|The Malacca Conspiracy|
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American president Mack Williams has an international crisis on his hands. The Malaysian seaport of Malacca is the focus of a deadly terrorist plot to attack civilian oil tankers, assassinate the Indonesian president, and finance a nuclear attack on American cities. Can Navy JAG officers Zack Brewer and Diane Cocernian foil the conspiracy before disaster strikes? 336 pages, softcover from Zondervan.
Don Brown spent five years in the U.S. Navy as an officer in the JAG Corps, where he gained an exceptional vantage point of both the navy and the inner workings of political operations in Washington D.C. He left active duty in 1992 to pursue private practice. He and his family live in North Carolina where Brown operates his own law firm.
Favorite Verse: 2 Timothy 4:7 - "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith."
Visit Don Brown in our Writers' Corner
Our Interview with Don Brown
Please tell us a bit about yourself.
DB: I grew up in a small town in Northeastern North Carolina. I attended the University of North Carolina, went to law school, took a commission in the Navy, and served as a JAG officer. After five years active duty,I settled in the Charlotte area. I’m a single dad with two girls in college, and a 14-year son who lives me.
How did you come up with the concept for Malacca Conspiracy?
DB: One of my goals as a novelist is to write on geo-political issues that are relevant and germane to our world today, and often in areas of the world that could blow up with the snap of a finger, but that Americans are not aware of. That was my goal in Black Sea Affair, which featured a shooting war between Georgia and Russia, and three month’s after the book’s release, in August of 2008, Russia did in fact invade Georgia. In that book, one of the criteria I was searching for was a “Strategic naval chokepoint,” around which I would center my storyline.
A “strategic naval chokepoint” is usually defined by naval thinkers as a relatively narrow transit of waterway, through which major international shipping passes, and the control of which would give the nations controlling it considerable international power and leverage. And so in Black Sea Affair, that chokepoint was the Bosporus, the narrow, twenty-something mile shipping channel that cuts through Istanbul, connecting the traditionally Russian-controlled Black Sea with the Dardanelles and then the Aegean Sea.
This is the same model that I used in conceptualizing Malacca Conspiracy. In Malacca Conspiracy, the “strategic naval chokepoint” around which my story would center was the Malacca Straight, and the Singapore Straight, the two hundred some-odd mile combined bottleneck that connects the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea, and through which, a majority of the worlds oil tankers steam, brining Middle Eastern Crude to the Pacific.
The Malacca Straight is bound by the Indonesian Island of Sumatra on one side, and the Malay Peninsula on the other. And so I start with the question, “what if terrorists engaged in coordinated strikes against oil tankers passing through the Straight, and purchased massive crude oil futures contract in coordination with those strikes?” And that’s how the idea for Malacca Conspiracy was born.
Is any part of Malacca Conspiracy true?
DB: Sure. It’s true that Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim Country. It’s true that most of the world’s oil supply transits these straights via tanker from the Middle East. It’s also true that pirate attacks on shipping have been on the rise in that region of the world. In fact, just about four weeks or so before the novel was released, the Singaporean Navy issued a warning about attacks on shipping in the straights, which is a major premise of the novel. This is an explosive region of the world, and it would not surprise me at all to see something happen there as is portrayed in the novel.
How closely is Malacca Conspiracy based on your life experiences?
DB: I’d say it’s based upon my studies through the Naval War College and professional experiences more so than actual life experiences. I hope that no one has to actually go through what the characters do in the novel.
How long did Malacca Conspiracy take you to complete?
DB: Almost eighteen months.
Do you have a favorite character in Malacca Conspiracy? Why?
DB: That’s a tough one, but I think I’d take Mack Williams, who plays the role of POTUS in all five novels.
Mack is an American first, who acts courageously, who acts firmly, and who seeks to do the right thing regardless of what the polls show and regardless of the hot criticism by the liberal politicians who want him to surrender principle in his decision-making. He’s a man of courage, strength, character, and conservative determination, something we haven’t seen much of in the White House, unfortunately since the period from 1980 to 1988.
What was the most interesting fact that you learned while writing Malacca Conspiracy?
DB: I learned so much that it’s hard to know where to start. But one thing of interest has to do with the disastrous Boxing Day Tsunami of 2004. During the course of my research, I learned a lot about the powerful Boxing Day (December 26) Tsunami that killed hundreds of thousands of Indonesians on Boxing day, 2004, when it struck the region of Aech on the Indonesian Island of Sumatra. The epicenter was in the Andaman Sea, near the Andaman Islands in the Indian Ocean off the Western coast of Sumatra. But the quake was so powerful that tsunami waves shot to the west, over a thousand miles, all the way across the Indian Ocean to the coast of Africa.
Interestingly, though, when the tsunami passed the strategic Island of Diego Garcia in the middle of the Indian Ocean – which is featured in the novel – because the waters around Diego Garcia are so deep, people swimming in the water off Diego Garcia barely even noticed it, even though the tsunami was swarming around the island on its way to Africa, where it killed people in Somalia and other places in Africa.
As it turned out, this research did not become a major part of the storyline, except as part of the peripheral backdrop for setting up scenes in Sumatra and Diego Garcia. This sort of thing happens very often during the course of writing a novel, at least it does for me. You research something that turns out to be fascinating, but it does not become a major part of the storyline. I still enjoy this sort of thing because I guess I’m a compulsive trivia nut.
What were your favorite books as a child?
DB: There were two; Hardy Boys and World Book Encyclopedia. My first introduction to fiction came when, as boy, my Aunt Margaret gave me the “Hardy Boys” series. I came from a family of educators. My Aunt Margaret, Aunt Sarah, Aunt Jane, Grandmama Hardison, Cousin Margaret … I hope I didn’t leave anybody out … oh yes.. I almost forgot … my apologies to Uncle Darwin, who was a teacher and highly successful basketball and football coach for the Jamesville High School Red Devisl before he became a dentist. Anyway, Aunt Margaret, being the natural teacher that she was and still is, wanted to make sure that her nieces and nephews got into the habit of reading. So she got me hooked on the Hardy Boys.
Second, I was always reading the World Book Encyclopedia. I remember in fifth grade, getting into trouble with the teacher, because my desk was beside the encyclopedia rack, and rather than pay attention to what she was saying, I was always pulling one of the World Books off the shelf and reading it. I think she finally had to make me change seats with another kid in the class to break that habit! Anyway, I guess I’m somewhat dating myself by admitting to being hooked on the Hardy Boys and World Book!
What are some of the challenges you face as an author?
DB: The biggest challenge is trying to figure out how to add more than twenty-four hours to each day. I think if I could do that, we’d be in great shape. For me, because I’m juggling two full-time jobs (writing and a legal practice) and coaching and raising two teenage boys at the moment, time management can become a challenge. It takes a ton of discipline.
What aspects of being a writer do you enjoy the most?
DB: You know my Grandaddy Hardison was barely able to read, with perhaps a sixth grade education at best, and he barely wrote anything at all, except to sign his name with my grandmother’s help. But he was a hard-working guy with lots of wisdom from the school of hard knocks. He was also an excellent painter, and one of the wise saying he would repeat every time he’s start a painting project was, “The secret of painting is getting ready to paint!” By that, he meant that it’s important to sand, and get your surfaces ready before applying the paint.
Likewise, I think I can take that wisdom, and tweak it just a bit, and say also, that “the secret of writing is getting ready to write.” Now granted, getting ready to write isn’t the only secret. You also must actually write it. But in my case, that’s important, especially in the area of research that goes into a novel of my genre, that being a geo-political thriller. So for me, one of the big secrets of writing is getting ready to write, and for me, that means research. And even though I’m writing fiction, if I get one little thing wrong, buddy, you can be bet that someone in the world is going to let me know.
But in light of all this, I have to say that the most enjoyable aspect is probably the research. All the things that I learn is to me enriching and enjoyable. The second thing I enjoy is going out and speaking at writers conferences, book clubs, civic groups and other organizations with an interest in fiction. I really like book clubs because I usually get fed! ;-)
What is your writing style? (Do you outline? Write “by-the-seat-of-your-pants? Or somewhere in-between?)
DB: Although I’m not a Stephen King fan, not because he isn’t a brilliant writer but because I just don’t read that genre, he did write an interesting primer about the craft called On Writing. In that interesting little book, he talks about the sort of “line of demarcation,” if you will, between novelists, drawing that line in the sand between the “outliners,” and the “seat-of-the-pantsers.” Those are my terms, not Stepehen’s, but that’s what he’s talking about.
Stephen says that he is more of a “seat of the pants” type of guy, whereby he just starts writing and it starts to flow. I am also more in that camp, although a certain amount of outlining is required for putting together proposals for the publisher. But generally, I have a “big picture” idea of where I’m going, and the rest generally just flows.
Do your characters begin to take on a life of their own as you write?
DB: Oh you bet they do. That’s something that’s really fun too, starting the day not knowing what a character will do, or expecting the character to do one thing, and he (or she) turns around and does another.
What other new projects do you have on the horizon?
DB: Writing-wise, I have signed a contract with Zondervan for a new three-novel series called the Pacific Rim Series. The first novel, entitled THUNDER IN THE MORNING CALM, is due out next year, and I’m extremely excited about that.
Here’s a hint: This novel will take place largely in North Korea. We’re in the editing process for THUNDER IN THE MORNING CALM right now, and my next novel will center around the Chinese-Taiwanese conflict how that conflict affects the United States.
What message would you like your readers to take from Malacca Conspiracy?
DB: The central major theme is based upon the Second Book of the Pentateuch, taken from the sixth chapter and eighteenth verse, which is, to paraphrase, “do the right thing.” There are other subthemes as well, but for central characters like the Indonesian woman Kristina Wulandari, for Zack Brewer and for President Mack Williams, each is faced with very crucial decision-making of potential dire consequences in the face of real evil. They are called upon to decide to do what is right in the face of great danger and deadly consequences.
What is your greatest achievement?
DB: I don’t consider to have achieved anything “great,” and certainly not on my own. I’ve been blessed and had some wonderful things happen do me during my lifetime, but I’ve also been through some hot trials. Here’s the way I feel about it. Any good thing that has happened to me is because the Good Lord, in his Providence, has had mercy on me and blessed me far beyond what I deserve. When I mess up, that’s usually my own doing because I’ve taken my eyes off Him.
What is your goal or mission as a writer?
DB: I have three objectives when I write. First, as a novelist, I have an implicit contract with my readers to entertain. To do that, my goal is to build tension on every page in a way that will make the reader want to turn the page, and feel satisfied with the ultimate resolution.
Second, I want to educate readers about geo-contemporary issues that are relevant to our world today. For example, in MALACCA CONSPIRACY, I hope that my readers can, in a fun way, learn about a part of the globe that is both exciting and also strategically important to the United States, and the free world, but that is at the same time, largely ignored in our public schools and our universities.
Finally, I want my stories to be saturated with a biblical world view, one in which biblical truth is manifested throughout, subtly, and in which my readers leave inspired to do what is right. One of my favorite life verses is Deuteronomy 6:18. “Do the right thing.” I want to place my characters in a position where they must ultimately, chose what is right in accordance with Biblical teaching. I hope this will inspire my readers to do what is right when facing trials in life that, as James says, we all must face. This is where my Christian beliefs come in as a novelist.
What do you do to get away from it all?
DB: I love fishing with my son, whenever I can get away, taking target practice with my son – we’re both NRA members – and coaching my son’s basketball team. I also love keeping up with Tar Heel football and basketball. I also enjoy long walks, and recently, I’ve been slowly getting back into jogging. Hopefully that’ll stick!
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
DB: Thanks so much for the opportunity to share. I’m grateful for every opportunity to discuss Christian fiction, and am very grateful to each and every reader.
Take care and God bless!