Friday, August 25, 2006
Brian Reaves, author of Stolen Lives
Revenge: it’s a powerful force that can destroy a life. Don’t believe it? Just ask Robert Whitney, owner of a Birmingham-based software company. His wife and daughter were killed when trucker Derek Morrison purposely changed lanes and totaled their car. And part of Robert has died with them.
Matters only worsen when Robert discovers that deceit played a part in Derek’s absolution. Past the edge of sanity, Robert uses his computer knowledge to take the law into his own hands and ruin the lives of Derek and others involved. His mission in life is to make them suffer just a portion of what he has suffered. But will it be enough?
This novel is first-class, hopefully the first of many more to come. Contemporary in nature, relevant in theme, frenetic in pace, I literally could not put the book down until I finished it. The same day I started it. Brian Reaves has taken a plausible story and put it into overdrive. Ample suspense is built throughout as the stakes are continually raised in several characters’ lives.
My favorite character was a man named Levi. I won’t give away his role, but I will say that he is a paradox, an unlikely breeze that blows fresh air into the whole book. I can only pray there are really people like that in the world.
Brian Reaves is definitely a force to be reckoned with in the world of fiction. He knows how to draw the reader in, and once he’s got you, he doesn’t let go.
1. How did you get the idea for Stolen Lives?
The car wreck in the story is based on a real one in Birmingham several years ago. While the family didn't die, they were pulled under a transfer truck when it pulled into their lane. The State Trooper, for whatever reason, listed the accident as the car's fault even though the truck veered into them. It got me thinking, what if a guy had lost his family in the wreck and it was made to look like their fault? What if he decided to get revenge on the people responsible? And then I thought, what if he was a hacker and wanted to get creative in his revenge? The more I researched about identity theft and social engineering, the more I realized how dangerous someone could be if they knew what they were doing. It might even be possible to get revenge and never even be caught. The story itself flowed from that seed.
2. You're a computer programmer. Obviously, that knowledge helped you out in your research for this book. What other things/circumstances in your life have prepared you for writing this book?
I love to read everything from suspense novels to comic books. If I could say anything prepared me for writing this (or any other book) it would have to be the great stories I've read from other authors. That thrill of being pulled along helplessly as the writer hurls the characters from one problem situation keeps me glued to a book until I'm finished. That feeling--that rush--is what I shoot for.
I did a lot of research into social engineering as well. It was funny because the more I studied it, the more suspicious I became of even the little things like phone solicitors. I talked to a few "white hat" hackers (the good guys who try to get into systems to help a company find the leaks in their networks before the bad guys do), and found their world fascinating. I even went so far as to try and social engineer my way into a few situations just to make sure I was being realistic. I didn't do anything illegal, but it's amazing how easily some people are fooled.
I'm also an amateur magician, and a black belt in Tae Kwon Do. Both of those played parts in developing the Ian character in the story. My love of comic books plays heavily in my next book. :)
3. You're on staff with Infuze magazine (which I love, btw). Tell us a bit about that and how it came about.
I actually got involved back when it was known as "Fuse Magazine". I submitted a short story and got a lot of encouragement from Robin Parrish (the editor) about it. He compared me to Ray Bradbury and Neil Gaiman, and it was the biggest compliment I could have gotten. I kept sending in stories, and then they started looking for reviewers. I jumped on board with that, and have recently moved to doing a couple of interviews as well. I even got to interview one of my favorite authors of all time thanks to InFuze! It's been a lot of fun watching it mature into the amazing website it is today.
4. Have you always wanted to be a writer?
I think anyone who has ever read a book by choice (and not forced to for a class at school or something) has at least considered the possibility of seeing their name in print. I tried writing my first short story after reading This Present Darkness by Frank Peretti when I was a teenager. While that story wasn't very good, it was a first effort. I started seriously considering the possibility of being a writer in my early twenties, but never realized how much work went into writing a book. I wondered why authors only put out one novel a year most of the time. I mean, it seemed like a fairly easy thing to do when you wrote a book...no more than a couple of weeks at the most. I was so wrong! It took me three years to finish my first novel, and Stolen Lives took me about two years. I finished my last one in eight months, and it looks like that's about how long it will take to finish my current one, so I think I've hit my stride now.
5. Explain the relationship between your faith and writing. How do they intertwine?
Some authors get upset when you brand them a Christian writer. They want to be "a writer who happens to be a Christian", but not "a Christian writer". I've never understood that. When you've been given this awesome platform by God to encourage other people, why on earth would you not use it? No matter how dark my stories become, I always try to show the light of Christ in the end. And while I have no problem writing a short story that's just a fun read and not a Christian one, I always keep it within certain boundaries. I am a Christian, and I write stories...and I'm not ashamed to say it. You can tell a great tale and not use filthy language or graphic sex to keep readers interested.
That being said, there are actually parts of Stolen Lives that I feel are too preachy. It didn't seem that way at the time, but looking back on it I realize there were some places I could have toned it down a bit. I'm glad I shared the hope of Christ though. While actions may speak louder than words, I think words have their value too.
6. What do you want people to come away with after they've put down Stolen Lives?
I want them to glimpse an aspect of God they may have never considered. He's a wonderful Father, and we are His beloved children...but bad things happen from time to time. How often do we fail to thank God for the good things in our life while never neglecting to blame him when things go wrong? Yet in every moment of our lives, good or bad, God remains faithful and stands with open arms to hold us through the problems.
7. Who are your favorite authors/genres?
When speaking of long-term writers, my favorites are Dean Koontz, Ray Bradbury, Frank Peretti, and James Byron Huggins. There are a lot of new faces on the shelves now that write awesome stories too. Eric Wilson, T.L. Hines, Kathryn Mackel, and Robin Parrish are all fabulous writers to look for.
I'm a sucker for a suspense novel. Give me one with a supernatural twist and I'm definitely hooked. Dean Koontz's The Face remains one of my all-time favorites.
8. What is the worst writing advice you've ever been given? The best?
Worst: "Lose the first sentence." An established author was trying to help me a few years ago. He was really opposed to the first line of SL, and kept wanting me to change it. He said it gave away a key plot point, but I loved the way it set the tone of the story. I kept it, and it ended up being the selling point of the book to my publisher. The acquisitions editor loved the line as soon as he read it, and it stuck out to him.
Best: "Learn the craft." James Scott Bell said that in a writing class I took, and it's really rung true. There's so much more to writing a good story than just sitting down at a laptop and punching words into a document. You have to constantly be improving with each story, and that takes effort. You have to consciously learn from those who have succeeded before you. Make your vocabulary grow, tighten the scenes so there's no "literary fat" anywhere in them, and give your characters that third dimension that makes them seem real enough to get off the page and walk away. For most people, none of this comes naturally--but we can all learn it.
9. What has helped you the most in honing your craft?
Reading other writers in my genre. I guess it's bad in a way because I no longer read a story to just enjoy it. I tend now to dissect it, seeing what makes it great. Then I apply those things to my own writing.
I've also attended a couple of writer's conferences, and those have been invaluable to me. There's just something about being around other writers that can energize you and get you excited about your story again. And the time spent learning from the pros really paid off in terms of knowing what works and what doesn't.
10. Can we expect a sequel any time soon? (Please!)
While Robert and Derek have had their story told, there are a few other characters in there who still have things to say. I've written a follow-up that I really love, but it's up to the publisher. Actually, it's ultimately up to the readers. They're the ones who can influence the market.
11. What are your plans for the future?
Several years ago, I self-published Portal. It was the first book in a trilogy, and I want to finish the next two books in the story because it was a group of characters I really cared about. I still write on the second book from time to time and know where it's going. I'd really like to see that finished soon.
I want to continue writing and improving with each story. As I mentioned earlier, my track record with books has been slow, but I've set the goal to finish two novels a year from this point on. So far, one's down and I'm well into another. Whether they get published or not is still up in the air, but it's a personal goal for me. I'm really pumped about the book I'm working on now. It's never been done in Christian fiction before. It sort of steps further into the Christian suspense/horror genre Ted Dekker and Frank Peretti started with House.
12. Please share a few hints on how to prevent identity theft from happening to us.
Safeguard all your personal information. Don't take anything for granted. I've stood in the self-checkout lines at Wal-Mart several times and seen people just leave their personal information there for the taking. One man left his credit card sitting near the scanner while he waited for it to process. It's just sixteen digits, and it would have been easy for me to quickly memorize it, write them down, or get a quick picture with my camera phone while pretending to talk into it. After that, anything I want to order online is mine as long as I invest in a PO box, or I could charge a pay-as-you-go cell phone to it for at least a few weeks before the charge was noticed. One woman stood there with her wallet open as she scanned items. I had a clear shot of her driver's license. That might not have done me that much good, but she had one of those wallets with the clear inserts for photos, and the top thing in her insert was her Social Security card. That would have been enough information to get a credit card in her name for myself. Those are just two examples, but it's happened several times in different variations. People punch in their PIN numbers where anyone can see it, never thinking a thing about it. They never realize someone could be looking for the information they provide.
Shred all personal documents. Identity theft can happen by someone getting into your garbage and pulling out old bills or cancelled checks. Bank statements are priceless to a social engineer. It only costs about thirty dollars for a good personal shredder. It costs a lot more if someone gets their hands on the wrong information.
Protect your computer with a good antivirus program (like Norton or AVG), a good spyware detector (like Spyware Doctor or Windows Defender), and a good adware detector (like AdAware). You should also consider investing in a stealth websurfing program that allows you to surf the Internet without leaving any "tracks". Don't open an email attachment from an unfamiliar person. Actually, given the advancement in viruses now, just opening the message itself can expose your computer to more than you realize. I know this will raise a lot of ire from folks, but Outlook is perhaps the worst email program to use as far as viruses go. They've come a long way on making it safer, but most email viruses are written for it. If you do use it, at least disable the preview pane. Otherwise, choose something like Eudora or Thunderbird.
Take extra care if you have a family computer that others will be on besides yourself. While you might be the safest person you know online, your kids or spouse might not be that way. Limit where others can go through security software or through the router itself. Also, don't leave your computer online if you're not going to use it for a while. A lot can happen when you're not there.
Never give out your PIN number online to any email you get. If PayPal or Ebay say something's wrong with your account, don't panic and click on the link in the message. Most of the time it's just a phish sent to see if you'll give personal information. The website the link takes you to is designed to closely emulate the real thing, so you might never notice the difference. Close the email, then log onto the website through your browser and check your account that way.
Also, watch out for telephone solicitors. Most are just the annoying ones you're used to, but if someone starts asking personal information, beware! I gave examples of how this could be used in my novel. If I have your checking account number from standing in line behind you in Wal-Mart or by going through your trash, all I have to do is call and trick you into giving me your mother's maiden name or PIN number by acting like your credit card company or bank. Loaded with those two bits of information, I can clean out your bank account within minutes.
These are just a few of the things you can do to protect yourself. I went through a lot of these in my novel (though showing how damaging they can be), and there were more to touch on. I haven't even talked about what can be done to your workplace with a simple phone call. If someone called you saying they were from the IT department and were having problems with your login, would you think twice about it when they asked for your password to verify the information? Most people wouldn't. And you'd just inadvertently let a social engineer into your company's network. No need to hack their way in when they can log in with a legitimate username and password.
Just remember: guard your information. One in six people will be the victims of some form of identity theft this year.
13. Anything else you'd like to say to our captive audience?
If you have a dream, I'd encourage you to do something to help God make it happen. Want to be an author? Write something. Want to be an artist? Learn to paint. Every great musician had to spend hours learning how to play their instrument. Don't spend your life saying, "I'll bet I could be a good author/artist/musician/singer" but never try. Give God the chance to make your dreams come true, and give him the materials to work with in the process.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read this interview and (hopefully) my novel. Please feel free to write and let me know what you thought of it. I'd love to hear from you.
Thanks so much, Brian. You've been entertaining and informative as well. I wish you God's blessings in your writing.
Here's the link to Brian's website. Go visit sometime: