Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Spy’ Category

gabriel_valjan_wintergoose-199x300Gabriel’s short stories and some of his poetry continue to appear in literary journals and online magazines. Ronan Bennett short-listed Gabriel for the 2010 Fish Prize. Gabriel won first prize in ZOUCH Magazine’s inaugural Lit Bits Contest. Winter Goose Publishing publishes his Roma Series: Roma, Underground(February 2012), Wasp’s Nest (November 2012) and Threading the Needle(October 2013). Gabriel lives in New England. 

Twitter: GValjan
Purchase THREADING THE NEEDLE on Amazon / B&N

Q: Congratulations on the release of your latest book, Threading the Needle. What was your inspiration for it?

A: In July, 1992, when I was in Milan, I saw a poster of two men in friendly consultation. The slogan beneath the portrait said: “Non li avete uccisi, le loro idee camminano sulle nostre gambe!” “You did not kill them: their ideas walk on our legs.” Those two men were Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, who had been assassinated months apart for their work against organized crime. These two men were iconic figures in Italy for their creative legislation and clever prosecutorial strategies. At the time of their assassinations the magistrates were investigating connections between organized crime and government officials. The more I read the more I learned about the ‘strategy of tension’ and the ‘Years of Lead.’ I knew that I wanted to explore these two events of Italian history. Threading the Needle is the result.

Q: Tell us something interesting about your protagonist.

A: Bianca Nerini is an extremely intelligent woman, a forensic accountant on the run from a covert U.S. government agency called Rendition. She used to investigate white-collar crime. In Italy she finds that Rendition is feeding her assignments through a mysterious handler she calls Loki. While living under an alias, she becomes romantically involved with Dante, a forensic accountant, and develops a circle of friends through him. Bianca is a guarded, closed-off individual. She has ‘issues.’ The ambiguity of Rendition and the demands of her relationships bring out the best and worst of her. Bianca is unpleasant at times, but she knows it and she knows why she is difficult and she is determined to fix it. Each mystery and each journey with her friends brings her closer to opening up, becoming a better person.

Q: How was your creative process like during the writing of this book and how long did it take you to complete it? Did you face any bumps along the way?

A: I consulted my notes. I began Threading on January 20, 2012 and completed it February 13, 2012. The novel is shy of 90,000 words. The math works out to 25 day of writing, at 3,600 words per day and, with standard formatting of one-inch margins all around, double-spaced with Times New Roman 12-point font, approximately 250 words per page, about 14 pages a day. While this is all matter-of-fact computation, the reality is that some days I wrote more and other days, less. The point is I sat down every day and I wrote, committed to the story inside my head. Pure persistence. The hard work of editing and revisions came later.

Q: How do you keep your narrative exciting throughout the creation of a novel?

A: I vary the rhythm. If, for instance, I just had a section in which a lot of information was conveyed I try to introduce levity or color, which could be a description of a part of the city or some quirky aspect of Italian culture, or the latest blunder of one of my characters. Alessandro and Silvio are two ThreadingtheNeedle_3D-523x600characters who create glorious disasters. I try to write intelligent characters but I also try to make it realistic in that a character might be on the right path but arrives at the wrong conclusion because he or she left out a vital piece of information, which another character did not miss. Misdirection. It is important to involve the reader in working with the same clues. Narrative moves and breathes when the writer weaves in subplots. A recurring them in the Roma Series is Gennaro’s battles with Italian bureaucracy or navigating office politics. In Threading the Needle, readers will join Farrugia as he fights Internal Affairs and discovers the benefits of yoga.

Q: Do you experience anxiety before sitting down to write? If yes, how do you handle it?

A: I don’t experience anxiety before I write. I’m often excited and eager to attack the keyboard. I may experience frustration because the wording doesn’t come out of my fingertips just right. I’ll wrestle with it a few times, slap something down and put an asterisk next to it and move on. If the frustration is with dialog, I’ll read it out loud for authenticity to that character’s personality and for flow. I read once that Flaubert would go outside and yell out his day’s writing to the orange trees. The important thing is not to get snarled up in perfectionism. Keep writing. Keep moving.

Q: What is your writing schedule like and how do you balance it with your other work and family time?

A: I am a morning writer. I find that writing first thing in the morning when the mind is receptive is best for me. On a great morning, I’ll write twenty pages, but I average eight to ten pages. In terms of word count, accounting for standard formatting, I’d say that is 2,500 to 5,000 words a day. I’ll get up very early and have a fair amount of work done in a few hours. Like exercise, I know that I’ve done something for myself before I meet the demands of the day.

Q: How do you define success?

A: I know my faults better than anyone else. Success for me is about becoming a better person, leaving behind more than I took and hoping that a few good words are said in my absence.

Q: What advice would you give to aspiring writers whose spouses or partners don’t support their dreams of becoming an author?

A: This is a tough question. If writing is a passion, a sincere aspect of who you are as a person, and another person is hostile to it, then I am inclined to say that the relationship isn’t going to work out. At best, I’d like to think that there is room for negotiation for a set time and space for writing out respect for what is important to the person. It must be an awful predicament to realize that the person you love and share your life with does not want you to be happy and successful.

Q: George Orwell once wrote: “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.” Do you agree?

A: I don’t. I can understand why he said it: the man had TB, so writing was painful and a struggle for him. He wrote under the shadow of the clock. I disagree with the romantic statement because the implication is that writing is some form of masochism. Writing to experience pain does not pass the test of common sense. Orwell was too clever a writer not to know the allusion to the daimon, that supernatural force of destructive inspiration. Writers can surprise themselves with turns of phrases, unexpected scenes, but writing is the most controlled form of artistic expression. The medium is language and the writer chooses every single word, devises every scene and calibrates the effect. In this sense, the author can be said to be the god of his creation, but one false move, one inauthentic note and the reader will end the misery and close the book. Writing is about your response to language and literature, using both in your inimitable way, and entertaining others. The intimacy is cultural and personal. Another human being chooses to spend time with your words, walk through the world that you created.

Q: Anything else you’d like to tell my readers?

A: Respect your readers. They are spending their money to buy your book. Money can be replaced. The time they spend with you cannot. There are so many books and so little time and the sand in the hourglass is always moving. Respect your readers’ intelligence and write to tell a good story. Don’t write to be clever or write in the latest genre because you are out to make money. Write the story that you have in you. You can’t please everyone, but the greatest compliment after “I cared for and loved your character” is that someone has spent precious time with you.

Read Full Post »

ThreadingtheNeedle_FlatAn action packed political thriller.

Isidore Farrugia is a cop, brought up during the Years of Lead, a horrific period in Italian history, a time of terror and killing, his childhood memories, scarred forever by the brutal death of his mother. Nevertheless, he is a good man, loyal and protective of his friends and colleagues.

This is why although off duty and out of jurisdiction, when his friend Bianca arranges a meeting with her informant, Charles Brooks, he insists on coming too. However, soon his onlooker role changes, when the young 23-year-old American, Bianca came to meet is killed, and so are his assassins.
Then another murder takes place, and the Italian police investigators find themselves unearthing a web of political intrigue.
Bianca has a secret though, she knows, she must uncover the truth behind the information she has been entrusted with, despite warnings from her mysterious online contact Loki, to stay away. Adastra, a weapons manufacturer is hiding something… But what?
I found myself hooked, right from the start of this brilliant, action packed, political crime thriller, which is set in Milan.
For those, like myself, who are interested in history, the Afterword about the Years of Lead by Claudio Ferrara was very interesting.
This is actually the third book in the ‘Roma’ series, by this talented author, and there is a tantalising glimpse at the end into his fourth book, ’Turning to Stone.’

Threading the Needle is available in Paperback from Amazon.

Review by Susan Keefe

Read Full Post »

Crypto_smDr. James Stone has a Ph.D. degree in electrical engineering, and numerous international certifications in computer security. He has worked at NSA, NASA, and the Department of Defense in various capacities, as well as having been a professor of engineering at a major university. He recently retired from engineering and plans to devote himself to writing.

Q: Congratulations on the release of your latest book, Crypto. What was your inspiration for it?

A: Decades working in the intelligence community. I just didn’t see books that portray life as I had experienced it.

Q: Tell us something interesting about your protagonist.

A: My protagonist is a late-20s female LAPD Homicide Detective. She decides to make a move to the National Security Agency and takes a job as a Special Agent. She goes through all the wickets of background checks, polygraph test, and indoctrination and reports to her new office. Within an hour, she’s given her first assignment to investigate why NSA controlled cryptographic chips are showing up in boxes hanging on the backs of highway signs. She knows literally nothing about cryptographics and is tossed into the deep end with essentially nothing more than a few ‘good lucks.’ To make it worse, there’s already a multi-agency task force headed by the FBI that wants to crawl all through NSA, even though the law prohibits it. How she copes makes up maybe the first third of the book.

Q: How was your creative process like during the writing of this book and how long did it take you to complete it? Did you face any bumps along the way?

A: I thought about this book for several decades, but didn’t want to write it until I retired from active participation in the security business. By the time I was ready to write, the book was full grown in my mind and just needed to be keyboarded.

Q: How do you keep your narrative exciting throughout the creation of a novel?

A: I see the story as a full-(extra?) length movie, scene after scene. If the scenes still excite me after all this time, then I figure it will others. Only the readers will be able to determine how well I’ve done.

Q: Do you experience anxiety before sitting down to write? If yes, how do you handle it?

A: No. The keyboard excites me. I approach it with anticipation.

Q: What is your writing schedule like and how do you balance it with your other work and family time?

A: It’s just my wife and me, she is very supportive, and I am otherwise retired. I write when I want, sometimes most of a day, unless something like doing taxes interrupts.

Q: How do you define success?

A: I’m already a success! My first book has been published, and the second (a SCI-Fi this time) is half written and moving along smoothly.

Q: What advice would you give to aspiring writers whose spouses or partners don’t support their dreams of becoming an author?

A: I think my situation and life-experience is so different from most, my advice would not fit others.

Q: George Orwell once wrote: “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.” Do you agree?

A: No – emphatically.

CRYPTO is available on AMAZON and from Twilight Times Books

Read Full Post »

Crypto_sm

Title: Crypto

Genre: Mystery/Adventure

Author: James Stone

Website: None

Publisher: Twilight Times Books

Purchase on Amazon

——————————————————

 

Prologue

 

Moscow pedestrians forced to walk past Number 2 Lubyanka Square generally do so on the other side of the street. It is not that the walkways are better on that side. It is not that the view is better. It is simply that citizens of Russia understand from the depths of their souls that the Russian Secret Police are hazardous to their health. Home to the Russian Secret Police for almost 100 years, the Lubyanka is the seat of contagion, a place to be avoided at all times and under all circumstances. Its current incarnation, the Federal Security Service, FSB, wasn’t believed to be any different from its predecessors.

The normally minimal traffic had been further reduced to the vanishing point by darkness and a snow storm. This was even more so on the small street that ran behind the Lubyanka. No one witnessed a black ZIL limousine turn in at a narrow portal, curtains drawn for privacy. And another. And another.

The parade of quiet limousines disgorged, one after the other, a flow of equally quiet men who slipped into a doorway manned by guards who needed to see no identification. The quiet men made their ways to a top floor cloak room where they divested themselves of their overcoats. An astonishing array of braid and brass emerged. Generals abounded. There were some bear hugs of greeting, and some good humored banter, but they were mostly subdued, out of character for these normally demonstrative men. They waited, grouped together along lines of affiliation, and talked quietly. The director had not yet arrived.

An aide appeared and beckoned them into the adjoining conference room. He indicated that the director had entered the building and was on his way up. The men looked around and counted noses. They could be sure that those already present constituted the totality of the gathering. The director would not have arrived otherwise.

The conference table was in the shape of a long U. Cards were in place for each person. The director’s seat was at the head. The choicest seats were along the outside, at the extremities. The worst seats were on the inside. Those unfortunate to occupy the inside seats felt that they were in a fish bowl. People overlooked them from every direction. They felt especially vulnerable from the rear.

Each arrival looked with mixed curiosity and apprehension to see where he was placed. Some swelled with satisfaction. Others were stabbed with dismay. Those favored naturally felt that their positions had been mandated by the director. The others tried to tell themselves that the director had nothing to do with it, that the cretin who set up the table was at fault. None questioned their positions aloud. They stood at attention behind their appointed chairs.

The director was one of the most powerful men in Russia. As the head of the FSB, he controlled all overseas espionage, including an unknown number of exceptionally trained assassins. He also controlled all domestic intelligence and counter intelligence. Following time honored practice, he had set up a variety of sub-organizations, each with its own head, each intensely jealous of the others. The director balanced each against the other, thus keeping them mostly away from his own throat. Then too, there were always the assassins. Hence, the anxious readings of the entrails of a freshly slain conference table for omens of the future.

The director strode into the room and took his seat without a word. There was a general scraping as the others seated themselves. The director cleared his throat and spoke to no one in particular. “Comrades, the President sends his greetings. He asked me to tell you he appreciates the way in which you are carrying out the business of keeping our homeland safe.”

There were polite smiles and nods. They recognized the opening ploy and flowed with it. The director’s gaze scanned the table and settled on a small, elderly man at the far corner of the table. “Comrade Alyushin, what can you tell us about the American Situation?”

The assembled group looked at Alyushin, the Director of Planning and Analysis, with wooden expressions. They tended to treat him and his staff with contempt. His group was widely viewed as a pasture for those who didn’t have the good sense to retire when they should. However, he and the director were old compatriots, so they would give him a polite hearing. Alyushin removed a pipe from his mouth and spoke quietly to the director as though they were the only two in the room.

“The Americans have severe internal political and economic problems. Their lawmaking bodies keep switching parties, and their current president is widely viewed as having little international affairs sense or strength. Their economy is in shambles, only slightly better than the Europeans. Their obsession with global warming, and other things they call ‘political correctness,’ has made them vulnerable to terrorism and increasing dependence on foreign energy and other natural resources.

The group as a whole seemed to become more alert and more focused on Alyushin. A thinking man might not know where this was leading, but would be sure the director was responsible for the direction. A prudent man would watch and listen carefully.

Alyushin continued, “In short, it appears the Americans are in the worst shape since just before the ‘Great War’ and are basically paralyzed internationally.”

The director looked around the room. “If I have understood this presentation correctly, we have to contend with a country that is seriously weakened, and a president who is not in a position to respond internationally. Does that conform to your understanding?”

There were general nods around the table. No one was willing to disagree until he knew the name of the game.

The director turned to a General of the Army. “Please report on the combat readiness of the Army.”

“Highly satisfactory, Comrade Director. Regular combat divisions are at full strength. All are equipped with the latest combat weapons. Morale is high, especially in the division that recently completed an exercise.”

“Did you use the new cryptographic equipment?”

“We did indeed. It performed flawlessly.”

The director nodded his satisfaction. “You might explain this new system to the rest of the group.”

“Yes, comrade.” The general appeared to gather his thoughts. He began quietly. “What you are about to hear has been one of the most closely guarded secrets of Russia. Until the recent maneuvers, less than a hundred people knew even of the existence of the system. It went by the code name ‘Solid Ice.’ Its concept is no less grandiose than the total security of all Russian communications, from those supporting our diplomatic missions down to the lowest radioman in a rifle squad.”

Murmurs rolled around the room. The general continued, becoming more animated. “I can see that the significance of this breakthrough captures your imagination. With total communications security, we will be able to conduct the most sensitive diplomatic activities without fear of exposure. We will be able to exclude all outside intrusion into our affairs. And, best of all, we will be able to prepare for any military action without revealing the associated troop and logistics movements. I foresee the day, not long distant, when the despised U.S. National Security Agency will be put completely out of business.” The general basked in a round of general applause.

A man in civilian clothes, whose applause had been more polite than enthusiastic, leaned forward and cleared his throat. “How long distant, Comrade? What is the nature of this new miracle, and how fast can it be fielded?”

The general looked modest. “Not really a miracle,” he responded, “just the genius of our mathematicians and physicists. You see, since before the Great War, encryption has been based on the fact that any communication can be represented by a sequence of numbers. Further, the number set can be limited to ones and zeros. Scramble the numbers according to an algorithm known only by the sender and receiver, and the result is difficult to read. Not impossible, until a recent advance by our mathematicians. Our encryption is now unreadable by any practical method, even with the most advanced computers expected to be available in the next decade.”

The man in civilian clothes spoke again. “Assuming I accept that the messages are unbreakable, what prevents someone from watching radio traffic between units and inferring what is happening?”

“Another of our advances. Our new radios hop frequencies at very high rates, so they don’t stay on one frequency long enough to be detected. The same algorithms used to encrypt the core message are used to control the frequency hopping, so it’s doubly impossible to see who is doing what and where, or even that anyone is doing anything.”

“Next,” said the civilian, “how do the systems ensure command and control from the top to the bottom?”

“There, we’ve copied the American concept of combat net radio. Each unit, at whatever level, has its own network. The commander at that level is in his network and also in the network of the next level up. And so on, to the level of the prime minister. Also, we’ve put in a twist that allows higher levels to override all lower levels and take direct control.”

“Next,” said the civilian, “when will the new system be completely fielded?”

“Twelve months. That includes not only the new combat radio, but also all communications by any element of the Russian government. All will use the new master encryption system.”

“Impressive,” said the civilian. “Two final questions. You mentioned ‘practical methods.’ What about impractical methods? And how did the funding for such a program sneak through?”

The general flushed slightly. “It is theoretically possible, given enough computing power, to break any encryption. However, the computing power to attack our new encryption is decades away.”

The civilian stared at the general for a long time. The silence lengthened painfully. At last the civilian murmured, “You are certain? Absolutely certain?”

The director chose to step in at this point. The lack of love between the civilian and the general was well known. “As certain as anything in an uncertain world,” he said briskly, looking around the room. “To answer your other question, no one in this room except me knows how the funding was ‘sneaked’ through.” He turned to the general, eyes cold. “Have the new system fielded within the year. Fully.”

As if on cue, the door behind the director opened, and his aide entered with an arm load of folders. He began distributing them. They were dun-colored and marked “MOST SECRET.” Each folder had the name of a department, or organization, inscribed in the corner.

After the aide had left, the director looked around the room again. No one had opened his folder. “These folders describe projects each of you is to set in motion. Each of you is to return to his organization and began work immediately. Completion is to be one year from now. If you have problems, surface them immediately. No excuses will be accepted a year from now.”

The director abruptly stood and left the room. The others sat for a while wondering whether the meeting was over, wondering also what this new project might be. Finally, someone gathered sufficient nerve to leave. The logjam broke, and the parade of ZILs began quietly carrying their anonymous cargoes into the night.

——————————————–

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dr. Stone has a Ph.D. degree in electrical engineering, and numerous international certifications in computer security. He has worked at NSA, NASA, and the Department of Defense in various capacities, as well as having been a professor of engineering at a major university.-He recently retired from engineering and plans to devote himself to writing.

Dr. Stone is originally from Arkansas, discovered his wife while at the University, married her while in college, and has never regretted a moment of their lives together. They currently live in Arizona, have two grown sons (one with a Ph.D. in computer engineering and the other is a clinical psychologist and director of a clinic at a major university medical college). Between the two of them, there are five grandchildren, three of them triplets.

 

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: