Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Author Spotlight: Todd Moss

Today’s guest on the Gazalaplooza Author Spotlight is Todd Moss, who has brought along with him his brand new international political thriller, The Golden Hour. We could rattle on and on about what a gripping novel Moss’ new book is, but then we’d just be following in the treads of scores of rave reviews preceding our own recommendation. We might instead impress upon you our guest’s extraordinary resumé, brimming with global treks and experiences (i.e., gigs at a Washington D.C. think tank, the U.S. State Department, the World Bank, Georgetown University, and the London School of Economics) that imbue The Golden Hour with the hearty flavors only someone who’s “been there, and done that” can whip up for your appreciative literary palate. Read The Golden Hour, and you’ll soon see how 100 desperately dangerous hours in Mali will rivet you in ways you’ll remember long after you’ve finished devouring this book.

Given Moss’ quarter century of professional and educational adventures in Africa, you might be excused for thinking of the Spotlight’s infamous klieg light army will have unremarkable effects on our guest. Perhaps, but we all know there’s only one way to find out for sure. Moss is sitting comfortably in our hard wooden chair, seemingly unperturbed by the blinding blaze. Let’s get this Spotlight underway.

Gazala:    In my omnipotence, I've sentenced you to be stranded alone on a desert island for offenses best left unnamed. In my beneficence, I've decided to allow you a limited amount of reading material to make your stay a little less bleak than it would otherwise be. I'll spot you your religious text of preference, and the collected works of William Shakespeare. In addition to those, name the one fiction book, and the one nonfiction book, you'd choose to take with you, and tell why you choose them.

Moss:    For fiction, I’d probably pick Michael Chabon’s Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. It’s an epic, funny, and intimately human story that I could read again and again. Nonfiction is tougher. I’d probably choose Henry Kissinger’s tome Diplomacy, a window into political history and the role of persuasion and raw power. And can I trade Shakespeare for the collected works of J.D. Salinger? (Ed.—Sure, we’re fairly laissez-faire about reading lists with Salinger on them.)

Gazala:    Your new book is an excellent and gripping international political thriller titled The Golden Hour. The novel tells how Judd Ryker, chief of the State Department’s new experimental Crisis Reaction Unit, rises to the formidable challenges of restoring the unjustly deposed president of Mali, rescuing an American senator's kidnapped daughter, and protecting the American embassy in Timbuktu from a terrorist attack, and doing it all in less than 100 hours. I've read it. I enjoyed it immensely, and recommend it highly. Shockingly enough, however, from time to time my bare recommendation doesn't always motivate a book's potential reader to become a book's actual reader. Tell us something about The Golden Hour, and why its potential reader should make the leap and become its actual reader.

Moss:    Thanks, Richard. The Golden Hour is supposed to be a fun thriller. I read thrillers on the beach to relax and get away, so that was my main goal. However, I also wanted to share a more serious experience: We seem to read every day in the newspapers about some crisis around the world (tyranny in Syria, Ebola in West Africa, terrorism in Yemen) where the U.S. Government is expected to respond.  I lived this first hand as a senior State Department official working for Secretary Condoleezza Rice.  In the novel, I wanted to take readers right inside the White House Situation Room or into the sealed classified rooms in the corners of U.S. Embassies to hear the conversations about what our government should do. I wanted to give people some insight into how and why decisions are made that so often seem wrong or misguided. That’s going on every single day.

Gazala:    What are books for?

Moss:    Above all, pleasure.

Gazala:    W. Somerset Maugham said, "There are three rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are." Do you agree, or disagree, and why?

Moss:     When I wrote my first novel, I had no idea what I was doing.  I wrote the second one using a wholly different process. I’m now working on the third, and still not sure which approach is best. The only rule I think that applies to all novels:  you have to sit in the chair and just do it.

Gazala:    You'll pardon me -- I've a sudden and unforeseen crisis requiring my immediate reaction. Ask yourself a question, and answer it.

Moss:    Why’d I set a modern thriller in a place few people know?  The plot was original inspired by a real coup in Mauritania, but I set The Golden Hour in Mali because I thought everyone has heard of Timbuktu. (Yes, it’s a real city in northern Mali!)  I also wanted to share some of my love for Africa, a place I’ve worked on professionally for 25 years. I caught the “Africa Bug” as a college student in Zimbabwe and haven’t looked back.

I hoped setting my story about American foreign policy in a country like Mali might help make that part of the world a bit more accessible to readers, and also highlight how Americans and Africans are being drawn closer together than ever before. Our economies are increasingly tied as Africa becomes an important growth market for American companies. Many people don’t yet realize that Africa is booming. And our own national security is intimately linked as terrorism and international crime become greater threats. That’s why our military is more and more involved in places like Somalia or the Sahara Desert. The continent seems far away for many people, but this is changing quickly.

The old cliché from countless songs, poems and books is Timbuktu’s mysterious glimmer is always half a world away from wherever you happen to be, as in, “Darling, I’d follow you all the way to Timbuktu if you asked me to.” Not so right now, friends. The Golden Hour’s mysterious glimmer is as close as a mere Amazon click. So much for never taking you anywhere fun, right?