The events of that day are etched in my minds. I woke early, walked to the health club for my morning work out and returned home before sunrise. My fiancé was still in the shower when the first plane hit. We watched the images of horror unfold on the news, assuming a horrible accident had occurred. Then the second plane hit, and we knew better. Helpless people leapt to their deaths as we drove to work with tears in our eyes. We knew our employees would be hurting too, so we made the work day optional. Some left. Some stayed. Some prayed. All were changed.
Something crept into our lives that day, something dark and horrid. As was the Day of Infamy for my father’s generation, this was our Day of Awakening—the day we learned to hate. Without apparent reason the Twin Towers were decimated, taking almost three thousand innocent lives with them. The lack of humanity associated with such a wanton act of brutal mass murder was beyond our comprehension. We cried for days. Innocence was lost.
That day also ushered in my awakening as an author. Sorrow, rage and confusion consumed me—the emotions that tear at a person’s soul when confronted with such great evil. Emotional turmoil and deep sadness kept me awake, so I began to write in the early morning hours. Words poured out as tears had earlier. I didn’t know it at the time, but those words would eventually become Kill Zone, my first novel.
Writing was a way to strike back, an attempt to put into words the dangers of fanaticism. My anger and the war on terror settled in for the long haul as the book reached 160,000-words in length. It was clear the fight would go on for the rest of my life. There will always be hatred; there will always be terror.
Kill Zone evolved to describe the world as I thought it could be. At first the novel was rife with hatred and disconnect, like the incident that precipitated it. I vented; writing helped. I continued to re-write and add concepts for six years. The novel mellowed. The anger was still there, but new elements emerged. I wanted to explain the basis for the attack, to show the ultimate result of extremism and to offer a solution to the underlying issues as I understood them.
Somewhere around 2007, I set the novel aside. Words were my passion by then, a creative release independent of external events—a way to let the dreams out. My first attempt at publication was a Sci-Fi trilogy that collected many rejections. Nevertheless, I believed in the stories and, with every rejection, re-wrote the novels in attempt to improve my writing. I also re-wrote the final chapter of Kill Zone into a short story called “The Final Experiment,” and submitted it to two publishers and a local literature contest. Both publishers accepted it, and I won the contest. That motivated me. I dusted off the second novel in the Sci-Fi trilogy, Infinity Quest, edited it to stand alone, and submitted it. The novel was also accepted.
I had crossed the invisible threshold between unacceptable writing and somewhat acceptable writing without knowing it. I continued to write, first re-working the remainder of the Sci-Fi trilogy to get those novels published (The Judge and The Empress of Tridon), and then returning to contemporary fiction. With “The Final Experiment” as a beginning point, I wrote Aftermath Horizon, a love story based in a post-apocalyptic world. The book moved me, was a joy to write and was accepted for publication.
I felt vindicated as a new author, and launched into still another genre, paranormal comedy. My first comedy novel, The Substitute, was accepted by Solstice Publishing in less than two days after submission. I was shocked, and set out to write the sequel, Oh, Heavens, Miss Havana! The sequel was also accepted, and led to The Training Bra and The Trophy Wife (still being edited).
Between each novel I re-visited Kill Zone; first novels always require considerable re-write. I toned down the language to make the text readable by young adults and shortened the text, sometimes removing entire chapters. My initial bitterness ebbed as I ask myself the single question that must be addressed at the end of any road paved with hatred, “What if?” What if the war on terror takes a path that leads to a fatal end game? What if bio-toxins become so lethal humanity ceases to exist? In an age where genetic modifications considered Sci-Fi a few years ago are now routine, what if engineered pathogen emerge for which humans have no resistance? What if some fanatical group attempts to purify the world for their God? What if?
By the time I completed re-writes and answered the question, Kill Zone stood at 101,000 words. I submitted the novel to Eternal Press during the 2010 Museitup Writer’s Conference. Eternal Press accepted it. A tag line, blurb and short excerpt are provided below.
Kill Zone Tag Line: This Michael Crichton-like novel postulates the origin of oil, possible reasons for terrorism and a solution to the energy crisis. It also suggests one potential outcome of rampant hatred.
Kill Zone Blurb: Dr. Marcy Whites overcomes enormous genetic engineering obstacles to resurrect a prehistoric bacterium, V5, capable of creating renewable oil, and reclaims the love of her life in the process. After V5 is designated a national resource, Marcy’s team is sequestered in Cheyenne Mountain, but bio-terrorism quickly overshadows her successes. People die by the millions when a genetically-engineered pathogen, beta-hemolytic streptococcus (BHS), is inadvertently released in Mecca. Carried by fanatical Ambulatory Infectious Agents seeking martyrdom, the flesh-eating disease spreads like wildfire with a 100% kill rate.
Predictive Antiviral Project (PAP) scientists in Cheyenne Mountain race to develop a vaccine to counter BHS while, out of desperation, world leaders agree to sanitize the outer perimeter of the Kill Zone using nuclear weapons. Dr. Whites joins the PAP team to adapt V5 as a BHS antidote, but their deadline passes. Operation Sanitize releases mankind’s most powerful weapons against its smallest enemy.
Nuclear detonations halt expansion of the Kill Zone, but Dr. Whites continues antidote refinement, believing BHS-laden dust will eventually settle. Dozens of Kill Zones soon crop up, causing the world’s population to be inoculated with V5. Energy independence is achieved, but one year later worldwide birth rates experience a steep decline. Marcy and other scientists are forced to remain inside Cheyenne Mountain until the anomaly can be explained.
Kill Zone Excerpt:
Her lilac sweatsuit accentuated the gentle curves of her body as she jogged through Choi Park, but her easy appearance belied the conflict raging in her heart. Western attire offended Allah and chafed her mind. She would atone later; only her mission mattered now. She steeled herself, taking deep breaths to overcome lingering pangs of remorse for those she would murder. Most of the dead would be infidels; the faithful, martyrs. Friends, family and other Muslims would forgive her in paradise.
The fragrance of red coral honeysuckle filled the air as she broke the crest of the hill, giving her a fleeting moment of peace before she spotted her contact on the park bench in the hollow ahead. She had never met him, but the white carnation in his lapel marked him as Muhammad 313, the leader of Trenton’s Integrity and Honor sleeper cell.
Without breaking pace, she took another deep breath to quell her nervousness. She knew Muhammad 313’s reputation, a dangerous man committed to extermination of the West. She shared his goals. He would make her God’s weapon today, so she brushed aside fear and rigidly focused on Allah alone.
The man stood to leave as she sat adjacent to him, but awkwardly dropped his morning paper. Both reached to recover it in a carefully rehearsed maneuver and, during that brief contact, he softly uttered, “It will only stick a little.” Although trembling, she accepted the serum injected into her wrist, believing with all her soul it would destroy much of the immoral society of her youth.
The man removed the needle, placed several bus tickets in her quivering hand and blessed her. “Allah is with you, my child, do not let adversity equal surrender. The blessings of Muhammad are upon you, and will bring success to your mission. Go now. Go do the will of Allah.”
She retrieved the classified section from the ground, forced a smile as she passed it to the man, and continued down the path. She felt nothing, emotionally or physically. She had prepared for this moment in prayer, for becoming the living dead—the most dangerous woman on earth. Resolute but fearful, her stride lengthened as the sun’s warmth soothed her, but Muhammad 313 suspected she would soon endure great suffering.
Thank you for the opportunity to describe my journey as an author and to provide a little information about my books. I deeply appreciate it. For those who made it to the end of this blog, thank you for reading. Feel free to leave a comment. I’ll definitely get back to you.
James L. Hatch