Today’s interview is with Dave Meek, author of Stalker Squadron a modern or slightly future techno thriller. He is a member of the Genre Underground, and he has some great real world experience to bring to his exciting novels!
MD: There was a lot of precise military details, from tech to chain of command in this book. What is your military background?
Dave: I spent eight years as a naval flight officer. I was a flight navigator and an airborne communications officer with over 2,000 flight hours. That’s a lot for one tour with a squadron, but that was the nature of the work. My first assignment was a unique squadron that flies highly classified missions. Most of what we did was strategically, rather than tactically, oriented. After that assignment, I rotated to an anti-submarine warfare training center, which was very different from my squadron. It was there that I worked with ex-military contractors. In short, I pretty much lived the foundation of what I used for the military material in the book.
MD: How much of the details in this book were from personal experience, how much was researched, and how much was fabricated?
Dave: What I find most interesting about the story’s technology is that it holds up so well. I originally wrote the story in 1998, back when drones were basically remote-controlled post-war aircraft used for target practice for fighter pilot training and weapons testing. At that time, people were just starting to suggest using drones for spying or carrying weapons.
In 1998, I had just finished a contract as technical writer for Intel Corporation, so I had a good understanding of leading-edge computer technology, the direction of development, and the future potential. I also did considerable research into military aviation technology in addition to my own military experience. Combined, what I learned was that by the time we see the “leading edge” technology, it’s actually old tech and nearly obsolete. The pipeline that we don’t see is already full. What we consider “leading edge” is often 5-10 years old.
So what I did with the story was to ask not, “What’s next?” but, “What’s after that?” Basically, I assumed “what’s next” had happened and used that vantage point to better see what was after that. I tried to imagine what was actually just entering the pipeline. Based on what we’re seeing now, I think I hit the mark.
The downside was that when I finally got an agent in 2000 and shopped the story around, no one would pick it up. We got several responses that the story was “science fiction” rather than techno-thriller or action-adventure. My agent asked if we should rebrand it as science fiction, but I know science fiction well enough to know this story isn’t true science fiction, nor could I make it so. Now, if one keeps up with this sort of thing, you’ll see that we are preparing to deploy drones that are almost at the level of the Stalkers in my story.
As for the people and places, I researched just about everything, and used my research as a foundation for fabrication. So the technology was 90 percent research and 10 percent fabricated, which consisted mostly of how I combined separate technologies into a new whole. As for the rest, it’s roughly 40 percent research and 60 percent fabrication. Most of the fabrication comes from assembling something new from a variety of separate parts.
MD: Kate is a very original protagonist for a techno thriller, and very three dimensional. What where you influences for her as a character (literary, real life, anything else)?
Dave: First of all, thanks for the compliment! As a writer, it’s always a joy to hear that a reader has enjoyed a story and its characters.
Now, to answer your question, Kate’s character was influenced by everything you mentioned and more. Frankly, I find a lot of “strong” women characters to be guys in drag. But a woman doesn’t need to act like a guy to be strong. In fact, the strong women I’ve known have all been strong in a very female sort of way. I’m talking about women who have raised four or five kids on their own after being widowed. I grew up near quite a few families like that during the time of the Vietnam War. I also read stories written by women. There’s even a little Sigourney Weaver thrown into Kate.
MD: All of the characters in this book have their own goals and drives, and most can even clash with their allies and friends. As a reader, I loved this and it drove the plot in interesting directions. Was it a conscious decision to do this, and as a writer did you let the plot change based on the individual drives? Or where these goals each people had created when you made the characters for the specific point of reaching certain places in your plot?
Dave: I’ve been on a lot of teams and projects in the military, the private sector, and the public sector. The reality is that people have shared goals and their own goals, and sometimes those different goals clash. I wanted that sort of realism in my story.
I was very careful to ensure that each side, the good guys and the bad guys, had their own goals and drives that often clashed. At the same time, the good guys’ differences were all focused in the same direction, and the bad guys’ differences were all focused on separate directions.
MD: For a very Political based book (as anything dealing with the White House and interactions with other countries is) you definitely stayed away from having the characters be from specific parties or even overall espousing specific political views. Was this done intentionally to make the book itself be non-political? Was it so that politics would not get in the way of the story or other reasons?
Dave: Politics is a very hot topic, especially these days, and emotions often run high. As a writer, I want my books to have as wide an appeal as possible. On the other hand, Stalker Squadron deals with a conspiracy against the president of the United States, and things don’t get much more political than that. I felt I owed my readers a story that people from all parts of the political spectrum could enjoy. So I tried to distill the common elements at both ends of the political extremes, which is basically, “grab power, push it to the max, and don’t compromise.” That’s an oversimplification, of course, but the idea was to present things in a way that everyone relates to without being offensive to anyone. It’s a tightrope walk.
MD: Your Chapters contained multiple character, time, and location viewpoints (separated by when and where each scene took place). Taking this into account, what did you use to define when you wanted a new chapter to start?
Dave: I treated each chapter as a separate, small story within the larger story. I felt that, within reason, each chapter had to be somewhat self-contained. It wasn’t always easy to define the limits, and of course each chapter needed linkage to the rest of the story. But this approach helped the story build step-by-step. I also took advantage of chapter breaks to control the pace and build suspense.
MD: What is you writing experience/background? Have you written anything before?
Dave: My interest in writing started when I was 14. I enjoyed reading stories and watching stories told in movies and TV shows. At some point, I realized someone had to tell those stories, and I was awed by the idea that a person could take the vaporous images in his mind, put them on paper, and have the same images appear in another person’s mind. At that time, I tried writing short stories simply by writing the events as I imagined them.
In college, I took a class in which the entire semester was spent reading and analyzing Homer’s Odyssey. It was then that I was introduced to the structure of story telling and the power of symbolism. Good storytelling is more than stitching together a bunch of events.
Since leaving the Navy, I worked for 11 years as a technical writer, mostly in the computer industry for companies such as Intel and Hewlett-Packard, as well as with state government entities. On the side, I’ve written a bunch of short stories, some of which I consider to be fairly good. I’ve also written two novel-length stories, one of which was a 900-page monster. Neither of those is worthy of publishing, but they honed my ability to write structured, consistent stories that hold a reader’s attention. Stalker Squadron was the first story in which I did those things while simultaneously my writing began to come fluidly, without being forced. (Well, mostly.)
MD: Are there plans to do more books with any of these characters? Or do you prefer to write self-contained books? Either way, why?
Dave: I always start by envisioning a self-contained book. I find this approach helps me focus on the story at hand; otherwise, I’d get distracted too easily. Also, although the idea of a series or spin-off always hovers around in the background, I figure that if the original story succeeds, those considerations will take care of themselves. If the story doesn’t succeed, a series or spin-off probably won’t succeed either, so there’s little point in my thinking about it too soon.
Now that Stalker Squadron is done, I have plans for a spin-off with Major Eckland and his team facing off against terrorists. I find the storyline very timely and intriguing, and I’ve made extensive notes. However, I’m currently working on another story that suddenly grabbed my imagination and won’t let go. But Eckland’s time in the limelight will come next.
MD: What writers or other media have influenced your writing?
Dave: Number one is Homer’s Odyssey, which is perhaps the greatest story every told. It spans the entirety of human experience and psychology. Our technology and mores have changed since Homer’s day, but basic human qualities have not. The next greatest influence is Joseph Heller’s Catch 22. It’s nearly a handbook on human psychology and behavior, although it’s definitely skewed toward the darker side of the human psyche. After that, there are a number of influences, but none that particularly strong, except perhaps an ever-present but somewhat mild Hemingway influence.
MD: What is your next book and how far through into it are you?
Dave: I just started chapter 7 of my next book, and it’s a complete departure from Stalker Squadron. It’s a fantasy about a secret society living within our society. It’s a worldwide yet extraordinarily small society. They have special powers, of course, but they aren’t strong enough to survive discovery by society at large. An internal power struggle threatens this secret society and the outcome of that struggle will have consequences for them and the rest of us.
For a variety of reasons, I’m very excited about this next book. First, M. Todd Gallowglas is helping me with it, and he’s an amazingly talented and creative writer. I have some characters, and he has others that conflict with them. It all makes for some very challenging but exciting writing. Also, every story contains a “special world” in which the characters operate, and every special world has its own rules.
For example, the special world of Stalker Squadron was that of military pilots, computer experts, high technology, and politics. The characters had to behave and react according to the inherent rules of that world. It was a fun story to write. But it was somewhat limiting too. They couldn’t violate the rules of physics and aviation, the limitations of technology, and the realities of politics.
With this new story, we have created an entirely new society with its own rules of behavior. Their powers have special rules as well. It’s challenging but fun to see how we can manipulate these rules to achieve interesting effects. And for me, the most fun is seeing how I can push the rules to the limit, to reach logical results that surprise the reader and yet are entirely consistent with the special world. And I’m finding the story telling is so fluid that it’s completely unforced. I can’t wait to see what readers think of it.