Jeffrey James Higgins is a former reporter and retired supervisory special agent who writes thriller novels, short stories, creative nonfiction, and essays. He has wrestled a suicide bomber, fought the Taliban in combat, and chased terrorists across five continents. During his career, he made the first narco-terrorism arrest, convicted the world’s most prolific heroin trafficker, and arrested an Iranian operative trying to acquire surface-to-air missiles. Jeffrey received both the Attorney General’s Award for Exceptional Heroism and the DEA Award of Valor.
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An Interview with the Author
Can you, for those who don’t know you already, tell something about yourself and how you became an author?
I’ve wanted to be an author since my parents read me bedtime stories. I worked as a journalist to pay the bills, then entered law enforcement and stopped writing during my 25 years as a police officer and special agent. When I returned to writing a few years ago, I felt like I was coming home. I’ve always been a writer, even when I wasn’t writing.
Who is your hero and why?
My wife, Cynthia Farahat Higgins, is my hero. She grew up in Cairo, Egypt and wanted to be a sculptor, but the government prevented her from going to art school. Instead of accepting being a victim of a patriarchal, socialist, Islamist society, she decided to understand the minds of Islamists.
Cynthia spent the two decades studying Islamic jurisprudence and became a founding member of Egypt’s first secular, pro-western political party. She fought for the rights of women, minorities, and all individuals. The government, al-Qaeda, and the Muslim Brotherhood targeted her, but she stayed true to her values and never backed down. She spent more than a decade under surveillance and received death threats daily. She sought asylum in the US only after Islamists murdered her friend and targeted her for assassination.
My wife has continued to write and expose radical Islamic terror groups. Her efforts had saved countless lives, and she has helped transform Egyptian society. The woman who once had her name officially banned from print now regularly appears in the most widely circulated newspaper in the Middle East. Cynthia’s courage and morality are a shining star for all to follow. Her nonfiction book, The Secret Apparatus, exposes the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization. Post Hill Press will publish it in 2022.
Which of your novels can you imagine made into a movie?
I think all my novels would make wonderful movies. I say that because I’m a visual author. Stories play like movies in my imagination when I write. Readers often tell me my books would make great movies. Some writers get offended by that comment because novels and cinema are different mediums, but I take it as a compliment because it means the book came alive in the reader’s mind.
Furious: Sailing into Terror would probably make the best movie. It was a quarterfinalist in Screencraft’s Most Cinematic Book Competition. Best Thrillers selected it as an Editor’s Pick, and Reader’s Favorites gave it a Gold Medal. Furious would be the least expensive to film because 90% of the story takes place on a 62-foot Beneteau Oceanis Yacht. I’ve been studying scriptwriting, and I hope to have the screenplay written soon. I plan to adapt my other work into scripts too. Unseen: Evil Lurks Among Us would also translate well on the big screen.
What inspired you to write this book?
A year before Covid-19, I thought about ways someone could flee a populated area during a pandemic and decided escaping on a yacht would work. Then I wondered what would happen if someone on the boat was dangerous. That led me to write a closed-environment thriller. I wanted to create a fast-paced novel that readers would not want to put down. Furious is pure romanticism. The protagonist, Dagny, must use her mind to find ways to survive. It’s about using reason, being courageous, and never giving up.
How did you come up with the title of the book?
The title, Furious, has multiple meanings and implications, which the reader will understand when they read the story. No spoilers!
Who designed your book covers?
Black Rose Writing published my first two novels, Furious and Unseen. Their design and production manager, David King, does a great job creating the covers, and I know Reagan Rothe and the other BRW staff also give input. There’s a real art to designing a cover. Reader polls show that cover design is one of the most important factors in selling a book. The cover must be interesting, convey the genre and mood, and entice the read to open the book. I think it’s usually a mistake for authors to design their own covers. I would not ask a designer to write an important scene for me, so why should I dictate their art?
Did you learn anything during the writing of your recent book?
I become a better writer with every book. I think that’s an important lesson for new authors. Malcolm Gladwell posited that 10,000 hours of study in any field is necessary to become an expert. I think there’s a literary equivalent for that. I’ve written over 600,000 words in novels and probably a couple hundred thousand more in short stories and narrative nonfiction. The more you write, the better you become, and if it’s focused writing, you learn from your mistakes. I read books on craft, listen to podcasts, attend conferences, participate in a critique group, and rely on beta readers. If you listen to criticism and learn the craft, you will get better. A corollary to that is finishing your novel. Completing plot and character arcs are tremendous learning experiences. It’s one thing to have a good idea and start a book, and another to structure your idea properly, flesh out characters, and make it all work together. The best thing I’ve learned is to finish what you start.
Have you written any other books that are not published?
My agent recently submitted two books to publishers. Blood and Powder is a nonfiction account of my journey from the World Trade Center on 9/11 to fighting terrorism in Afghanistan. Battling bureaucrats and terrorists, a special agent pushes DEA into war and makes the first narco-terrorism arrest—forever changing how terrorists are prosecuted. It’s Blackhawk Down meets The Good Soldiers. My agent also submitted Shaking, a small-town murder mystery. Battling bipolar disorder, Emily Miller lands her dream job as a reporter and returns to her New England hometown, but when her brother becomes a suspect in a gruesome murder, she must identify the killer to save her family, her job, and her life. It’s Sharp Objects meets The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair. I hope both books will find a home and be published in 2022.
What did you edit out of this book?
Because most of Furious takes place on a boat, I wanted to write scenes in other locations to provide readers with background information and give them a change of scenery. I wrote a dozen flashback scenes about pivotal moments in Dagny’s history, but a literary agent told me they took her out of the moment. I was afraid if I used too many flashbacks or made them too long, I would reduce the tension. I cut most of them out and shortened the ones I kept to a paragraph or two. Keeping brief flashbacks gives the reader background they need and does not hurt the pace.
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