My Bookish Ways

Interview: Erec Stebbins, author of The Ragnarök Conspiracy

Erec Stebbins is the author of The Ragnarök Conspiracy, an international thriller just out from Seventh Street Books, and he was kind enough to answer a few questions about his new book, and more!

Please welcome Erec to the blog!

Erec, your brand new book, The Ragnarök Conspiracy, just came out! Will you tell us a bit about it?
It’s the story of two men who share a traumatic loss at the hands of Muslim extremists, and yet take two ultimately divergent paths afterwards. One man, John Savas, channels his pain to become one of the nation’s leading, if unorthodox, FBI counter-terrorism officers. The other uses his considerable wealth and power to become the equivalent of an American Osama bin Laden, and is the antagonist of the story who plans and sets in motion a global conflict with the Muslim world. Much like the final Armageddon of Norse mythology, these two are destined to face off in an ultimate battle over the soul of civilization and the fate of the world.

In your bio, I read that September 11th influenced the writing of The Ragnarök Conspiracy. How so?
Like many Americans, and especially many New Yorkers who directly experienced that unprecedented attack on our city, I was angered. In the months and years following the collapse of the Twin Towers, I had an urge to retaliate. Primitive. Ultimately destructive, because most anger is a sickness. That sickness led the nation to accept a war in Iraq that was unrelated to the terrorist attacks.

Within myself, I seethed that bin Laden roamed free while we captured Saddam Hussein, as if a proxy for the villain who continued to mock us. Who was bin Laden, besides a megalomaniacal prince who used his wealth and privilege to fund his unbalanced sense of justice? I asked: “Given all the power and wealth in America, where is the American bin Laden?”

A character began to take shape in my mind of this American bin Laden. As if to achieve balance, there was a second character who was born in my imagination, John Savas – kind of like matter and antimatter – a man who had experienced a similar loss in those attacks, but whose soul, even as it hung over the chasm of madness, turned away from hatred and blind revenge. Late at night, unable to sleep, in my mind events spun in which these two characters interacted, fought, and their conflict played out over the globe.

After several years of this idea refusing to go away, I decided I had to write it down. I’ve called it a form of exorcism. I’m glad it’s done, but I fear America still needs to be purged of it. We have too many people who cannot see past their own fears and hatred of Muslims and Islam. In my novel, there is a climax and resolution. In the real world, everything – where we will end up as a nation and the ultimate choices we will make – is still very much up in the air.

Are you planning more books featuring Agent John Savas?
I am, indeed! I have a series of thrillers in mind involving his experimental counter-terrorism branch at the FBI, and the rather eccentric cast of characters assembled in his team.

What do you like most about writing thrillers?
I view thrillers as the contemporary form of fantasy or science fiction. Fantasy takes place in the past, with conceits like magic and fairies, and science fiction is the future counterpart, with the magic of advanced technology and aliens. Why are thrillers the contemporary version of these to my mind? Because they also allow for the conceits of events that are not completely realistic, but, because so, allow the author creative license he or she would not have otherwise.

To borrow an idea I first heard from the Tolkien biographer Tom Shippey, the fantastical – whether it’s Rings of Power, the Borg, or global conspiracies – allows authors struggling to portray the very nebulous, and yet very real, ideas of good and evil a vehicle, a canvas for expression that so-called “realism” does not. That’s what is so attractive about writing in the genre.

That and blowing up a lot of stuff.

Who are some of your biggest literary influences?
For various reasons not necessarily related to writing thrillers, the authors that have meant the most to me are J.R.R. Tolkien, Kurt Vonnegut, Robert Ludlum, George Orwell, Dan Simmons, Frank Herbert, and Olaf Stapledon. Mostly writers of the last 100 years, although some poetry by Browning, an essay by Mark Twain, or an everybody’s-dead-on-the-floor tragedy by Shakespeare are always welcome. I’m still debating whether I should include Bob Dylan in the literature category.

What are you reading now?
Mostly science papers! But I’m in the middle of or nearly finished several books. I have an illness in which I read several books concurrently. Over the span of the last two months, I’ve been reading Eisler’s thriller “Inside Out”, Gellman’s account of the Cheney Vice-presidency “Angler”, Taleb’s “The Black Swan”, Lee Child’s latest Jack Reacher novel “A Wanted Man”, and the account of the hacker collective Anonymous called “Unmasked.” I also finished the utterly unique and charming first novel of a friend and scientist Fred Ross called “Monologue: A Comedy of Telepathy”.

When you manage to carve out some free time, how do you like to spend it?
I’m a workaholic, and for me that means I’m happy when I’m building something, whether it’s building the chemical model of a bacterial toxin, making a new Native American style flute, or writing a novel. When not “doing”, when trying to “be”, I prefer some sort of nature-based meditative experience. Places that remind me how small we are, give me perspective beyond social media, beyond the ideas in my head, beyond the latest talking heads blathering on about politics, right-and-wrong, and the impending end of Western civilization if you don’t vote for their candidate.

I like to go away from street lights and be under a million-starred canopy, or sit silently by the side of the sea. It’s great to do that with the people you love. A warm single malt is also welcome.

What’s next for you? Is there anything you’d like to share about upcoming projects or events (or anything at all!)?
While I’m in the beginning of promoting The Ragnarök Conspiracy, I’ve also got a second novel basically finished. It’s a thriller, with a different cast of characters, but centered on very contemporary conflicts in America about liberty and security. I expect the plot to be somewhat controversial. Savas and the FBI team at Intel 1 make a cameo, and set the stage for a duo of novels I’m planning to begin writing very soon. These will also be very timely and controversial! My ideas come from the intersection point of current conflicts, and spring from often extreme but plausible results of culture and national policies. But, they aren’t always comfortable, and that to me is part of the attraction in writing such novels.
Keep up with Erec: Website | Twitter | Facebook
Purchase The Ragnarök Conspiracy: Amazon | B&N | Indiebound

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