Many authors say they get ideas “ripped from the headlines” and then do a “what if” to craft a tale. But what if, instead of following headlines, the author actually predicts them? Have you ever read a novel and later discovered that an event, historical reference, attack — or whatever was portrayed in that story – later came true? I’ve had those experiences, but the novels were ones I had written, and I have to admit, it kind of freaked me out!
My first thriller, Checkmate, was initially published in 2007. While developing the story I did a ton of research as well as interviews about the continuing tension between India and Pakistan since both have nuclear weapons and have fought two wars involving the disputed area of Kashmir. I created a heroine, Dr. Cameron Talbot, who works for a defense contractor and invents a breakthrough technology for a defense against cruise missiles — using a technique whereby she figures out the frequency the bad guys are using to direct a cruise missile toward a target. She’s able to use that same frequency to “invade” the missile’s communication system, take it over, and redirect it back on the heads of the villains. (My husband and I came up with that “crazy” idea over breakfast one day).
I have the heroine who is aided by a staffer at the NSC in The White House, but who should the villains be? After a lot of searching, I discovered an actual group of obscure terrorists operating in Kashmir, Lashkar i Taiba, and used that name. In my story, they try to stage an attack on India and also attempt to steal my heroine’s invention to protect themselves when there is retaliation.
Several years later, some of you might recall that the city of Mumbai, India, was attacked by a terrorist group that killed hundreds of innocent people. The group turned out to be Lashkar i Taiba. My publisher was so astounded, they issued a press release saying I was “prescient.” And some years after that I was talking to a member of our intelligence community and told him the story of using the frequency to redirect a missile. He listened, leaned in and whispered, “We can do that now.” And more recently, I see that we are now able to redirect drones using the same technology. Who knew?
My second novel, Gambit, came out later in 2008 (I was so grateful to our own Gayle Lynds for giving me a blurb for that one). It has our nation in a panic because some of our commercial airliners are being blown out of the sky. Nothing shows up on radar and speculation grows that there is a new type of missile involved. But why would anyone, or any foreign power stage such attacks? I conjured up a “rogue” group of Chinese generals bent on achieving their life-long dream of taking over Taiwan. They know that the US would come to Taiwan’s aid, so they begin the campaign of blowing up the airliners to distract us from acting. Now think about what has occurred since that publication date: the Chinese have tested a new hypersonic missile and they have certainly increased their threats against Taiwan. As for our being “distracted” — just see what’s happening in Ukraine with what looks like China’s acquiescence!
The third novel, Final Finesse, was released in 2009. It’s about the (then) dictator of Venezuela who needs to raise the price of oil and gas to earn more money since, through mismanagement and corruption, his wells are not producing as much energy. He needs to get more for what he does sell. So, he sends secret agents north, who are able to easily slip across our Texas border, to sabotage some of our pipelines. My heroine, a White House staffer, teams up with her boyfriend, who works for an oil and gas company, to try and find the culprits before they carry out an even more deadly scheme. A year after its release, several pipelines were blown up in Saudi Arabia as well as in Mexico; and recently we’ve all seen the headlines about production troubles in Venezuela, the price of energy increasing, and the ease at which aliens slip across our Texas border among other similarities.
Then we come to novel number four, Castle Bravo, published in 2012, which involves the country of Kazakhstan. The villains over there discover the potential of a new weapon — an Electro Magnetic Pulse which occurs when a small nuclear device is detonated some 100 miles up in the atmosphere (Kazakhstan is where many Soviet nukes were stored. In the story, they kept a few). When that explosion goes off, it doesn’t kill people on the ground, but it “fries” all electronics. There would be no electricity, communications, cell phones, computers, transportation, refrigeration, sanitation. As one expert put it, “It would set us back to the year 1910.”
The boyfriend of the same White House Staffer (from Final Finesse) is sent by his energy company over to Kazakhstan to check out some of their investments there (we do have many). While in a remote location, an EMP occurs accidentally. He is stranded with no way out. Meanwhile, the villains decide to use this weapon in an attack on San Francisco. Just a couple of years ago, the dictator of North Korea issued a stark warning that appeared in The Wall Street Journal. It said, “North Korea threatens to shut down US grid using an Electro Magnetic Pulse.” Good grief!
My latest thriller, Trust But Verify, was published in 2018 (along with revised versions of the other four novels with new covers — details are here). In this story a pair of Russian Oligarchs, who have been sanctioned and lost a lot of money need to replenish their coffers. So they plan to put a hit on international financiers gathered in Jackson Hole, WY, for the annual conference hosted by our Federal Reserve Board (Note: This conference has been held there for the past 30 years). The Oligarchs figure that when they stage this attack, the stock market will tank, so they short the exchanges. My same White House heroine, paired with an FBI Special agent, race to uncover and try to stop the deadly plan.
Now, we have sanctioned those kinds of Russian Oligarchs, and the summer after that novel came out, we were in Jackson Hole, and I read in the local paper that the Sheriff had arrested three people for an alleged plot to attack that very conference!
I remember friends asking, “Do you think bad guys are reading your books?”
Hardly. However, I do know that our government pays attention to the ideas of thriller writers. For example, I learned that bestselling author Brad Meltzer, who has written many thrillers involving numerous threats to our country, was once invited to The White House to consult with our national security specialists on “Red Team/Blue Team” exercises whereby various threats are outlined by one side, including Brad, and the other side tries to put together options to stop them.
Finally, I just finished reading a novel by Susan Wiggs, The Apple Orchard. There are historical scenes describing the brutal occupation of Finland by Soviet troops back in WWII and how resentful the Fins were at the time, but being a “neutral” country, they could not respond except to stage undercover sabotage operations. It is amazing that the author chose to write about that when you consider that right now with Russia’s brutal attacks on Ukraine and the collective outrage of NATO countries, Finland is now choosing to join NATO to strengthen the alliance. By the way, Susan Wiggs will be one of our special guest authors interviewed on our event, ROGUE READS on July 11. Check this website or our Facebook page closer to that date so you can sign up to “zoom in.”
Now, recall the question I asked at the outset:
Have you read novels with threats or schemes that later came true? Let us know. We would love to hear from you, and thanks for joining us here on Rogue Women Writers.
That must be freaky when that happens! I haven’t managed to predict the future in any of my books, though I have seen an increase in observations similar to a few of my novels. For instance in Unpunished, a newspaper reporter bemoans the shift of ‘news’ to a for-profit industry, and in Let Justice Descend I note that the news media and both political parties have no motive to repair the dichotomy that’s befallen this country, since it serves both their separate interests for different reasons. This is spelled out, for example, in today’s “Pearls Before Swine” comic, which made me think “Hah! I said that too. See, I DO have a brain sometimes.”
Wow, Karna, I loved your vivid summaries of your books, and of course I remember GAMBIT clearly. I was honored to give it a blurb, and I still have my copy!
Reading your blog, I was struck again about how political your books have always been, how deeply you draw on history and culture, and how your own tremendous experience plays into your ability to create fresh stories and plots.
I’m a great admirer and fan!
Appreciate your comments, Gayle and Lisa. I’m going to keep a close eye on our other Rogue novels to see what comes true later – I’m sure there will be many examples!!
Seems that your research is so in depth that you are anticipating a “what if” much of the time. You’d be a great advisor to the State Department!!
Thanks, Carol for checking in here to read our blogs. As for the State Dept., they’ve never called – alas! Oh well, I’d rather just create good stories if I can!
YES! It astounds me how my plot seems to manifests events. My 3rd, “Capturing the Queen” was about how ISIS smuggles ancient artifacts into the US to pay for recruitting and weapons. While I was editing, Hobby Lobby was fined for buying the crime. 4th novel, “A Savage Trick” was about a mosque being attacked. While editing a New Zealand shooter targeted 2 mosques in their worst massacre. 5th book, “Incendiary Attraction” I thought, “well, the whole white supremacy horror from Charlottesville in 2017 has died down, what if I write about an FBI agent infiltrating a Chicago cell.” While editing- “Proud Boys Stand By” exploded the topic nationwide again.
My next novel will be about world peace!
Oh, Sarah….those “predictions” are amazing indeed!!! The next novel about “World Peace?” Hey – go for it! Can’t wait to read that one.
I have to say, may of my books also seemed to predict the future, especially RED SKY, which kicked off in Ukraine. I used the downing of the plane and put together a plot that featured Russia’s invasion (at the time it was just Crimea) and China’s interests, and tied it all up with Putin’s desire to recreate the USSR with an Eastern European Alliance. It must have to do with the research and then the imagination. Thriller writes have a way of thinking.
Great write up, and your books jump off from places that you know well from your own experiences. They feel very, very real–which makes them frightening!
You’re so right about your terrific thriller, RED SKY – loved that one, Chris!