Q. You’ve got a new series coming out this month. What can you tell us about Congresswoman Victoria Emerson? What’s Crimson Phoenix all about?
John: Crimson Phoenix is the code phrase to indicate that nuclear war is imminent, and that official Washington needs to be evacuated to secure locations to ensure the continuation of government. The legislative branch is to be evacuated to the Annex, a secret underground complex beneath the Hilltop Manor Resort in West Virginia. Victoria Emerson is the representative for West Virginia’s Fourth Congressional District, but first and foremost, she is the single mom of her three teenage boys. When she finds out that her family cannot accompany her into the Annex, she resigns her seat on the spot and demands that her military escort take her back home.
In this case, Crimson Phoenix was activated purely as a preventive measure. Israel is secretly planning to hit Iran’s nuclear facilities with nuclear weapons, and out of an abundance of caution, the decision was made to evacuate. And evacuation takes time.
Members of congress are still making their way to safety when the Washington press corps leaks the story of the impending attacks, causing Iran to strike first. That’s when the world comes apart with retaliatory strikes. Hundreds of millions of people die in the war that lasts about eight hours.
But hundreds of millions of people are still alive. They’re terrified. None of the infrastructure they’ve come to depend on is working anymore. While the United States still has a House and a Senate and a president, those entities have no way to communicate with the masses. People are left on their own to find a way to survive. Many turn feral.
Victoria Emerson and her family, along with her two-man security team are among the survivors. She’s finished with leadership and governance. Her only goal now is to survive and see her children thrive. But that is not possible. She was born to lead. And while she doesn’t like it—doesn’t want the job—people turn to her for answers.
Q. Hellfire (Jonathan Grave #12) came out this summer to rave reviews. Next summer we’ll get Stealth Attack. Should readers start at the beginning, or does the self-contained nature of these books allow us to read in any order or as a standalone?
John: I work hard to make each book accessible as a standalone novel. That said, I’m blessed to have readers who’ve been there for every step and every book, so I like to reward them with little plot points—Easter eggs, if you will—that will resonate with them.
Q. Professionally, you worked as a safety engineer for much of your adult life. How does that experience enter your novels? Do you have any crazy stories?
John: It’s better than that! My specialty as a safety engineer was explosives and hazardous materials. I also spent many years as a firefighter and EMT. I’ve delivered babies and I’ve zipped children into body bags. I’ve been shot at, threatened with knives, and fallen through a couple of floors. I’ve worked in Level A hazmat suits (we called them body bags with windows), and I’ve cleaned long-forgotten explosives out of storage magazines. Crazy stories? Oh, you betcha.
And all of that experience informs every word I write, just as it informs every breath I take. People are alive today in some part because I walked into their lives. I don’t talk about that part very often because it sounds like glory hogging (I was always part of a very competent and courageous team), but as I get older, I find comfort in the knowledge of what I did.
Q. Twenty-five years ago, your first huge success, Nathan’s Run came out. Do you still hear from fans about it? How do readers feel about it after all this time?
John: Nathan Bailey touches a lot of hearts in Nathan’s Run, and yes I hear from his fans all the time. It helps that my publisher, Kensington, published a 25th anniversary edition of the story around this time last year. Something about his plight—and his optimism in the face of overwhelming odds inspires people. He’s only twelve years old, people are trying to kill him, and he has no one to turn to. Still, in the midst of his misery, he’s able to tap wells of humor and hope. I have a huge picture of Nathan on the wall of my office, courtesy of Reader’s Digest Condensed Books.
Victoria Emerson is a congressional member of the U. S. House of Representatives for the state of West Virginia. Her aspirations have always been to help her community and to avoid the ambitious power plays of her peers in Washington D. C. Then Major Joseph McCrea appears on her doorstep and uses the code phrase Crimson Phoenix, meaning this is not a drill. The United States is on the verge of nuclear war. Victoria must accompany McCrea to a secure bunker. She cannot bring her family.
A single mother, Victoria refuses to abandon her three teenage sons. Denied entry to the bunker, they nonetheless survive the nuclear onslaught that devastates the country. The land is nearly uninhabitable. Electronics have been rendered useless. Food is scarce. Millions of scared and ailing people await aid from a government that is unable to regroup, much less organize a rescue.
Victoria devotes herself to reestablishing order, only to encounter the harsh realities required of a leader dealing with desperate people.