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Interview


2013 Interview By George Ebey. George is the author of Broken Clock, Dimensions: Tales of Suspense, The Red Bag, and Widowfield.


Philip Donlay is the author of two previous books in his exciting Donavan Nash series. Now he is back with his third installment, Zero Separation.

This time around, Nash has a secret he'll do anything to keep. Teetering on the brink of losing everything, he's caught between an emotionally compromised FBI agent who knows the secret, and a brutal terrorist bent on igniting a new and more terrible war in the Middle East. Held hostage aboard a stolen private jet above the skies over Washington D.C., Nash and the FBI agent will have a single chance at a daring midair plan to stop the attack. Success could cost them their own lives, but failure will cost the lives of millions.

I recently checked in with Philip who gave me plenty of insight into what it takes to create a great aviation-themed thriller.

How did you first get involved in aviation?
I've always loved airplanes. It started as a little boy. As far back as I can remember I lived and breathed aviation. When I was sixteen, I started taking flying lessons, became a licensed pilot when I was seventeen, and by the time I was nineteen I was working as a flight instructor. I quit flying in 2008 with almost 14,000 hours in my logbook—12,000 in jets. I still look up if a plane flies overhead.

How did you first get involved in writing, and when did the two merge?
Again, I was imprinted early. My parents were big readers and our weekly ritual was to go to the library. I headed for the airplane section and my love of books began. In high school I took a journalism class for no other reason than I'd heard a rumor that it was a great class to meet girls. The rumor was true. I learned many useful skills in that class. I also learned to write. I had a blast producing the school newspaper, but creative writing was what I loved most. My freshman year in college, an English 101 assignment was to write a magazine article. I wrote an airplane story, naively submitted it to a magazine, and was published.

Zero Separation is the third book featuring your hero Donovan Nash. Can you tell us a little about him and how he has evolved over the course of three novels?
Donovan is an intelligent, highly capable, yet troubled man. Tragedies damaged and shaped him; a woman he loved was kidnapped and killed by persons unknown. Donovan was blamed for her death. As a result, while still a young man in his twenties, Donovan made the dramatic move of faking his death and leaving his past behind. Now, more than twenty years later, he's still dealing with the ramifications of those decisions. Donovan is a hostage to his past, and despite all the amazing things he does for others he can't quite get his own life on track. Over the course of three novels, Donovan struggles even more with his past and how it threatens his future. The underlying theme of the books is the love story between Donovan and his wife Lauren. They're standing on a precipice trying to hold everything together. Will they step away, or will they go over the edge? Hopefully, these aspects, as well as the action taking place in the forefront, make Donovan Nash a compelling character.

Some of the action in Zero Separation takes place aboard a stolen executive jet. Can you talk about the challenges and rewards that come with framing a portion of your story inside of a setting such as this?
The challenge of placing the reader in the cockpit of a modern jet is that the technology is so daunting. The task for me is to skip the stuff that doesn't matter, and bring the essential elements to the reader in a way that flows without interrupting the story. In thrillers, there are no time-outs allowed to explain technology. The reward comes when I get it right. The reader is not only sitting in the cockpit, he or she has their sweaty hands on the controls trying to stay alive.

Being an experienced pilot, did you learn anything surprising about air travel that you didn't already know while you were putting this story together?
I learned more about airport security than I really cared to know, both comforting and frightening. I can now steal a Gulfstream Five. (Gulfstream owners please relax. I did omit certain key elements in the book, so I wasn't writing a how-to manual.)

Should I read this on my next flight or should I wait until after I land?
By all means read it on the plane. I dare you.