Dr. Avi Perry was born in Israel. He grew up among many of the character-types depicted in his latest book 72 Virgins. During the 1967-Six-Day-War he served in the Israeli Defense Forces and gained valuable and relevant experience in military intelligence, where he gained a great deal of knowledge about spy craft, techniques, and covert communications— expertise that breathes authenticity into the setting of the story in 72 Virgins. He came to the US in 1969 as a Ph.D. Student. After graduation, he became a professor at Northwestern University. He later worked in Bell Laboratories as a distinguished member and a manager, and subsequently, as a Vice President at NMS Communications— a hi-tech company.
Dr. Avi Perry is also the author of Fundamentals of Voice Quality Engineering in Wireless Networks, published in 2007 by Cambridge University Press.
Thank you for this interview, Avi. Can you tell us a little about yourself and how long you’ve been writing?
A: I don’t remember the exact moment when I launched my writing career. I do recall, however, that as a professor at Northwestern University in the early 70s, I put together long handouts for the students, explaining complex mathematical algorithms by employing stories filled with humor and analogies. The learning in the classroom seemed to improve as a result.
When serving as Vice President in NMS Communications during the years 2001-2004, I was in charge of field trials of our telecom equipment as part of my job. At the conclusion of every trial, I wrote a trip report. These reports became best email forwarding hits. They were well written, filled with juicy descriptions of the battle fields, packed with humor, entertaining and educational. I named them—edutainment pieces. My audience’s reaction convinced me that I should take writing more seriously. I started writing political articles, and submitted them for publication in the Jerusalem Post, and then, a couple of years later, following my retirement, I ventured into the writing of my first book.
Once I became a published author, I was infected with the writing virus. There was no escape. The subject of Islamic terror had been on my mind for many years. Because of my background, I had a deep understanding of the culture that had given birth to this odd phenomenon of human behavior. I felt a strong urge to explain and analyze it—not through a non-fiction analytical manuscript, but rather through a story, a thriller, a medium I call edutainment.
Do you write full-time?
A: There are periods that last several months when I write full time. There are periods when I don’t write at all. There are also times when I write in between other activities.
You’ve met an old friend from high school and you want to pitch your book to him/her in five minutes or less. What would you say?
A: 72 Virgins is a novel about Jihad terrorism and the security agencies’ struggle to thwart its stratagem and trounce the perpetrators. The story combines the themes of unrest in the Middle East, espionage, intrigue and romance with in-depth character development to deliver a story about terrorism and its effect on the world. 72 Virgins focuses on a group of Jihad extremists that are targeting the United States in their latest terrorist campaign. It explores Jihad’s obsessive culture and commitment to homicidal crusades. 72 Virgins is based on true accounts of terrorism and uses real-world locations to create a picture of what a future terrorist attack on the U.S. might be like.
From Israel to Bali, to Germany, to Canada, then to the United States, the players in this international thriller never stop. Abu Musa is an Islamic Terrorist with an agenda, a ticking bomb inside the US. Arik Golan is an Israeli who tries to bring him down and pull the plug on his terror organization. Although Arik, a major in the Israeli Defense Forces, is hoping to retire and marry his fiancé, Rachel Levy, others have different plans for Arik and will stop at nothing to "persuade" him to pursue terrorist Abu Musa and stop him at all costs. They accomplish their goal during Arik’s disastrous trip to Bali where he and his fiancé are kidnapped by Al-Qaeda operatives. Arik escapes his abductors’ clutches only to be recruited, in the wake of the apparent death of his betrothed, to infiltrate terror cells in the United States. Shedding his identity,
Arik becomes Qassem al-Nasr and insinuates himself in a group of dangerous jihadists who operate out of a Brooklyn mosque. Before long, Arik has gained a reputation as a ruthless terrorist and becomes a fugitive from the law. Abu Musa sees Arik, known by his cover name “Qassem al-Nasr” from Egypt, as an organizational competitor to be either overcome or wiped out.
Things get really dicey when Abu Musa decides to attack high priority Western Christian targets (St. Patrick’s Cathedral during major religious events) with both fertilizer bombs and individual suicide bombers carrying explosive that will produce the deadly chemical warfare agent known as Sarin. Arik must help stop the attack.
Stanley Cramer is an FBI agent on a hunting mission, seeking to place both Abu Musa and Arik within his crosshair. This time, the terrorist plans are so diabolical, just the thought of the targets and the weapons to be used are heart-stopping. From one dangerous encounter to another, 72 Virgins is a non-stop thriller. The FBI, the Israeli Foreign Intelligence Service—the Mossad, the US-based Iranian clandestine terror network, and the Islamic Jihad fraternity are engaged in a timeless conflict, playing out to a crescendo that comes to a head before the dramatic conclusion.
The story draws on current world events, politics, cultural divisions, international intrigue and religious fanaticism. It paints a dim picture of the ethics of the Intelligence community, whereas the brutality of the terrorists is played in counterpoint to their total disregard for human life— both their own and their victims’. The three main women characters play a crucial part in the overall plot. It is masterly plotted, thrilling, captivating, replete with stealth, and above all, enlightening.
The story offers an ample dose of realism, a cast of intense characters who engage in love, lust, and violence. It portrays the Jihad culture with its rationale and the volcano that breeds an irrational obsession with death. Moreover, it builds on the Jihadists’ motivation for targeting so many innocents and exploiting the victims’ massacre as a stepping-stone to their dream of eternal paradise next to Allah’s throne.
The real question is not whether Jihad terrorists’ plots will ever cease to emerge – there is no chance of that. The question the book seeks to answer is—will the next one be stopped before it’s too late?
72 Virgins is built on my life experiences that combine technology know-how, familiarity with spy craft and human intelligence (HUMINT), understanding of Middle Eastern cultures and history, a great sense of humor, and a talent for writing—all breathe authenticity into the setting.
Although 72 Virgins is a suspense-thriller, focusing on a countdown to a terror attack on US soil, it is, nevertheless, highly instructive. The story and its associated subplots are fiction, but the setting is real, the places where conspiracy is instigated are fictional, even though they're based on genuine events; the characters are deep and distinctive, while at the same time, they embody their unmistakable cultural heritage. Ronald L. Donaghe, Winner of the 2008 Jim Duggins out-standing Mid-Career Novelist Award., characterized it best—"Perry's style and approach, makes for a great, entertaining read, in addition to being suspenseful and intriguing, from start to finish."
Who is your intended audience? Have you been able to crossover into other audiences as well?
A: My intended audience is the college educated adults who are interested in world events, history and geography, and of course—people who like to read thrillers.
Why did you choose your particular genre?
A: It was the only genre my story could possibly fit into. A fictional story about Islamic Terror can only survive inside a thriller.
Do you ever experience self-doubts with your work?
A: I would not call it self-doubt. I do experience periods where inspiration’s gone out to lunch, but then, just like the stock market, it comes back. Sometimes lunch turns into a siesta, but when it’s back from a long winter, spring brings more flowers.
Where do you write? Do you have a favorite place?
A: I have a home office. This is the only place where I do any kind of writing.
What kind of research did you have to do during the writing process?
A: Those who had never attempted their hand at fiction writing might not realize that a good quality novel requires a great deal of research, sustaining many of the fine points that shape the characters, the atmosphere, the scenes, the scenery, and the plot as a whole - keeping it real.
In today’s world, where Google is King, research has become a much less time and labor intensive compared to what it was only ten years ago. Historical events, biographies, description of places, and almost anything an author could do with, as far as background information required for decorating a scene, can be accessed, brought into play and integrated into a plot by letting your fingers do the walking on your internet-connected notebook. Still, an author should not rely solely on his/her online expertise, and if he/she does, than the picture would not become an original da Vinci masterpiece, but rather—a cheaper imitation.
There are many fine points that a good fiction draws on via an original observation, unsullied imagination, new thinking and accurate depiction, which makes the story stand above the tall grass and be noticed.
In my recent writing project, much of the information imparted through 72 Virgins required profound knowledge, some aspects of which had not been within my grasp before moving the plot to the fore. In particular, story elements, pertaining to law enforcement and intelligence agencies, types and attributes of chemical weapons, particular locations, places and modes of worship, as well as aspects of science and technology that inspire modern spying techniques—were building blocks I brought into play, with the help of added insight from qualified mavens. And I was lucky to have generous people, connoisseurs in their particular field, who were enthusiastic about parting with their expert advice and more than willing to share some of their knowledge and information with me.
As part of my research for 72 Virgins, I interviewed FBI personnel, a Mossad member, and a chemical weapons expert. I applied my own expertise in telecommunications technology, and knowledge of middle-eastern cultures and geography— building blocks I could not do without.
Another important element crucial to an authentic and accurate depiction of locations, work protocols, moods and atmosphere, are experiences—personal and not public. Impressions that one would not find on the Internet, the unique and original nature of which could elevate your writing to levels worth spending money for. You must emerge out of your author’s cave and explore, scrutinize, analyze and absorb. These personal experiences, integrated into your story are critical to the quality you strive to deliver.
I have done so before and throughout the writing of 72 Virgins. My depiction of the various places—in Israel, Germany, New York, Dearborn, Bali, and the particular places of worship mentioned in the book were based on personal impressions—some of which I lived through in the past, while others I visited throughout the writing when realizing a need for more inside information that I did not possess at the time.
When you begin working on your novel you may not possess sufficient information required for delivering an authentic and believable experience. You may not have realized what you were missing before you were closing in on chapter 5. Still, it’s never too late. You may acquire additional knowledge by getting up and leaving your warm chair, visit with experts, take a trip and enjoy the outdoors of the real world you tell your audience about.
Don’t be lazy. Your book will benefit from a little breeze and some additional sunshine brought in from the outside of your den. It’s important. It’s the difference between authenticity and superficiality.
Who is your publisher and how did you get accepted by them? Did you pitch your book yourself or go through an agent?
A: Unlike my first book, I did not go through an agent when I pitched 72 Virgins. I met my publisher at a party. We talked, and he asked me for the manuscript. He was interested in the topic.
How are you promoting your book thus far?
A: My publisher has sent out press releases, books to reviewers. I am going on a virtual tour, I update my web site with information and blogs on a regular basis, and I do book signings and lectures.
If you could give one book promotion tip to new authors, what would that be?
A: You may spend more on marketing and promotion than what it would return. Consider it as an Investment rather than an expense. If you are in for the long haul, it might pay off in later years with your next book(s).
What’s next for you?
A: The final line in 72 Virgins offers a hint—a sequel is in the works. I am in the process of plotting and outlining the next thriller.
Thank you for this interview, Avi. Can you tell us where we can find you on the web?
A: My web site www.aviperry.org includes information about my books and links to more information.