Wayne C. Stewart - Page-Turning Political/military Thriller with Dueling Protagonists
Wayne C. Stewart writes military and political adventure with a techno-thriller twist. His Zeb Dalton Series features an Iraq/Afghan Wars Veteran, working hard to make sense of his world with a keen mind and fragile, yet a lingering sense of duty. Wayne is a displaced Seattleite, currently living with his family in Iowa. As our Author of the Day, Stewart tells us all about his book, When Totems Fall.
Please give us a short introduction to what When Totems Fall is about.
After nearly ten years of sand, blood, and religious extremists Terror Wars Vet Zeb Dalton is finally home, but he is not at peace.
On the other side of the world, Chinese tech CEO Junjie Zang procures the government project of a lifetime. While its stated purposes are humanitarian and economic, he knows all too well it could be used for far more violent ends.
Zang is right.
Within hours of the tech’s release, the People’s Republic of China uses it to disarm America’s nuclear deterrent, paving the way for invasion of the greater Seattle area and the transformation of its borders, economy, and people into the newest PRC Province: Penghu.
As his hometown becomes hostile foreign territory, Dalton realizes the code and its capabilities as all too familiar. While now fully developed and weaponized from its original core, there’s no question it’s the same substance as his unauthorized, off-duty experiments while stationed in Iraq.
Immediately, Dalton and Zang are on the run. And each must weigh what they’ve done against what they are now willing to do, as the world’s two superpowers stand on the edge of oblivion.
What inspired you to write about breakthrough AI and 50,000 Chinese soldiers that stand guard over American soil?
The premise of artificial intelligence is that of enhancement. The warning is a release of (even imperfect) human decision-making in the affairs of humanity. While it’s been used before, I hope this particular setting is as enjoyable to read as it is thought-provoking. The USA-China angle is simply the most current geopolitical storyline in which to place it.
Why military/political adventure? What drew you to the genre?
After college I began reading for enjoyment. I picked up a copy of Clancy’s Hunt for Red October at my local library, having previously considered that genre “my Dad’s books.” I’ve never looked back. The detail, characters, and tensions have kept me in the pages ever since.
Tell us more about Zeb Dalton. What makes him tick?
Zeb is a singularly gifted guy, with the ability to take in unceasing streams of data, analyze it, and immediately see probabilities unlike anyone else. But his gift also produces his greatest fear: seeing what is likely to happen and yet not being able to do anything about it. Since the earliest days of recognizing his gift, he has struggled with the ability to foresee but not control. It’s why the military desperately wanted him. And it’s also why he left.
Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have?
I am a musician: guitars, vocals, piano, bass, and a long, long time ago: saxophone. I am also becoming more and more accomplished with a snow blower now that we live in the Midwest.
According to readers, the scenes are very detailed. How did you pull this off?
Lots of research. You don’t want to see my google search history. I am likely on a number of government watch lists
Which of your characters was the most challenging to create?
I really wanted Junjie to be believable and avoid an overly Americanized Chinese portrayal. One of my favorite reader reviews is from a Chinese gentleman from London who said he especially appreciated how this was handled. It could be very easy as a US citizen to paint the overly righteous approach to my nation in a storyline such as this. It would be just as easy to paint my country as the evil aggressor, getting its due. I hope I’ve done something different than either.
Do any of your characters ever take off on their own tangent, refusing to do what you had planned for them?
Not generally. I like to structure the story and its arc and work the chapters and characters from there. There’s always something surprising in the process, but no one has just gone rogue… so far.
Tell us more about the cover and how it came about.
The cover is a series concept by Jerry Todd. He’s done big-concept military thrillers for quite some time and I love how he combined the tech piece with the military imagery.
This is book 1 of a series. Can it be read as a standalone? How do the other books in the series tie in with this one?
Totems can certainly be read as a standalone, as can each of the books in the series. But read through on the series is high, so it seems as if folks want to continue with Zeb’s story, as well as the fun cast of teammates that develop and the challenges they face, increasingly together.
People have compared your work to that of Cussler, Grisham and Clancy. Who are some of your favorite authors in the genre, and why?
That’s high praise and I would be honored that anyone would consider my books anywhere near those. For me, those are three of the greats. But I’ve also found a very fun historical fiction author named William Dietrich. His series about an 18th Century American adventurer are fascinating and really fun reads. In general, I like to be moved through a story quickly even as I begin to care about the characters and their plight.
Do you have any interesting writing habits? What is an average writing day like for you?
Not that I can think of. Pretty standard butt in chair process.
What are you working on right now?
After wrapping up the Dalton series last fall, I’ve been taking a bit of a break. But, I do have two new standalone books in the works for the rest of this year. One is a current-day thriller based on an Iowa State Trooper’s discovery in a snowbank outside Omaha and the other is a near-future crime thriller based on the proposition that with a certain genetic alteration, humans can never again be falsely accused of a crime.