us a bit.
Kim: I was born and raised in Los Angeles. I didn’t really dream of being a writer when I was younger. In fact, I studied studio jazz guitar at U.S.C. until I realized that I was way out of my league. Surrounded by some of the most incredibly gifted and talented natural born musicians I’d ever encountered; I made a choice, changed majors, and got into computer technology. It was probably a good decision, as that’s what I’ve built my career on. When it comes to writing, I think I’ve always been a writer—or at least I’ve always had it in me to write. But, as with the humbling experience of being surrounded by musical greats, I never thought I was actually good enough to write and publish novel. That didn’t stop me writing for myself though. For me, writing is somewhat theraputic. It helps me wrap my mind around issues that would otherwise be vague or intangible. It gives them form, and allows me to approach them from a multitude of angles. I’ve written many short stories through this type of sublimation.
Stephen: Not to mention that this form of therapy is much cheaper than your average shrink. . .or so I’ve found. So what made you decide to finally write and then publish False Positives?
Kim: I had an ephiphany. Oddly, it was while reading an old short story I’d written about a guy who was bored with this tech job and went off the rails a bit. Tech is a soulless thing. There is no passion a computer feels. I was missing this passion in my life, and I realized that what filled that void was the process of writing. Joseph Campbell, a personal hero of mine, is famous for saying, “follow your bliss.” Creating characters, hearing them have conversations in my head, dreaming and telling stories… that’s my bliss right there.
Stephen: Oh, yes, and it can cause people around you to have fits of passion when they realize you’re talking about imaginary friends. What early personal influences do you think drew you into becoming a writer, and more specifically a thriller writer? Were there any decisive people or events in your life that caused you to take the plunge?
Kim: Reading is a huge influencer. I started reading early on, as I believe most do in school. We’ve all taken American Lit, British Lit, etc. And there’s short stories, a personal favorite. I love all of those classics—probably more now than when I studied them. But we’re not really talking modern thriller material here. I didn’t really start reading commerical fiction until I was a bit older—in my twenties, I’d say. I remember a friend of mine giving me a copy of Clive Cussler’s Vixen 03. After that I was hooked!
Stephen: Ah! Cussler—for me it was Deep Six. Similar influences. . .
Kim: Reading and exchanging books and talking about them with my friends became one of my favorite things to do. But again, with what I was reading, I was surrounded by greatness. The bar for writing my first novel still seemed very, very high. It didn’t keep me from dreaming about it though. I think a decisive moment came when reading some novel—I can’t remember what it was. I mean, it could have been my umpteenth Cussler or someone else, but instead of relishing the story as I normally would, something wonderful happened. At some point, I said to myself, “I can write better than that!” And that’s pretty much how I conquered my fear of taking the plunge.
Stephen: I think that moment comes for all of us, the “how did this get published?” moment. What other writers have been critical influences upon you?
Kim: Hmm, that’s a tough question. I like reading just about everything. I just wish there was enough time to actually read more. I have read a lot of thrillers in my day. Early on for me there was Clancy, Forsyth, Ludlum, John le Carré, Eric van Lustbader, David Morrell, etc. But I wasn’t “thriller exclusive” at the time—still not, really. I very much enjoy historical fiction when it’s done well. I still think The Eight by Katherine Neville is one of my all-time favorite books. I read all of James Clavell’s books while in Japan and revelled in them. Wilbur Smith and his “Warlock” books, starting with The River God are supurb. And Gary Jenning’s Aztec and Journeyor are simply fantastic. And the list goes on…
Stephen: What do you think you’ve learned from them?
Kim: What I’ve learned by reading these amazing authors and others is that a good story goes beyond just thrilling or entertaining the reader. Some books educate you and allow you to learn about the world, for example. Others allow you to escape to worlds you’ve never been. I think when an author is able to combine all three of these elements, that it’s really something special. Another thing that seems pretty obvious, but bears repeating, is that great writers create great characters. And it’s the characters that convey the story—far more than the narrarator can, though he or she must have a voice. What I mean is that I remember what Jack Ryan and Jason Bourne did—that is, their actions—more than what was said about them, and that’s pretty key when it comes to good storytelling.
Stephen: Would you care either to compare or to contrast your work with that of other writers that our readers might know about?
Kim: Oh, gosh. I’m afraid, I’m a bit too humble to try that one.
Stephen: C’mon. Embarrassing people is the way we roll, so give it a whirl.
Kim: Well, I read a while back that the term techno-thriller was actually created by Tom Clancy’s agent when he was flogging The Hunt for Red October. In general, the term means that the work is replete with technical details that lend a certain amount of plausibility to the story. Clancy’s research skills are remarkable, as is the level of detail that we experience when reading his books. I’m mean there’s so much information there that he’s been able to write several non-fiction books as a result. My aim with False Positives was to write a very plausible techno-thriller. A lot of researh went into it. I can only hope that my readers feel I’ve done anything close to work of Clancy or any of the other well-established thriller writers out there.
Stephen: Thanks for sitting down with us, Kim and taking my questions. Join us next #ThrillerThursday for Part #2 of this exciting interview!
Regards, The Rogue Writer