When I first began writing Collapse, it started with a thought that had been mulling around in my head for years. In my fifteen years of law enforcement, I have worked at a maximum security prison. After I left the military, I worked for a brief period of time for the Louisiana Department of Corrections. The most fascinating thing about the experience was that the two week academy was at Angola State Prison, one of the country's most famous maximum security prisons. The 1995 Academy Award winning film Dead Man Walking , starring Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn, was based on a true story set in the same prison.

I remember very clearly sitting in class one day and the instructor said something that stayed with me till this very day. He said "Don't think for one second that you are any better than the inmates in your charge. Each one of us is one bad decision or being in that one place at the wrong time away from being an inmate. It could happen to any of us. You get behind the wheel drunk and kill someone, you come home to find your spouse in bed with someone else, any number of things can turn any law-abiding citizen into a convicted felon."

I couldn't stop thinking about what he said. What would land me in prison? The thought haunted me for several years and was the first tidbit that turned a simple idea into a book. The character of Richard Dupree began over a decade ago with me sitting in a classroom at Angola State Prison. The crime that ultimately led to the ex-Navy SEAL being in prison is one of the few things that would most certainly land me in jail if the same thing happened to me.

As the chapters began to take shape on my iPad and Mac, I found that the easiest way to write anything is to write about what you know. Drawing on your own experiences and knowledge is probably the most interesting vehicle to story-telling. I'm sure that many a writer would agree with me. Looking into the mirror and finding the darkness in your life and confronting it can be soul-wrenching, but putting that darkness into words can build the foundation to an incredible story.

"Which character is you?" My wife asked me that question after reading the introductory chapters to each of the three main characters in Collapse. The truth is, all three of them are variations of me on some level. No, I was never a Navy SEAL and I'm certainly not the world's richest man. The personalities of all three men are inspired from the journeys the created the man I am today.

The first character I created was Chief Maxwell Harris. I created Maxwell and turned him into a burnt-out drug addict with chronic pain. Before you start judging me, know this, I am not a drug addict and never have been. I have dealt with chronic pain and fully understand how easily it can be to get addicted to pain pills. In early 2011, I woke up one morning in the worst pain I had ever felt in my life. I could not stand up straight and spent most of the day laying on my bedroom floor. I would later find out that I had two bulging discs in my back and a torn muscle at the bottom of my left shoulder blade that didn't heal properly from an injury I sustained in the military. Over the next six months, I visited a chiropractor, a physical therapist, and frequented a pain management clinic. That six month period was one of the worst times of my life. I was in constant pain. I also took generous amounts of Vicodin and Soma prescribed to me by a physician. I was not fond of the drugs making my mind foggy and making me tired all the time. I was however, quite fond of being high as a kite. It was fantastic to have a perpetual sense of euphoria. I was never foolish enough to let the pain meds take control of my life, I love my job and my family far too much to jeopardize them. Once physical therapy worked out the problems with my back and the pain doctor gave me a shot in the damaged muscle, I haven't taken either of the pills since. What I did take away from the experience was the understanding of addiction.

Max also shares another quality with me. He's content to coast through life on auto-pilot. The phrase Max says to Elizabeth "A life without ambition is an easy one" are words actually spoken by me up until I started writing this book. I have a beautiful, loving wife and two wonderful children. My life is a pretty good one, why bother for more? It wasn't until I started writing this book that I realized that my life was absent passion and determination. I was happy to do my best as a loving husband and devoted father. I'm sure my wife would tell you that she hasn't seen me so invigorated and full of life since I was a teenager. As I have awoken to try to attain my full potential, so will Max.

The second character I created for this book was Richard Dupree. Living in Southeast Texas, I am a veteran of many hurricanes. Two of those hurricanes, Rita and Ike, disrupted the comforts of daily life and on many levels, served as a true test to the survival skills of many people. I remember when the sun rose after Ike exited my hometown, we were in a complete and total communication blackout. No cell phones, no internet, no cable, no radio or tv stations, nothing. I remember thinking very clearly that aliens could have landed on the White House lawn and we'd have been none the wiser. We were on our own, if only for a brief period of time. Later that day we found bars on our cell phones and called our loved ones that we evacuated to safety. Hurricane Ike opened my eyes to survival and set the stage for the downfall of America in the year 2027. Richard Dupree represents the survivor that imagine myself to be.

The last and without a doubt my favorite character in the book is Howard Beck. Once I gave Howard Asperger's Syndrome, he became in my mind the adult version of my son, who also has Asperger's. Howard also represents me in many ways. When I was thirteen, I was placed in the gifted class at my middle school. I was given an IQ test and was later told that I have a genius IQ. Telling something like that to a thirteen-year old boy does wonders for his ego. I graduated high school and college both in three years. A few months after my twentieth birthday, I had my Bachelor's degree. For my entire life I have had a mind that races in multiple directions at once. The race car in my head has caused me to suffer insomnia for many years and at one point led me to believe that I was going insane. Howard is definitely much smarter than me, but he is cursed with the same race car in his head. Where I have been able to pump the brakes on my race car, poor Howard has never had the same luck.

I have also enjoyed putting my own likes and interests into the book. My childhood idol was and still is Captain Picard, just like Howard. My favorite science fiction books are the Odyssey series by Arthur C. Clarke, which quite obviously are the inspiration behind Howard's digital assistant. Max loves to play video games, particularly Modern Warfare, just like me. Richard is locked up in a prison, an environment I am quite familiar with. There are many more examples sprinkled onto the pages, far too many to list.

My years of military service have also given me insight to write much of the book. Howard meets two soldiers at one point in the book, both of which are named after my former CO and First Sergeant. In late 1999, I was with the 204th Military Police Company and held the honor of being a member of the last military unit stationed on the Panama Canal. I spent many a day at the front gate of Fort Clayton looking at the Miraflores Locks watching many extremely large vessels pass in front of me. My interest in those ships gave me a fondness of naval battles and was the inspiration for The Battle of the Port of Gibraltar.

It is also a lot of fun to give special winks out to my friends and family. The President of the United States is named after my best friend, his wife is the President's Chief of Staff. When you first visit the Clinton Room, my relatives pretty much fill the room, they know who they are. A revision was made to the sneak peek and the aircraft carrier that takes back the Port of Gibraltar is named after my father. For the past four years, I have been active in the employees union at my job. Later in the book there is a meeting and many of my union brothers will find their last names mentioned in quite a humorous setting. When I wrote about Richard Dupree's daughter, I pictured my daughter when she was a toddler. Once you finish the book, you will understand just how hard it was for me to picture her sweet little face and mousy voice. Even both of my cats are in the book. Elizabeth's little spaz, Callie, is the same cat that sits in my lap while I write my book. Howard's grumpy cat, Nala, is our oldest cat, one that I haven't picked up since she was a kitten. She growls and swats at everyone except our daughter.

Write what you know. You will be amazed at how easily telling a story can be.Collapse (New America, #1) Sneak Peek Collapse (New America, #1) Sneak Peek by Richard Stephenson
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Published on April 03, 2012 11:24 • 1,439 views • Tags: author, collapse, richard-stephenson, write-what-you-know, writing-tips
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message 1: by Susan (new)

Susan Bravo! I wish you the best in this exciting adventure. It's definitely life changing when you find your passion...and it certainly looks like you've found yours. Enjoy the ride!

message 2: by Eduardo (new)

Eduardo keep going Richard......I hope your book becomes a bestseller....

message 3: by Richard (new)

Richard Stephenson Susan wrote: "Bravo! I wish you the best in this exciting adventure. It's definitely life changing when you find your passion...and it certainly looks like you've found yours. Enjoy the ride!"

Thank you so much Susan. I feel more alive than I have in years.

message 4: by Richard (new)

Richard Stephenson Eduardo wrote: "keep going Richard......I hope your book becomes a bestseller...."

Thank you Eduardo. I'm doing my best to write you one!

message 5: by Elyse (new)

Elyse Salpeter What a great rundown of the book and who you are - you sound so passionate - I will definitely check it out!

message 6: by Richard (new)

Richard Stephenson Elyse wrote: "What a great rundown of the book and who you are - you sound so passionate - I will definitely check it out!"

Thank you so much!

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