Steve has also graciously offered to give away two sets of his books, The Jakarta Pandemic and Black Flagged to two lucky winners!
In the late fall of 2013, a lethal pandemic virus emerges from the Islamic Republic of Indonesia and rages unchecked across every continent. When the Jakarta Flu threatens his picture perfect Maine neighborhood, Alex Fletcher, Iraq War veteran, is ready to do whatever it takes to keep his family safe. As a seasoned sales representative for Biosphere Pharmaceuticals, makers of a leading flu virus treatment, Alex understands what a deadly pandemic means for all of them. He particularly knows that strict isolation is the only guaranteed way to protect his family from the new disease.
With his family and home prepared for an extended period of seclusion, Alex has few real concerns about the growing pandemic. But as the deadliest pandemic in human history ravages northern New England, and starts to unravel the fabric of their Maine neighborhood, he starts to realize that the flu itself is the least of his problems. A mounting scarcity of food and critical supplies turns most of the neighbors against him, and Alex is forced to confront their unexpected hostility before it goes too far. Just when he thinks it can’t get any worse, the very face of human evil arrives on Durham Rd. and threatens to destroy them all. Alex and his few remaining friends band together to protect the neighborhood from a threat far deadlier than the flu, as they edge closer to the inevitable confrontation that will test the limits of their humanity.
From the author:
The Jakarta Pandemic was an enjoyable, yet sobering story to write. The likelihood of experiencing a devastating pandemic in our lifetime is quite real, and this cautionary tale explores the strengths and weaknesses of community bonds, in the face of such an epic civil disaster. Told from a father's point of view, the story focuses on the human elements that shape our ability to survive, and should never be ignored. Survival in the face of desperation, anger and betrayal...a bad combination in the crowded suburbs, as food and life-critical supplies start to vanish. This book puts you in the middle of a likely and frighteningly realistic scenario, where everyone is a potential victim...no matter how well you think you prepared for The Jakarta Pandemic.
Enjoy the ride,
This was a hard book to put down. So, I didn’t. Steve Konkoly knows how to create and maintain an atmosphere of suspense. Even the most benign events had me holding my breath, wondering what might happen next. I experienced a wide range of emotions: fear, hope, panic, shock, awe, anger, even malice, and ultimately satisfaction and the guilt that comes along with it.
Excerpt from The Jakarta PandemicSee what I mean?
Alex checked his watch for the tenth time in less than twenty minutes. 5:50 PM.
Where are they?
He had started to lose his patience early, which came as no surprise. He had been lying under the McCarthy's play set for nearly an hour, as a vicious Nor’easter dumped thick waves of snow on him. This would be enough to test anyone's patience... and physical limits.
He lowered his night vision scope for a moment and rubbed his eyes. Now, even the green image in the scope added to his discomfort. He just hoped that Charlie was keeping a better watch over the stretch of ground that defined the ambush site.
He’d better be, or they could stumble right through here undetected.
Alex had doubts about spotting them with his night vision scope. The near absence of ambient light, combined with a blinding snowstorm, continued to degrade the already grainy image formed by the inexpensive first generation night scope.
He twisted open the green ceramic thermos, and poured the last of the hot tea prepared for him by Kate. He sipped the steaming tea from the thermos cap, placed the cap down next to the rifle in front of him, and took another look through the night vision scope. He could still see the Hayes' house, but the image was even grainier. He knew the batteries were not the issue; he’d just changed them. Soon enough, he'd have to rely solely on Charlie to spot them in time to spring a coordinated ambush. If not, he'd have to take the three men down himself, which wasn't optimal, but was still well within his range of capabilities. He didn’t want to think about what could happen if they slipped by him. Nothing would stand between these psychopaths and his family.
As long as I see them before they're right on top of me I'll be fine.
Alex swigged the rest of the warm tea and replaced the lid. He tucked the thermos into his backpack and checked his rifle again. Looking through the Aimpoint scope, he saw that the red dot still glowed brightly in the center of the sight. He pulled back on the AR-15's charging handle, and ejected the bullet loaded in the chamber, leaving the brass cartridge in the snow where two other bullets lay. He’d ejected one bullet every half hour to ensure that the freezing temperatures had not affected the weapon's mechanical action. A malfunction tonight would spell disaster.
He suffered a sudden, violent, and insuppressible full body shiver, which rendered him useless for a few seconds. He couldn’t last out here all night, and he knew it. He looked through the night vision scope again, and the green image confirmed that he was still alone. Staring through the scope, he wondered how it was possible for things to have spiraled so far out of control.
So far gone, in fact, that he now found himself lying under a neighbor's play set in a blizzard, eagerly waiting to kill. He never thought twice about doing this in Iraq. It was his mission. He didn't really have any problem with it here either, and he could rationalize this act on several levels. He had to do it: for the good of the neighborhood, and probably society in general; but most importantly...for the immediate safety of his family.
And in the end, that was all that really counted for Alex.
This story will have you wondering about your own mortality and whether or not you are prepared for a pandemic. Would you know what needed to be done, and, more importantly, would you be capable of doing what is required?
My one issue with this book had to do with tense problems. Steve originally wrote this book in the present tense. He later rewrote it in the past tense, based on some helpful feedback, but remnants of the present tense still existed, at least in my copy. Steve has since corrected these errors, so what is left is a clean, very well written story.
My rating: 4/5 stars
Now, please enjoy my interview with Steve Konkoly. Remember to stay tuned following the interview for an excerpt from Black Flagged and a chance to win BOTH of Steve's books!
Interview with Steve Konkoly
Cookie's Mom: Steve, thanks for speaking with me today.
Will you tell readers a little about yourself?
Steve: Right now, I am a part-time writer, though there are moments when this "part-time" occupation takes nearly all of my time. Professionally, I work for a major pharmaceutical company in sales, and have spent the past ten years with the same company. Personally, I am a busy father to two fantastic kids, eight and eleven years old...and married to a busy lawyer. We're "busy" up to our necks, so this is why I wake up at 4:30 every morning to write. If I tried to do it any other time...readers would have to wait a very long time for another book.
Cookie's Mom: You served with the United States Navy and Marine Corps for eight years. How has that experienced shaped you? I know that it very much influences and enriches your writing.
Steve: Thank you. It's a wonderful complement to hear. I had the fortune of serving under both the branches of the military, both as a naval officer. I started out in the Navy SEAL program, right out of the Naval Academy, but was plagued with hairline leg fractures from the start, and eventually left the program after spending a year making little progress through training. Earning a place in our Naval Special Forces had been a long standing dream of mine, and I didn't take the setback lightly...nor did I dwell on it. I volunteered for duty on a frigate stationed in Japan, and spent two amazing years onboard a virtual floating insane asylum...and I mean this in the most affectionate, respectful way, if that is possible. I wouldn't trade my time onboard this ship for anything, though I had no desire to return to sea duty. Let's just say that it didn't ultimately suit my personality. I wrangled orders to a Marine Corps unit in southern California, as a liaison officer, where I was better able to channel my energy...and keep my feet on terra firma...when I wasn't flying around in helicopters or parachuting out of aircraft.
Because of my unique experience with both naval and land based fighting forces, I was exposed to the leadership and camaraderie common to two distinctly different settings and missions. Trust me when I tell you that a Marine is distinctly different than a Sailor, in more ways than the obvious. Each branch of our service has a very different mission and special work environment, with vastly different needs. Over the past 200 years, Marines and Sailors have appropriately evolved to fulfill the needs, and I was fortunate to be exposed to both cultures.
These experiences figure heavily in my writing, in both subtle and obvious ways. I find the common bonds and experiences of military service members to be universal, regardless of service branch or type of work, and can't resist writing these aspects into my work, whether positive or negative. They still fascinate me, and from what I can tell by reader response, there is a huge demand for realistic portrayals of military culture.
Cookie's Mom: Is it true that while you enjoyed being a part of the military, you also longed for the freedom to express yourself creatively?
Steve: I have to confess that my decision to pursue an English from Annapolis, was more of a business decision, than a love of literature, reading, or the arts. I was given wise counsel right around the time we were required to declare our academic majors. At least 80% (this is a guess, but not far off) of Annapolis grads leave with a science degree, ranging from Oceanography to Systems Engineering, and the Naval Academy leadership lobbies heavily for a midshipman to choose an "accredited" science major. They pretty much try to scare you into believing that your degree in English or Political Science will be useless upon graduation...well, I was advised to ignore the pressure, and pick something easy that I enjoyed, because in three years, all graduates would get to pick initial assignments based on class rank. This "wise counsel" was also pursuing Navy SEALs (extremely selective on many levels), and had no intention of struggling with a difficult "accredited" engineering degree, that wouldn't matter upon graduation. We all went into the same fleet, regardless of our academic degree...but some of us got to pick EXACTLY what we wanted to do, because we didn't kill our academic rankings with a major that we hated.
As for absolute creativity in the fleet? There's not much room for that in the military. I expressed my creativity in letters to friends (sarcastic and bitter at times...most of the time). I made copies, and still laugh at these.
Cookie's Mom: How hard was it for you to make the decision to leave your military career?
Steve: Not very hard on the surface. After two relatively comfortable postings, I faced a promotion and a whole new set of responsibilities, which also included moving my new family to a new location, and spending most of that time at sea. I had already started to detest spending time away from my wife and brand new son, and couldn't imagine being torn away from them for months. Deployments to the Arabian Gulf typically lasted over six months...no thanks. Under the surface, it was extremely difficult to acknowledge the fact that I would never wear the uniform again, and that the journey I started 12 years earlier had come to an end...sort of. I brought it back to life with my writing.
Cookie's Mom: Are you pleased with that decision?
Steve: Very, very pleased. I left active duty three months before 9/11, and could only imagine where I would have been sent if still on active duty. As much as I felt torn and conflicted in the weeks following the attack, I knew that I had spent eight years on active duty, and would have gone anywhere required in that time. I was pretty lucky, and missed both the Gulf War and the Iraq War, having served in between the two.
Cookie's Mom: I see from your bio that you still enjoy sailing. I recently interviewed Lin Pardey about her book Bull Canyon: A Writer, A Boatbuilder and Other Wildlife. I have never sailed my own boat, but, as I discussed with Lin, I imagine sailing generates feelings of autonomy and freedom – to be out on the open water, at the helm of your own vessel, in charge of your destiny, so to speak. What is the draw for you?
Steve: You're right. Feeling the wind take the sailboat, and learning how to control these natural forces to some effect, is a thoroughly satisfying experience on many levels. For myself, there is no better feeling than cutting the sailboat's engine, after we've cleared the crowded harbor, and enjoying the silence of wind driven propulsion. We've had some frightening moments, which have tested our McGyver instincts, but for the most part, it is truly a pleasurable and liberating experience. Sailing is one of those foundational skills of civilization that appeals to an instinct buried in our DNA. It's simply exhilarating...unless the kids are incessantly harassing each other. We get more of that than you might imagine, so the Mayflower moments are not so common. Parenting is such a joy.
Cookie's Mom: Agreed!
Now, let's talk about The Jakarta Pandemic. This book and Black Flagged are both generating a lot of interest. Amazon recently featured The Jakarta Pandemic in their “Big Deal” post-Black Friday promotion. What is the result of the increased attention?
Steve: This was an unexpected push for both books. It really couldn't have been timed better. The Jakarta Pandemic shot up the rankings from #3000 to #210 at one point, pushing daily sales up to levels I have never seen before. Nearly 15 times the average over the past few months. Jakarta settled into a nice routine prior to this, continuing to capture enough reader attention to keep me more than happy and engaged. A week after the promotion, sales have settled down, but may have found a new plateau. Black Flagged benefited the most, in my opinion. Due to a nice halo effect, my newest novel received a nice boost, and has achieved a level of momentum that I didn't expect for a few months. The power of Amazon's enhanced visibility platform is simply astonishing.
Cookie's Mom: Steve, I'm a mom, thus a full-time multi-tasker, and frequently distracted. The Jakarta Pandemic captured and maintained my attention throughout. That is no small task. As I said in my review, even benign moments generated feelings of tension in me. I had to keep reading to know what would happen next. Tell me, did you intend this effect, and how did you manage to create and sustain it from beginning to end?
Steve: I wanted to go with a slow burn until the midway point, where I accelerated the tension at a faster rate. Did I really intend to do this in advance? I'd love to sit here and say this was all exquisitely planned, however, that would be sheer nonsense. I had a rough idea of the pacing, and despite cries from author friends to drastically increase the action in the first half, I resisted the temptation. This isn't the type of novel with a CDC hero, flying from city to city with a team of Special Operations soldiers, trying to track down "patient zero." Jakarta is a different type of story. I'm really happy you found it to be filled with an intense, building tension.
Cookie's Mom: Do any of these characters resemble people you have known in real life?
Steve: For Jakarta, I took pains to ensure that nobody resembled actual people, especially my neighbors. I knew this book might have mixed reception on my street, since the neighborhood in the book physically resembles where I live. The neighborly bonds disintegrate rather abruptly in my book. Horrible things happen between these neighbors.
Cookie's Mom: While this story is fictional, it also bears some similarities to your own life. The main character, Alex, works for a pharmaceutical company and is an ex-military man. The story seems highly plausible, which is probably why it evokes such strong emotional responses. How do you value drawing on your own experiences in your work? Do you continue to use this technique in Black Flagged?
Steve: You’re not the only one to notice the connection. My neighbors don’t talk to me anymore... just kidding, some of them still talk to me. Most of them really want to know what my basement looks like - it would entirely disappoint the majority. The book’s premise started with my own introspection about how a typical family could prepare for, and survive a pandemic. I didn’t obsess over it, but as I stared out of my own office window, I knew that I wanted to stage the majority of the book’s action in a neighborhood. Maybe I wasn’t feeling very creative that day, or something about the scene struck me. Either way, I modified my own neighborhood (in size and scope) and began to take some notes. Similarly, I started thinking about the characters, and decided that a pharmaceutical representatives job would be the perfect way to explain the protagonists knowledge of influenza (and paranoia), without crossing the cliché line. I didn’t want to throw another CDC (Centers for Disease Control) hero at readers, or anyone else in the medical field. I saw it as a solid opportunity to draw on my knowledge, and keep the protagonist real. I decided to give him a background as a combat veteran, because I thought it would add an edge to the character that could be explored in interesting ways. Alex Fletcher is a combat decorated Marine officer that defies some of the stereotypes, but has the basic skills and insight that give him an edge over most adversaries. I say most, because he is in no way a superhero, but among his neighbors, many of whom aren’t thinking clearly due to panic, he’s at a considerable advantage... when he needs to be. He’s actually quite introspective and reserved. More of a plotter, and less of a react first type of character. With Black Flagged, I lean heavily on my knowledge of government and military workings. I like to be accurate with equipment and weapons, locations and times, but I don’t restrict myself from inventing or enhancing things. My background gives me a nice starting point for researching these aspects, and building from there.
Cookie's Mom: I enjoyed the details that pertained to the family’s diet while essentially confined to their home. You and I have spoken some about cleanses and diet restrictions – anyone who has ever had to restrict their diet in any way will relate to the challenges that Kate and Alex faced in this story. Where do the details that inform these parts of the story come from?
Steve: You might be the only one that enjoyed those details. I'm kidding. Actually, many of the one or two star reviews refer to the "unrealistic" nature of vegetarians appearing in the story... among other presumably "liberal" issues. I think most of these reviewers assume that I am a conservative, gun-toting meat-eater... and anything written in a survival story is pure "liberal" nonsense. Yes, I've heard that from reviewers too. The details informing these parts of the story came from my own personal experience as a vegetarian, and my own research regarding the viability of stocking a survival shelter with vegetarian food supplies. I have survived as an athlete for many years as a vegetarian...and still do. If restricted to rice, beans and canned vegetables, I think you'll survive indefinitely...and still be able to outrun zombies. Sorry, wrong genre.
Cookie's Mom: Did you always know how this story would end? Without giving anything away, can you tell me how you decided the fate of the characters in the story?
Steve: No. I wrote a proposed end to this story about halfway through writing the novel, and by the time I arrived at this point a year later, the end was completely changed. I'm not sure why I jumped ahead and did this, but I do remember that the scene wouldn't leave my head, and just had to come out. I used elements of the scene for the "ending," but not much beyond that. This happened to me in Black Flagged, but not for the ending (another important scene), and I'm working on a scene for Black Flagged's sequel that is way out of sequence. I love the scene I'm writing at the moment, but I can't wait to get back to the linear plot.
Cookie's Mom: Steve, readers often enjoy learning about what books and authors influenced their favourite authors. Please tell us, what works and writers have inspired you.
Steve: I love most of Stephen King's novels. I've found the depth and variety of his career's works to be fascinating, and second to none. He has written novels in nearly every genre, to include post-apocalyptic, fantasy, thriller, and of course horror. It's no coincidence that my first novel has a strong horror theme.
Cookie's Mom: I have always loved Stephen King's writing too. He is an inspiration to many.
Finally, just for fun, will you answer the desert island question? I suspect with your military training you are probably the most qualified of my interviewees to answer it! Imagine that you are stranded on a desert island, having arrived there floating on a water-proof backpack, the only thing apart from the clothes on your back that you now own. What three things found in your backpack would you be grateful for having had the foresight to pack in preparation for this emergency? Special bonus question just for you: What items on the island would you immediately make use of to secure your livelihood?
Steve: Items in my pack:
1.) Combat knife with serrated blade (for just about everything imaginable)
2.) Custom first-aid kit (basics plus antibiotics, antibiotic ointment...the kind of stuff Alex Fletcher would have in one of the first aid kits in his basement)
3.) Waterproof matches (I'm not interested in rubbing two sticks together, or having to keep a fire going 24/7 for the rescue plane)
My first priority would be to secure a drinkable water source, then to figure out how to shelter myself from the elements. Water is an immediate priority...without water, you'll perish rather quickly. Food? It takes a long time to starve to death, and I could stand to lose a few pounds.
Cookie's Mom: Steve, thanks for speaking with me today. I wish you continued good fortune, and can’t wait to see what you come up with next!
Steve: Thank you so much for this opportunity, Sue. Interviews like these are one of the most enjoyable aspects of writing. I look forward to answering any questions from your blog followers. Don't be shy.
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Book One of the Black Flagged series.
A graduate of the Department of Defense's experimental Black Flag program, Daniel Petrovich carries a secret he'd rather keep buried. A secret his government has hidden in the deepest vaults of the Pentagon. Unfortunately for Daniel, some secrets carry a debt that can never be repaid, and certain acquired skills will always hold their value. Someone is trying to raise Black Flag from the dead, and bring Daniel back with it. Someone who knows all of his darkest secrets.
In exchange for the promise of a clean slate, and a chance to keep the life he has built with the woman he loves, he agrees to carry out one final mission. Now Daniel has an even bigger problem. The assassination of Mohammed Ghani, a wealthy Muslim importer, wasn't the uncomplicated mission he had been promised. Seven other prominent Muslim businessmen are killed on the same night along the East Coast, suddenly extinguishing Task Force HYDRA, the most significant counter-terrorism investigation in recent FBI history.
Daniel's life is about to disintegrate, as he becomes the focus of a relentless FBI manhunt, and the target of a vengeful CIA agent. To survive, he'll be forced to release a dark side he fought for years to keep suppressed. A dark side with few boundaries, and even fewer loyalties.
From the author:
Black Flagged was a blast to write from the beginning. I started with the concept of a disenfranchised former covert military operative, and the rest fell into place quicker than I expected. You'll be quickly introduced to Daniel Petrovich. Sarcastically humorous, and unflinchingly pragmatic, he never truly embraced the program that turned him into a lethal operative. As a conflicted, morally ambiguous protagonist, it may take you a while to figure out if you like him or not. While you're deciding on Daniel, you'll be taken on a wild ride through the streets of D.C., escorted through the halls of Langley and the J. Edgar Hoover building...finally relaxing for a few minutes in a cozy, anonymous brownstone nestled into the exclusive streets of Georgetown...before all hell breaks loose around you. In the end, you get to decide who wears the white hat...it won't be the same for every reader.
Excerpt from Black Flagged
"So what's in the bag, Mr. Navy SEAL?"
"Mission specifics. Untraceable weapon," he responded, glancing around secretively as he spoke.
Daniel kept control of the tension evoked by the sudden realization that Parker had lied about being armed, and only slightly tightened his grip on the Sig Sauer pistol hidden under the table.
"I thought I said no weapons," said Petrovich.
"The case is locked, and I don't have the combination. I have a phone number for you to dial, which is programmed to respond to your cell phone number. You get the combo from a recording. I know who the target is, and all of the mission details, but Sanderson did not want me to have access to the contents of the briefcase. I don't ask questions."
"What's the phone number?" Petrovich said, removing his cell phone from one of the inside pockets of his jacket.
"You're going to open the case here?" asked Parker.
Petrovich leaned across and whispered, "You're goddamn right I am. I don't need this case exploding inside my car...and if I don't like the contents, I don't want to make another trip to return it. The number please."
Parker recited the number as Daniel dialed. The call lasted less than thirty seconds before Daniel abruptly snapped the phone closed. He leaned over the left side of the table to look at the nylon case.
"May I?" said Daniel.
"The case is yours."
Daniel lifted the case off the floor and placed it in his lap, backing his chair up flush against the wall. He still wanted some room to maneuver, just in case this elaborate set-up was a trap, though he felt comfortable enough about Parker. The guy was far from a trained agent or contract killer. Daniel suspected that he was exactly what he claimed to be.
He dialed the four-digit combination and flipped open the top of the case. He stared at the contents, noting the presence of a Ziploc bag enclosed pistol in the padded compartment normally reserved for a laptop computer. He found two sealed documents in the other side of the case, and removed them. One was a thick packet, and the other was a small envelope.
"Do you have to look at this here?" said Parker, glancing nervously over his shoulder at two women who occupied brown leather chairs several tables away.
"You need to relax. I didn't drag the gun out, did I?"
Parker didn't look relieved by his response, and continued to look over his shoulder while Daniel unsealed the packet. Daniel extracted the contents, and placed them on the table next to his coffee. The top item was a picture.
Petrovich opened and read the contents of the envelope, and replaced the letter. He put the envelope back into the briefcase and took the picture off the table. Staring at the picture, he asked, "I suppose this gentleman needs to take a permanent vacation?"
"Something like that. His name is..."
"I don't need to know his name.
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Steven Konkoly graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy, and served on active duty for eight years with various Navy and Marine Corps units. He now lives with his family in coastal southern Maine, making the best of a short sailing season and a long winter. He is the author of The Jakarta Pandemic, an apocalyptic thriller, and Black Flagged.
Steven can be contacted directly by email (email@example.com) or through his blog (www.stevenkonkoly.com).
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~ GIVEAWAY ~
The Jakarta Pandemic AND Black Flagged!
The Jakarta Pandemic AND Black Flagged!
There are 7 ways to enter below. Note that none of these are mandatory, so you can pick and choose how you will enter the contest. Enter once, or enter multiple times. There are two Twitter options, each worth one entry, which can be done once per day until the end of the contest. The contest will be open for 7 days. It is possible to earn up to 19 entries! The winner will be selected randomly once the contest has closed. Good luck!