With a new novel – “Grim Reaper: End of Days” – bestselling author Steve Alten offers a thriller about government corruption and a threat to the existence of our species.
But he also tackles the internal struggle of the human spirit, and the personal impact a moment of tragedy can bring to our lives.
This novel is the product of the author’s spiritual exploration, his own battle with Parkinson’s disease, and the terror he experienced when his wife was the victim of an armed robbery.
The book will be officially released in October. Advanced copies were sent out a few weeks ago.
In his Author’s Note, Alten says: “This is a book about good and evil, the choices we make, and why we are here.”
The author makes frequent references to Dante’s epic apocalyptic poem “Inferno.”
Reached at his home in Florida, Alten said: “Hopefully, this book will make people realize that everything we do has repercussions – the good things we do and the bad things we do. And just because you can’t see it happening doesn’t mean there’s no effect.”
Alten’s main character is an injured Iraq war veteran struggling with nightmares from combat. He finds himself in the middle of a global crisis that forces him to come to grips with his internal demons and put his military training to use to save others.
The author’s research included interviews with soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Some of them were suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
“I’ve got a buddy who’s a teacher who was in Iraq,” Alten said. “His experience was unbelievable.
“It used to be that when someone came back from war, they went away for 30 days or so – sort of a cooling-off period. That gave them time to adjust and to integrate back into society. But they’re not doing that anymore. These days, guys are coming off and going right back home, and they’re live wires.”
Alten said he was also motivated by recent news events, such as the struggles of the banking industry and the ongoing economic recession.
But the strongest inspirations for the personal nature of this novel were events in Alten’s own life.
In 2007, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. Now, he speaks openly about the disease on his website – www.stevealten.com – and at public engagements.
“I have always tried to keep my problems in perspective,” he said. “There are people who have things a lot worse than I do.
“I’m not ashamed of (Parkinson’s). I don’t let it define me. I can talk about it and people will ask me questions about it.”
Last May, Alten’s wife Kim was caught up in an armed robbery at a store near their home. He describes in his Author’s Note how her arms and legs were bound with duct tape before the robbers fled with her money and jewelry, and the contents of the store’s safe.
She was not harmed otherwise.
He wrote: “How should I interpret the events of May 5th, 2009? Did God intervene? Did my wife’s faith keep her safe? Were we simply lucky?”
Questions of mankind’s relationship with God arise frequently in “Grim Reaper.”
Alten said in recent years he has been studying Kabbalah – the mystical side of Judaism, which focuses on the nature of God and the human soul, and attempts to answer questions about creation and individual spirituality.
“When you start writing a book, you have one thing in mind. But you might end up with something else entirely,” Alten said. “And everything that you live through affects your writing.”
Alten is a native of Philadelphia. He has a bachelor’s degree from Penn State and advanced degrees from Temple and the University of Delaware.
He recently launched Adopt-An-Author, a nonprofit effort to encourage kids to read.
“Grim Reaper” is his 10th novel – and portions of the book can be read on his website. His first book, “Meg,” was published in 1997.
He is wrapping up the writing on his next project – a novel titled “Phobos” that is due out in summer 2011.
Alten said he also has three of his books in movie talks.
He called that sometimes-frustrating process “the race of the turtles.”
“I get pretty excited when I’ve got a book coming out,” Alten said. “I think this (‘Grim Reaper’) is my best work. I’m interested to see what people think.”
And he’s hoping readers find a personal message in this story about a global threat.
“Bad things happen to good people every day,” he wrote.
“Tragedies befall families. We search for meaning, we question God. Our faith is tested.”
And, sometimes, lives are changed for the better.
Alten wrote: “Who knows – perhaps one day the man who held a gun to my soul mate’s head will pick up this novel and garner the spiritual tools he needs to transform his own life.”
Chip Minemyer is the editor of The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at 532-5091.