Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Arctic Wargame by Ethan Jones: Interview & Excerpt

Spy Thriller

Canadian Intelligence Service Agent Justin Hall—combat-hardened in operations throughout Northern Africa—has been demoted after a botched mission in Libya.

When two foreign icebreakers appear in Canadian Arctic waters, Justin volunteers for the reconnaissance mission, eager to return to the field.  His team discovers a foreign weapons cache deep in the Arctic, but they are not aware that a spy has infiltrated the Department of National Defence.

The team begins to unravel a treasonous plan against Canada, but they fall under attack from one of their own.  Disarmed and stripped of their survival gear, they are stranded in a remote location.  Now the team must survive the deadly Arctic not only to save themselves, but their country.



Ghadames, Libya

Six months ago

October 10, 3:00 a.m.

The sand dunes sank into darkness as a curtain of clouds dimmed the glow of the crescent moon. Justin limped closer to the small barred window of his prison cell. His bruised chest pressed against the rough surface of the bloodstained wall. He squinted and tried to stand on his toes for a better look. The rusty shackles clawed against the scarred skin of his ankles, and the heavy chain rattled on the cement floor.
“Quiet. Be quiet, you bastard infidel,” a guard growled in Arabic from down the shadowy prison hallway.
Justin stood still and drew in a deep breath, the cold night air of the Sahara desert filling his heaving lungs. Everything went silent again. No rapid steps rushing to his cell. No swearing bellowed by other inmates. He lifted his head, wrapped his free hands around the iron bars, and clenched his teeth, ignoring the jolts of pain from his fingers. With his eyes about an inch over the windowsill, Justin scoped the landscape, searching for the long-awaited rescue team.
Abdul, his connection within Libya’s Internal Security Agency who lay in the cell next door, had confirmed their escape was to take place early that morning. Their previous attempt the night before had failed, despite the inside help of one of the terrorists. Justin hoped this time their plan would be executed with no glitches.
At first, he noticed nothing except the rugged outlines of the steep dunes and the whitewashed walls of the sleepy town. Straining his eyes, he peered again. A small shadow slithered toward the prison wall. Justin blinked to clear his vision and stared at the approaching figure.
Bent at the waist, the shadow advanced at a rapid pace. It quickly disappeared from his sight, and he wondered whether the man had encountered a guard.
Justin’s heart pounded. He placed his ear to the wall and sensed a low grating noise. Someone, the shadow he hoped, was scaling the wall.
The window was at least twelve feet above the ground. He wondered how long it would take the shadow to reach it. A long minute dragged by and Justin was still alone. He breathed faster and faster and urged the man on the freedom side of the wall to make good time.
Finally, a hushed voice whispered in Arabic, “Abdul, Abdul, it’s me, Bashir. You there?”
“I’m Justin,” he replied softly.
“You’re the Canadian agent. Where’s Abdul?”
“In the other cell, around the corner, but that one has no window.”
“When did they move him?”
“A few hours ago, after they gave him a good beating.”
“Can he walk?”
“I think so.”
Bashir went silent for a moment. Justin looked up, but could not see the man’s face through the window. He asked slowly, “Bashir?”
A few seconds later, he heard a scraping sound. Bashir was offering him a large metal key through the window bars. “That’s for the shackles,” Bashir said under his breath, “and this is for the guard.” He produced a black dagger.
Justin grabbed the handle and weighed the weapon in his weak hand. A ray of moonlight glinted off the ten-inch blade.
“Can you do this?” Bashir whispered.
“You have only one chance. I’ll wait for you and Abdul in two black Nissans by the main gate. Then we’ll drive across the border to Tunisia.”
Justin frowned. “What about the hostages? The two Canadian doctors?”
“The Algerians moved them from their safe house to another location, out of the prison but still in town. My men are on their way there.”
“And Carrie?”
“Yes, your partner is with them.”
Justin breathed a sigh of relief. “OK. I’ll make sure Abdul and I meet you by the gate.”
“You’ll have to be quiet. About twenty men are guarding the prison, and we can’t defeat them all.”
“Abdul knows the way, but if you can’t free him, walk down the stairs and go left. The hall will take you to a small courtyard on the ground floor. There will be a guard or two by the gate. You need to cross into the house next door.”
“Downstairs, then left, then to the house,” Justin said, finding it a bit difficult to concentrate on Bashir’s words.
“Yes. Get to the roof of the house and drop down along the side facing the mosque. Follow the road leading to the main gate. Is it clear?”
“Yes, it is.”
Bashir’s clothes rubbed against the wall, and then silence returned to Justin’s cell. He stared at the key and the dagger in his right hand. Stepping back from the window, he was careful not to jerk the chain and alert the guard beyond the solid metal door. The key fit into the shackles’ padlock. He coughed loudly as he turned the key to cover the dull clunk of the lock snapping open. Now almost free, he removed the metal loops from around his ankles.
First imprisoned in Tripoli after their hostage rescue operation went wrong, Justin and Abdul were subjected to torture by the Algerian hostage takers for two days. After Justin and Abdul attempted an escape and killed a guard in the process, the Algerians––with the help of the Libyan secret police––moved them to Ghadames, an isolated and less risky place in their minds.
Justin wasted no time. He took a deep breath, gripped the dagger tightly, and called out to the guard, “Hey, open the door.”
“Shut up,” the guard roared back.
“I need to talk to you.”
“No. Just shut up.”
Justin banged twice on the heavy door.
The guard’s voice grew louder as he drew nearer to the door. “What’s the matter with you? You want me to break your leg?”
Justin slammed his fist against the door.
“That’s it. You asked for it,” the guard shouted.
Keys clattered as the guard struggled to find the right one to unlock the door. Justin stepped to the side and lifted his dagger high, waiting for the right moment. His hand shook. The weapon felt heavy, straining his muscles.
“I’m going to beat some sense into you now,” the guard barked.
As the guard shoved open the door, Justin thrust his hand toward the man’s throat. The blade slashed deep under the man’s thick chin, severing his windpipe. The guard dropped dead into his stretched arms, blood sputtering from the man’s mangled neck.
Justin used the guard’s black robe and turban to wipe the blood stains from his face and his arms. He stripped the man of his keys, his side arm—an old Beretta 92 pistol—his AK-47 assault rifle and two magazines. Justin dragged the body to a corner of his cell and locked the door behind him.
He tiptoed to Abdul’s cell. On the second try, he found the right key. As he opened the door, the powerful stench of sweat and urine almost twisted his stomach inside out. Abdul was lying against a wall, asleep.
“Abdul, Abdul, wake up.” Justin rustled him.
“Huh? What?” Abdul mumbled with a big yawn.
“Time to go, man.”
“Justin, how did you…” Abdul sat up slowly and stared into Justin’s eyes.
“Bashir gave me a key and a knife.”
“Bashir? When did he come?”
“Tell you later. Let’s go. Can you walk?”
“Yes, yes, I can.”
Justin unchained Abdul’s bruised legs and helped him to his feet. Abdul leaned against the wall before taking a few unsteady steps.
“I’m good. I can do this,” Abdul said.
“OK, follow me.”
“First, give me that.” Abdul pointed at the assault rifle.
“Bashir said we need to break out in silence. Too many fighters for us to kill them all.”
Abdul held the AK-47 in his hands with difficulty and fumbled with the safety switch. Finally, he switched it to full automatic. “Just in case,” he mumbled.
“Let’s go.”
Justin threw a glance down the hall and signaled for Abdul to follow him. They moved quickly to the end of the narrow hallway, their bare feet tapping lightly on the concrete floor, grains of sand gritting their toes.
“We go to the first floor, then left,” Justin said as they came to a spiral staircase.
“Then what?”

Tell us about your current release.

Along with Arctic Wargame, I’m releasing two short stories. Carved in Memory is a prequel to Arctic Wargame and explains an important aspect of Justin’s background. The Last Confession is about justice coming to a dying NY mobster making his last confession to his priest.

Arctic Wargame is the first book in Justin Hall series. Justin has been demoted because of a botched rescue operation in Libya, which was not his fault. Now, he’s a desk jockey. Eager to return to field work, he volunteers for a reconnaissance mission, when two foreign icebreakers appear in Canadian Arctic waters. His team discovers a weapons stash, along with a plan that threatens Canada’s security. At the same time, the team falls under attack by one of their own and is stranded helpless in the Arctic. It is now a race against time for Justin and his team to save themselves and their country.

Tell us about your next release.

Tripoli’s Target is the second book in Justin Hall series. Justin and his partner, Carrie O’Connor, are sent to meet with the Sheikh of the largest terrorist network in Northern Africa, to receive some high-value intelligence. They learn about an assassination plot against the US president, which is to happen during a G-20 summit in Tripoli, Libya. Justin and Carrie inform the US Secret Service about this plot. Then, new intelligence comes in, and they realize something is very, very wrong in their plan. Against all odds, they must stop the assassination before the summit forty-eight hours away.

When in the day/night do you write? How long per day?

I try to write wherever and whenever I can. At times, I wake up in the morning and put in a few hours before heading to work. Other times, I write well after midnight. Depending on the day, it could be thirty minutes or eight hours. I try to get about 1000 words per day, but that is not always possible.

What is the hardest part of writing your books?
I find the middle quite difficult. After the fast beginning, the introduction of the characters and of the plot, the middle seems to be quite laborious. I don’t want it to be boring or slow, as readers may lose interest. So, I need to work extra hard to make sure the quality of the middle parts is as good, if not better, than the beginning, and, of course, the rest of the story.
I also dislike rewriting and editing. Once the book is finished, I let out a sigh of relief and celebrate. Then I realize that my work is not done. I have to rewrite and edit, make changes, cut entire paragraphs and add new sentences and phrases here and there. These are required steps in order to have a great novel that readers will love.
Do you have critique partners or beta readers?
I have three great beta readers, all published authors. They are great and their critique has improved my writing so much. I consider beta readers an extremely important tool in crafting a story. They can point out flaws in your storyline and plot, character development and dialogue at the early stages, when it is easier to make corrections and changes.

How do you develop your plots and your characters? Do you use any set formula?

My spy thrillers are in a sense inspired by current events. Not a dramatized version of true stories, but an imaginary development of a ‘what-if’ scenario. What if an Arctic power decided to take some unilateral military action in that sensitive area of the world? What if an assassination plot happens while the US President visits one of the rogue states of the world?

I wrote Arctic Wargame and Tripoli’s Target without an outline. I had the beginning and the end quite clear in my mind, but the journey from point A to point B was not very clear. I stumbled through some points and during the rewrite trimmed down almost 10,000 words, unnecessary subplots or descriptions, sections that just bogged down the main track of the novels.

Now I make charts, with the characters’ names and their traits, in order to have a clear picture of who’s who and how they relate to one another and the story. I want characters that sound human, even when they are villains. They need to be real, people that at some point you may meet in your life. They must have logical motivations and act accordingly, not just to push the plot forward or the reach the word count for a novel.

Do you have any suggestions for beginning writers? If so, what are they?

I learned as I wrote, and I am still learning. My advice is to begin writing and learn as you go.

Read a lot of books, so you can see what works and what doesn’t. Learn from other authors, how they create their storylines, their plots, their chapters.

Be patient and keep writing.  Eventually, you’ll have something good.

Use no more than two sentences. Why should we read your book?

Arctic Wargame is an action-packed spy thriller, featuring Canadian secret agents, an international conspiracy, and a fight for survival. Readers will love this tale of courage, fear and betrayal.


Ethan Jones is a lawyer by trade and the author of Arctic Wargame, a spy thriller available on Amazon as an e-book and paperback.  He has also published two short stories: Carved in Memory, a prequel to Arctic Wargame, and The Last Confession, both available on Amazon as e-books.  His second spy thriller, Tripoli’s Target, will be released in fall 2012.  Ethan lives in Canada with his wife and his son.
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