Friday, March 30, 2012

Guest Post From Mark Gilleo: Author of Love Thy Neighbour


Today I have the pleasure of welcoming Mark Gilleo to my blog. Love Thy Neighbour starts with an interesting author note concerning a true event, which is the inspiration for the book. So I just had to ask Mark about inspiration:

You outlined some events in the opening authors note for your book, that doubtless gave you some inspiration for the words that followed. Are there other events that have similarly inspired you to sit at the keyboard, and if so can you share something of them with us?

 The toughest question I get about writing is in regard to where the inspiration comes from.  I guess there are two answers to the question.  For me, the overall idea, or inspiration, comes from real life.   In the case of Love Thy Neighbor, the inspiration is pretty clear.  But within the novel and the main storyline are a hundred little stories.    These little stories – the locations, people, events – are served up by the subconscious mind.   I don’t know how it works for others, but in my case the subconscious mind serves up the details and my job is mostly to put them to paper.  There are occasions where the conscious mind interjects, and the conscious mind spends some of its time researching whatever the subconscious mind served up, but most of the time writing is a form of autopilot.  Unfortunately, the largest drawback to the subconscious mind is that it doesn’t necessarily serve the pieces of the novel to me in the correct order.  I have yet to start a novel with chapter one and have it remain the first chapter by the time I’m done writing.  Equally annoying is that the subconscious mind takes vacation when it comes time to edit.   Editing is a lot of work and apparently the subconscious mind would prefer not to get involved.

 With Love Thy Neighbor, to the extent that it is unlike anything I’m likely to write again, there were a few other real-life parallels.   When I sat down to start the novel, the idea in my head was straightforward:  an average women thinks terrorists have arrived on the street where she lives.    Simple enough.  The first snag, which I hit coming out of the blocks, was the difference in the reaction such a claim would receive in the pre-9/11 world versus the post-9/11 world.    My mother’s story was pre-9/11.    The novel is written post-9/11.   The reaction from authorities to a call from a woman claiming knowledge of terrorist activities would -- I think, hope, pray-- result in some sort of reaction today.    In the pre-9/11 world, well, at least a few people know what didn’t happen.  

 To get over the hurdle created by the difference in pre- & post-9/11, I changed the dynamic a little and gave the woman in the story some diminished mental capacity.    It seemed like the easiest way, in the post-9/11 world, to have a woman report terrorist activity and have that report discredited.    (My mother, thankfully, is still in possession of her mental faculties, though three sons probably push her limit at times.)  

 There are other parts of the story that are drawn from real-life events as well.   My stepfather is indeed a machinist and a model airplane enthusiast, so I tried to convey some of that knowledge in the book.  The USPS has a cave in the Midwest were they store stamps (as reported by Federal News Radio in August 2010).   I used that idea to create the cave for ICE that is in Love Thy Neighbor.   I grew up in the DC area, so both this book and my next novel, Sweat, cover a lot of local details, which can be used for inspiration.   My grandfather is ninety and he is a walking tour guide.   We can drive through DC and he can look at a building and tell you that it used to be a school, and before that it was a hospital and before that it was a brothel.


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Book Review: Love Thy Neighbour by Mark Gilleo

TITLE:  Love Thy Neighbor

AUTHOR:  Mark Gilleo

PUBLISHED BY:  The Story Plant

PUBLICATION DATE:   27th March 2012

  • ISBN-10: 1611880343
  • ISBN-13: 978-1611880342 

GENRE:  Suspense

SYNOPSIS:  Clark Hayden is a graduate student trying to help his mother navigate through the loss of his father while she continues to live in their house near Washington DC. With his mother’s diminishing mental capacity becoming the norm, Clark expects a certain amount of craziness as he heads home for the holidays. What he couldn’t possibly anticipate, though, is that he would find himself catapulted into the middle of a terrorist operation. As the holiday festivities reach a crescendo, a terrorist cell – which happens to be across the street – is activated. Suddenly Clark is discovering things he never knew about deadly chemicals, secret government operations, suspiciously missing neighbors, and the intentions of a gorgeous IRS auditor. Clark’s quiet suburban neighborhood is about to become o! ne of the most deadly places on the planet, and it’s up to Clark to prevent the loss of hundreds of thousands of innocent lives in the nation’s capital.

Fast, acerbic, wise and endlessly exciting, LOVE THY NEIGHBOR marks the unforgettable debut of a startling new voice in suspense fiction.

AUTHOR BIO:  Mark Gilleo holds a graduate degree in international business from the University of South Carolina and an undergraduate degree in business from George Mason University. He enjoys traveling, has lived and worked in Asia, and speaks fluent Japanese. A fourth-generation Washingtonian, he currently resides in the D.C. area. His two most recent novels were recognized as finalist and semifinalist, respectively, in the William Faulkner-Wisdom Creative writing competition. The Story Plant will publish his next novel, SWEAT in 2012.


AUTHOR'S NOTE (This part is true.)


In late 1999 a woman from Vienna, Virginia, a suburb ten miles from the White House as the crow flies, called the CIA. The woman, a fifty-something mother of three, phoned to report what she referred to as potential terrorists living across the street from her middle-class home. She went on to explain what she had been seeing in her otherwise quiet neighborhood: Strange men of seemingly Middle-Eastern descent using their cell phones in the yard. Meetings in the middle of the night with bumper-to-bumper curbside parking, expensive cars rubbing ends with vans and common Japanese imports. A constant flow of young men, some who seemed to stay for long periods of time without introducing themselves to anyone in the neighborhood. The construction of a six-foot wooden fence to hide the backyard from the street only made the property more suspicious. Upon hearing a layperson’s description of suspicious behavior, the CIA promptly dismissed the woman and her phone call. (Ironically, the woman lived less than a quarter of a mile from a CIA installation, though it was not CIA headquarters as was later reported.) In the days and weeks following 9/11, the intelligence community in the U.S. began to learn the identities of the nineteen hijackers who had flown the planes into the World Trade Towers and the Pentagon. In the process of their investigation they discovered that two of the hijackers, one on each of the planes that hit the World Trade Towers, had listed a particular house in Vienna, Virginia as a place of residence. The FBI and various other agencies swooped in on the unassuming neighborhood and began knocking on doors. When they reached the house of a certain mother of three, she stopped them dead in their tracks. She was purported to have said, “I called the CIA two years ago to report that terrorists were living across the street and no one did anything.” The CIA claimed to have no record of a phone call. The news networks set up cameras and began broadcasting from the residential street. ABC, NBC, FOX. The FBI followed up with further inquiries. The woman’s story was later bounced around the various post 9/11 committees and intelligence hearings on Capitol Hill. (Incidentally, after 9/11, the CIA closed its multi-story facility in the neighborhood where the terrorist reportedly lived. In 2006 the empty building was finally torn down and, as of early 2011, was being replaced with another office building). There has been much speculation about what the government should have or could have known prior to 9/11. The answer is not simple. There have been anecdotal stories of people in Florida and elsewhere who claimed to have reported similar “terrorist” type activities by suspicious people prior to 9/11. None of these stories have been proven. What we do know is that with the exception of the flight school instructor in Minnesota who questioned the motive of a student who was interested in flying an aircraft without learning how to land, and an unheeded warning from actor James Woods who was on a plane from Boston with several of the purported terrorists while they were doing a trial run, the woman from Vienna, Virginia was the country’s best chance to prevent 9/11. To date, there has been no verification of any other pre-9/11 warnings from the general public so far in advance of that fateful day in September. For me, there is no doubt as to the validity of the claims of the woman in Vienna. She lived in the house where I grew up. She is my mother. Mark Gilleo. October, 2011. Washington DC.


* * *


Ariana turned on the nightlight and closed the door to her daughter’s room. She walked down the carpeted hall towards the light stretching out from the plastic chandelier over the dining room table. Her husband’s chair was empty and she quietly called out his name. No response. As Ariana turned the corner to the kitchen and reached for the knob on the cabinet over the counter, eight hundred pages of advertising crashed into her rib cage, sucking the wind from her lungs. As his wife doubled over, Nazim raised the thick Yellow Book with both hands and hit her on her back, driving her body to the floor. “Don’t you ever disobey me in front of others again.” Ariana coughed. There was no blood. This time. She tried to speak but her lips only quivered. Her thick-framed glasses rested on the floor, out of reach. Her brain fought to make sense of what happened, what had set her husband off. It could have been anything. But every curse had its blessing, and for Ariana the blessing was the fact that Nazim didn’t hit her in front of Liana. A blessing that the child didn’t see her mother being punched. The reason was simple. Nazim was afraid of his daughter. Afraid of what she could say now that she could speak. The curse was that Ariana never knew when she had crossed the line. She never knew when the next blow was coming. She merely had to wait until they were alone to learn her fate for past indiscretions. Ariana gasped slowly for air. She didn’t cry. The pain she felt in her side wasn’t bad enough to give her husband the satisfaction. “When I say it is time to leave, it is time to leave. There is no room for negotiation in this marriage.” Ariana panted as her mind flashed back to the Christmas party. She immediately realized her faux pas. “I didn’t want to be rude to Maria. She spent days making dessert. She is old. Do we not respect our elders anymore?” Nazim pushed his wife onto the floor with his knee, a reaction Ariana fully expected. “You are my wife. This is about you and me. Our neighbor has nothing to do with it.” Nazim looked down at Ariana sprawled on the linoleum and spit on her with more mock than saliva. “Maria is my friend.” “Well, her son is coming home and she doesn’t need you.” Nazim dropped the yellow book on the counter with a thud and went to the basement. Ariana gathered herself, pushing her body onto all fours and then pulling herself up by the front of the oven. She looked at the Yellow Book and her blood boiled. It was like getting hit by a cinderblock with soft edges. When it hit flush, it left very little bruising. As her husband intended. For a man of slight build, Nazim could generate power when a beating was needed. Ariana took inventory of herself, one hand propping herself up on the counter. She had been beaten worse. Far worse. By other men before she met her husband. Her eyes moved beyond the Yellow Pages and settled on the knife set on the counter, the shiny German steel resting in its wooden block holder. She grabbed the fillet knife, caressed the blade with her eyes, and then pushed the thought from her mind. Her husband called her from the basement and she snapped out of her momentary daze. “Coming,” she answered, putting the knife back in its designated slot in the wood. She knew what was coming next. It was always the same. A physical assault followed by a sexual one. She reached up her skirt and removed her panties. There was no sense in having another pair ripped, even if robbing Nazim of the joy would cost her a punch or two. Christmas, the season of giving, she thought as she made her way down the stairs into the chilly basement.


My Review:

I had a feeling about this book from the moment I read the author’s introduction, that I was going to like it.

Clark Hayden is a student returning home, to look after his mother while he finishes his studies, his mum’s mental state is deteriorating and his father passed away some time before. It’s not long before Clark is embroiled in an IRS investigation into his parent’s affairs, and suspicious goings on in the neighbourhood, with a terror cell getting ready to strike.

The story is very well structured and the narrative rattles along at a fair pace, each scene reveals a little more of what is going on, introducing new characters when appropriate, but leaving the reader in a perpetual state of suspense as to what will actually happen, and whether justice will prevail or will the terrorists see their Jihad.

The plotting is very clever, and the book conveys a sense of an author who has spent time thinking out exactly how the story will unfold and how each part will interact with what came before and what is coming next. I always had a sense that the author was leading me on the journey he wanted to take me on, but I never felt bored or wanted to skip on a few pages, or to the end.

A level of realism exists that really makes you think the author knows what he’s talking about or has done his research well. Each chapter is believable, and doesn’t leave you with any doubts as to whether what is being described would ever really happen that way.

The characters are simple in their brilliance, there is a clear picture of each one, and yet where there are those that have a hidden intention or motive, you would never be able to tell until this is revealed. When you think you have something worked out the author is able to surprise you with what he intends for the character, not what you thought was going to happen.

This is no all action thriller though, if you’re looking for a “Clancyesque” shoot-em-up spy story, you’re going to be disappointed, this tale is more cerebral than that, and it keeps you guessing until the end. I won’t spoil it, but I was never completely sure what was going to happen until I got there.

As an afterthought, I’ve read a few books now published by The Story Plant, and I can safely say that they really know how to pick their books, they’ve definitely got an eye. If you’re looking for a good book to read, then I recommend this one, once you’ve read it, check out others published by The Story Plant. You won’t go far wrong.

My Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars - I Loved It!



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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Book Review: Bullets for a Ballot by Nik Morton


Another tale of Cash Laramie and Gideon Miles, told at the pace of a galloping pinto.

The story starts with a much younger Cash Laramie, making the acquaintance of Esther Traynor, when he steps in to save her life from the menaces of the harsher side of the old west. Moving quickly forward it takes up the story when Marshall Laramie goes to the aid of Esther again, now married and known as Esther Tolliver she is living in the town of Bear Pines; and preparing to run for town Mayor. There are others however, who do not wish her well in her campaign, and whose malevolent intentions are to stop her succeeding.

When you ride with Cash Laramie and Gideon Miles, you ride with just men; men of honour, but men of violence. They are men of the law, but in the old west the law is hard and justice often swift. Their characters are well drawn and you have a sense of who each man is. One of my real concerns each time I pick up a new adventure in this series is that the latest author will not carry forward the spirit and feel of the series created by Edward A. Grainger, a.k.a. David Cranmer; but I have yet to have that fear realised and most certainly Nik Morton’s interpretation is as bold and strong as those who have gone before him.

It is the characters and the settings that make a Western, ultimately they are set in a time, that no person currently living has a reference point for, other than what they have read in other books or seen in movies. Therefore to bring to life something without tangible direct history is an art, and Nik Morton is a master artist in this instance. From the taste and smell of the old west to the feel of the era violence, this is another five-star adventure for Cash Laramie and Gideon Miles.

The premise is a simple one – fix the result of an election – but as to whom the interested party really is, and why they are pulling the strings that will only become clear as the story unfolds. The tale unfolds, as page by page, Cash Laramie is relentless in his pursuit of justice. We learn more about the Marshall, as this story reveals more of the man’s character, who he is and why he is driven to do the work of a lawman. The story also exposes just how the west was run, where principles are all very well, but where money also speaks, as do more baser urges.

My Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars, I Loved It!

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