Friday, April 5, 2024

Book Tour + #Giveaway: The Queen of Intelligence by Harvey Havel @RABTBookTours

A 9/11 Conspiracy Novel


Historical Fiction

Date Published: 05-12-2023

Publisher: Workbook Press


As early as December of 1998, the CIA reported that Osama Bin Laden and his Al-Queda organization prepared for direct attacks against the United States using hijacked aircraft, prompting the FBI to place Osama Bin Laden on its Ten Most Wanted List.

In an effort to recruit the best possible Operations Officers to take on these dangerous terrorist organizations, the CIA approaches a young, intelligent, and exceptionally beautiful blonde-haired, blue-eyed Sherry Aspen and sends her into Afghanistan to locate whatever terrorist cells are hiding there and report these locations back to Langley. But as Sherry soon discovers, she is but a mere pawn in a much larger game of intrigue and espionage.

Despite all that she has to give up to obtain the most relevant information to protect the United States, the CIA turns a deaf ear to what she finds in the Middle East, except when she learns of a terrorist plot to attack the Twin Towers in New York City just months after she is deployed. As a result, Sherry is on the run, not from any of the terrorists in the Middle East who may want to kill her, but by the CIA itself.

In this exceptional work of historical fiction, Harvey Havel outlines a conspiracy theory in the form of a novel that questions whether or not the tragedy that took place on September 11th, 2001 was really based on the actions of only one man and not more powerful forces at work, such as the CIA. By following Sherry Aspen on her mission through such places as Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Israel, Havel takes us on a thrilling ride that uncovers what may have been the real reasons behind the 9/11 attacks in which nearly 3,000 innocent American civilians perished. For anyone interested in alternate perspectives of what might have caused the 9/11 attacks as well as those who crave high-caliber literary fiction, this important and carefully-crafted novel is a still very timely and a definite must-read.

Interview with Harvey Havel

Firstly, let me start by saying that I really do appreciate the opportunity to have this interview with The Avid Reader. It is a thrill to connect with those who are interested in reading new work. I do believe that we live in a world where most people don’t read enough literature, and so what The Avid Reader does is very important towards the support of the welfare of American letters. For this, I thank you.

Have you read anything that made you think differently about fiction?

I have written many books within the genre of Historical Fiction. For instance, my last novel, The Queen of Intelligence, A 9/11 Conspiracy Novel, is primarily based on real events that may or may not have taken place six months before The World Trade Center towers were attacked. The book I’m writing now focuses on the 2009 shooting at the Army base in Fort Hood, Texas. Both novels have required much research using nonfiction books. For instance, The Queen of Intelligence required research on the Central Intelligence Agency and the history of our involvement in places like Afghanistan, Iran, and Israel. The book I’m working on now, about the 2009 Fort Hood shooting, involved non-fiction research about life in the Army and also case studies of the person who committed the massacre of innocents who were about to be deployed to Afghanistan. This person is of Palestinian decent. So, interestingly enough, the research that I’m doing does inform the Historical Fiction that I write. The reading and researching of non-fiction work has both a lasting and salient effect on the work that I’m doing, even though what I’m writing is fiction.

Such writing harkens back to the New Journalism movement in the 1960s and 1970s, a body of literature that I find very significant. Works like Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, which started it all off, and Norman Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song are examples of this type of writing. In sum, it’s the non-fiction work that I read that has informed my fiction. As a fiction writer, I believe I am very fortunate to have researched a lot of nonfiction titles. In this way, it’s my research in non-fiction that makes me think differently about the fiction I am writing.

Currently, I am reading a book titled, Conscientious Objector, which is an excellent memoir by Wayne Ferren Jr. about his experiences during the Vietnam Conflict. Impeccably researched, this memoir puts me front and center with some of the most significant issues during that treacherous era. Once again, non-fiction is able to inform my fiction. And of course, I am still a big fan of the New Journalism movement of a prior era.

How do you select the names of your characters?

Interestingly enough, the main characters in the book which I have just published, The Freaks of Lark Street, are all based on real characters in two real settings, which are New York City and Albany, New York. These characters are reflective of certain traits that each character possesses. For Instance, the protagonist’s name is Julius T. Downer. I named him Downer, because his life is going straight down the tubes once he loses a lucrative job in New York City and his high-class girlfriend. Another main character, The Don, is so named, because he knows everything about what happens on the cosmopolitan street where Downer finds himself. Another character, named The Guardian, is a bouncer on Lark Street, and he is named this way, because he has a protective, watchful eye for those who walk by him. So, the characters in this book are named for the traits that they possess. But these are all based on real characters. It is my hope that this is a very funny and light-hearted book compared to the grim topics I deal with in my other work.

Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?

I try to make my books accessible to all readers, regardless of what backgrounds they come from. There is nothing hidden in my books. There is no internal gossip or tidbits of information that only a select few would understand. This is important, because I really want readers to experience what the characters feel and how they see their own particular circumstances. There is no arcane knowledge that isn’t fully explained, no theory that only a particular few believe. The descriptions of Lark Street in Albany, for example, are written so that even a reader who has never been to Albany, New York can easily imagine. My prior books, on the Middle East, let’s say, are written for lay readers and experts alike, which is why my research is also very important for books of this type. So, no, the information and characters in my books are explicit and open for everyone from which to learn and enjoy.

What was your hardest scene to write?

I would say descriptive scenes, in general, are the hardest scenes to write for me. For example, in The Freaks of Lark Street, when Downer is on the Greyhound Bus first approaching Albany, New York from New York City, describing the buildings, the atmosphere, the environs, and the people who live there are difficult to write within the context of his depressed mood and altered outlook having just moved out of Manhattan. With every descriptive scene, I really do try to capture, not only the specific objective details that any reader would recognize, had they been there, but also the mood of the places as experienced by the main character. So, this tandem approach makes writing descriptive scenes the hardest.

Similarly, there are many of my novels in which I describe the scenery of places that I’ve never been to before. For example, I have never been to Afghanistan, Iran, Bangladesh, or Israel. To describe these settings based on places I’ve never been using pictures, images, and photographs of the landscapes, its people, where they live, the open marketplaces, its foods, et cetera, can be especially daunting. Books like The Queen of

Intelligence and The Orphan of Mecca Trilogy try to recreate the imagery of being in these landscapes, usually as a result of research and having viewed many pictures from books I’ve either purchased or loaned from the libraries. I hope I am able to pull it off, because my best work comes when the reader doesn’t have any idea that I, as the writer, have really never been to any of these places. So, descriptive scenes in all of my books are usually the toughest for me to write.

Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?

I try to have each book stand on its own. Each book I write is usually about a totally different subject matter with unique characters. My first book, for example, is about a novice guitar player in New Jersey. A few books later, I penned a book, titled Mister Big, about a football player who tries to make it in the National Football League. Another book, Freedom of Association, is a romance involving two poets from totally separate and unlikely backgrounds. The only three books that have a connection are The Orphan of Mecca Trilogy which deals with the same character and his development throughout each book.

It's important, then, that I try not to write the same book twice. My interests are very wide in this way, and while some books may have similarities in their style and narrative focus, I really do make it a point to have every book that I write stand alone in its own right.

What were your goals and intentions in this book, and how well do you feel you achieved them?

I wanted to write a funny and lighthearted book, and this is quite a departure from the serious nature of much of my previous work on the subject of war, revolution, and other tumultuous events that affected both our country and many others. This book is meant to be a funny look at someone else’s dire circumstances, which normally would be quite serious for any main character, but my hope is that the reader will laugh at the miserable dilemmas this young man faces and also find a great deal of humor in the other cast of characters this young man meets along the way. Interestingly enough, the characters in this book, The Freaks of Lark Street, are all based on real people. The protagonist is not real, but the people that he meets on the streets of Albany are quite real, and I try to capture the nuances of their characters the best I can.

After this book was published, I encouraged those real people I portrayed in the book to read it, and several of them have purchased the book. So far, the verdict is not in on how well I portrayed them, but it is my hope that I got them right and that every reader finds this book humorous, lighthearted, and poignant in places, especially in how the main character develops out of his misery and learns from the other, wayward characters he meets on the streets of Albany. Again, the verdict isn’t in on how well I achieved my aims, as that is really up to the reader. But my hope is that I describe the setting well and portray the cast of characters as accurately as possible.

What inspired you to write The Freaks of Lark Street?

I wrote this book for my friend, Dennis Gervasio. He was whom many would call an ‘outsider artist,’ and he lived near Lark Street in Albany. He spent much of his life making wonderful and much sought-after sculptures out of duct tape, believe it or not. We used to sit in a coffee shop along Lark Street and simply talk for hours, often joined by other people who were also deemed ‘outsiders.’ I thoroughly enjoyed Dennis’ company, and he passed away not long ago, an unsung hero of mine and a hero for all outsider artists living in the area. So, I wanted to write this book for him, because he not only helped me but also many others who were both wayward and somewhat directionless, as is the main character in this book. Also, the characters who are portrayed in this novel are also real people, as mentioned before. I wrote this book for them too. But overall, I would say my friendship with Dennis Gervasio inspired me to write this book. Can the reader guess who Dennis is in this novel? I hope so. He is easy to find.

Can you tell us a little bit about the next book or what you have planned for the future?

For my next book, which will be my twenty-first novel, I return to historical fiction again for another horrible event that should definitely not be overlooked. This next book concerns the 2009 Fort Hood massacre at the Army base in Fort Hood, Texas. Surely, another depressing topic but so necessary to write about nonetheless.

For those who may not remember, a Muslim psychiatrist, who was also a Lieutenant Major in the Army, shot and killed many of his fellow soldiers in a rampage before being deployed to Afghanistan in 2009. It took several months of research before sitting down and writing this narrative. Interestingly enough, I’m utilizing a different method to write this novel, a method termed ‘Method Writing,’ whereby each chapter is written in the first person and through the eyes and senses of each main character. It’s dangerous for me, because it is easy to get ensconced in these flawed characters and to get carried away with them, because myself, as the writer, must actually ‘become’ the character for each chapter. This includes one of the main characters, who is this Muslim psychiatrist, and to become him, in a sense, is tricky and somewhat dangerous to my own mental health. Luckily, there is research and case studies available about this person and this event to guide me along the way. So, I have guideposts, and I am not let loose upon the stage, so to speak.

Again, I’m writing about another horrible event using the Method Writing technique, and for me, it’s just about as real as it gets. Hopefully, the reader will be interested in this verisimilitudinous aspect of the novel and will be able to fully understand the horribleness of this event that took place in 2009. Currently, I’m on Chapter Five of a novel that spans twenty-seven chapters. It may take me several years to write.

Can you tell us a little bit about the characters in The Freaks of Lark Street?

All of my characters are outsiders. Some of them are homeless, some are sex workers, some make sculptures out of chewed bubble gum, and all of them are ‘freaks,’ as the main character also becomes a ‘freak’ just like them. It makes these characters loveable, enjoyable, flawed, and crestfallen all at the same time. These are people on the margins of society, and yet they hold a special, long-lasting value in the same breath. They each have a story and role to play in our world. They are usually shunned by the progressive people of Albany who seemingly have it all together. They are shunned by the very people who believe that there is help for them, in a very socio-political sense. These characters are also funny in the way they behave and also how they respond to the very real circumstances the main character faces, as he loses his job, his long-term girlfriend, and has to live out of a Motel 6 where he has taken to drink and is thrown out of the same high-class places where he once frequented as a big shot in New York City. I hope the reader gets the sense that these shunned characters are friendly, hospitable, and helpful even though they live on the margins. It may get readers to think twice about the impoverished, oddball characters they may or may not have the pleasure of meeting in their everyday lives.

What did you enjoy most about writing this book?

Finally, I had the opportunity to write a funny, lighthearted book that shines a positive light on these down and out characters. My work is usually consumed by depressing, grim topics, especially after the World Trade Center attacks in 2001. It was a joy to take a break from this trend and write about characters who are a joy to be around and with whom I personally interacted while living in Albany, New York. Predictably, I am still a down-and-out writer who is also on the margins of life and now lives in Las Vegas (of all places)! I hope the dear reader finds this same joy in the pages of The Freaks of Lark Street, the same joy I had while writing this book.  

About the Author

Harvey Havel has been a short-story writer and novelist for over thirty years. His first novel, Noble McCloud, A Novel, about a young, struggling musician was published in November of 1999. He now has nineteen books which include novels, short stories, and two collections of essays on current affairs and political matters. His latest book is a serialized novel, The Queen of Intelligence: A 9/11 Novel, has just been released through Kindle Vella on in 2021.

Havel is formerly a Lecturer in English at Bergen Community College in Paramus, New Jersey. He also taught writing and literature at SUNY Albany and the College of Saint Rose, also in Albany, New York.

He currently lives there with his pet cat, Marty, and has many more books in store for his many fans in future.

His readers are encouraged to leave their honest comments about his work anywhere his fine books are sold.


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