People at Work

People at Work

Sit in a Comfortable Chair—You Can’t Put These Books Down

It is late morning, and author Jeffery James Higgins has nearly finished a pot of strong espresso. “Black, only black.” It has been a good day. He has written around 2,000 words today on the first book in his new trilogy, “Relic:The Queen’s Tomb.” 

This trilogy is a story told from two points of view: a female reporter in 2023 and a male scholar in 48 BC with the narrative switching back and forth. It is an action-adventure thriller with an archaeological theme. 

Higgins juggles books in all stages of production with some finished and awaiting publication, others seeking a home and some just a glimmer in his imagination. 

In a previous life Higgins was deeply immersed in the world of terrorism as a supervisory special agent who fought terrorists across five continents. In 2006, he identified a narco-terrorism case, arguing with the CIA who failed to see the connection. He says the connection seems obvious now. Higgins says he helped investigate the world’s largest drug trafficking ring with 19.7 percent of the world’s heroin. He says he wrestled a suicide bomber in Kabul to capture the detonator before the terrorist could target a nearby crowded bus.

“Unseen,” the first fiction book he wrote, was recently published— a thriller with a subplot involving a Jihadist conspiracy to take over America. “Evil was everywhere. It arrived with a smile, an extended hand, a sultry look.”

“Unseen” is fiction but based on a real life conspiracy. The reader constantly wonders, “where does fiction leave off and reality begin?”

Higgins says, “Everything in the book is documented, and it is grounded in reality.” The book has a sobering message but Higgins believes sometimes it is easier to reach people this way; “a lot of time people learn through fiction.” 

Higgins says there can be a two-year lag from signing a book deal to publication. And it can be difficult to predict what will be interesting that far ahead and make decisions. Higgins says “Unseen” was intended to be a series. But he says there isn’t a market for terrorism books right now.

“Unseen” led right into “Furious” which is a gripping and suspenseful tale of a woman’s survival on a large yacht sailing the Indian Ocean as she faces her fear of water and the terror of unexpected events. Then at some point Higgins will go back to finishing “The Resort,” a psychological suspense thriller which was halted in the middle. But Higgins explains he only works on one book at a time.

“Forever Gone” is already finished and in production with Black Rose Writing with a launch date expected in February, 2024. Special Agent Adam Locke is a DEA agent, an occupation which he loves, but when his girlfriend is diagnosed with cancer he quits and joins his brother’s start-up artificial intelligence company. It is run by an eccentric billionaire on Cuttyhunk Island, a tiny community near Cape Cod. While artificial intelligence has the potential to extend life, philosophical issues arise over unintended consequences of the innovation— all woven in with a murder plot. 

Higgins says some days he struggles to produce his target of 2,000 words but “if you want to write, just get down and write.”

“I think people are looking for entertainment. I can see a resurgence of fantasy or maybe Westerns.” He says people want a fast paced book and tries to keep his chapters 5-10 pages with lots of cliffhangers. He explains that a bookstore keeps a book on the shelves for several months, and if it doesn’t sell well enough it’s gone.

Writing a book is a process. “You start with a high concept idea and ask ‘what if’ and come up with an alternative explanation. I’m a big outliner.” He explains there is a structure to storytelling which has a long history before the printed word was available and stories were used to communicate. He breaks the story into three acts with 15 story beads—moments like the call to actions, decision points.

Higgins writes the draft of a book in about five weeks but that is just the beginning. He has to put in different twists. He has to make sure it has the right pacing. “I have to set up the characters and make sure you can tell who is talking by establishing their personalities. Hopefully I’m better at it now than I was when I wrote ‘Unseen’ in 2018.” Then there is the editing process and his beta readers critiques.

Sometimes he gets his ideas walking down King Street where one observation leads by stream of consciousness to a realization about how quickly the veneer of civilization peels off and people revert to their hierarchy of needs. The idea for another book is born.

Higgins wrote “Shaking” in 2019-20, and the book won the Claymore Award at Killer Nashville in 2022. He has signed the publishing contract, and currently the manuscript is being edited with an expected launch date of late 2024 or early 2025. “Shaking” is a murder mystery based in Harvard, Massachusetts — a place where he grew up which has “more apples than people.” 

He says Harvard is beautiful but can be super creepy, the same place but different depending on circumstances. He says he was outside a motel at the now abandoned Harvard Observatory researching the book and he saw a child’s ball and rocking horse sitting outside. “It was creepy, but then I found that Stephen King had just been there filming his latest movie.” 

The protagonist is a reporter with bipolar disorder who returns to her hometown to take a coveted job as a reporter. But her brother becomes a suspect in a gruesome murder and she must identify the killer to save her brother, as well as her job and her new life. 

Higgins says he and his wife, who owns Elaine’s, have the vision to partner good food with good books. So Higgins stands in the second floor Library Room at Elaine’s Restaurant on Queen Street, a room which is dedicated to highlighting the work of authors. The bookshelf is filled floor to ceiling with spy thrillers and murder mysteries. “It’s a free space to serve as a home to authors,” he says. There are a number of author events scheduled in the near future. And they are planning Noir at the Bar to begin in September where they will feature 5-8 minute readings.

In the afternoons Higgins works on organizing the events at Elaine’s, his own public appearances and on the business side of writing. 

Does he miss the days of chasing terrorists across five continents? “You can always find adrenaline somewhere. What I miss is protecting people.”