Oddity Media LLC (2011)
Reviewed by Kam Aures for Rebecca’s Reads (11/11)
Rebecca’s Reads is pleased to interview Henry Mosquera about his new thriller novel “Sleeper’s Run.”
Henry Mosquera is a writer and artist. He was born and raised in Caracas, Venezuela, but he attended the University of Miami, Florida to obtain a double major in Graphic Design and Film. Today, he resides in Los Angeles where he enjoys life with his wife, dog, and cat. As a writer, he likes to research his novels in detail, including gaining firsthand knowledge about some of his characters’ skills. “Sleeper’s Run” is his first novel, and he has plans for more.
RR: Welcome, Henry. First, I mentioned you have a graphic design and film background, so tell us how you came about writing a novel?
Henry: Thank you for having me. I like to create regardless of the medium. Before “Sleeper’s Run,” I had self-published my own graphic novel for which I wrote and did the art. Whether it is a script, a novel, comic books, games, etc. I enjoy telling stories. I’ve done it as far back as I can remember. As a kid, I never really liked to play with a known superhero or cartoon. I would always create my own thing.
Basically, I’ve been playing around with a few ideas for a thriller for a while. A novel allowed me complete creative control and a chance to delve deeper into developing the characters and the themes I wanted to explore. Also, I liked the idea of readers participating in the story with their imaginations. Only a book can do that.
RR: Authors can find all sorts of topics to write about so what made “Sleeper’s Run” the first novel for you, or have you written other things but this was the first you decided to publish?
Henry: I’ve written other things. I had the graphic novel I mentioned before; I did a comic strip in a newspaper a long time ago. Although unpublished, I’ve worked on a few scripts for film and comic books. Technically, “Sleeper’s Run” is my second novel. I wrote a fantasy novel many years ago, but it was pretty bad. Yet, it taught me I had the discipline required to sit down and type a manuscript from beginning to end. When I decided to write “Sleeper’s Run,”there was no doubt in my mind I would see the project through.
As for what made “Sleeper’s Run” my first novel, the bookis based on non-fiction sources of which I’m quite familiar. I always thought they were great material for a thriller. Timing is also crucial. A few years ago, most people would have had a hard time finding Venezuela on a map. Now, things have changed and people are more aware of my country.
RR: What exactly does the title refer to?
Henry: A “sleeper” is an agent infiltrated in a country, organization, etc. who is dormant. Meaning, they live a pretty unremarkable life as cover, until their handlers activate them. Then the sleeper will perform whatever task was assigned to them: sabotage, assassination, espionage, etc. The meaning of “run” is pretty straightforward.
RR: I assume the main character, Eric, is the sleeper. So what is the task assigned to him?
Henry: My lips are sealed. I’d rather let readers find out for themselves. After all, it’s a thriller. I hate when I read a synopsis or watch trailers and they give things away; I feel cheated from the experience. I also don’t understand those people who read the last page of a book before they even start reading it. Why bother taking the journey when you already know how it ends? How can you be invested in the story? I’m a storyteller. I want people to be submerged in my work. The novel was designed to unfold at a certain pace; it’s part of the fun.
RR: What about your main character, Eric Caine, do you think makes him interesting to readers?
Henry: Most characters in this genre are blue-collar guys who are defined by their former or current profession: the ex-cop, the ex-military guy, the private detective, and so on. Eric comes from a different background. He has a good education, is well-traveled, has hobbies and had a good career before serving in the armed forces. The military is just a chapter in his life, an important one, but not the sum of his being. He is both physically capable and intellectually gifted. A lot of thriller protagonists prefer to live off the grid. Not Eric; he thrives in modern society; he makes the grid work for him.
Also, Eric is the product of two cultures, Venezuelan and American. That gives him an insight into both worlds, but at the same time makes him an outsider. That grants Eric a very singular perspective regarding the events of the book. On a more personal level, the character has insecurities and aspirations that we can all relate to, as well as a healthy level of cynicism and a sense of humor that clicks with the reader.
RR: Wow, Henry. I want to know more about Eric. Will you tell us how he “makes the grid work for him” and also, what are his insecurities and aspirations?
Henry: To Eric, the civilian urban environment is just another battlefield, so to speak, one in which he’s incredibly adept at operating. Take Lee Child’s Jack Reacher, for example. Reacher chooses to have no credit cards, bank accounts, permanent residence, etc. He is essentially disconnected from society’s systems, allowing him freedom and anonymity. Eric is the opposite; technology is not his enemy, but his greatest weapon. He has the skills and education to disappear within the system and use it to his advantage. Why keep a low profile when you can create a perfectly working identity to suit your needs? Why sleep in a park when you can hack your way into a suite at a five-star hotel? In an increasingly computerized world, there are few places beyond Eric’s reach. He’s truly a 21st century protagonist.
As far as his more personal traits, Eric is like most of us. He wants to have a good career, a loving wife, a comfortable home, and things of that nature. He is done with the military and now he wishes to pick up where he left off before his service. But this is a task he finds hard to achieve due to his post-traumatic stress disorder and the problems that stem from it. When we first meet him, Eric is mentally and emotionally impaired. He is a lost man who is desperately looking to rebuild his life, but lacks the clarity to do so.
When we talk about insecurities, Eric has a hard time socializing with people, making friends and connecting with the trivialities of civilian life. He constantly feels he has to prove himself at work, and his record with women is hardly stellar. There’s also an element of cultural alienation. When he returns to Venezuela, he is basically a stranger in the country of his birth. There’s an odd mixture of familiarity and isolation with which he has to deal.
RR: Since Eric is from Venezuela like you, do you feel he is at all autobiographical, or is it just a case of “write what you know”?
Henry: Autobiographical, no. There are certain elements he inherited from me, like his sense of humor and his cynicism; things like that. And I’m definitely writing what I know, but I always wanted to have a Venezuelan protagonist in a native setting. There are an untold number of great American characters in a U.S. setting out there. I don’t think they are hurting for one more. I’d rather be the guy who writes about the lesser-known corners of the world in a way that any reader can relate to and enjoy, regardless of their background.
RR: You mentioned that until recently many people couldn’t find Venezuela on a map. What do you think has caused that to change?
Henry: Media exposure. In my experience, I went from hearing “Where the hell is that?” or “Venezuela? Isn’t that the capital of Buenos Aires?” (Both actual quotes) to “Oh yeah, you guys ‘love’ Americans, huh?” Venezuela went from anonymity to infamy virtually overnight. People tend to judge the citizens of a country based on their government, even though they aren’t mutually exclusive. Of course, I’ve run into a few people who know we are a South American country, a major oil exporter, and that we have produced a number of international beauty queens. There was a time that this was basically the extent of our international projection.
Sadly, Venezuela is currently under an administration that is very critical of the United States and has taken quite a few stands against it. The portrayal of Venezuela by the American media has been less than flattering. So now, there is an awareness about Venezuela in the U.S.—that although negative—I thought would allow for an interesting thriller.
RR: Since you published “Sleeper’s Run” in the U.S., do you have readers in Venezuela, or do you plan to have the book translated into Spanish to find more readers in South America?
Henry: I really don’t know if anyone has read it in Venezuela. The book was writen with an international market in mind. Although, it would be interesting to see what Venezuelans make of it. I’d love to translate the book and make it available in Latin America; the problem is finding distribution channels. It would be great for me if Amazon could reach those markets, for example, like they do in Europe, where you can find my book on Kindle. Sure, if I can find a way to make my work available in Latin America, I’d love to do so.
RR: Eric is on the run. Can you tell us who he is running from, who the “bad guys” are, or does he know?
Henry: Well again, I don’t want to give anything away, but essentially he’s running from everyone. Some of his antagonists he knows—I don’t subscribe to the “good guy vs. bad guy” paradigm—others he has to try and uncover. Because this is a novel, the format dictates there has to be protagonists and antagonists, but these roles are purely enforced by plot dynamics. The characters in the book have positive and negative attributes; I leave the labels to the reader.
I like to write in grays, not black and whites. I think it is the only way honestly to portray the world we live in, especially when you are writing a political thriller. Other writers have approached their works in similar fashion. John le Carré is a good example.
RR: What would you consider as one of the “grays” in “Sleeper’s Run”?
Henry: The characters. Eric’s motivation is self-preservation. He does and has done things that are not consistent with the hero label, but that doesn’t mean he is completely amoral. Simply speaking, the story could have been easily told with Nathan Blake as the protagonist and Eric as the antagonist. Blake is not a villain. His motivation comes from a place that a lot of people can relate to and even find admirable. He does things that aren’t in line with the “bad guy” tag. It all depends where the reader comes from in terms of their own views. I’m not telling them what or whom to believe in. They have a choice and it’s in that participation that they make the story their own.
RR: I mentioned in your bio that you like to research your novels extensively. Will you tell us a little about the research you did for “Sleeper’s Run”?
Henry: My starting points were things I already knew, such as martial arts, traveling, history, and military knowledge. Since I already have a penchant for unusual hobbies, I thought it would be great to combine them with my research.
I divide the research into theoretical and practical. The first one was reading a lot of books about history, the military, technology, politics, and related subjects. This was supplemented by articles, documentaries, and conversations with people from different backgrounds like paramedics, war veterans, and combat trainers.
For the practical part—since I wanted to be as realistic and accurate as possible—I got first-hand knowledge of some of the skills presented in the book. So, I took a few flying lessons, learned to use a knife, shoot guns, got some knowledge of first aid, and underwent urban survival training. All of these allowed me to understand just enough of the type of training, the psychology, and the mechanics behind these capabilities. It was a lot of fun. It’s not everyday that you get to ask an expert, “Hey, I’m writing this novel and I need to know the quickest way to neutralize someone with a knife…” and he actually walks you through it. Or how many authors learn to pick locks, disappear into a crowd and spend a whole day evading a hunting team in an unknown environment, using only what you have stashed and your social-engineering skills? If a guy like me can pull off the things I did, I can’t imagine someone who is better trained and does it for a living because his life depends on it.
RR: What in your opinion makes “Sleeper’s Run” a great read?
Henry: First off, it’s the type of book that will suck you in. You won’t be able to put it down. The characters are compelling and—taking into consideration it’s a work of fiction—what’s on the page is possible if not plausible. It’s also written in a pretty unconventional way, so it breaks away from the usual fare, creating quite a unique reading experience.
Most of all, there are a number of themes running throughout the book. So it’s designed to allow readers to bring their own experience into the novel. It always fascinates me to go though reader’s reviews and see what each person takes out from the story. I can almost get a snapshot of that person’s background based on this. I can tell who is a martial artist, a pilot, has traveled to certain places, etc. Some people just enjoy the action elements and that’s fine. Ultimately, the book is meant to entertain. However, other readers bring up the novel’s technological aspects, some talk about the history in it, and still others focus on much deeper issues, like the politics presented in the plot. If you talk to ten readers, you’ll probably get ten different points of view.
RR: Do you have a favorite review or comment that has meant a lot to you so far, and have you had any that made you feel you could have done better in explaining something, or where the reader just didn’t “get” what you were trying to say? How seriously do you take the feedback from reviews?
Henry: It’s hard to do research and then synthesize that knowledge so everyone can get it. Sure, martial artists appreciate tremendously the veracity of the fights in the story, and people who are into the military, traveling, or technology enjoy what I’ve done, and so on. But the average reader is tricky. For example, I had reviewers criticizing Eric’s “hyper competence,” when in reality, such quality is just a job requirement for someone with his background. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have made it into his particular military unit.
Like I said before, readers take out what they bring into “Sleeper’s Run.” Reading reviews, especially from readers, is always interesting. It doesn’t matter whether they are positive or negative. There have been a few critiques that have made me go “Really? That’s what they got from it?” But I think one of my favorite ones so far was from a reader who literally bumped into the book. This person found the novel at a family member’s house, started browsing it while waiting for dinner, got hooked, and took it home. That night, the reader spent the whole night captivated by the story and loved every minute of it. That’s the kind of experience I strive to give my readers as a storyteller.
How serious do I take the feedback? It depends. I guess ultimately every artist wants to please his or her audience, but at the end of the day, a review is just someone’s opinion. Some people will click with your work, others will hate it, and yet others will be indifferent. That’s just how it is. I’ve packed the novel with so many elements—themes and sub themes—that it would be naive on my part to expect everyone to get everything. Then again, the beauty of the story is that the reader is part of it.
RR: What do you feel makes “Sleeper’s Run” different from other thriller novels on the market today?
Henry: “Sleeper’s Run” is a well-researched, reality-grounded story with a multi-ethnic protagonist and fully realized characters in an original setting. When most political thrillers have a unilateral point of view, “Sleeper’s Run” lets readers arrive at their own conclusions. It invites readers to unplug and have fun and/or dig deep and reflect. Either way, they’re in for an unrelenting ride.
RR: What’s next for you, Henry? Maybe a sequel or series to “Sleeper’s Run” or a different type of novel altogether?
Henry: There are a couple of novels in the pipe, but I’m going in a different direction. Even though I love thrillers, I want to write in other genres. I would also like to return to comic books at one point. We’ll see.
RR: Any chance “Sleeper’s Run” could have a graphic novel format someday in the future?
Henry: I’d love to. I’m a big comic book fan. The book is so visual it would make for a great miniseries. My mind has always worked across mediums, even before it became commonplace to do so. Nowadays, it is expected, but back then, people just laughed at me. It was just the delusional ramblings of a crazy kid living in an obscure country.
I can easily and specifically tell you how “Sleeper’s Run” can become a graphic novel, movie, video game, action figure line, etc. That’s just the way my brain works. My only limitation is the opportunity to carry out any of these things.
RR: You mentioned that novels allow readers to use their imaginations, I assume more so than graphic novels, but what about the graphic novel/comic book format appeals to you?
Henry: Well, once you portray something the concept becomes crystallized and it’s no longer yours. The way I view a character may differ from the way someone else sees her. That’s why it is such a headache to cast a movie based on a book.
To me, a comic book is an original art form that lies in a space between a novel and a film. You have attributes of both and elements that are particular to the medium—like word balloons and panels—that can become part of how the story is told. The greatest appeal for me in this format is the artwork. To be able visually to represent the story in the way I see fit. There is something very strong about presenting an idea through pictures. I think it echoes back to our early ancestors, when they were trying to articulate the world around them through cave paintings.
RR: Thanks for joining us today, Henry. Will you tell us what your website is and what else our readers can find there about “Sleeper’s Run”?
Henry: Thank you. It was truly a pleasure. Readers can go to http://www.sleepers-run.com where I keep a blog, which is one part journal about my forays into self-publishing, and one part services reviews. There are links to where they can find my book, see the trailer, hear a live interview, get information on the novel and follow me on other social networks. https://www.facebook.com/pages/Sleepers-Run/135379323206432 has up-to-date news about the novel and you can follow me on Twitter @sleepersrun. I also have a cool page on http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5125781.Henry_Mosquera with quotes from the book, a “Sleeper’s Run” quiz, and reader and critic reviews.
RR: Thank you, again, for the interview, Henry. It’s been a pleasure. I wish you much good fortune with “Sleeper’s Run.”
.: Review of Sleeper's Run
.: Author website
.: Author spotlight