This week, I have a Q&A from author Thomas Waite, an excerpt and a giveaway of his latest Lana Elkins thriller, Unholy Code. Thank you, Thomas.
Tell us about Unholy Code.
In my latest Lana Elkins thriller, former NSA operative Elkins confronts white supremacists and Islamic extremists who are launching devastating attacks against the U.S. As each side incites the other by targeting innocent Americans, murderous threats to Lana and her family arise from Golden Voice, a cruel and mysterious denizen of the Dark Web. Definitely my edgiest novel yet.
For readers who are discovering your work for the first time: What can you share about Lana Elkins?
Lana Elkins is a strong, smart, tough woman who founded the cybersecurity firm, CyberFortress, after outstanding service as a cyber spy for the NSA. But Lana is also the loving mother of a challenging teenage daughter. Their sometimes-contentious relationship is put to a great test when the country is under attack from its most fanatical enemies — attacks that become very personal. Lana also suffers from an addiction that threatens her professionally and personally.
Unholy Code touches on a number of issues we currently hear about on a daily basis, including racism, immigration issues, religious conflicts, political pressures, and, of course, terrorism. Given what is going on in the "real world" is it becoming easier or more difficult to write this series?
We live in challenging times, to be sure, but from a thriller author's perspective, the very issues that we confront as a nation contribute to the richness of these characters and the ruthless obstacles they face. Unholy Code, like the others in the series, takes place in the near future in a recognizable world, and a major reason that world feels so real is that the conflicts that threaten to tear us apart as a nation are based on what we can glimpse of the world around us right now.
Readers and reviewers often remark on the relationship between Lana and her daughter, Emma. Why do you think these characters resonate with people?
What I hear from readers all the time is that they love Lana because there's nothing comic book about her. She's grounded in trying to balance motherhood and career, a multi-dimensional character who has strengths and flaws. She's blessed—or cursed, maybe—to be raising a daughter a lot like her: strong-willed, smart, and long on grit. They have their tough moments, but for most of Emma's life she had only Lana to raise her. That's a bond that can't be broken, even by those who want nothing more than to kill them both.
Given the sensitive nature of Lana's job, not to mention other characters in the book, how do you approach research? Have any of your inquiries lead to questions about you? Please share more details about your professional background.
I do a mix of primary and secondary research. As noted in my acknowledgements, I’ve consulted directly with experts ranging from the head of the FBI’s cyber division to a retired U.S. Navy Admiral. And, of course, not all my sources wish to be named. I also do a lot of research online. I’ve had readers ask if anything I write about is classified, and the answer is no. Of course, the government can’t do that to an author’s imagination, so most of what I deem “top secret” I use in my books. A few friends have expressed concern that my research might raise suspicion with authorities. I tell them not to worry, the name of my Wi-Fi is “FBI SurveilVan3.” But seriously, I’m quite certain that the FBI or DHS know that I’m writing fiction. I also have worked in the technology sector and still do some advisory and board work and that helps.
Unholy Code may feature your scariest antagonists to date. Can you shed light on the inspiration for "Steel Fist" and "Golden Voice?"
As you know, we've been seeing the rise of nativist sentiments throughout the western world, including here in America. While Steel Fist's views are repugnant, he does embody the white supremacist movement. So when the wide extent of America's vulnerability unveiled itself at the beginning of Unholy Code, it made sense to me that the country would be besieged not just by radical elements from outside its borders, but from citizens who would actually welcome the resulting demonstrations of U.S. weakness. That’s because acts of terrorism against Americans would make their own twisted ideas about power and strength stand out in sharp relief.
With Golden Voice, it was very different. The antagonist was much more mysterious, speaking in first person present tense right from the start, with all the intimacy that suggests. I heard the voice first, and then followed its dictates. Never once did I plan ahead with Golden Voice. I didn't have to. Golden Voice took over and I went along for the horrifying ride.
Malinois play a role in Unholy Code. What inspired you to add JoJo and Cairo to the cast of characters? Did you meet with real-life dog trainers while researching the book?
I don't feel as though I added Jojo and Cairo to the cast; they added themselves. I'm not kidding. I knew next to nothing about Malinois when I started writing this book, only that they were the dogs preferred by a lot of military and national security services.
Very quickly, though, I realized that in a country getting ripped apart by terrorist attacks, and with a character like Lana under threat, a security dog would be a smart sentinel to add to a household. When each dog came on the scene, he had his own personality. I discovered that as readers will. It became clear that Cairo, who's in his doggy dotage, would never suffer fools gladly, so I went along for the ride to see what that would mean. Jojo's a very different dog, in no small part because he's a lot younger. I developed a great affection for the breed in doing my research.
What are you working on now?
I'm listening to my inner Lana, seeing where she wants to go next. She's one very restless pro, always deep in cyberspace, so I'm spending time in the Dark Web; she's my co-pilot on these trips. I have some ideas—or I should say she has some ideas—about where this series is headed. It's a dark place, scary to be sure, and very human—just like Lana herself in Unholy Code.
Here's an excerpt from Unholy Code.
“Look at the water, boy.”
Vinko peered at its smooth surface and saw his reflection.
“Your face is white as the clouds, isn’t it? Just like everyone else you see around here.”
Vinko understood. He’d never known anybody who wasn’t white.
They’d fished until sundown. After gathering up their gear, his father told him to look at the water again. The blood-red colors had appeared, darkening the boy’s face.
“You’re no longer white. That’s what’s going to happen if we let the sun set on America. The white will disappear, and we’ll pay for it with blood.”
His father had been right. The men in his family had all known that the most important threat of all wasn’t a gun or a knife, or even the mongrel races raging to get everything that belonged to whites. But it was all about blood.
* * *
A seventeen-year-old is impulsive.
A seventeen-year-old feels immortal.
A seventeen-year-old doesn’t understand that death can come in a whisper.
Emma. I imagine my hot breath on her ear. I can help you.
So her parents will be right to shudder at the fact that Em is now vulnerable to the scores of terrorists stalking American cities and hinterlands, hunting for ever more horrors to visit upon the nation.
But don’t worry about all that.
Those are the exact words I would tell them if I could. They need only worry about me. And it’s too late for that. Their only child is trying to free herself of too much too soon, and all she’s really done is seal her fate.
The one I’ve planned for her.
And you shall share it, Lana.
The chainsaws are oiled and calling. Can you hear them? Here, I’ll start one.
How about that? Can you hear it now? The blade sounds angry, doesn’t it? Like it could cut through skin and bone and the last scraps of hope in a dying girl’s heart. I won’t let you die without seeing that, Lana. I promise.
That’s how a mother gets to die twice.
Excerpted from UNHOLY CODE © Copyright 2016 by Thomas Waite. Reprinted with permission by the author. All rights reserved.
The “Summer of Blood” explodes. The U.S. is under siege from foreign jihadists and domestic terrorists. When a brilliant exploit strikes at the heart of the National Security Agency’s own network, former NSA operative Lana Elkins discovers that it came from within the United States itself. More surprising still is the attacker: “Steel Fist,” a cyber-savvy radical white supremacist whose legions feed on his anti-Islamic exhortations. His popularity only grows when a jihadist team carries out a bold, but baffling, attack on the Louisiana coast, bringing ashore a lethal invader no one can see.
Most mysterious of all are Golden Voice, a hacker of unparalleled skill with a murderous agenda and a secret past, and Tahir Hijazi, a Muslim refugee from Sudan with his own shadowy history. When Tahir’s young nephew starts dating Lana’s daughter Emma, Steel Fist calls upon his fans to embark on a new mission: assassinate the entire Elkins family.
As extremists battle each other—with Lana fighting both ends from the middle—the conflict becomes deeply personal, the stakes tragically high.
In Thomas Waite’s edgiest tale yet, battles savage the American heartland, shaking the very foundations of the world’s mightiest nation.
Thomas Waite is the bestselling author of the celebrated Lana Elkins thriller series. Lethal Code was declared "Taut, tense, and provocative” by Hank Phillippi Ryan, the Agatha, Anthony, and Mary Higgins Clark Award-winning author, who quickly added “…this frighteningly knowing cyberthriller will keep you turning pages—not only to devour the fast-paced fiction, but to worry about how much is terrifyingly true." Trident Code followed in form. “Scary good,” according to King Features columnist Dale Dauten: “The science and technology are as convincing as they are chilling, with an original trifecta of cyber, nuclear, and environmental terrorism all worked into one wild ride of a plot.” Unholy Code now finds Elkins fighting enemies of all stripes in the heart of America, battles that rage on the ground, in the air, and in the ever-escalating violence of cyberspace.
Waite’s first novel, Terminal Value, reached #1 at Amazon. One reviewer wrote, “Terminal Value is to the corporate world what John Grisham's The Firm is to lawyering: a taut, fast, relentless thriller. A most impressive debut novel."
Waite is a board director of, and an advisor to, a number of technology companies. His nonfiction work has appeared in The New York Times, the Harvard Business Review, The Boston Globe, and The Daily Beast. He lives in Boston.
Here are links to Waite's website and other sites.:
If you would like to win a copy of Unholy Code, email me at Lesa.Holstine@gmail.com. Your subject heading should read "Win Unholy Code." Please include your name and mailing address. The giveaway will end Thursday, July 28 at 6 PM CT. Entrants from the U.S. only, please.