Todd Moss on Ethan Jones Blog
1. Mr. Moss, thank you for this opportunity to be interviewed for my blog. Your new spy thriller, MINUTE ZERO, came out on September 15. Please tell us a bit more about this book.
I was working in the State Department when the country of Zimbabwe almost had a revolution. In 2008, President Robert Mugabe lost re-election, but rather than concede, he blocked release of the results and sent out the army to beat up his opponents and their supporters. Mugabe then “won” 85% in a new vote. My State colleagues and I watched in horror as an historic moment for democracy was crushed. I still wonder today what else the US government might have done to sway events. MINUTE ZERO is one answer to what could have been. Judd Ryker, a State Department crisis manager, is sent to Zimbabwe during an election. He has to overcome plotters, greedy war criminals, and Washington DC indifference to try to save the day.
2. Who is Judd Ryker, and how did you come up with his character?
Judd Ryker is not your typical gun-wielding action hero. He’s a data geek who finds himself running a special Crisis Reaction Unit inside the State Department. His character is based in a small part on my own experience as an outside researcher who accidentally wound up as a diplomat. Ryker’s unit (known in government-speak as S/CRU), is loosely based on a real office called S/CRS that Secretary Condoleezza Rice set up to coordinate civilian post-conflict reconstruction.
3. How much is real and how much is fiction about what you cover in MINUTE ZERO?
The plot of MINUTE ZERO is inspired by real events in 2008, but the characters and what happens are purely my imagination. In some ways, it’s what I wish had happened.
4. How is this novel different from other thrillers in this genre?
We are only seeing a few thrillers set in Africa, so that’s unique. I wanted to share my love of Zimbabwe, a country I first visited 25 years ago as a college student, and also how the US government can quickly get embroiled in hotspots around the world. The US military, the CIA, and American diplomats are increasingly active in the far corners of Africa, so it seems fitting to have thrillers set there too.
5. What is in reality the life of a top American diplomat in West Africa?
Mostly, lots of meetings! In my first book THE GOLDEN HOUR, Judd Ryker spends much of his time fighting with other parts of our own government. That scheming and frustration is certainly the day-to-day truth for many top government officials. But diplomacy can also be exciting, especially during times of crisis, when events move fast and lives are at stake. That’s when people’s true colors, their patriotism and their hard work, usually shows.
6. What’s the biggest advantage of diplomacy? Biggest disadvantage?
Diplomacy is supposed to prevent violence and destruction. That should always be our first choice. But diplomacy’s usually a fairly weak tool, unless it’s deployed alongside big money and a big stick. Dictators know when a threat isn’t credible.
7. How do you find the balance between your academic life and your writing schedule?
I get this question a lot! I segment my days with a strict schedule. I get up early to write three mornings a week, and don’t allow other work r meetings to encroach on my writing time. I also don’t try to write during other parts of the day. That way I know I have set aside clear times for my fiction and for my day job at the Center for Global Development.
8. What are your favorite pastimes?
I travel a lot, although it’s not usually for fun. On weekends, I mostly love to barbeque, hang out with my wife and kids, and watch baseball.
9. What is your greatest satisfaction as a writer? Greatest disappointment?
I love sitting and writing, lost in my own imagination. For some reason, I can easily block out noises, so I can write in the middle of our kitchen oblivious to the chaos going on around me. It drives my family crazy.
No great disappointments, but I do find finishing a book a bit of an anti-climax. Usually by the time I’m done with one book, I’m already mostly thinking about the next.
10. What is your next book going to be about?
I’ve just finalized GHOSTS OF HAVANA, which will be out in the fall of 2016. Four middle aged suburban soccer dads are fishing off the coast of Florida when they are captured by the Cuban navy. Judd Ryker is sent on a secret diplomatic mission to get them free. But first he has to figure out: What they were really up to?