Author Caleb Pirtle explains “American operative Ambrose Lincoln has no idea where he is or has been or where he’s going. He believes he has been to the Night Side Of Dark, a place of the first death, from which no one can return.”
Welcome to the Night Side Of Dark, a thriller set in World War II.
After reading it, I immediately asked Caleb Pirtle if he would answer my questions for a blog.
He agreed. So here we go.
The first thing I’m going to do is let you read the remainder of the book description.
“So why does Ambrose Lincoln find himself on the bomb-ruined landscape of Poland, or has he been exiled to the second death?
“Lincoln only realizes, if the man in the shadows has not lied to him, he must find an ancient religious painting that has been missing for centuries.
“The German Gestapo will pay a fortune to buy it, or take a man’s life to get it. The painting, if legend holds true, is the German hierarchy’s final and only chance to escape the onslaught of the war that is crumbling around their feet.”
Caleb, your book is fascinating, like a combination of Hieronymus Bosch, the European painter known for his fantastic imagery and dark religious themes, and Dante’s Inferno.
Robb: Why does American intelligence operate on Lincoln’s brain before he is sent to his Polish assignment?
Caleb Pirtle: For every assignment, in each of the books, doctors working in a secret government hospital use surgery and electric shock treatments to re-program Lincoln’s brain. In essence, they are erasing his mind and his memory. They believe a man has a better chance of accomplishing his mission in the midst of war if he has no fear.
Lincoln doesn’t know what fear is. He is not afraid of killing someone. He is not afraid of being killed. He is not afraid of being caught. He can work with mechanical precision. All of his fears have been removed.
Robb: Why does he see, during the operation, the people he will be dealing with on the upcoming assignment?
Pirtle: In my novels, Lincoln’s mind is programmed like a computer. The government knows what potential threats he will face and the kinds of people he will be working with and against. Those in his mind are different from the real people he encounters, but he recognizes them well enough to believe he’s been with them before.
The idea for the Ambrose Lincoln series came from real mind control experiments our country conducting during the 1930s. Doctors used surgery, electric shock therapy, massive amounts of LSD and drugs on prisoners, the homeless picked off the street, and military volunteers.
It met with some success, and only recently have Classified Top Secret papers on the experiments been released. Even in my novel, I point out that the experiments began with nine men, and only Lincoln has survived.
Robb: How does he see these people?
Pirtle: He sees them during the experiments the same way we see visual images and people in our dreams. Often our dreams seem to go on for long periods of time but only last for a few minutes. Lincoln walks the landscape and comes across those the doctors are creating in his mind. They are showing moving pictures of an imaginary world that, soon enough for Lincoln, will become his real one.
Robb: The place where Lincoln finds himself seems to be purgatory. Where did you mean for it to be?
Pirtle: I wanted to readers to question where Lincoln was just as he questioned it. Perhaps it is purgatory. We all have our own visions of purgatory, and this is Lincoln’s own personal purgatory, which at times, seem more like hell without the fire and brimstone.
He is told he is trapped somewhere between the first death and the second death, and that becomes the final death. The place does give him a reason to find an escape route through the veil of time.
In essence, that sets up the story of the ancient religious painting. When Lincoln hears it, he is quick to understand it and believe it exists. After all, he had gone through the same escape door that’s in the painting.
Robb: What does the first and second death mean?
Pirtle: For Lincoln, the first death is the loss of his mind, his memory, his fear. It is not unlike the grip that Alzheimer’s has on us. We think that even death is better than an existence without our mind and our memories. The second death is the one from which there is no return. It is the one confronting us all someday.
Robb: Comments from reviewers?
Pirtle: Some are confused at first, which is good. I wanted the readers to wonder what was happening, what was going on. As one reader said, it resembled the kind of strange world George Orwell might have envisioned. But I thought I need to drop Lincoln and the readers into a state of Purgatory so they would understand Lincoln, his actions, and his motives for the rest of the book.
I think the book review from Linda Yezak captures the book: “The early chapters of this WWII noir illustrate the fractured mind of a man whose brain the government has scrambled too many times by the crude use of electro-therapy. But the story goes full circle, and the bizarre events the main character, Ambrose Lincoln, experiences early in the novel explain its end.”
Robb: How do you have time to write so many books?
Pirtle: Writing is what I do, and I’ve been doing it for a long time. The book total is 70 now when I release two new books this year. They have been completed and are in the editing stage. Working for Southern Living Magazine and a custom Dallas publishing company gave me the time and the responsibility to write a lot of books, mostly nonfiction, mostly travel and historical books.
I’ve only been writing novels for the past few years. However, I am at my word machine by four or four-thirty every morning, and I will write from 2,500 to 5,000 words every day. It’s what I do. It’s what I love to do. Write that much regularly and books magically appear.
Robb: You and your partner founded Venture Galleries, a website about books and art. How many unique visitors do you get, approximately, per year?
Pirtle: On Venture Galleries, we will get about a quarter of a million unique visitors a year. It ranges from 15,000 to 30,000 a month.
Robb: What trends do you see in the book world?
Pirtle: I believe the major trend can be summed up in one word: shorter. There was a time when novels were expected to be 100,000 to 150,000 words. Now, because books are on an eReader, no one knows or notices how thick or skinny they are. We live in an impatient society. Almost everyone wants books that can be read quickly, so they can move on to another book.
Most had rather read three 50,000 books than one 150,000 book. One of the trends in marketing is to have a new book on Amazon every three months, and that calls for shorter books and more books. By the same token, new novels are taking a lesson from James Patterson and writing shorter chapters.
Patterson says when you come to the end of a chapter and realize the next chapter is only three or four pages long, you keep reading. But encounter a 20-page chapter with that long sea of gray type, and readers have a tendency to quit reading for a time.
Robb: Have eBooks destroyed readership?
Pirtle: I think the eBook revolution has great increased reading. Prices for eBooks are so reasonable that readers are willing to take chances on authors they’ve never read before.
Besides, people now read on phones, iPads, and tablets, as well as eReaders. One survey indicated that most people spend almost two hours every day waiting: airports, doctor’s office, supermarket lines, automobile serve departments, etc. Readers keep their eBooks handy on all devices, and they read while they wait.
I used to look for old magazines or newspapers to read and kill time. Now I whip out my oversized phone and start reading. Video games have never been more popular, and they have their own captive audience. But, among the people I know, television has gotten so bad and movies rely so much on special effects that people of a certain age – and there are millions of them – would rather sit around and read at night.
Robb: Are you the only writer to combine thriller and fantasy?
Pirtle: I didn’t realize I had combined thriller and fantasy. I was just trying to write a thriller from a different point of view. Mind control was not fantasy. It was horrible for the participants, although I’m sure the hallucinations resembled a dose of fantasy more closely than anything else.
As writers, we are always searching for a new way to tell a story. If I was able to combine thriller and fantasy, I’m glad that I did and will try to figure out a way to do it again.