Saturday, September 28, 2013

Talk to the Hat: Eric J Gates

JD  Today’s guest is Eric J. Gates, writer and … well, you’ll see in a minute. This is our first Galericulate interview to be held in Thailand. Unfortunately, I don’t have a dungeon here or any instruments of torture (they’re held up in Dubai Customs, and Digby my sub-human assistant, is still on holiday), but we’ll do our best to make this entertainingTell us a bit about yourself, Eric. But skip the boring bits.

EG  I started playing with computers at an early age after scoring 100% on a logic-aptitude test (the pointy ears helped too). I soon found myself developing Operating System code for cutting edge supercomputers and then specialized in security. From there it was a hop, skip and a hack to cyberwarfare (called Infowar back in the day) and the world of spooks and such.

I ended up studying martial arts because of a lie ...

JD  Ah, mendacity! Things are looking up. Do go on.

EG  My Dad’s job meant we had to move every couple of years or so, which made me the new kid at school i.e. the target. After going through constant ‘initiation’ rites (such mind-expanding moments as being thrown into a holly tree or having my lunch ‘confiscated’ by the school bullies every day) I decided to invoke the power of Marketing. When I next change school, on the first day lunch break I was approached by the resident bully who demanded my grub and I refused. He got a little angry so I told him I knew Karate and wouldn’t hesitate to beat him up in front of his mates. Back then Karate was THE thing – this was pre-Bruce Lee and a ‘Man From U.N.C.L.E.’ movie called ‘The Karate Killers’ was the hot topic in most local cinemas. Well, I must have been sufficiently convincing because the bullies left me alone. Word soon spread, along with invitations to join various school gangs, all declined. Flip-forward a few years and I’m now working in a windowless bunker on developing software for a new supercomputer. In walks a small group of new recruits, including an old schoolmate whose first question, voiced in a room crowded with my workmates, was “You still doing that Karate thing?” That evening I joined a Karate class. I was lucky with the instructor who also taught Hapkido (a Korean Judo-like art) and Kobudo weapons, as well as Sumo! That was the start; I found I had an aptitude for kicking-butt and just started to collect training in 26 different warring arts (the competition stuff just didn’t interest me). I earned enough black belts to keep my trousers in place for a lifetime.

JD  What if you’re wearing brown trousers? Don’t they sort of clash? Oh, never mind. Continue.

EG  On the hobbies front, it’s always been reading, cinema, and of course writing. When I was 18 I wrote my first full-length novel (50,000 words – that was full-length back then – funny how things seem to be going in that direction again, right?). It was reviewed professionally, and described as “not bad for a first effort – keep at it”, which obviously, after a break of a few decades, I did – that’s consistency for you!

JD  I like the sound of the cyberwarfare bit. Go on, scare us to death about this computer phuquerie.

EG  Just imagine that when you woke up this morning you had no electricity, running water, telephones, TV, your car won’t start – and that’s just the first hour!

JD  Actually, Eric, living here in Thailand, it’s actually like that most mornings. But give us a Western perspective …

EG  OK. We use computer chips to control everything from our microwave to the International Space Station these days and that means they are what we call ‘critical infrastructure components’. Cyberwarfare has basically two sides to it – offensive and defensive. The latter is all about protecting those systems from damage (by design of our enemies etc or through ‘natural’ occurrences) where the former is more oriented to being the ‘aggressor’ and undermining our enemies’ own critical infrastructure. So the next time your tea-maker doesn’t work in the morning, that might have been something I did – or it could have been a solar flare (gamma radiation or an EMP pulse) that fried the chip. Scary, right?

JD  My tea-maker works most mornings, provided I kick her out of bed. So why write books when you could be kicking the crap out of someone instead? That sounds like much more fun.

EG  Come on, John. You’re an author too. You know how devious we are. Get on the wrong side of a writer and you may end up in their next novel, and not in a nice way. What can be more satisfying than that – it’s certainly less sweaty than raining blows down on someone.

JD  True. Tell us why you have picked the genre you write in and what sort of folks will enjoy your books.

EG  My professional life has put me into all kinds of situations that could have come from any of the thrillers I read during my interminable airport waits around the world, most of which I can’t talk about (the airport waits, that is). So writing is the next best thing. There I get to mix in a few highly disguised events or people from my past with a good dose of made-up stuff and voilà, you have a thriller. I prefer this genre because of the pace – as I get older my attention span is waning, so anything that helps me finish a book before my memory fails is good.

If your readers want a fast-paced thriller, populated by spies, ex-Special Forces types, wily Eastern Block arms dealers and high-tech weaponry, that will have you sitting on the edge of your seat, clenching your knuckles, as you sweat it out with the protagonists then read ‘LEAVING SHADOWS’. If you don’t want your food to go cold as the novel grabs your attention from the very first paragraph, I could recommend…

JD  Go on, give me a pitch on your latest book. I probably can’t stop you doing it anyway.

EG  The latest one is called ‘LEAVING SHADOWS’ and it’s basically a spy story. It kicks off with the Head of the Secret Intelligence Service being kidnapped in an audacious daylight attack. The surprises keep coming for his MI6 colleagues, however,  as they discover they are forced to use a seedy private recovery service for his rescue. An operations team quickly picks up the trail and heads into Europe just hours behind the kidnappers. Now I like a good twist or three in my books, so nothing is as it seems. Soon opposing forces descend as a race ensues to control the deadliest Weapon of Mass Destruction ever devised by Man. And just to make it more interesting, a countdown has started with a major city as the target. It’s a tale of deceit and betrayal, where you never know who to trust, set against a background of real events.

JD  So, what's next in the pipeline for Eric?

EG  Late last year I wrote a vampire novel entitled ‘the CULL’ as a birthday gift for a young family member. At the end of the tale I asked my readers if they wanted more of the two female protagonists and was inundated with emails demanding sequels. I’m currently writing two, back to back, to turn the tale into a trilogy (for now). What I think has made this novel so popular is that I have avoided the well-trodden memes of teen romance or toothy eroticism. I have taken what one fan described as a ‘Dan Brown meets Michael Crichton’ approach, looking to recover some of the disconcerting scariness that populated the original Bram Stoker novel and place this in a present-day setting. Vampires today would be serial killers and the authorities would react accordingly.

Once these are finished, I have three more projects jostling for a place on my keyboard, including a sequel to ‘Full Disclosure’, and a second novel featuring the kidnap recovery firm from ‘Leaving Shadows’. Time will tell.

JD  Eric, it’s been a pleasure. But even if it had been crappy I wouldn’t tell you.

Book links:
Leaving Shadows
Full Disclosure
The CULL      

Author website (with extracts from all the novels and their Inside Secrets):
Eric blog featuring many guest posts from a wide range of authors:


  1. Fantastic interview, Eric. John does get the cleverest guests. And now I click away pondering whether the glitch in my Keurig coffee maker was you tampering with what is a most critical infrastructure on a Sunday morning...

    1. That coffee's bad for you anyway, Cam ;)

  2. Super interview! No duress or anything. Eric must have scared you pretty good! Wish mine had the civility this one had... Aw, just kidding, wouldn't trade my interview with you for a new pair of shoes - but, what am I saying? We don't hardly ever wear'em down in these parts.

    Always wishing you the best, JD,