We are delighted to welcome author Lance Charnes to CrimeFiction.FM today.
Lance has been an Air Force intelligence officer, information technology manager, computer-game artist, set designer, Jeopardy! contestant, and now an emergency management specialist. He’s had training in architectural rendering, terrorist incident response, and maritime archaeology.
Just last week I had a chance to catch up with him to talk more about his other work, as an author.
CFFM – DOHA 12’s plot sounds familiar. Is it based on a real event?
Lance – It is. Back in 2010, a Mossad hit team assassinated a top Hamas operative, Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, in Dubai. They were less-than-slick about it and ended up on a number of surveillance videos. The Emiratis posted the footage on YouTube – it’s kind of interesting to watch. Anyway, the team used for their covers the identities of real Israeli dual-nationals living in Israel. These people’s other citizenship countries were extremely perturbed by this. Of course, Hamas was hopping mad.
So I got to thinking: what would’ve happened if Hamas decided to go after these poor schlubs whose identities were stolen? Voila: Doha 12 was born.
CFFM – Into what genre would you place DOHA 12?
Lance – Doha 12 is an international thriller. While much of the action takes place in America, it also visits Tel Aviv, Beirut, Rotterdam, Modena, Paris and Amsterdam.
CFFM – What’s a one or two sentence summary of the book?
Lance – Jake Eldar is a bookstore manager; Miriam Schaffer is a legal secretary. Both grew up in Israel and have built new lives in America. The Mossad just used their identities during the assassination of a Hezbollah commander in Doha, Qatar. Now they’re on the run.
CFFM – Research for a book like DOHA 12 must be extensive. How do you go about researching the settings you chose?
Lance – I picked three of the major settings – Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station, Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery and Temple Emanu-El in Manhattan – because they look great and haven’t been used to death. All three also gave me great big arenas for the action.
Since I’m not blessed with a publisher’s advance, I had to do as much research as I could without actually going to the locations. The Internet is a Godsend for that. I was able to pull up dozens of pictures, videos and websites for all three locations and study them until I understood how each place looks and, more important, how it works. For instance, I scored a floorplan for 30th Street Station from the Metro Jacksonville (Florida!) government website. With that, I was able to plot and time out the action in that scene. YouTube videos were really useful for working out sightlines. Google StreetView and Bing Streetside were invaluable.
It must’ve worked. When I finally traveled to Philadelphia and New York City and visited the locations after I’d written the book, I needed to make only minor changes in the text.
CFFM – How much of your own personal and professional experience have you included in the book?
Lance – In the plot? Very little. When I was in intel, my focus area was Korea and the western Pacific. However, I learned how to gather, organize and synthesize large amounts of information, which is vital in the kinds of books I write.
CFFM – Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Lance – Plotter. I outline heavily. I was moving people over three continents; things had to happen on certain days or after X amount of time, and it all had to come together on one particular day. There’s no way I could do that on the fly. That doesn’t mean the characters couldn’t change my plans if they wanted, but they had to live inside a strong framework.
CFFM – If you combined the time spent plotting with the time spent writing your first draft, what percentage of that total time would have been spent plotting the book?
Lance – It’s hard to break it down that way because the “first draft” happens in my head. I think through the story in a fair amount of detail, including some amount of dialog, just to see if there’s really a story and not just a premise. If I don’t lose interest or hit a brick wall, then once I get through it mentally I start writing down what becomes the outline. The first written draft follows after that. In both Doha 12 and South, I’d guess this process took up 15-25% of the total writing time.
CFFM – What hobbies do you have that might surprise your readers?
Lance – I’m a scuba diver with PADI advanced open-water, EAN and rescue diver certifications. I’ve dived in some interesting places, including the Aegean, Malta and the Maldives. I used to play polo (on horses) until I ripped up my back.
CFFM – What’s the first crime story you remember reading and what was your reaction to the story?
Lance – I started out with Encyclopedia Brown and graduated directly to Alastair Maclean and John D. MacDonald. It was probably a bit weird for a 7th grader to be reading that sort of thing, but there was no such thing as YA at the time and I enjoyed the complicated plots (Maclean) and the fun characters (MacDonald’s Travis McGee series).
CFFM – What’s next for you?
Lance – I published South, a near-future thriller, at the end of 2013, and I’ve been working on a contemporary mystery/caper since then.
For more information about Lance, please visit his website, www.wombatgroup.com.
You can purchase or learn more about DOHA 12 here:
DOHA 12 is also available in trade paperback.