Today, Behind the Words, welcomes author James R. Hannibal — shh, an author with a spy background……
Let’s start by telling our readers a bit about yourself—where you’re from, where you live? Is writing your full-time job?
Currently, I live in Houston, and I don’t write full time, but it feels like it. I write spy thrillers, mysteries, and fantasy for adults and young adults. My spy fiction comes from a legitimate background in a top-secret world. After growing up all over the US as a chaplain’s kid, I studied the Middle East and counterterrorism at the US Air Force Academy. I went on to fly a fighter aircraft that had me doing occasional groundwork with international special forces groups. After that, I flew the Stealth Bomber, which also included all sorts of fun extracurricular activities. I’ve worked undercover, and I’ve hunted (and found) snipers in a combat zone. All that experience in tactical and secret worlds gets poured into my novels—enough that the first three had to be reviewed by security committees before publication.
How long have you been writing?
I always wanted to write. As a kid, I checked a seek and find book out of the library. On the center spread, the artist had drawn a fair in a grassy vale with tents, colorful guests, and a juggling jester. But my eye went straight to a little boy, peeking out from the edge of the forest, watching it all. I felt the boy wanting to know the stories of all those people at the fair, especially the jester. I wanted to know their stories too. And I knew, even then, if I wanted to know their stories, I’d have to write them myself. I’ve been working at it ever since.
Tell us about your latest release.
The Paris Betrayal is a “spy left out in the cold” story. To restore his name and stop a devastating attack, Ben Calix must find the sniper who tried to assassinate him, the doctor who saved him, the spymaster who trained him, and the man who killed the woman he loved.
Tell us about your writing day.
Until recently, each writing day felt like pure panic.
I hold down a day job as an on-call pilot for a major airline, and recently I took over a story-game company with an entire fantasy world, a job that includes 3D design and printing. There’s always something to take me away from writing—a flight, a mission, artwork, a broken machine, or some new software I need to learn. Sitting down at the computer to write takes a daily commitment to fight the distractions. And to keep that commitment, I had to give complete control over my schedule to my wife. She’s now the boss. Without placing trust in her, I’d be sunk.
What inspired this book?
One day, in Sunday School, my mind drifted. I know. I should have been listening. But we were deep in the book of Job, and it suddenly occurred to me that this was a “spy left out in the cold” story. Job feels betrayed. He’s been turned out of God’s grace, so he thinks, and he doesn’t understand why. The friends he seeks for help don’t have an understanding of the Creator’s ways. None of us do. And they give him poor answers. The Paris Betrayal is not strictly allegorical, but that story of a man coming to grips with his own place in the world and the sovereignty of his “creator” is what I tried to capture. I also had fun recreating Job’s friends as members of Ben’s elite spy world.
Could you share one detail from your current release with readers that they might not find in the book? Perhaps a juicy bit of back-story, or something only you know about a character?
Colonel Hale is a combination of two of my early mentors. In my original draft, I killed him. I’m not sure what that says about my relationship with former bosses/teachers. However, in a reversal of that psychology, I couldn’t bear to lose him (or them), and so I kept him for future books. Something else that never made it into the final draft is the fact that Hale has bad teeth. This part of him is inspired by one of the men he is patterned after. Hale cares so much about the men and women he recruits and trains that a subconscious worry over the dangers they face causes him to grind his teeth at night.
What has been your hardest scene to write? Any of your books
Ben’s frozen lake scene was the hardest for me. I had to get the details right for surviving a fall through the ice when there’s no help, no paramedics you can call once you’re out. But I also had to capture the agony and delirium that accompanies frostbite and hypothermia. Having experienced some of that on a small scale in the past, it was painful to relive and to put my beloved character through.
If you could be one of your characters for a day which character would it be? Why?
Not to jump away from The Paris Betrayal again, but if I could choose any of my characters, I’d choose Connor from Wolf Soldier. To be a knight of the Lightraider Order, carrying a sword and battling dragons, would be the ultimate dream.
All writers are readers. Are there any particular authors that have influenced how you write and, if so, how have they influenced you?
I grew up with an eclectic mix of Tom Clancy, C.S. Lewis, Calvin Miller, Mark Twain, J.R.R. Tolkien, and others. Those names are my biggest literary influences. However, Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, Bryan Duncan, Harry Chapin, and Sting all managed to spin story into song, and I think that is where my love of symmetry and lyrical style comes from.
What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?
The High House by James Stoddard. It is a masterwork of speculative fiction with a house full of portals to other worlds and a dragon in the attic. What more could you want?
Do you have a secret talent readers would be surprised by?
I juggle—balls, rings, pins, torches, whatever. My wife hates it when I juggle the eggs while she’s baking. I can also balance most of these things on just about any part of my body, except for the eggs. Experience has shown eggs don’t work well for that purpose.
Your favorite go to drink or food when the world goes crazy!
Coffee. Sugary, creamy coffee.
Please share something amazing that happened during the creation of this story?
When COVID-19 struck, Cindy and I had just started a new business creating games and stories for use in discipling Christians. We experienced a loss of income in one of my jobs, income which was supporting the new business. We cried out to God, “Why would you do this?” But I was working on The Paris Betrayal at the time, studying the book of Job. We realized our error in accusing God of misconduct and repented. Within hours, orders for one of our games started pouring in. Long story short, God had used a well thought-out review by an atheist in the game community to generate enough sales of our Christian game to keep us going for a year. He is so good. Why do we ever doubt His ways?
Thank you so much for joining us today!!!
Here’s a quick look at James’ latest release: The Paris Betrayal
After a rough mission in Rome involving the discovery of a devastating bioweapon, Company spy Ben Calix returns to Paris to find his perfectly ordered world has collapsed. A sniper attack. An ambush. A call for help that brings French SWAT forces down on his head. Ben is out. This is a severance–reserved for incompetents and traitors.
Searching for answers and anticipating a coming attack, Ben and a woman swept up in his misfortunes must travel across Europe to find the sniper who tried to kill him, the medic who saved his life, the schoolmaster who trained him, and an upstart hacker from his former team. More than that, Ben must come to grips with his own insignificance as the Company’s plan to stop Leviathan from unleashing the bioweapon at any cost moves forward without him–and he struggles against the infection that is swiftly claiming territory within his own body.
Award-winning author James R. Hannibal rachets up the tension on every page of this suspenseful new thriller.