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James

Tell me about your background. Where you grew up, where you live now, education, work experience? Share some interesting things about yourself that we should know about.

I am a former US Air Force Stealth Bomber pilot. I grew up moving all over as a military kid, then joined the Air Force at seventeen, and kept on moving around. Between the ages of 9 months old and thirty-one, I moved seventeen times, so I never know how to answer the question of “Where are you from?” I was born in Texas, and I graduated from high school in Texas (having lived many other places in between), so by the most accounts, I’m from Texas.

I studied applied physics at the Air Force Academy until that side of the program was cancelled in favor of quantum, and then I shifted to Middle Eastern Studies and counter-terrorism. For the most part quantum physics is just fiction via elegant math, and I didn’t see the point. The Mid East Studies program was experimental, so my degree says “History.” After the Academy, I flew T-38 Talons, A-10 Thunderbolts, B-2 Spirits, and MQ-1 Predators, with a total of more than 1500 combat and combat support hours. While working in the stealth, my clearances got me involved in some interesting extracurricular work. That’s all I can say about that.

Probably the most interesting thing about me is my synesthesia. I have a condition categorized as a “neurological phenomenon” that merges my senses through bridges of gray matter. I see and feel sounds, hear flashes of light and quick movements, and see and feel smells. For me walking through an area of bad roadkill scent feels the same as the blasts of sand hitting me when I walked through a sandstorm in Kuwait. A flash of light is like getting slapped in the face. But a string quartet is a silvery, tickling marvel.

What inspired you to write this book? What is the story behind the story?

With The Gryphon Heist, I wanted to explore the concept of morality in espionage within a fun thief/spy story. What I didn’t expect was the opportunity to explore forgiveness as well. But Talia’s character brought that home to me. She had so much bitterness built up over a life of hard knocks, that I knew she would have to learn to forgive in order to heal. While I was playing with the loyalty of spies and the technology of twenty-first-century thieves, Talia was pushing me to dig into the need to forgive and let go.

She brought up the question: “How do you forgive someone who murdered your father?” I shrugged. “I don’t have a clue.” And then the phone rang. I was called in to fly that very moment. I’m an on-call international airline pilot, filling in for the guys who call in sick. I didn’t want to go flying to Amsterdam that night, because I was just starting to Talia’s story moving. But once we settled in at cruising altitude, the captain and I began to talk. He told me about his passion (aside from flying). He was a counselor, specializing in helping the most traumatized victims learn to forgive, including the families of murder victims. He taught me so much in two ten-hour flights to Amsterdam and back. When I needed an expert in forgiveness to help me with Talia’s story, God put me on right on his flight deck.

What has been your biggest challenge or obstacle?

Right now, my biggest challenge is keeping up with the work God places in my path. I used to worry about getting writing contracts. Now I worry about how I’m going to fulfill them. Each one is a calling, and I want to do them justice.

What has been your biggest “aha” moment or success?

After The Gryphon Heist, comes Chasing the White Lion, continuing the adventures of Talia, Tyler, and their team of elite thieves. Chasing the White Lion has an unlikely star. I won’t give away too much, but amid a string of increasingly complex con games, the team must bring down a crime syndicate involved in human trafficking. One of the real hero organizations fighting child poverty, and by extension fighting human trafficking, is Compassion International. I asked them if I could give them a starring role in my next spy/thief book to raise awareness of their incredible work. I never thought they’d say yes. They did. I am so excited about where Chasing the White Lion will take us when we show the world how everyday people can stop human traffickers (and build up children at the same time) by helping organizations like Compassion.

What authors do you like to read? What books have had a strong influence on you or your writing?

I read an eclectic mix. Jon Land recently took over the Murder She Wrote series, and I love his ability to capture human character in the smallest movements and moments. Ronie Kendig has a flare for action in both her military and sci-fi thrillers. Brandon Sanderson is (in my opinion) the current master of fantasy. DiAnn Mills is the master of the protagonist’s internal psyche. These are the folks I’m reading these days.

Do you write every single day? Any writing rituals?

I wish I could write every day. It doesn’t always work out with a day job as an international pilot. When I get to a hotel overseas, I take a nap, go for a walk if the weather permits to re-cage my mind, and then sit down at the desk and write. That’s the key. You’ve got to sit down, open whatever software you use, and write.

What are your interests outside of writing? 

Aviation (obviously). I’d hate to fly with a pilot who didn’t like flying. I’ve also helped train pro fighters in MMA, so I like keeping tabs on that world. Recently I took over a fantasy game world from the 1980s, so I’ve gotten into the board game community. In my spare time, I’ve been studying game design. There are a lot of parallels to storytelling, so those to aspects of my work dovetail nicely.

Share some tips for other Authors or Aspiring Authors: What would you do differently? What would you do the same? Please share anything you think would be beneficial to those reading this.

I never say I’d do something differently, because I feel God has led me to this point in my life in His way. I wouldn’t want to mess with that. I do wish that someone would have explained to me a long time ago that not everyone sees sounds and hears flashes of light. It would have spared me from looking crazy for half my life. That’s one reason I wrote the Section 13 series for kids—to help raise awareness of synesthesia.

My advice to aspiring authors is to keep writing. Too often I meet a writer who stopped at one book and has been trying to get it published for the last four or five years. If you’re going to be a professional writer, one book a year is a starting point. Keep sending out those queries, but keep writing too. When I was finally picked up, I’d been querying for four years, but I was also halfway through my fourth book. Each book is a learning experience—a new level. Getting stuck on just one is like staying in the same grade in school year after year.

 

Renee Garrison is the award-winning author of The Anchor Clankers.