It was May of 2014, before I’d even published “Impossible,” the last book of the “Piercing the Veil” trilogy, when I first started brainstorming a dystopian world. I was on vacation with my family in Puerto Rico, and I’d go jogging on the beach out to a rock jutting into the ocean, where I paced and talked to myself out loud (That’s how I brainstorm. It totally works.). I wrote the outline for the entire series on that trip… involving a mob boss named Voltolini who had funded the development of a lethal genetically modified virus, and a princess who overheard Voltolini’s shady dealings with her father, the king. Voltolini then arranged to have the entire royal family murdered, but the princess managed to escape, fleeing for her life.
As I guess you can tell, the story underwent many permutations after that. Originally I intended to send my characters to New Estonia, so I did a lot of research into the current Estonia in order to be culturally accurate. As mentioned, Voltolini started out as a mob boss, not a billionaire venture capitalist—so I researched how the mob worked. I read a 600+ page book about microbial epidemics and how they mutated. I decided it was too cheesy for the main character to be the princess in a constitutional monarchy after all, so then I made her the princess’s maid. That didn’t work either, so she finally became a reporter in a Republic (no royal family whatsoever). Alas, the only part of that original plan that stuck was the genetically modified virus, and a slimy villain named Voltolini.
In other words, I wrote about 60 pages of four different versions of “The Liberty Box” before I finally found the story I wanted to tell.
The biggest breakthrough was the moment I decided the genetically modified disease would not be lethal, but would merely render the people docile. From there, the rest of the story began to take shape: financial collapse of the United States (I’d been reading about economic theory and inflation), paving the way for Voltolini to gain power by capitalizing on the crisis.
I also wanted to find a way to work in one of my favorite themes: don’t always believe what you think. While I don’t believe there are really control centers influencing our every thought in the real world (nor penumbra whispering in our ears what we ought to believe, as in the “Piercing the Veil” trilogy), I do think too many of us believe our own thoughts are true without question, even when they are really lies (I see this all the time in my day job as a doctor: sometimes the lies we tell ourselves can even make us sick!).
As a contrast to this world of brainwashing, though, I needed a character who was impervious. He’d have to come from somewhere outside the Republic, so that he’d be unaccustomed to brainwashing, but I also wanted him to have extra training in the art of distinguishing truth from lies. Enter Jackson: part hero, part mentor as far as Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero’s Journey” was concerned (The mentor can be the love interest too, right??).
In fact, my favorite part about writing this series were the relationships between the characters. In general, the characters make the story, I think—and I really identified with both Kate and Jackson, in different ways. Kate is not your typical “bad-ass” female lead, but to me that made her more real, especially given the fact that she’d been brainwashed for most of her life. She had to struggle to grow into herself. It made sense that she would fall in love with a man who could offer her his strength as she went through that process, but I also wanted her to find herself, not just lean on him. I wanted her to contribute to the rebels’ cause in a meaningful way, and be a worthy partner for a guy like Jackson. It was rewarding to watch her become that person.
My hope is that this is a series that will make you think as much as it will entertain you. I hope that as a result of reading this book, you take a step back and wonder: What lies have I been believing?
Thanks so much for sticking with me through this journey!
All the best,
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“The Phoenix Project” is on sale TODAY! To celebrate my new release, I’m hosting a massive INTERNATIONAL giveaway. Find out more by clicking the button below.
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Can’t wait to read it? Grab yourself a copy in eBook or Paperback at one the links below… The audiobook version should be available soon!
As someone born in Estonia I just cracked up reading about your plans to create a New Estonia (kudos for knowing about my country). Looking forward to read Liberty Box! 🙂
C.A. Gray says
Haha well New Estonia does appear in the book! I just don’t take the characters there in person. 😉
Jim Strawn says
“…by capitalizing on the crisis. ” Good one.