Thursday, September 17, 2020

New interview with legal thriller author Heath Daniels

I’m happy to welcome Heath Daniels back to the blog to chat about his latest novel – a new international legal thriller, Don’t Fence Me In.

In December of 2017, Heath was here and chatted about two of his novels Three Kisses and Day of Judgment.

For many years during his professional career as a professor focusing on international issues, Heath Daniels travelled the world and lived in several countries where he made a point of involving himself in local culture, politics, and friendships. While living in the Middle East in late 2005, he received inspirations and strong motivations to write his first novel, Three Kisses, about an anti-U.S. group’s attempts to infiltrate the U.S. using Russian medical technology.

Since then, he continued to travel and move. The same characters that came to life in his first novel metaphorically pressured and inspired him to continue to tell their stories of international espionage, intrigue, adventure, legal drama, and continued infiltration of the U. S. Each time he received such inspiration he sat down to his computer and began writing the stories that are now well-received U.S, historical novels focusing on current events. Many events he has written about fictionally have actually happened at a later time. Characters reflect persons he has encountered directly or indirectly, not always under favorable circumstances; there are no stereotypes.

Now he spends most of his time in the U.S. but still traveling internationally when opportunities present themselves. When not thinking of ways to spoil his grandchildren, traveling, or writing, he reads and is involved in spiritual activities that inspire the themes of empathy, respect, and acceptance that are woven through all his works.

He has written four novels.

Welcome back to Reviews and Interviews, Heath.
Please tell us about your newest release.
Russia, with the help of Iran and North Korea, has dug a tunnel under the Mexico-U.S. border to infiltrate the U.S. as the U.S. teeters on the precipice of civil destruction. Behind the cacophony of chaos, a sinister secret group of presumed diplomats based in Mexico orchestrates their infiltrators to enter the U.S. and conduct acts of terrorism to collapse the United States from within. There are frequent bombings of prominent institutions.  In addition, during this period there are lengthy government shutdowns and mass illegal immigrant detainments adding to the chaos. At the epicenter of the activity, where the Texas, New Mexico, and Mexican borders meet, key civil servants of the United States investigate and bring perpetrators to justice.

Muslim-American U.S. Deputy Attorney General, Yusef Shaito, is suddenly thrust into a position of leadership under intense scrutiny of the media and the general public, with everyone judging the implications behind every prosecution and sentencing. Issues of race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, and citizenship are all called into question, with no stone unturned in this thrilling examination of what makes the U.S. what it is today and how susceptible it is to collapse if it doesn’t find a way to come together. 

What inspired you to write this book?
When my third book, Justice!, was published, mentally I began to compose my memoirs. Many persons have said that I really need to write my memoirs soon because they would be so interesting. I even had a title for a book of memoirs and some idea of how I would organize the contents. Then, suddenly, inspirations came into my mind to write a fourth novel based on current events of the day. Russians were using many means to infiltrate and create chaos in the U.S. to bring down the society and democracy. Because of the Maria Butina and other scandals, U.S. authorities had become much too vigilant for the Russians to continue creating chaos from within the country. So, now, why not write about Russia’s infiltration, with help from Iran and North Korea, countries that had their own reasons for damaging the U.S., by coming in through the back door, Mexico. Inspirations just began to flow. The U.S.-Mexico border had its own set of issues as widely reported by the media and Russia could take advantage of that discord. Dig a tunnel to get people and bomb-making supplies into the U.S. from Mexico, and get people back under the border once things were stirred up. Characters from the previous books were in ideal positions to be sent to the border to continue the saga.

Excerpt from Don’t Fence Me In:
Wednesday, November 28, 2017
San Antonio, Texas, USA
It was mid-morning on a warm, sunny day, typical of late fall in South Texas, when Yusef Shaito entered the office of John Holmes, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Texas, one of the largest, if not the largest, judicial districts in the U.S. in both population and geographic size. Yusef was the deputy U.S. attorney for the district. He focused primarily on human and civil rights, and was viewed as one of the nation’s experts on hate crimes. He took the position almost three years previously after exemplary service in the U.S. Attorney General Headquarters in Washington, DC. He was in his early thirties and stood five feet nine inches with slightly curly black hair and a trim build.

John Holmes was fairly new in the position, having been appointed three months earlier by the Trump administration and confirmed by the U.S. Senate. He had been the deputy in another U.S. judicial district and recently moved to San Antonio with a promotion. He was of average height and build, about five feet ten inches, with neatly trimmed brown hair. He was in his middle forties, young for a senior position. Both Yusef and John were professionally dressed with suit, dress shirt, and tie, their suit coats hanging in their offices.

Yusef and John had developed a good working relationship during the relatively short period John had been on the job, but they were not close and remained mostly professional in their
interactions. Yusef immediately took a seat, not feeling a need to wait until asked.

After pleasantries, John said, “First of the year we need you to move to El Paso temporarily.”

Yusef, stunned, blurted out, “What? Move to El Paso? Now?”

“Yes. As you know, Emiliano is retiring early to go into private practice, leaving a big vacancy at the top. Lots of things are going on in the El Paso area, and a good defense attorney, especially one with previous experience with the AG like Emiliano, would be in
demand and do well.”

“What about Susana? She’s number two there and doing a good job.”

“Yes, she seems to be doing a good job. But, if we promoted her, even temporarily, it would leave another hole. Things are shorthanded there anyway, and we don’t have authority to hire right now. Besides, just between you and me, Susana’s a great number two, but I’m not sure if she has the personality and style to take over, even if just temporarily. You are forceful but unassuming, and they all like you and respect you.”

“Thanks for the compliment,” Yusef said. “You know I focus on human and civil rights. Drug trafficking and immigration are not my thing, and that’s what they have a lot of there.”

“I know. When I was there to get to know them, Gerard was taking the lead in handling drug issues and doing very well. He can keep on handling the drug cases under you. The other staff all deal well with immigration issues. As you’re no doubt aware, it’s human rights and civil rights issues that are becoming much more important with migrants from Central America. El Paso doesn’t have strength in that area. With you in charge, we’ll have that covered. You’ll still be in charge of human and civil rights for the whole district, but you can
handle that from El Paso just as well as you can from here.”

“You know I’m Muslim,” Yusef continued. “This administration doesn’t seem to like Muslims, to put it mildly. How would they react to my being there? I can keep a low profile here, which I would likely do Muslim or not. But head of a division is higher profile.”

What’s the next writing project?
Inspirations are coming to me for the next novel, mostly inspirations for subplots and some characters. The main thing missing is the beginning that sets a thread for a plot to be carried through the book. Last night in a dream the ending for this fifth book just came to me. I still need the beginning, though. *smile* When the inspiration comes for the beginning, I’ll start the next novel. Almost certainly it will be necessary to wait until the 2020 election in the U.S. is over; there is too much uncertainty to latch onto a plot.

The notion of memoirs is also there when the inspiration comes.

What is your biggest challenge when writing a new book? (or the biggest challenge with this book)
Putting distractions aside in order to sit at a computer and write!

If your novels require research – please talk about the process. Do you do the research first and then write, while you’re writing, after the novel is complete and you need to fill in the gaps?
While I am writing, if I come to a place in the story line where I need to fill in details, I do the research. Only once did I do some research at the beginning. For the third book, Justice!, I knew that my lead character needed to continue to move up in his career. He had moved up with promotions as far as he could at the U.S. Attorney General office in Washington, D.C. until someone retired or died. In order to continue to progress up the career ladder, he would have to transfer to one of the 90+ judicial districts in the U.S. It couldn’t be just any judicial district, but instead a big and important one. Research showed me that one of the biggest, if not the biggest, in both population and geographic size, is the Western District of Texas with headquarters in San Antonio. Because I am very familiar with western Texas and could easily write about it, it was a very fortunate result of research.

What’s your writing space like? Do you have a particular spot to write where the muse is more active? Please tell us about it.
While I can’t say the muse is more active here, my writing space is my home multi-purpose room where I have my desk, computer, etc., i.e. a home office. It is also an extra sitting room, has a couch that makes into a bed for a guest bedroom, and serves many other purposes. That is why it is multi-purpose.

What authors do you enjoy reading within or outside of your genre?
One of my favorites lately is John Grisham. I have discovered that his genre and mindset are very similar to mine, although I was not that familiar with John Grisham before I started writing my books.

Also, I have re-discovered Allen Drury who had cult following when I was in university more years ago than I want to admit. Drury wrote about political events in the late 1950s into the 1960s that included Russian infiltration (the Soviet Union in those days) of the U.S. Drury’s books confirm the old saying that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Because I re-discovered Drury after I had written three books, I can’t say I got any inspiration from him, but there are many similarities in genre although I pointedly avoid partisan politics.

Anything additional you want to share with the readers today?
Your feedback, comments, and reviews are always very welcome.


Thank you for coming back to Reviews and Interviews!

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