JoeyPinkney.com Exclusive Interview
5 Minutes, 5 Questions With…
Craig O. Thompson, author of OMAR: A Novel (A Cary Parker Thriller)
(Brightwater Publishing Company / StrataGem Press™)
In 1995, CIA/FBI jointly discovered secret plans to recover a trove of priceless treasure from deep below the North Atlantic Ice Barrier, aboard the RMS Titanic. An ultra-zealous terrorist group competed against mercenary divers, hired by a billionaire oilman, which set off a complex web of international intrigue and suspense.
Dr. Cary Parker, Woods Hole oceanographer and archaeologist, was recruited by CIA’s Colonel Bramson to beat both teams to the ship’s grave. And a wave of worldwide terrorism was set into motion at 2077 fathoms, as a rare, priceless book and unrecovered treasure became the primary focus of a triadic search.
Joey Pinkney: Where did you get the inspiration to write OMAR: A Novel (A Cary Parker Thriller)?
Craig O. Thompson: My inspiration for OMAR: A Novel came from a very short reference in a National Geographic TV special. While watching a documentary about discovery of RMS Titanic, a factoid popped up regarding a little-known, priceless icon that had been lost with the ship. Known as “the most magnificent book binding in the world”, the gold and jewel-encrusted “Great Omar” (also referred to as “The Titanic Omar”) went down with the famous ship, when it foundered.
The discussion about the lost binding lasted less than thirty seconds. But it made a lasting impression on me. Suddenly a “what-if” moment hit, and I quickly grabbed the closest scrap paper and pen, to write a reminder. As I’d been working on a science-fiction adventure, at the time, the note was set aside… then found weeks later. I realized, then, the Titanic-related story could be a more powerful one, if I tied it to other elements to draw the narrative together.
Long before 9/11, global terrorism was beginning to grab the headlines, more and more. That convinced me to put the science-fiction story aside. I then spent most of my spare time researching the historical elements of the foundered ship—along with the background of terrorism and terrorist movements.
Soon after, I commenced research on the binding’s history, whose genesis began in the first decade of the Twentieth Century. However it grew increasingly difficult to find any definitive information about the binding.
Other inspiration came when my wife and I traveled to UK to meet with staff from the antiquarian bookstore that had commissioned the “illuminated” binding. Deemed as “Bookseller to His Majesty the King”, Henry Sotheran Limited is regarded as “The longest established antiquarian booksellers in the world”. Originally founded in York in 1761, and established in London in 1815—Sotheran’s has been responsible for the full libraries of Charles Dickens (a regular customer), Sir Isaac Newton and other famous personages.
While at Sotheran’s, we were able to hold Charles Dickens’ personal snuff-box and flask, pulled from a very secure vault. There are wonderful stories associated with those items… and I was “magically inspired”.
Following my meeting at Sotheran’s, we met with members of the still-existing bookbindery—Sangorski & Sutcliffe—known, in the late-Nineteenth and early-Twentieth Century as “Binders to King Edward and the Archbishop of Canterbury”. In addition to viewing “The Great Omar’s” original plans, we were honored to view the actual metal stamping tools for illuminated leather bindings of “Peter Pan” and “Winnie the Pooh”.
I spoke with principle players related to those who had “illuminated” the gold and jewel encrusted book. Special time was spent with the nephew of George Sutcliffe, the late Stanley Bray, who ran Sangorski and Sutcliffe for over 40 years, upon Sutcliffe’s death. Much of his true story is related in a fictional setting in OMAR: A Novel, through the character, Mr. White.
Finally, our visit to London culminated with two special invitations. One was to the British Museum, where we were able to privately view the only surviving copy of “The Great Omar” (you’ll have to read my novel to learn how the first and second copies came about). And we were honored to attend an invitation only, private-party viewing of the official seven hundred year old “Ceremony of the Keys” at the Tower of London (with royalty separated from us “commoners” on the other side of the street).
Upon return from UK and, after I felt I had a full understanding of where democratic countries stood in the context of attacks that had already taken place… and what might happen next, I set out to write OMAR: A Novel.
JP: What sets OMAR: A Novel (A Cary Parker Thriller) apart from other books in the same genre?
COT: To bring in elements of modern terrorism together with historic references about the Titanic and The Great Omar was important to me. I believed at the beginning of my research, as I do today, that readers, and full populations, have never had a full understanding of what goes on in the psyche of terrorists. People who kill innocent people in the name of their god – without any compunction whatsoever.
Most of the narrative takes place in 1995. And so much had already been written about RMS Titanic. I felt it vital to blend historical elements of the ship, without being redundant—and still maintain the modern-day suspense that one expects from a thriller.
Though fictional, OMAR: A Novel has its feet solidly set in fact—in regard to the antiquarian Great Omar binding; the sunken ship (and its history); and fanatical, global terrorist movements and groups that slide in and out of countries with ease, and effortlessly operate within democratic borders.
Being aware of the potential for attacks on our homeland—as a result of a mathematical clock, ticking at the Rand Corporation—motivated me to place factual circumstances about terrorism in a fictional form—rather than in a non-fiction book. By doing so, I had hoped to make it easier for readers to understand what democratic countries and, especially, America would be dealing with. OMAR: A Novel was my way to “soften” the coming blows.
To accomplish this, I brought details into the story that existed in reality. For example, components included a powerful mafia black-market weapons control group, known as STAR; Osama bin Laden; the Islamic Brotherhood; and the Al-Jama’ah on American soil. I included their belief that “no border will stop us”; the growing weekly terrorist advisories travelers faced, abroad; “kissing our personal freedoms and securities goodbye”; fake passports; and a host of other factors that would change our lives, forever, once we were attacked.
This type of reality has caused several reviewers to comment on the “real-life”, “straight-from-the-headlines” feel of the book.
JP: As an author, what are the keys to your success that led to OMAR: A Novel (A Cary Parker Thriller) getting out to the public?
COT: I never gave up. Numerous rejections from literary agencies came in, as I attempted to hone my craft. The benefit of having two professional editors—one, of numerous “best seller” books, including James Clavell’s “ShoGun”; the other an editor for a major metropolitan newspaper, helped immensely.
Following severe professional editing and cutting, one very large literary agency took a deep interest in my manuscript. It appeared I would finally be on my way. However, the agency wanted me to cut most, if not all of the cross-genre chapters dealing with the The Great Omar’s binding… and those dealing with the historical Titanic scenes. That would only have left the “blood and guts” of the story. And I did not believe it would do the historical-fiction aspects any justice.
It was then that I decided to become a “small-house publisher”. And it was then that my own adventure began. As part of a comprehensive Marketing Plan that I put together, pre-9/11, I began doing national print and electronic interviews/talk shows.
Ultimately, four components combined to bring attention to OMAR: A Novel.
First, I obtained written endorsements from notable personalities and bestselling authors, from both private and government sectors, who realized just how “on-point” I was about the subject of terrorism.
Next, I was fortunate to be the recipient of the Ben Franklin Awards™ Silver Award for “Best New Voice – Fiction”. That brought additional credibility from a respected source.
Next, I set out on a personal mission to warn democratic populations that our own homeland would eventually be under severe attack. And these attacks would “cause thousands of people to lose their lives”, on our own soil. My main point: Due to our complacency and lack of interest in the underlying cause of global terrorism, an attack was highly likely to occur in the not-too-distant future.
Finally, my past marketing abilities convinced me I would have to get out in the trenches, in order to directly market and promote the book. Radio and television talk shows, the print media, the fledgling Internet radio market each gave me an opportunity to promote OMAR: A Novel… while informing our citizens about the need to be more aware. Then came 9/11.
JP: As an author, what is your writing process? How long did it take you to start and finish OMAR: A Novel (A Cary Parker Thriller)?
COT: With OMAR: A Novel, I began with an outline for a basic premise; various scenes/chapters, then character backgrounds/histories. The novel’s climax was actually written first. Then I followed up with structured chapters leading up to it. Sometimes a dream would feed a scene. Long ago, I developed the habit of writing down dreams or, often, recording them on my digital recorder—upon waking. Notebooks are also kept around the house for “flash” ideas and thoughts. Today, when away from a pen and pad, I use the Voice Memos app on my iPhone.
Occasionally, to make my characters seem more realistic, I let stream of consciousness and interior monologue slip into my writing technique. Where characters might be separated by time and space – I wanted the reader to get into a character’s head to better experience the inner turmoil, moral dilemma or intellectual struggles of the moment.
Well into writing OMAR: A Novel, however, I discovered a little known fact about the Atlantic Ocean (and other oceans of the world) that caused me to completely toss out my original ending. At that point, the novel took an entirely different turn and required a major rewrite. When completed I knew I had something special.
Due to the serious nature of terrorism, actual ongoing research took over five years (while working full-time). But I did have the benefit of one full year, where a funding “angel” allowed me to leave my job as VP of a private college… to just write. Depending on location, I would participate in local writer’s groups, where we would read each others chapters and share ideas for improvement.
If I count initial part-time research, while earning a living, the time-period would come closer to eight years—because the subject of global terrorism was, and remains dynamic and fluid. New facts or tidbits popped up on a regular basis. Often, it would cause me to rethink the plot and, at times, rewrite entire scenes or chapters. However, my research often strengthened my resolve regarding the direction in which I was heading.
JP: What’s next for Craig O. Thompson?
COT: In addition to outlining chapters and etching out scenes for a sequel to OMAR: A Novel, I’m currently re-exploring the inner-workings of my original science fiction story, while writing a non-fiction book for the business disaster recovery industry.
There are other important character development and plot requirements for at least three more novels, in treatment stage, or at various levels of progress. In addition, I am adapting two screenplays and working on treatments for three original scripts. As a philanthropist, I am in the process of establishing the Saint Jude Foundation for Hope—using a portion of funding derived from my various projects.
Author, Craig O. Thompson:
First 18-year-old accepted into the U.S. Peace Corps; Graduate, Northern Arizona University; B.S./M.A., Education; Lifetime credentials, Theatre Arts & Related Technologies; Award-winning author, speaker, and expert on terrorism, Thompson’s background includes nearly 30 years continuing research on the subject; Keynote speaker on global terrorism and bio-warfare; leads disaster recovery planning workshops for the public, business, and government agencies; Communications director for the Int’l Assoc. of Counterterrorism & Security Professionals; former board member of the American Independent Writer’s Assoc. (formerly WIW); member of the Assoc. of Continuity Professionals; and the Institute for Business & Home Safety