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Q & A

The Radix and The False Door

The False Door draws from events in your debut novel, The Radix. How did that come about?
What is The Radix about?
Did you know you were going to write a sequel while you were writing The Radix? Or did the idea happen after you finished your first book?
Is John Brynstone based on a real person? What about Cori Cassidy? Edgar Wurm? Erich Metzger?
Do you and John Brynstone share similar qualities?
Where do you come up with ideas for your novels?
What led you to integrate the Voynich manuscript into The Radix? Is it authentic?
Do you think the Voynich manuscript is just a hoax or do you think it is real?

The Write Stuff

What is a typical writing day like for you?
When you write a thriller, do you outline or do you make everything up as you go along?
What motivates you to write novels?
Where do you do your writing?
There are a lot of facts in your novels. Do you enjoy researching your books?

Personal Stuff (Sort of)

What was it like when you first started writing fiction?
Do you remember when you found out you were going to be a published novelist for the first time?
Who are writers that you enjoy reading?
Do you have a favorite bookstore?
Do you procrastinate?
So you mentioned the crazy dreams. Have you ever had nightmares about any of your characters?
I heard psychologists are less likely to have phobias. Is that true?
Do you have any pets?
Are you related to Stephen King?
You said something inside The Radix cover about lawn care. Are you really that bad at it?

The Radix and The False Door

Q: The False Door draws from events in your debut novel, The Radix. How did that come about?

Brett King
I asked my then six-year-old daughter, "What do you think Daddy was thinking about when this picture was taken?" She answered in a grave voice, "My name is Brett King. I am a ninja. This is my fence. If you touch my fence, I will kill you." Can you tell she's the child of a thriller writer?

The False Door is a direct sequel to The Radix. The first scene in The False Door takes place in the same moment as the last scene in The Radix, only told from the perspective of a different character. In the second book, my protagonist, John Brynstone, faces the consequences of the darkest choice of his life, one he made in the first book.

Brynstone was forced into that choice because of Erich Metzger, considered by intelligence organizations to be the world's most elite assassin. It was inevitable that Brynstone would face a showdown with Metzger in the second book. I had waited a long time to reach the point where they confront each other and I was literally sweating when I wrote the scene between the two characters. I've never before experienced anything like that while writing a scene. Here's hoping readers will also discover some intensity when Brynstone and Metzger face each other in The False Door.

Q: What is The Radix about?

It's about ten bucks for the paperback. Buy the damned thing. You'll make my mother very happy.

The Radix tells the story of a legendary relic thought to possess powers to heal—or destroy. John Brynstone is the latest in a series of adventurers and researchers who have searched for the Radix. Across multiple continents, Brynstone and his team must unravel riddles and ancient mysteries no one has been able to solve for five centuries. But he's not alone in his quest. The modern-day descendants of the infamous Borgia family will stop at nothing to wield the power of the Radix. At the same time, another organization has sent Erich Metzger to kill Brynstone before he can steal their prize.

I wrote The Radix to appeal to readers who enjoy a story with historical mysteries, adventure, and international suspense.

Q: Did you know you were going to write a sequel while you were writing The Radix? Or did the idea happen after you finished your first book?

The idea for The False Door hit me while I was writing The Radix. The idea for the second book evolved over time, but I knew enough to plant seeds in the first book that proved meaningful in setting up events in the sequel.

By the way, the sequel was originally called "The Black Chrism," a title that should have some meaning if you've read The Radix. My publisher at the time let me get away with an unusual title for my first book. However, the marketing team wasn't excited about a second Brett King book with another weird title. It didn't help that the woman who typed the contract kept misspelling The Black Chrism as "The Black Chasm" (as an inside joke, I make reference to a black chasm in the book). After considering a change in the title, I submitted twenty alternate titles to my editor. He floated them around the office for a consensus. Two days later, I submitted six more titles with The False Door topping the list. Later that day, my editor wrote, "Good news. Everyone likes the title The False Door, so I think we're going to go with that. It definitely has that sense of mystery and drama to it." I agreed. A tip for aspiring writers? Sometimes it helps to have a whole lot of titles in mind for your book.

Q: Is John Brynstone based on a real person? What about Cori Cassidy? Edgar Wurm? Erich Metzger?

Brynstone is loosely based on one of my closest friends. He's a risk taker, an innovative and creative thinker, and the best athlete I've ever met. A compelling sense of mystery follows him. Like Brynstone, he's also a very private person, so I'll decline sharing further details. Bits and pieces of Cori are based in part on my wife as well as an assortment of female undergraduate and graduate psychology students that I've worked with over the years. The inspiration and spelling for her first name comes from an amazing person named Cori Meltzer, an attorney, devoted mother, and the wife of New York Times bestselling author, Brad Meltzer.

I must confess I've never met anyone like Edgar Wurm or Erich Metzger. Wurm is straight out of my imagination, but I would relish the chance to meet his real-life counterpart. On the other hand, meeting Metzger in the real world? I'm afraid that would reduce me to human Jell-O! Based on my interest in forensic psychology, I would want to study him, but only from a very safe distance (not that such a thing exists with Herr Metzger).

Q: Do you and John Brynstone share similar qualities?

Some things, I guess. We can both be driven and intense, although he outpaces me in both arenas. We both hold a profound love and appreciation for our children that can also escalate into Daddy Bear Syndrome if we sense a threat to their wellbeing. We both love seeing babies wearing hats (it's a thing in The Radix) and we both try to think through the details of a situation before moving into it. We're control freaks and we can both feel the bite of frustration when forced to make ugly choices. I'm much more likely to reveal my moods to the world (one character in the second book refers to Brynstone as the "Fort Knox of emotion"). Beyond that, he is far more focused, but I think I can match him in terms of pure passion. One thing I know is John Brynstone could kick my ass without breaking a sweat.

Q: Where do you come up with ideas for your novels?

The Dark Forest. That's the codename I use for my imagination. Lots of crazy stuff comes out of there. Many of my ideas come to life while I'm reading nonfiction and reference books. Part of the idea for The Radix came while reading the psychiatrist Carl Jung's Psychology and Alchemy and Mysterium Coniunctionis. At the same time, I was studying Leonardo da Vinci's sketchbooks and notebooks. Not long afterwards, I encountered works on the Voynich manuscript. After flirting with ideas from each of the sources, the story evolved quickly.

On occasion, I've found ideas in science and history magazines, the Discovery Channel, and the History Channel. Some story ideas just pop out of my imagination.

Q: What led you to integrate the Voynich manuscript into The Radix? Is it authentic?

My wife is a cognitive psychologist with a long-standing interest in cryptanalysis and puzzles. Her enthusiasm rubbed off on me. The Voynich manuscript is a medieval document that has been called the most mysterious manuscript in history. It enchanted me and seemed like an ideal fit for my story. Amid its tangle of bewildering symbols, the Voynich manuscript seemed like a perfect place to hide a secret.

Is it authentic? That's a more challenging question. The author of the Voynich manuscript remains unknown, but almost a century after its rediscovery by antiquarian Wilfrid Voynich in 1912, it has resisted all attempts to unlock its secrets. A legion of professional cryptanalysts have tried to decode it including experts from the KGB, the National Security Agency, and the top British and American codebreakers from the Second World War. Either a book of secret codes or one of the most sophisticated hoaxes in history, the origin and meaning of the Voynich manuscript remain unknown. I adore questions more than answers, and I think I'd be a little disappointed if we discovered the truth behind the Voynich manuscript.

Q: Do you think the Voynich manuscript is a hoax or do you think it's real?

Hmm. What day is it? Thursday? Okay on Thursdays, I am convinced the Voynich manuscript is not a hoax. Here's my reasoning: a hoax usually involves a decided attempt to trick someone into believing something. It needs some justification for its creation, such as the Trojan Horse (arguably, the greatest hoax in antiquity). If the VM were a hoax, the author would need some motive to create it, but to what end? It languished in obscurity for centuries, so who was it designed to deceive?

As a psychologist, I have a weird twist on your question. I've flirted with the idea that it was written by a brilliant person on the edge of madness. Imagine an eccentric and artistic type, maybe someone like William Blake (or Edgar Wurm!), with an interest in codes and plants who feels compelled to create an elaborate book that would have significance only to himself or herself. Psychopathologists have documented this kind of activity in patients with schizophrenia, savant syndrome, and bipolar disorder (it's related to a phenomenon called "delusions of reference"). Of course, clinicians have never encountered a patient's work that represents the magnitude of effort found in the Voynich manuscript. Who knows? Maybe it's the product of painstaking delusions that haunted its author.

If you check back tomorrow? I'll probably tell you the whole thing was a hoax.

The Write Stuff

Q: What is a typical writing day like for you?

Typical? There's really no such thing for me. Basically, I write whenever I get the chance. Sometimes I wake up early and write at four in the morning. More often, I write after the kids go to bed. During the BC (Before Children) era of my life, I would block out big chunks of marathon writing, sometimes lasting until five in the morning. I always write best after exercise and with music. I crave writing fiction! It is a little like an addiction for me. If I am forced to go too long without writing, I can get a little cranky.

Q: When you write a thriller, do you outline or do you make everything up as you go along?

It's become more refined with each story and I now have a writing paradigm that works for me. I outline major scenes and chapters, rating them for suspense, character development, action, conflict, etc. I code each scene with a different color for each character's point-of-view. After some research, I start writing. That's when things get interesting. Big changes play out as the story evolves. Some ideas survive edit after edit and some don't. Detailed outlining might stifle some aspects of my creativity. I would worry if I thought I had captured the whole story in that initial outlining phase. I often end up with scenes and plot developments that I never imagined during the outset. Sometimes my characters have a mind of their own. I need to let them do what they want despite my original plans for them. Sometimes they surprise me.

Q: What motivates you to write novels?

I write to stop the nightmares. I know that probably sounds weird (because it is weird, Brett!). Let me explain. Like some kids, there was a time when I was about six when I had night terrors. Fortunately, it didn't last too long. After my first couple of years in college, the intense nightmares came back with a vengeance and this time they stayed a lot longer. My lovely but long-suffering wife can recount story after story about me standing on our bed fighting creatures that only I could see during my interactive nightmares.

Then a really cool thing happened. I started writing fiction. Just like that, the nightmares went away.

I've come to realize that my twisted brain needs a creative outlet. When I don't indulge it with storytelling, my imagination punishes me with dark dreams. From time to time over the years, I was forced to stray from writing fiction and focus on academic work. The nightmares always returned. During one period, I spent five-straight months writing a textbook and the nights were hellish. I'm writing fiction more than ever and I'm happy to report that the nightmares have stayed away for a long time. Am I normal now? God no. My dreams are a lot less interesting, but hopefully my thrillers make up for it. Aside from all the dream stuff, I write because it is, in my opinion, the greatest job in the world.

Q: Where do you do your writing?

Just about anywhere. I have written scenes while camping in the Rocky Mountains, relaxing on beaches in the Bahamas and Southern California, riding on RTD buses in the Denver-Boulder area, and spending lazy summer afternoons at Bryant Park in midtown Manhattan. I've even scratched out some stuff between innings at major league baseball games.

My home office is the scene for most of my writing, but I like to mix it up sometimes. I've spent time writing in coffee shops and bookstores. I wrote major sections of The Radix in two local libraries. Years ago, in a study room in the Mamie Dowd Eisenhower Library, my wife was gracious enough to help me choreograph a fight scene. I played John Brynstone and Cheri acted out the role of Erich Metzger. Good thing the library staff didn't walk by in time to see me battling my wife! And, yes, it is amazing I am still married.

Q: There are a lot of facts in your novels. Do you enjoy researching your books?

Oh, man, yeah. I love to learn and sometimes I have to force myself to stop researching for a book. In my university lectures, I tell stories to bring facts to life. In my novels, I use facts to give shape to my fiction. As an academician, I love the world of ideas. It goes back to my training as a psychologist. I consulted more than 200 books while writing The Radix and The False Door. Only a small percentage of research actually makes it into the final edit, of course, but it's always an incredible process of discovery. Sometimes, you have to look over a fact or an event from multiple perspectives. That's when the original search becomes a re-search until that research brings out some great insights.

The best part is when I'm researching a topic and I accidentally unearth a separate but compelling detail that was just waiting there for me to discover it. It might be a fact in science I didn't know about or maybe some event in history that fascinates me. I refer to these serendipitous findings as "Easter eggs," because I feel like an excited little kid who just happens to notice this vibrant little item veiled in a tangle of grass.

In some cases, the Easter eggs turn out to be far cooler than the original topic that I was researching in the first place. On occasion, the new discovery is a game changer that alters the complexion of the novel or stimulates an idea for an entire book. While researching both The Radix and The False Door, I stumbled upon things that dramatically shifted the direction of both books (the meaning behind the Rx symbol, for example, was an Easter egg).

Personal Stuff (Sort of)

Q: What was it like when you first started writing fiction?

It was a raw February night and I have no idea where it came from, but I sat down at my kitchen table and started writing a scene. It just spilled out of me. It was almost like an out-of-body experience. Unlike a lot of writers, I didn't have a life-long dream of being a novelist, so the whole experience really surprised me. The next morning, my wife discovered the notebook. When I asked what she thought, Cheri answered, "It's not bad. You have any more?" She's a far better typist and she encouraged me to dictate. As I paced, I came up with scene after scene for the next three hours. It was a big moment. I realized that my life was about to take a new and exciting turn. I'm a big believer in reinventing yourself from time to time and I was thrilled to see that happening in my life.

Q: Do you remember when you found out you were going to be a published novelist for the first time?

My wonderful agent, Pam Ahearn, called me at home with the news that we had a contract. I was beyond ecstatic. Still piloting dreamy circles around Cloud Nine, I climbed in the car that night and drove to the Tattered Cover Bookstore in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, to attend a signing by one of my favorite authors. Years before, Jeffery Deaver had signed my copy of THE EMPTY CHAIR at the old Tattered Cover at Cherry Creek. That night, as I gushed about his work and we discussed Gestalt therapy, I shared that I aspired to be a thriller writer. Wonderful man that he is, Jeff wrote an inspirational note that encouraged me to keep writing. His book occupied a special place on my writing desk and I would often turn to his note for inspiration.

So it was great when I could celebrate my two-book deal by attending Jeff's book signing. I wrote him a card, brought TEC to remind him of his message, and shared my news with him. He got a far-away look in his eyes and said, "I remember the day I sold my first book." A month later, I saw Jeff at ThrillerFest and he agreed to blurb The Radix. I'll always remember his generosity and thoughtfulness. Maybe you can see why I'm a big-time Deaver Believer.

Q: Who are writers that you enjoy reading?

I read thrillers more than any other type of fiction. The list of authors in the thriller genre are the usual suspects like Jeffery Deaver, Lee Child, Steve Berry, James Rollins, Katherine Neville, Clive Cussler, John Sanford, and Lincoln Child and Doug Preston among others. Outside of thrillers, I enjoy Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, and Elmore Leonard as well as John Updike and Michael Chabon. I've never escaped a childhood appreciation of graphic novels. Edgar Allan Poe has intrigued me since my high school days, but Mark Twain may be my all-time favorite author. Back in the day, my daughter and I burned through more My Little Pony and princess stories than I ever knew existed.

Outside of fiction, I enjoy reading biographies. Books on the history of science and the history of ideas are big favorites. I'm a total geek when it comes to presidential history. If it's well written, I'll read about the history of almost anything—from the history of big corporations to the demise of drive-in theaters. I enjoy learning about the little moments in history as much as world-changing events. Years ago, the bulk of my reading centered on psychology and philosophy. That's no longer the case now, although William James is a perennial favorite in both areas.

Q: Do you have a favorite bookstore?

For me, it's a tie between Denver's The Tattered Cover Bookstore and The Boulder Book Store. I was honored to hold my first ever book signing at The Boulder Book Store and it was an amazing experience. Both stores get the romance angle. They understand the seduction of books. In both cases, it's not just a store. It's an experience.

Q: Do you procrastinate?

I'll answer that question later.

Q: So you mentioned the crazy dreams. Have you ever had nightmares about any of your characters?

I've had a couple of hazy dreams about John Brynstone and a few others, but only one character has given me a nightmare. He was the villain in an early unpublished manuscript. The guy was intense and disturbing, even to me (and that's saying something). I gave the manuscript to a student who was a police officer. She told me that after reading it, she had to sleep with the light on. She said, "Promise me you'll write about this stuff, but never act on it." Not long after that, I had a nightmare about the bad guy searching for me in an abandoned drive-in theater. After some debate, I shelved that manuscript and began writing The Radix. Who knows? Maybe that scary bastard will show up in one of my future novels. Just as long as he stays out of my nightmares.

Q: I heard psychologists are less likely to have phobias. Is that true?

Not for me. I'm not much of a feartie-cat (as Math McHardy would say), but three things send me into a downward spiral of feardom: clowns, mannequins, and old creepy porcelain dolls with cracked faces. Wanna see me freak out? Put a mannequin with a broken doll face and clown makeup in my shower. Actually, don't ever do that. And stay out of my shower.

Q: Do you have any pets?

I had a dog and a cat as a child, but I later developed an allergy to cats (sadly, no Banshee for me unless I get shots...and I've thought about it). Marine fish are my thing now. I have a 125-gallon saltwater aquarium. My good friends, Tom and Vickey, own a fish store (Liquid Kingdom, a name I personally love) that is home to gorgeous lionfish and menacing eels. I love to look at those nasty creatures, but they're not for me. I need calm laid-back fish. It's way too stressful for me to own pets who eat each other. I indulge that kind of aggression in my stories, not in my home tank.

Q: Are you related to Stephen King?

Sure. He's my cousin. And Don King is my dad and B. B. King is my uncle. Actually, Stephen King and I both have a father named Don King (not the flashy boxing promoter, as you can probably guess). I believe Stephen King's father changed his surname from Spansky to King, so there's no blood connection.

Q: You said something inside The Radix cover about lawn care. Are you really that bad at it?

I'm not bad at it. I'm not good at it, either. I just practice responsible lawn care as little as possible. It's a lifestyle choice.

 Listen to Interviews with Brett about The Radix