Author Interview "Sheldon Charles"
Please tell our readers a little about yourself.
My published biography covers most of the factual and statistical type things about me, but to give your readers a little more perspective, I would add that my development as a writer started very young in life -- and it was not about writing it all -- it was about storytelling. When I was very young, I went to a camp that featured a storyteller every night at the campfire. I was completely enthralled with not only the stories he told but the reaction he got from the audience. As I got older, I purposely tried to develop those storytelling skills and get better at it -- not realizing that eventually would lead me into writing.
I consider my life since to be accidentally adventurous and because of those experiences, I have a wealth of perspectives and a global viewpoint that I think helps me as a writer. I’ve always said that my hometown is Nowhere in Particular. As a result, I always try to make myself at home wherever I am regardless of how long I will be there. That type of attitude has led me down more untraveled roads than I would’ve seen otherwise. I think all that shows up on the written page.
In January, after a long career with the Department of Defense, I was able to transition from that and immerse myself in writing full time.
Could you tell us a bit about your book and why it is a must-read?
Sure, by way of an overview the book is the story about an international team of spies and civilians that must stop a disgraced former KGB official from reviving a deadly bioweapon and exacting revenge on the United States. Several different storylines are taking place at the same time with characters having motivations that crossover and accidentally run into one another. There are a lot of exciting side trips into things like crypto codes, numbers stations, weapons technology, and sleeper agents. In addition to the KGB, the Mossad, Stasi, PLO and other stateless espionage and terroristic organizations that come into play. All of this factors into this ultra-high-stakes story of international intrigue.
I’ve always thought must-read was more appropriate for things like first-aid manuals or How To Survive a Tornado -- important bits of information you can’t live without. I would like to think my book is simply must enjoy. I heard from a reader last week who had recently picked up the book and was telling me that they were up at 2 AM because “I can’t put the damn book down.” Maybe in its own way that is must-read – – must-read so that I know how it all turns out.
What inspired you to write your book?
As with any book that I write, this one is about wanting to tell a good story and having people enjoy it. Unlike prior books, I didn’t just sit down and start writing with a basic outline in my head – – I mulled this one over in my mind for a long while before I ever started to capture the words on paper. As I thought about the story, I added more layers to it -- taking time for those various storylines to overlap and become entangled and eventually all wind up as part of the same piece.
I think this book, in particular, has enough complexity to it that it can be enjoyed on many different levels and it has enough major characters that everyone can find at least one character that they can identify with or be interested in.
What was the most challenging aspect of writing your book?
I wanted to make sure that everything in the book worked, that includes all the secret codes and all the mechanics that were involved with it. When I read a book that has descriptions of things like that, I mentally work them out to make sure they are plausible. If you’ve ever read Dan Brown’s books – I was lucky enough to be in Europe when his first two were released, and I could actually go to the museums and look for the things that were in the book for myself. To me, that made the book much more enjoyable, so when I wrote a book that had those kinds of elements in it, I made sure that all of them would work.
Due to the serious nature of some of the threats in the book, I used to joke with my family that when the black helicopter landed, they needed to be ready to help me explain that I was writing a book not planning something nefarious.
Do you have any unique or quirky writing habits?
When I was in college, I used to study with the TV on in the stereo playing at the same time. I actually did reasonably well that way. Now, however, I write in complete silence. No radio, no TV playing in the background, no nothing. I found that in this quiet I can hear the voices of my characters as the story pours out. We each have to find our own way of handling creative muse, and this is mine.
I like the fact that I see each of my characters as a real person – – to the point that I often write short biographies of significant characters for myself just so I can get a better feel for them. In Three Paperclips & a Grey Scarf and in Firebird’s Nest, I talk about satori which is a concept of being hyper alert and sensitive to things that are going on. When I can get into that perfect state of us satori is when I write best.
The exception to this is when I’m proofreading what I’ve written. I read the entire text out loud. I found it helps me hear problems that I might otherwise mentally correct and overlook if I was reading silently.
How did you come up with the title for your book?
My original title for the book was Allah’s Numbers, this based on a name that an opportunist in the book uses to describe his plan to use these bioweapons for his own cause. As the book got more towards completion, I realized that particular storyline, while very important, really didn’t describe the overall tale so I changed the title to From Within the Firebird’s Nest. The KGB name for the weapons program in the book is the Crimson Firebird Initiative which takes its name from the Slavic legend of the Firebird. Just like our Western legend of the Phoenix, the Firebird is reborn from the ashes of his own destruction. The title has its basis in the myth -- this story is the rebirth of something that supposedly had been destroyed.
Is there a message you want your readers to take away from your book?
I’m not really sure there take away message hidden somewhere in the text, except maybe that sometimes it takes a person who is outside of the usual habitat to bring about a solution in a way that no one else thought about. Evan Davis is not a spy, soldier, or biological weapons expert – – but he is someone who can be counted upon to do the right thing and to bring his own vision to the problem being faced. I’d like to think the world is full of people like Evan, who would rise to the challenge when it was presented and remain there until things were fixed.
Do you have any advice for the yet-to-be-published writers reading this?
Ever since I started publicly admitting that I was writing novels, I have shared the way I wound up where I am now. In the beginning, I began by tasking myself to write 500 words every day. Sounds like a lot, but is only a couple of paragraphs. The topic was irrelevant, it could be just what happened to me that day or a description of how I took out the trash. The idea was to get my mind honed to creating words, sentences, and thinking logically. Once I’d been doing that for a while, I started to write a blog. The blog covers a variety of topics and includes things like reviews of concerts, movies, and other things -- this potpourri of topics stays true to the name of the blog’s title: Random Mental Wanderings & Contemplations. When I’m not busy with other writing tasks, I try to write a few thousand words a week. Again, mostly for my own edification but also just to get better at writing.
I have run into too many people, who tell me they want to write – – but don’t know how to get started – – to get started: WRITE.
I would also recommend Stephen King’s book On Writing, whether you like his stories are not, his insights into how he developed as a writer and how to best tell a story are beneficial.
What are you working on now?
I am finally writing a murder mystery that I’ve been mentally playing with for the last few months. The story is about a computer wiz who is contacted by a woman who “friend zoned” him during adolescence, she wants him to help her ex-husband who she says is being framed for a brutal murder. The victim is the trophy wife of a powerful man who benefits from falsely attributed honor and stature because of his background and military career. The working title is Moonlit Silhouette and should be released in December or early 2018.
What is your preferred method to have readers get in touch with or follow you (i.e., website, personal blog, Facebook page, etc.) and link(s)?
Whatever works best for the reader and is appropriate for their message. My website at www.valkyriespirit.com has all my social media and email contact information. I do have newsletter readers can subscribe to by sending an email to email@example.com
By the way, I only send emails when there is book news and will never release your email to others, ever.
About the book:
From within the Firebird’s Nest
Description: Most people think the Cold War ended when the Soviet Union collapsed. Though the USSR may have been beaten, their war infrastructure and resentment didn’t simply go away. What if there were still secret weapons systems in place and angry old men eager to set them off?
In From within the Firebird’s Nest, former KGB official Sergei Kirill Mikhailov revives a secret biological weapon: the Crimson Firebird. His aim is to strike a devastating blow to the United States while pinning the blame on an impressionable young Arab man, thus initiating a global crisis.
Meanwhile, one of Sergei’s former colleagues is scrambling to stop the weapon from being deployed and recruits an unlikely team that includes his son (now a banker in Oklahoma), a former Stasi agent, and an American writer named Evan. Together they must shed light on foes hiding in the dark and save the world from unthinkable destruction.
Crypto codes, numbers stations, and sleeper agents all factor into this ultra-high-stakes story of international intrigue. The Cold War gets a little warmer with each page, and all the animosity from the past builds and finally bursts in a shocking conclusion.
Tagline: In this riveting thriller, an international team of spies and civilians must stop a disgraced former KGB official from reviving a deadly bioweapon and exacting revenge on the United States.
About the author:
Sheldon Charles is a decorated air force veteran who spent most of his career as a strategic war planner and logistician. After his uniformed service, Charles was hired by the Department of Defense to be the civilian director of information operations for Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. Charles’s career has taken him around the globe and given his writing a unique international flair. He is the author of Three Paperclips & a Grey Scarf and Blood upon the Desert Sands.
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