Gunnar Angel Lawrence is the author of Fair Pay. The sequel, The Perfect Day, is about a terrorist attack on Florida. It is based on real plots discovered by American troops during the Iraq war. Gunnar met me at The Slaughterhouse where we talked about the novel and surveillance.
Tell us about your novel.
The Perfect Day is the result of two years of researching the real life plot discovered by our troops during the later parts of the Iraq war. It was a plot that has been in motion since 2004. Documents were found in an Iraqi terror training camp including blueprints of American schools, public targets like theme parks and shopping malls. There was a mock high school built within this terrorist camp with classrooms, a gym and even posters advertising a school dance in English. The plot entails several undercover terror cells within the United States of America who would on one day rise up and conduct attacks against the targets they were trained to attack. It was the very real existence of this plot that inspired the book and of course I set these attacks beginning in the tourist capital of the world, my home town of Orlando, Florida. It is the sequel to my thriller, Fair Play.
How do you view the role of the NSA and do you think surveillance protects or limits civil liberties?
There is a fine line between surveillance of potential terrorists meant to protect lives and the systematic collection of every piece of data on every American for some ambiguous future purpose. The NSA has the singular job of preventing terrorists from succeeding in their goal of killing as many people as they can, so it is understandable that some surveillance is necessary. Unfortunately, as with all government agencies there is abuse of the power they are given. For the NSA to collect phone metadata, record the phone calls and emails of ordinary citizens without a warrant is absolutely a violation of the civil liberties guaranteed to us by the Constitution.
Some people justify the practice by convincing themselves that since they have nothing to hide, they have nothing to be worried about because the NSA won’t find anything. And as such, they don’t care that there is someone listening to every call and reading every email they send. The truth is that every American is guaranteed at least an expectation of privacy in their day to day lives and that there are many Americans with nothing to hide who are angry that someone may be spying on them. It really isn’t a matter of whether or not one has something to hide or not. The Constitution is the founding document of our country, to arbitrarily choose portions of that document as being irrelevant endangers the entire thing.
Do you think that modern technology and the internet have increased voyeurism and if so how has that influenced the way we think today?
There has always been, I believe, a sense of thrill that people have at watching others without their knowledge. The Candid Camera television series proves that the desire to spy on others predates the era of the ubiquitous camera phones, security and traffic cameras. Today, we have similar programs, Cops, Police Chases, America’s Dumbest Criminals, etc, where we get to see some people at the absolute worst moment of their lives all for our watching pleasure. Modern technology has helped fuel the desire by making it possible to share these videos via the Internet and social media. With the advent of the camera phone, it is also more likely that at any given time, you are being recorded by someone. There are news stories almost on a weekly basis of people who have either set up a hidden camera/microphone or hacked into the feed of someone elses’ security to watch from a distance.
As with any new technology there are pluses and minuses that we have to deal with. The knowledge that one might be caught on tape can lead to a change in behavior. For some that would mean preventing them from doing something they would regret, for others, sadly it would mean their shot at their ’15 minutes of fame’. There are websites out there that encourage others to make videos of fighting or rioting and post them. There is actually a sort of honor in being featured online as the aggressor in a fight. So yes, the new technology has changed some behaviors, but there was and always has been those who get a thrill by taking advantage of others and acting like thugs. Nowadays, it is just easier to see more of them doing so.
Who are your literary influences?
I’ve been reading mystery and thriller books since I was in middle school. I loved the ingenious twists and turns of Agatha Christie novels. Steven King was a big part of my high school reading years. Lately I’ve been reading the Patrick Bowers series by Steven James and anything I can get my hands on by Vince Flynn. When I’m slowing down the pace of my reading of thrillers and horror novels I sit down with a Nicolas Sparks novel. And when I am in the mood for the classics I reread Bram Stoker’s Dracula, or Papa Ernest Hemingway. I love living in the worlds they create and there have been very few authors that I have read that haven’t influenced me in some way.
What do you make of the E Book revolution?
E Books have opened a whole new world to writers who perhaps would never have gotten published traditionally, not for lack of talent, but just because of the sheer number of submissions that must be sifted through to get to books that traditional publishers will take a risk on. One in ten thousand manuscripts submitted gets traditionally published, if my stats are right. It has spawned off shoots of genres never considered before. Steampunk, splatterpunk, are just two examples. It has created large fan bases of authors previously unheard of. It is also doing to brick and mortar book stores what email did to the fax machine. Smaller book stores can’t keep up with the ease of shopping online and having the book delivered to a reading device.
E Books have made vacation or travel much easier on the avid reader. One lightweight device with thousands of books on it, and the ability to download a new book with the touch of a button. I don’t believe that paper books will completely disappear but the revolution shows no sign of slowing down. Rather than lament what we have ‘lost’ to the progress and technology of today, we need to embrace it. If we don’t, we could end up becoming obsolete.
Do you think much crime fiction sanitises crime?
I think audiences, both readers and television/movie fans have become at least partially desensitized to crime. They have been exposed to cannibalism, beheadings, and murder on an almost daily basis from just watching the news. The bar for shock value has been significantly raised over the past few decades. With compelling characters like Hannibal Lectre and Dexter Morgan in literature there is an effect on readers that lets them explore their dark side without having to surrender to it.
The writer has a couple of options in meeting these readers where they are. Some choose to go over the top of the bar in a big way in an attempt to reach the shock value they feel their story needs. Multiplying the level of gore in their story gave rise to the Splatterpunk genre. It has been proven that there is a serious market for those types of books. The other option is to completely tone down gory descriptions of any kind and concentrate on the characters or the intricacy of their plot. There really isn’t a right or wrong option as it is the writer’s story and in some cases, the characters tell the writers what to write and how.
Much crime fiction is redemptive structurally, given the fact that many crimes go unsolved do you think that the genre lacks realism?
I believe that one reason people read crime fiction is as an escape from reality. The truth is that reality is complex and can be overwhelming. We have people who kill for no reason, kids killing kids because the Slenderman told them to. Abusive husbands beating and killing wives and successfully defending their actions as being a part of their native culture. We have murders with no motive, murders with a racial motive and with the dismal solve rate on crimes in many of our cities, readers want to escape into a world where things make sense. They want justice for victims, that often doesn’t happen in real life. It can be frustrating to see a Casey Anthony or OJ Simpson getting away with murder. It can be disheartening to see that the justice system in our country is more about what deals can be made behind closed doors than about truly dealing out justice to those who deserve it. It was the Casey Anthony trial that inspired the first book in my series, Fair Play. We watched the drama unfold over the course of more than a year, and the resulting acquittal angered us all. The question that prompted me to write that book was, “How can an attorney work to release someone he or she knows is guilty and not have some remorse?”
Sitting back and reading a murder mystery where the killer is chased, caught and brought to justice may indeed be unrealistic, but it’s something that readers, especially today, crave. Sometimes fiction provides a structure that just isn’t present in reality, a dream world that can make the harshness and frustration of reality fade away, if only for a weekend or two.
Graham Greene wrote, ‘There is a splinter of ice in the heart of a writer.’ What do you make of his observation?
Writers have to have a sense of detachment from the worlds and characters they create. Many times they get familiar with these fictional creations. They may know background information on them that never gets revealed in the final novel. They know the inner struggles their characters have, the intensity of the emotions they experience and the complex history they have. In their minds, they ‘live’ with these characters before, during and after the book is complete. The writer knows that at any time, he or she may have to kill of one of these beloved characters.
Sometimes a writer may even shed a few tears for the fictional death of the fictional character they created. I’ve done that a few times. The first time I found myself really upset, and I could not understand why. Then there are the real life events that severely affect writers: the death of a parent or a friend, an accident or similar tragedy. Writers may tap into their real life emotions and real experiences to write heavily emotional scenes. It’s that sense of detachment that may save a writer’s sanity, so I suppose Mr. Greene is correct.
What else is on the cards for you this year?
2015 will be a very busy year for me. I am working closely with the Indie Author community and have spent the last six months organizing the Saint Cloud Author Symposium scheduled for January 31st at the Veterans Memorial Library. I wanted to provide a venue for indie authors, publishers, agents and more to come and meet each other and their fans. When that is done, I will be working to finish the third book in my Detective Paul Friedman series entitled, The Consortium. One of the characters in The Perfect Day is Monica Quinn, she is a Certified Fraud Examiner who uses accounting to locate and convict the bad guys. I was a member of the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners for a while and I believe there is some serious action that takes place in the job as a CFE. For those unfamiliar with the work of a CFE, it’s like C.S.I. without the bodies. I was wanting to spin Monica off in her own series in the future. She is a single mother with an autistic son who it turns out plays an important role in The Perfect Day.
I’m also working on finishing a book of horror short stories entitled ‘Fear’ that I have been procrastinating on for a couple of years. I am hoping that I will be able to slow down on my day job and focus more on writing this coming year. It would be absolutely a dream come true.
What advice would you give to yourself as a young man?
Don’t give up your dream. My father was none too thrilled to have a son who wanted to be a writer. He hammered it into my head that I needed a J O B. I bought into it. I gave up as a young high school student and pursued a career that I truly wish I hadn’t. I want to wake up every morning eager to get to work in writing, and if you can do it, do it with all your strength. I would tell myself that anything is possible if you work hard at it, that a degree in Creative Writing is just as meaningful as a degree in Business Administration. Nothing gives me more pleasure, more excitement than writing, I love it and truly wish that I had told my father that. Perhaps I would be no better off than I am now, but I will never know. As the saying goes, “Don’t follow your dreams, chase them.” HERE.
Thank you Gunnar for a perceptive and informative interview.
Other books by Gunnar A. Lawrence:
Amazon Author Page