What inspired you to become a writer?
At six, I knew I wanted to tell stories. My family was taking a road trip through Europe. Sitting in the car and looking out at the mountains, shores, forests, and castles, I began drawing maps of fantasy worlds and naming specific places and people. My love of knights and wizards gave rise to a fantasy novel called Tovar’s Enchantment, which I finished in 2001 and rewrote into a longer and quite different book, completed four years later. Around that time, I was becoming more interested in writing and reading real-world stories, particularly involving espionage.
You have an interesting background that involves magic. Tell us about it.
My grandfather was always pulling coins out of my ear when I was little. My dad, too, often showed me tricks involving science. And I was enchanted with wizards, in the midst of creating a fantasy story. An interest in magic came naturally. As a teenager, I became a member of the Magic Castle Junior Society and began performing professionally at private parties for Hollywood celebrities. The wonderful thing about magic is that it helps overcome the language barrier. In travel, magic has helped me communicate with people when we don’t use the same words. Mystery is universal. A deck of cards is the best universal translator you can find.
Your debut thriller, Sabotage, comes out in September. Tells us about it.
Sabotage is a story of espionage on the high seas, arriving September 9, 2014 from Forge Books. In the story, an extortionist commandeers a weapons technology that could alter the international balance of power. Nothing is known about him, other than his alias: “Viking.” Trapped in a bidding war for the technology with terrorist conspirators, the responsible defense corporation can’t touch him as long as he controls a hijacked cruise ship in the North Atlantic. The key to bringing him down may lie in the disappearance of Stanford professor Malcolm Clare, a celebrated aviator, entrepreneur, and aerospace engineer.
Searching for Clare is doctoral candidate Austin Hardy, who seeks out the man’s daughter, Victoria—a fellow student with a secret that sweeps them to Saint Petersburg. Aided by a team of graduate students on campus, they must devise Trojan horses and outfox an assassin to unravel the extortionist’s scheme. Failure would ensure economic disaster for the United States.
The story also follows a former Air Force combat weatherman, Jake Rove, who is one of three thousand passengers held hostage aboard the luxury liner. He’s determined to weaken the ship’s hijackers. He evades detection, dives by night, and communicates intelligence to the Stanford team on land as they uncover a trail of deception and sabotage.
What are you currently reading?
Dome City Blues by Jeff Edwards. A fan of his military fiction, I’m also loving his foray into futurism as seen through the eyes of a grieving former detective, who gets drawn into a dark and unusual case in a futuristic world where people must live under domes for protection.
Having accomplished your first book, what is your reflection of the process? Would you have done anything differently?
In writing Sabotage, I wish I had spent more time creating dramatic conflict, rather than thinking so much about the action. It’s helpful to identify the source of the biggest thrills. If you think about some of the greatest thrill scenes you’ve ever read or watched in film, they aren’t necessarily the action or fight scenes. The most exciting scenes are often those that offer the threat of action—at any moment, the tension could boil over and cause a fight. Once the fight starts, all bets are off, and much of the tension is already satisfied, even as the fight continues.
The biggest thrills come from dramatic conflict between characters. By dramatic conflict, I mean the discovery of a clash or alignment of motivations, or the threat or anticipation of such a discovery. For example, in Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth, after Jack sets fire to the old cathedral to create work for his family, the reader is left wondering for the rest of the book when someone will uncover his act of arson. In his book Whiteout, you have a band of thieves taken in during a storm, who have stolen from the family that took them in, and readers wonder when and how the family will discover their treachery.
If you were stranded on island and could only take three books, what would they be?
The best three island survival guides available! Okay, assuming fiction: (1) Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand; with a cast of multi-dimensional characters, the book offers a thorough examination of the role of the mind in man’s life, a complete philosophy, and a portrayal of the author’s ideal man. (2) Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, for endless laughs. (3) The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett, a meticulously researched medieval drama whose themes of love, dedication, and tenacity were especially moving to me.
Are you currently working on anything that you can share?
At this point, just a tease: The next book is not a sequel. It’s darker, and set in a different time. The research has been fascinating.
Any advice for aspiring authors?
“Writing” a novel seems like it should entail putting words on a page, but the critical part comes before the first word is written. Give yourself plenty of time to think through your theme, plot, and most importantly, characters. Develop them from the inside out before you start the manuscript. Consider giving each major character a two-to-four page biography. The content may or may not appear in the final product, but structuring your thoughts will help you achieve consistency and dimensionality of character.
About the Book
A cruise ship loses power in the North Atlantic. A satellite launches in the South Pacific. Professor Malcolm Clare—celebrated aviator, entrepreneur, and aerospace engineer—disappears from Stanford University and wakes up aboard an unknown jet, minutes before the aircraft plunges into the high seas.
An extortionist code-named “Viking” has seized control of a private warfare technology, pitting a U.S. defense corporation against terrorist conspirators in a bidding war. His leverage: a threat to destroy the luxury liner and its 3,000 passengers.
Stanford doctoral student Austin Hardy, probing the disappearance of his professor, seeks out Malcolm Clare’s daughter Victoria, an icy brunette with a secret that sweeps them to Saint Petersburg. Helped by a team of graduates on campus, they must devise Trojan horses, outfox an assassin, escape murder in Bruges, and sidestep treachery in order to unravel Viking’s scheme. Failure would ensure economic armageddon in the United States.
Both on U.S. soil and thousands of miles away, the story roars into action at supersonic speed. Filled with an enigmatic cast of characters, Sabotage, Matt Cook’s debut novel, is a sure thrill ride for those who love the puzzles of technology, cryptology, and people.