After a successful career in the Federal government, Gary A. Keel is using his knowledge of Washington’s inner workings to kick off his next gig as a writer. In his fictional Executive Order 14900, the careful balance of a democracy is tipped. Are the founding documents enough to defend the nation against an executive power grab?
Executive Order 14900 is an action-based tale of a near future – a future so close, in fact, that readers will try to parse out who’s who among figures from the nightly news and election ballots.
Mr. Keel will be in town twice in coming months. Prior to his November 16 appearance at the Valley View Barnes & Noble, and his February 1 talk at the Raleigh Court branch library, we got a little insight on how he sees his work and what he’s learning from it.
BOOK CITY ★ Roanoke: What did you learn in writing Executive Order 14900?
Gary A. Keel: I learned that if I can publish a novel and the Nationals can win the World Series, anything is possible. It’s also very daunting competing with the literary masters.
BCR: Tell me a little more about that. How do you see that competition, is it in the writing, the selling, or both?
GAK: The publishing industry is pressed to capture a customer’s attention with the rise of streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, the rise of new sports offerings like MMA and world soccer, and more time spent by younger people on video games. As a result, the industry, agents and publishers, have resorted to cherry picking or giving preference to authors with a known platform, politicians, bloggers, or news commentators. Add in the proliferation of selections written by ghost writers under a popular celebrity’s name (President Trump, for example), and the market becomes very crowded. Lastly, because of changes in our culture, preference in writing style has changed radically. Readers now expect a compelling story with non-stop action and heroic characters, in a way that incites the reader’s emotions. New authors like me constantly hear at writing conferences, “show the readers, don’t tell them.”
All of these factors have resulted in vast changes in what’s published and what’s not. I read someplace that only 2% of the books submitted to traditional publishers are accepted, and only 7% of those sell over 1,000 copies. A small percentage of the literary masters you see featured in bookstores, sell the majority of copies. I often wonder if the classics I read in college, like Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, Ken Follett’s A Place Called Freedom, or James Michener’s Chesapeake would be published today. How many of those writers would be forced to self-publish? It’s a daunting thought for an aspiring author.
Gary A. Keel will sign Executive Order 14900 at the Valley View Barnes & Noble on Saturday, November 16, from 12 – 4 PM.
BCR: What is the most enjoyable aspect of writing for you?
GAK: Writing is a way to connect with new friends and entertain them. Nothing makes me feel better than to hear a stranger say, “Loved your book!” From an internal perspective, I enjoy character development and the challenge of designing twists and turns into the plot. It’s gratifying to hear a reader say, “Didn’t see that coming!
BCR: It sounds like you write without an outline. Do you have an ending you write to, or are fully realizing the novel as you write?
GAK: I usually have an ending in mind when I start, but as the plot unfolds it often changes. For example, I’m currently rewriting my second novel, The Mystery at Star Mountain, to make the ending more dramatic. I don’t have an outline, but when I began rewriting and changing chapters around, I had difficulty keeping the timeline straight so I wrote what I call a “Storyline” as a blueprint. I have altered the “Storyline” as much as the manuscript, because a seemingly minor change in the plot can spur more dramatic twists and turns later on. To me, this is part of the fun of writing fiction. I’m constantly intrigued by how things will end up! One might say fate has a hand in my stories, just like it does in life.
BCR: What was the toughest aspect of working on this book?
GAK: Finding balance. I wanted it to be a source of entertainment, not a manifesto. With all that’s going on in our government, it was a challenge not to whine. I must have succeeded based on the number of people who ask who Jerome Elliott represents.
BCR: He’s one important character, and there a good number of others who populate the book. The reader moves through a good number of scenes very quickly and on to new characters. Did you have a model for the structure?
GAK: This is my first effort and I got a little carried away. I am an organic writer. My plots come to me in the form of a motion picture and I just transcribe what I see in my mind’s eye. This story is like the movie The Longest Day, where the entire war, WWII, takes place in one movie!
BCR: It really pulls the reader along. How long do they have to wait for the next one? What’s the timeline?
GAK: My agent has it in hand and is deciding the best strategy for placing it. Hopefully, sometime next year.
BCR: How was your writing approach different as you worked on the second novel?
GAK: It won’t surprise you that it’s much more focused and includes fewer characters. I would describe it as a mystery thriller with some sci-fi flirtation thrown in.
BCR: What are you reading and recommending to people now.
GAK: I just completed The Reckoning by John Grisham and Thomas Kies’ new book called Graveyard Bay. Both are excellent, but a little dark. I’m now looking at an older thriller called Open Season by Archer Mayor.
BCR: What have you learned from readers and audiences as you connect with them over this book?
GAK: You can’t typecast them. Originally, we thought EO would appeal to men with political and/or military backgrounds. What we’ve learned is the best feedback has come from women without either who just like the plot and the characters, a very nice surprise.
BCR: We hope you have many more nice surprises as you continue with your writing and touring. Thanks for connecting with us and coming to Roanoke. We’ll look forward to seeing you soon.
★ Gary A. Keel will sign copies of Executive Order 14900 at the Valley View Mall Barnes & Nobel on November 16, 2019 from 12 – 4 PM. He’ll be back in the area in winter 2020. So if you get the book now and read it, there will be another chance for discussion with the author.
★ Gary A. Keel will discuss Executive Order 14900 at the Raleigh Court Branch Library on Sunday, February 1, 2020 from 2 – 4 PM.