A Few Quick Questions With…Gray Basnight

Earlier today, I talked about Gray Basnight’s thriller Flight of the Fox and now I get to present a little Q&A I did with him so you can get acquainted with him. I did zero prep for this beyond reading the small “About the Author” paragraph at the end of the book, so I appreciated the opportunity to get a peak behind the curtain. I hope you do, too.

Tell us about your road to publication — was your plan/dream always to become a novelist and your other jobs were just to get you to this point, or was this a later-in-life desire?
I’ve always been a writer and long aspired to be a published novelist. One key reason why I worked in broadcast for three decades was to be in an environment where the written and spoken word mattered. When I was laid off during the financial crisis, I decided it was time to take my fiction writing more seriously.
I don’t want to ask “where do you get your ideas?” But out of all the ideas floating around in your head, why’d you latch onto “A Math Professor being chased by drones”? (to be highly reductive) — what was it about this character, this idea that drove you to commit months/years to it?
The truth is, I haven’t a perfectly coherent answer about the specifics of how Sam Teagarden came to be. I wanted to create a protagonist who was an Everyman, or at least as far from a secret agent with karate chopping skills as I could make him. A math teacher seemed to fit the bill.

As for drones, I have no idea where they came from, except to say that they began making news while I was starting this novel, related to their potential for mail order package delivery. From there, remote controlled assassins seemed a logical progression. By the way, I’m confident – and I fear – this will become a reality in the not too distant future.

Pangolin is such an interesting character — I can easily see him starring in his own book. Can you talk about where he came from?
Thanks for that. I’m glad you liked good ole Pangolin. In terms of plotting and pacing, he was a bit of a challenge because he’s an important character introduced in the final third of the novel. Technically, that’s a no-no. But when he appeared on my pages, I liked him so much I kept him along for the duration. He’s an ex-Navy pilot who despairs over the evolving intrusion of technology, computers and A.I. into our economy and general way of life. As a kid I always liked a comic book hero called Magnus, Robot Fighter. It’s curious to me that Hollywood hasn’t yet discovered Magnus for the lucrative franchise I believe he would be. So Pangolin is my Magnus.
Is there a genre that you particularly enjoy reading, but could never write? Or are you primarily a mystery/suspense/thriller reader?
I’m a voracious reader. With some exceptions (steampunk/boys with swords) I read a little from all genres. As a writer, I think it’s important to do that.

For personal enjoyment, I tend toward crime/espionage and literary fiction, plus well-crafted biography from the non-fiction shelf. Chernow’s bio of Grant was wonderful. What a unique and important American that man was.

I’ve often heard that writers, or artists in general, will forget hundreds of positive reviews but always remember the negative — what’s the worst thing that someone’s said about one of your books, and has it altered your approach to future books?
True, true, true. As for the absolute worst thing, I haven’t seen it—yet. Nothing has really crushed me, except for a face-to-face insult levied by a famous editor at one of the large publishing houses who hadn’t read my manuscript but was confident it was unworthy of her time, which she let me know in no uncertain terms. As Frank Sinatra sang, “some people get their kicks stomping on a dream.”

As for altering my approach to writing, thankfully, that has not happened. All I can do is sit down and try my best with the skills I possess. And, hey, sometimes the result is pretty good.

What’s next for Gray Basnight?
Lots. I’m putting final touches on a sequel to Flight of the Fox.

I have a finished YA manuscript that I’m confident has commercial viability – I only need one agent or publisher to see what I see!

I’m excited about another project I’m now outlining after having written a crappy first draft a couple of years ago. I’ve never outlined before, but so far, it’s going surprisingly well. The plot centers on an event in the Confederacy that springboards to an adventurous contemporary story.

Behind all that, there’s a bottleneck of about a dozen projects that may or may not get further fleshed out, including some first drafts that are already done.

My hope is to keep writing, and to keep readers interested!

Thanks for your time — and thanks for Flight of the Fox, I really enjoyed it, and hope you have plenty of success with it.
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Flight of the Fox by Gray Basnight: An Unlikely Hero. A Credible Threat. A Story You Hope Is Fiction

Flight of the FoxFlight of the Fox

by Gray Basnight
Kindle Edition, 404 pg.
Down & Out Books, 2018
Read: January 10 – 11, 2019

Kill a man’s dog, break a man’s rules.

No, this isn’t a John Wick tribute/knock-off. Not at all. Just another tale about a guy with his priorities right.

A grief-stricken, new widower finally snapped after the death of his dog (no doubt his emotional instability aided by the pain killers he took following the car accident that killed his wife), makes a ranting, angry, delusional phone call to the police, saying something about guns and shooting before killing a neighborhood resident and then running from the police. Authorities consider him potentially armed and dangerous.

Or at least that’s what the authorities want you to think.

In reality, Samuel Teagarden is a math professor who was attacked for reasons that he doesn’t understand by drones at his home. Teagarden makes a panicked call to the police for help but escapes, although his aged dog dies — as does someone from the neighborhood. He has no idea what’s going on (as the book opens), but he knows that someone is trying to kill him. As you can imagine, this is a pretty good motivation to move as quickly as you can — which isn’t easy, because the car accident that took his wife from him left him with two broken knees.

That’s right, he’s 49, he’s a math teacher and he’s running around on two mostly-healed broken knees — you can practically see Tom Cruise or a Hemsworth lining up to get cast as him in the movie, right?

But why would someone want to kill him? Well, back before he got his doctorate, he was an entry-level code analyst for the CIA and he’s dabbled in the field since — and someone had sent him encoded correspondence from the earth twentieth century. Neither Teagarden or the sender realized how sensitive it was and that there were very powerful people in a “three-letter” agency who didn’t want anyone decoding the correspondence, much less knowing it existed.

So, Teagarden has to evade whoever is trying to kill him and the police who think he killed someone — while trying to decrypt this stack of code and figure out who is out for him. He has his wits, a little bit of cash and a little luck on his side, the other side has resources, drones, surveillance equipment, trained assassins and a federal budget backing them.

Sounds like the ingredients of a heckuva thriller right? It is. It’s also one of those that I could utterly ruin for prospective readers by saying just a little more — so I’m going to resist the temptation to give anything but that bird’s eye view.

I can’t tell you how or exactly when the book got its hook set in me – which is a good sign, I prefer not to know how I’m being manipulated. But I can say I was a little skeptical initially, but I remember something forced me to stop reading, and I was annoyed by it, and when I checked, it the progress meter was at 14%. That’s not long at all for me to get as hooked as I was.

Now, all of us have read/watched a thriller where 3 out of the 4 people the protagonist has met in the last month have some necessary knowledge and/or connection that the protagonist needs to survive and/or meet their goal. Flight of the Fox is the same way — Teagarden meets just the right people, catches all the right breaks, and so on — but unlike typical protagonists, he notices this. He doesn’t take it for granted, he sees it happening and it affects him. This is a little touch, but its these little things that shows Basnight’s skill and uniqueness in the field.

Teagarden is a great character — he’s fallible, he’s human, but he’s also creative, smart and resourceful. He has to be to survive this situation. The assassin after him from the beginning is cold, efficient and deadly — you never have any doubt about that. His colleagues and employer are also the kind of people you don’t want to get on the wrong side of. There are a couple of fantastic characters in these pages and the rest are pretty good, too.

The story is the obligatory roller coaster — it’s fun, fast with a lot of twists and turns. You also spend a little time sure that you’re in a free fall only to realize that everything’s been under firm control the entire time. It’s realistic enough to make you a little worried about drones flying overhead and to wonder just how reality-based the correspondence is — but it never sacrifices the sense of a fun (and fictional . . . I hope) story for the reader. I heartily recommend it.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this novel in exchange for this post and my honest opinion.

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4 Stars

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