Michael Laurence studied biology and creative writing at the University of Colorado and holds multiple advanced certifications in medical imaging. Before becoming a full-time author, he worked as an X-ray/CT/MRI technologist and clinical instructor. He lives in suburban Denver with his wife, four children, and a couple of crazy Labrador Retrievers.
The following is an interview with Michael Laurence.
Each week, The Colorado Sun and Colorado Humanities & Center For The Book feature an excerpt from a Colorado book and an interview with the author. Explore the SunLit archives at coloradosun.com/sunlit.
What inspired you to write this book?
For those who might not know, I write SF/horror as Michael McBride. It was while researching two of my previous works, “The Event” (2013) and “Sunblind” (2014), that I learned a staggering amount about historical financial conspiracies and the plight of undocumented immigrants crossing the Sonoran Desert, respectively.
While those might sound like two completely disparate topics, they melded together in my mind like peanut butter and chocolate. Cartels promise safe passage in exchange for muling drugs, but what if these poor souls were used to smuggle something far worse? And what if an entity more nefarious than any drug trafficking organization were ultimately responsible? What would be its goal and what would be the consequences if it were allowed to succeed?
At the same time I was contemplating this plotline, I was also debating taking a foray into the thriller genre. I wanted to write a series character like James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux and John Connolly’s Charlie Parker, both of whom are complex and brilliant in ways I could never dream of recreating. What I came up with was James “Mace” Mason IV, a special agent with an old-fashioned view of right and wrong, but a modern understanding of how things get done, a man seemingly out of phase with the world around him.
Now, what would happen if I put him in a situation where nothing was black and white and doing the right thing meant working on the wrong side of the law?
I combined the two, added a looming threat and a ticking clock, and set about building a fictional world where powerful men labored in the shadows to influence world events in such a way as to pad their own pockets. Fortunately, I didn’t have to look very hard to find some genuine real-world examples, whose exploits provided the inspiration for “The Extinction Agenda.”
Place this excerpt in context. How does it fit into the book as a whole and why did you select it?
These are the opening chapters in the book. In my opinion, it’s important to start any journey from the beginning. This scene sets the stage for the sequence of events that leads to the main conflict in the novel, a conspiracy that’s been brewing for more than a hundred years. I wanted to introduce new readers to my protagonist, James Mason, as he was early on—somewhat naïve and wet behind the ears—before he’s subjected to the string of tragedies that serves to forge him into a force of nature.
Tell us about creating this book: any research and travel you might have done, any other influences on which you drew?
The research phase is one of my favorite parts of the writing process. I start by building a small library of reference materials, from entire binders filled with handwritten notes and computer printouts to books on every subject germane to the storyline. In the case of “The Extinction Agenda,” that meant amassing everything from textbooks on biological warfare agents, the aftermath of World War II, and DTOs to speculative works involving conspiracy theories, population control, and everything in between.
I also had the opportunity to dig into my Colorado collection, which features old, out-of-print books and newspaper articles I’ve been saving for the right occasion, allowing me to blend history and fiction in such a way that I hope it’s impossible to tell where one ends and the other begins. As a native, it was really cool to be able to write about so many places I’ve been in real life and, if you’ve been here long enough, you ought to be able to recognize each and every one of them, too.
What were the biggest challenges you faced, or surprises you encountered in completing this book?
The biggest surprise came after I’d finished writing and sold the book. I was in New York City at a restaurant called Almond, working on edits with my brilliant editor at St. Martin’s Press, when he suggested we end the book with a scene with the antagonist, in order to set up the second book in the series.
It was a great idea, but it wasn’t feasible because I’d written the book in the first person. I couldn’t turn around and throw in a chapter written from a third-person point of view when my protagonist wasn’t physically there. While other authors have used this convention successfully, it felt like cheating to me, so I told my editor I couldn’t add that final chapter without rewriting the entire book in the third person.
His response? “Okay, go ahead and do so and let’s see how it comes out.”
So I went back home and rewrote the entire novel, which isn’t as easy as simply changing “I” to “he” and “my” to “his.” Then I wrote the final scene with the antagonist and sent the manuscript to my editor, who loved it, but there was just one problem…the new chapter raised more questions than it answered.
Who was this villain? What did he want? There was only one logical solution: push it back into the second book, “The Annihilation Protocol.” So after spending months rewriting the entire book to include this one chapter, we ended up not using it!
Walk us through your writing process: Where and when do you write? What time of day? Do you listen to music, need quiet?
With a house full of kids and a wife who works nights as a labor and delivery nurse, my life is an exercise in controlled chaos. Three to four days a week, I’m up with my boys at 4 a.m. for hockey practice, after which I have to hurry to get them to school.
From there, I have until 2:30 to write. Then I have to crank out dinner and head out the door to evening practices at one rink or another. The remainder of the week I sleep in until 5 a.m., then it’s down to work in my office, where I write for as long as humanly possible before my services as a chauffeur are required again.
I try my best to write whenever and wherever the opportunity presents itself, although I do need it to be fairly quiet. I often struggle to work one-handed because one dog or another needs to have her ears scratched, but I’ve developed a system that works for me. I compose longhand during the first half of my writing session, perform some first-pass editing while typing the day’s work into my laptop during the second half, and finish by making notes for the following day, so I’m off and running as soon as my butt hits the chair.
What’s your next project?
In the second book in the series, “The Annihilation Protocol” (St. Martin’s Press, August 25, 2020), Special Agent James “Mace” Mason and his team find themselves pitted against a brilliant adversary armed with enough lethal nerve gas to wipe every major city off the face of the map, and their only hope of eliminating the threat lies in deciphering a cryptic message written in the blood of a man found entombed behind a concrete wall.
The third book, tentatively titled “The Nuclear Threat,” chronicles a race against time with the fate of the nation hanging in the balance. My editor and I are set to dig into the manuscript this summer with the expectation of an early fall 2021 release. The series is plotted out for at least three more books, so, with any luck, you’ll be seeing a lot more of Mace and the gang in the near future!