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Sami works in the dark corners of intelligence, but old family secrets must be bared to stop a terror attack with links to his estranged grandfather and the White House.Share Tweet LinkedIn Embed pszr.co/rLFfm 1886 views
|Thriller Spy #1 in Thriller|
|Davidson, North Carolina|
|10 publishers interested|
Terrorists killed Sami Lakhani's parents. Now Sami works in the dark corners of the intelligence community (the "IC"), and he kills the terrorists, but he’s not your average spy movie muscle man, punching and shooting his way through bad guys.
Sami is gay. And Muslim-American. Like many of the professionals who do America's spying, sometimes his job and his identity have him bouncing between a proud sense of patriotic duty and the shame of feeling that he is a cog in a dangerous machine.
Still, life as a spy was easier than reckoning with how dark family secrets shaped his identity, until the day Sami is assigned to stop a terror attack with connections to the mosque that his estranged grandfather founded.
Sami puts together a dream team of freelance talent, outcasts from the buzzcut world of the IC just like him. They soon discover records from a 1990s political action committee that establish troubling connections between Sami's grandfather, the leader of a white nationalist group, and a White House aide.
So why is the FBI acting like this is just another case of "Muslim terrorism?" Before the team can sniff out the details of a plot that is designed to strike at America’s cultural flashpoints, orders come from on high shutting down their investigation.
Sami's sense of national duty and pride in his identity finally coalesce in one mission when he defies his orders, confronts his grandfather, and takes on nefarious elements of the government that he has served for so long.
Prologue. Introduces Gerald Seymour, a White House aide with a secret
1. Introduces Sami Lakhani, a warrior on the ever-changing battlefield between America and its terrorist enemies.
2. Introduces Hasan Khalifa, a DC area imam who has placed himself at the center of another person's nefarious plot.
3. Sami meets his handler, Andy, and is assigned to investigate Hasan's "cell."
4. Sami's new assignment will bring him back into the orbit of his grandfather, a well-known imam with whom he has a complicated history.
5. Hasan's radicalization is revealed, but who is the mysterious online jihadi guiding the plot?
6. Sami's team of intel freelancers arrive at their makeshift Ops Center.
7. Sami meets his old friend Karim over dinner t investigate claims he has been radicalized.
8. Sami confronts Andy about the case, challenging the boss to reveal more of the information that incriminates his friend.
9. Abu Muhammad's (Sami's grandfather) history, his arrival in the US, and his rise as a politically connected voice of Muslim-Americans.
10. Hasan receives instructions.
11. Sami and his team observe a troubling change in behavior by Hasan and members of his "cell."
12. Sami and the team surveil a hastily arranged meeting between cell members and disrupt an attack.
13. Flashback chapter. 1993 - the day Sami is told that his parents were killed in an overseas bombing. 2001 - the day Sami realizes that his grandfather might have known about the bombing that killed his parents before it happened.
14. Karim tries to stop the hotel bombing is killed. Sami barely escapes alive.
15. Gerald Seymour lays a false trail to hide the White House's connection to the bombing.
16. Sami's team catch Hasan at the airport and take him to a safe house for interrogation.
17. Sami's team head off a second bombing, and capture the bomber.
18. The bomber is not a Muslim, but is actually connected to a White Nationalist group. But the FBI is pushing a different story.
19. Seymour continues to direct attention away from the real attackers.
20. Sami discovers that Seymour is connected to the same White Nationalist group as the bomber.
21. One of Sami's team realizes Sami's grandfather is connected to the same aide and group.
22. Flashback - 2001, the day Sami confronted his grandfather with suspicions about the bombing that killed his parents.
23. The White House shuts down Sami's team. At the same time, Sami's FBI friend discovers that files have been tampered with.
24. Sami's team realizes where the penultimate will be launched.
25. Introduces Tom Tinker, the head of the White Nationalist group that is covertly launching the hotel bombings.
26. Sami interrogates Hasan and realizes that his grandfather not only knew about the bombing that killed his parents, but planned it.
27. The FBI launches a raid on Tinker's compound but someone tipped Tinker off and it is too late. At the same time, Sami confronts his grandfather and Gerald Seymour walks in.
28. Sami urges law enforcement not to re-occupy a resort after a bomb threat.
29. Sami enters the hotel and locates his grandfather, waiting with several detonators for the hotel to be reoccupied. Sami shoots his grandfather, but then is shot himself by Tinker. Tinker detonates one of the bombs, but one of Sami's team enters and kills him.
30. Sami leaves his grandfather to die. In the days and weeks after the bombing, he leaks information counter to the White House narrative that sought to hang all of the blame on Abu Muhammad. Gerald Seymour is indicted.
COLUMBIA is a thriller with series potential, based on the author's own experience as a US Army intelligence officer working on counter-terrorism.
Even as the novel challenges the conventions of the spy thriller by introducing an LGBTQ protagonist, readers will find this book a credible companion to the literary espionage tradition established by writers like Jon Le Carre and Graham Greene, and represented today by Alex Berenson, Charles Cumming, Jason Matthews, Daniel Silva and Olen Steinhauer.
"Despite its richness, I have often felt alienated by spy fiction because it has often seemed so rigidly masculine," wrote The Guardian book critic Natasha Walter in 2016.
While spy fiction is always among the best selling fiction on the market, like whiskey there is a sense that its characters and tropes are for older audiences. Bourbon's renaissance has changed that image for whiskey, and COLUMBIA can do it for spy fiction.
COLUMBIA introduces the first LGBTQ spy thriller protagonist, making it cross-marketable as a traditional spy thriller as well as an LGBTQ title. Millennials will identify with the story, its protagonist, and the supporting characters.
At the same time, none of the themes or characters in the story will turn off traditional spy thriller readers. COLUMBIA's tremendous potential to be a crossover hit is what will make it sell.
COLUMBIA is a timely thriller, with commentary to make on the present state of US politics and foreign policy. The book takes readers inside the multi-cultural, polyglot community of US intelligence community professionals and offers a realistic look at the existential challenges they face defending a nation whose story of inclusion and opportunity remains globally powerful, even as its foreign policy has grown more unilateral.
COLUMBIA is based on Joe's experience as a US Army intelligence officer and interrogator working on counter-terrorism between 2001 and 2006.
COLUMBIA is a crackling story that draws its inspiration from inside the mind of an intel officer who is familiar with the most grave threats to our country and the nefarious ways in which divisive groups plot to exploit weaknesses in our nation and its security infrastructure.
The story has its genesis in Joe's desire to tell an espionage story that moves like the genre's best page-turners but challenges the trope that the spy hero is always a ruggedly handsome man who can kill ten bad guys with a toothpick.
Sami Lakhani is a different kind of spy hero. The decision to make the protagonist of the story a Muslim-American and part of the LGBT community arose from three choices.
First, the artistic choice to do everything possible to represent historically underrepresented groups in mainstream fiction.
Second, Sami's sexual identity plays and important part in shaping the early plot as the presumed driver of the estrangement between him and his conservative grandfather. As readers soon discover, there is a dark family secret that Sami has long suspected that truly lies at the heart of their separation.
Third, in spite of every movie and book portrayal, the people of the IC are not all square-jawed muscle men or women with cunning to match their knockout looks. Sami represents the cerebral and immensely talented people who serve in our IC, many of whom are newly-arrived Americans with strong cultural, linguistic and family ties throughout the world.
A first-time novelist, Joe holds undergraduate degrees from Boston University (BA, English) and the Defense Language Institute (AA, Russian), and a JD from Suffolk University Law School. As a lawyer, he was writing assistant on one of the definitive legal reference manuals for energy and environmental law. Joe's freelance writing has featured in the Wall Street Journal and been syndicated by Reuters.
COLUMBIA is Joe's first novel. If it is wildly successful and publishers are willing to let him write anything he wants next, he has already prepared a nonfiction proposal for SOCCER, SAVE MY SOUL, a soccer travelogue and guide to the beautiful game for Americans.
There are no longer viable either/or pathways for writers of fiction. Traditional publishing or self-publishing. Paper book or ebook. Conventional marketing or social media strategy. To sell books and maintain publisher interest without a celebrity name attached requires an all of the above strategy that engages video, podcasts and audiobooks, social media and earned media.
My personal social media following amounts to 2,000 followers, many of whom are avid readers and book buyers, and all of whom would be exposed to a pre-sale campaign for the book.
I also have a personal email list of more than 7,000 email addresses accumulated from business, social activities and community organizations, my political career, and friends and family.
There is strong potential for mainstream media attention and social media traction based on promotion of COLUMBIA as the first book in the spy thriller genre to feature an LGBTQ protagonist.
I would also propose a novel social media campaign based on #WhoIsTomTinker, a reference to one of the book's characters who is central to the mystery that Sami must unravel in the novel's plot. Tinker is based on the recognizable trope of a shadowy, wealthy figure (Matisse, to borrow a Grisham reference from The Pelican Brief). While he represents a recognizable character type to the thriller reader, he also represents a commentary on the contemporary American politics of identity and populism that seeks to ways to divide.
Finally, I would propose a grassroots tour of independent book stores, beginning in the immediate driving distance of my home in North Carolina, and with added trips to urban centers in the Northeast, Midwest and on the West Coast. Independent book buyers represent a perfect audience for the unique social and political perspective that COLUMBIA brings to the spy thriller genre.
COLUMBIA's LGBTQ protagonist is a differentiator among spy fiction titles, but the novel will compete with serial releases from Olen Steinhauer, Alex Berenson, Charles Cumming, Daniel Silva and Jason Matthews.
The master of sales himself, James Patterson, recently released a targeted LGBT title:
- Instinct, by James Patterson Little, Brown and Company (2017)
A criminal behavior expert teams up with an NYPD detective to track down a criminal in the novel that inspired the hit CBS TV series starring Alan Cumming.
Writer Nancy Ann Healy has successfully built an ebook franchise on the back of an LGBT mystery/thriller series known as the "Alex and Cassidy" books:
- Alex and Cassidy book series, by Nancy Ann Healy Bumbling Bard Creations (2014 - 2017)
FBI agent Alexis Toles is dispatched to New Rochelle, New York, to investigate threatening letters sent to Congressman Christopher O’Brien, and to protect his ex-wife Cassidy and six-year-old son, Dylan. But when she gets to New Rochelle, Alex discovers that there is more to the situation than simple stalking or political agendas; she finds that she has growing romantic feelings for Cassidy—and that the feelings are mutual.
Some relevant spy titles for comparison include:
- The Deceivers, by Alex Berenson G.P. Putnam's Sons (2018)
The Russians don't just want to influence American elections--they want it all. Former CIA agent John Wells confronts a plot of astonishing audacity as New York Times-bestselling author Alex Berenson goes beyond today's headlines to tomorrow's all-too-real threats.
- The Middleman, by Olen Steinhauer Minotaur Books (2018)
One day in the early summer of 2017, about four hundred people disappear from their lives. They leave behind cell phones, credit cards, jobs, houses, families--everything--all on the same day. Where have they gone? Why? The only answer, for weeks, is silence.
- Red Sparrow, by Jason Matthews (Red Sparrow #1) Scribner (2013)
With a plot ripped from tomorrow’s headlines, Jason Matthews is “one of America’s most readable spy novelists” (The Washington Post Book World), and his high-powered, seductive third novel not only continues the dangerous entanglements of Dominika and Nate but reveals with chilling authenticity how Russian espionage can place agents in the most sensitive positions of power.
- A Divided Spy, by Charles Cumming St. Martin's Griffin (2018)
In A Divided Spy, a brilliant novel of modern espionage by New York Times bestselling author Charles Cumming, MI6’s Thomas Kell faces off against a handsome and charismatic Russian double agent.
SAMPLE -- Sami attempts to stop a bombing that will blow up a hotel and frame his friend Karim.
Sami grabbed his childhood friend by the elbow and began to move him out of the hotel lobby. Down past the elevators and into a plushly-carpeted hallway, he looked for a stairwell. He knew that hotels usually had stairs near the emergency exit doors. Nearing the end of the hallway, he pushed Karim through a grey steel door.
When the door slammed shut behind them, Karim shook his arm loose.
“What are you doing?” He asked, more confused than annoyed.
“Do you know?”
“I have no idea, Samir--!”
“No, do you know what’s going on? With Hasan?”
Karim started to respond, then his face registered a surprised recognition. “How do you know Hasan?”
“Answer me.” As if on cue, the phone vibrated again. Both men looked down. Karim was still holding his finger inside the Koran to mark the page for his reading. “That’s him. That’s Hasan. We know him.” Karim just stared back blankly. “C’mon, Karim. I’m giving you a chance that I shouldn’t be. Do you know?”
“Sami, I don’t know what you’re talking about!”
Karim was telling the truth. If it had been someone else, Sami wouldn’t have been so sure, but despite their estrangement in recent years, he knew his friend. It was a gut reaction and that was why Andy put him on the operation. Still, it was only a gut reaction. But Sami didn’t have time to probe any deeper. If they were going to leave alive, and stop whatever was planned next, Sami needed to act.
“Give me your phone!” Sami reached as he spoke.
Sami didn’t think that Karim’s phone would be used to detonate the bomb. It left too much to risk for Hasan. Somehow, he would have to get Karim to dial the number of the dummy phone wired into the bomb. What if Karim didn’t make the call for some reason? What if he got suspicious? No, Hasan’s text was for another purpose: to make sure that Karim was in the hotel. Sami felt a prick of understanding.
“OK, but do not text him back!”
“Sami—“ Karim began to protest.
“There’s a bomb. Hasan had someone place it in the bed of your truck while you two were having coffee. And now the bomb is in this hotel. We have to get out, and we have to get everyone else out, before he dials the number of the cell phone detonator that is wired into that bomb.”
It was on the table. Breaking every rule of intelligence and covert operations, Sami just told his target everything. But he could see that it wasn’t enough. He understood Karim’s confused stare. He felt the same way himself until about two hours ago. And then Black Truck Guy showed up, and confirmed Andy Rizzo’s worst suppositions about Hasan Khalifa. Sami knew how Karim felt because he had experienced the feeling once himself. When he discovered his own betrayal. The memory came to Sami as a chill that crept up his spine and made the hairs on back of his neck stand out stiffly. He lied to Karim about it once before, to save himself from admitting the truth. Maybe now he could right the wrong that he had done to his friend, and in so doing save them both.
“That night, in college-“
Sami had just told Karim that his truck was rigged with explosives and a friend had betrayed him, making him complicit to a terror attack. His reaction was stupor. But, as soon as Sami alluded to the night he came out of the closet, Karim reacted forcefully. It was remarkable how much this said about Islam, and America, and the men of both.
“Do you think that I entrusted you because I thought that you would be accepting? Or that you would help me? Or even understand me?”
“No, listen. I told you I was gay because I knew you would accept that as an excuse. But there was something so menacing, something else eating me up so badly inside that I could not keep it secret. It would have killed me, Karim.”
“Ok, but it’s not for me or you…” Karim struggled before settling on the explanation he sought. “It is haram.”
“Not that! I am gay, but I only told you so that I could continue hiding the truth. My grandfather, Karim. Abu Muhammad.”
The phone vibrated one more time. Sami was at the end of his rope. He needed to tell Karim what he had hidden for so long. And if he didn’t do it quickly, neither of them would make it out alive.
Black Truck Guy completed his second circuit of the hotel, and still there was no response code from his boss. He pulled to the side of the road before thumbing out his next message. When you are engaged in blowing up a building, you don’t want to get pulled over for texting while driving. If Sami and his team were operating with slim margins for error, the driver’s were even narrower. He made his delivery. The package was now in place. He expected that he knew what the man who developed this elaborate plan would say, but he waited patiently, confident that time was not of the essence.
The text that he expected came through.
MAKE ANOTHER LOOP. IF YOU DON’T HEAR BY THEN, PROCEED.
He shifted into drive and eased back into traffic. Now, or in five minutes, their mission would be complete. They were not starting the war. It had already raged for decades. They were not even the first to bring it to America. They were a long way from the beginning. But he was confident that this would be the beginning of the end.
Sami grabbed Karim with a pincer grip on the tender tissue just above the elbow, and pulled him down the concrete stairs. It was a stairway like those in every hotel in the US, barely finished and almost cavernous in its high ceiling and lack of carpet. The faux brass sconces in the guest hallways were replaced by pairs of emergency flood lights mounted to battery boxes. The stairs wound up and down in a seemingly endless line of tubular steel railing. And, if Sami’s guess was correct, there would be one other common feature. He scanned the first landing and found nothing. They were halfway to the garage level now, and Karim was screaming and beginning to thrash, trying to break loose. Approaching the second landing, Sami saw a blue beacon. Below it, behind a clear plastic housing, was an emergency call button. Sami pulled the box free and mashed the button. Instantly, a wail went up throughout the hotel.
“Are you crazy?” Karim yelled over the squawk, especially shrill as it echoed in the poured concrete stairway.
“We need everyone to get out of here. Let’s go.” Sami started down again.
“Where?” Karim asked. And then, with just a second’s thought. “No!”
“Come to the truck! I’ll show you.”
Above them, hotel guests and staff were beginning to respond to the alarm. But only laconically. Sami and Karim should have been evacuating with everyone else. Sami should have been in the lobby, pushing people out the door and yelling “Bomb!” But he didn’t just want to save people, he wanted to stop the bomb.
He still assumed that Karim was innocent, and if that was the case then he would not be the one detonating the bomb. He hoped that when fire trucks and police cars and ambulances arrived in the next few minutes, and began clogging the driveway and street in front of the hotel, it would be enough to scare off whoever was activating the bomb. It was an assumption that a covert operator never would have made.
Sami wanted to save Karim from more than just the bomb. He wanted to save Karim from whatever he had been dragged into. And he knew that Karim was his best way into Hasan’s plot. He wasn’t thinking like a covert operator. He was thinking like an intelligence analyst. Someone who wanted to collect data. To crack the case. And to do that, he needed his friend to see what was in the truck.
Sami burst through the metal door and into the subterranean parking deck, still and silent except for the hollow echo of the alarm. Karim was still lagging behind.
“Come on, I don’t know how much time we have, but it’s not much.”
Karim caught up and then they were jogging. Neither of them knew where the valet had parked the truck and Sami was scanning the lot for the truck, or a sign that marked the valet area. He saw the exit ramp ahead and he knew it would be there. On the top level, near the ramp, where the valets could access vehicles quickly. He led Karim in that direction.
Running behind, Karim spoke through ragged breath. “What did you mean? Upstairs? About your grandfather?”
Sami winced. His natural hesitation rose first. It was an instinct that he developed after the confrontation with his grandfather. A day that he still remembered vividly, down to the smells, the angle of light. And then the instinct was honed by years lurking in the secrets. He turned his new preference for secrecy into a profession. And no one really knew him again. But, Karim knew him. And as they scanned the vehicles, looking for the white pickup, Sami decided he had hidden long enough.
“You can’t trust him.” Sami couldn’t see Karim’s expression, but he knew what it showed. “He introduced you to Hasan, right?”
“You haven’t been to the mosque in years. How do you know Hasan?”
“My grandfather is too lax in his embrace of zealots.” And before Sami could go on, they found the truck.
They stopped running, the heavy breathing modulated slightly and the sirens’ wail now a far off cry. Karim wanted Sami to continue. What about his grandfather? And Hasan? But Sami wasn’t speaking. He looked at Karim with a curious expression.
“The keys. I need the keys.”
And simultaneously, both of their hearts sank.
“I’m sorry, Sami.” Karim said.
“You don’t have them?” It was more a realization than a question.
“The valet does.”
Sami darted away and left Karim standing by the truck. A moment later he returned on the run with the heavy road sign that marked the crosswalk by the elevator. He barely slowed down as he approached the truck, flinging the sign’s heavy iron base at the rear driver’s side window. It struck the glass and created a spider web of cracks. The truck’s alarm now joined the chorus. Its loud horn bleated an urgency that was much louder and closer than the hotel sirens.
Sami tried to remove the base, now wedged into the tempered glass, and Karim grabbed on to help. Together, using the stand like a battering ram, they struck another blow. It was forceful enough to knock the window out of the frame. Sami reached into the back window and unlocked the door.
They moved to the rear of the truck and Sami opened the tailgate. Sitting in the bed, nearly obscured by the darkness, was a four-sided, black tarpaulin-wrapped bundle. The tarp obscured, but it looked like a large box, or a trunk. The tarp was held on with neatly arranged bungee cords, also black.
It matched what Alexa described. Sami looked for any obvious signs that this was a bomb, but it was too neatly packaged. If there was any conventional explosive inside, something from the plastic explosives family like Semtex or C4, a bomb of this size wouldn’t just destroy the parking deck, it was a threat to the hotel above and even all of the emergency personnel outside. Sami needed to get everyone away. But he also needed Karim to understand. He looked at his old friend.
“Hasan? He…” Karim could not formulate the words, but Sami knew what he was thinking.
“We watched him. He lied to you so that they could get this in the truck and then he tricked you into coming here. He’s not coming, Karim.”
“Why? I would…this would kill me.”
“It will kill everyone in this hotel.” Sami grabbed Karim by the arm again, pulling more gently this time. And they ran back to the stairs.
As they took the stairs two at a time, Sami explained that someone would have to detonate the bomb with a remote device, probably activated by a cell phone wired into the explosive.
“I know that you weren’t, Karim, but you need to tell me. Were you going to detonate the bomb?” Sami shouted.
“I didn’t even know it was there!” Karim said, through ragged breath.
They arrived back at the door to the lobby hallway. Sami reached to pull it open and Karim stopped him.
“Your grandfather? Abu Muhammad, he…” Karim could not form the words.
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Koehler Books is an Indie publisher based in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Our team of dedicated professionals promises you a holistic publishing experience where you'll receive our full attention, collaboration and coaching every step of the way. We offer two publishing models: a traditional non-fee model for the highest quality work, as well as a co-publishing model that includes creative development fees for emerging authors.
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There is one week left to pre-order Columbia at https://pszr.co/rLFfm.
Columbia is a spy thriller about Sami Lakhani, a gay, Muslim-American ...
Thank you so much for your support of my debut novel, Columbia. The book has sold more than 350 pre-orders and has generated bidding interest ...
Some folks did not get the video or the link in Update #10.
Find the video at: https://youtu.be/CqSsZXwtmG0.
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