Greetings from Sarah Sundin! Today I have the honor of interviewing one of CAN’s newest members, Aaron M. Zook, Jr. A retired Army colonel, Aaron now uses his skills to write action-packed stories for teen boys.
Welcome, Aaron! Please tell us about your book The Crashin’ Coaster Mystery.
A mysterious man wrecks the Zanadu brother’s summer and their Crashin’ Coaster ride at a Texas park. Repeated disasters drag Gabe, Alex, their dogs, Thunder and Lightning, and friends into a cross-state chase for the criminal. The villain frames Alex. The FBI gets involved. Can the boys solve the case?
Sounds exciting! What inspired you to write this book?
The inspiration for The Crashin’ Coaster Mystery came from my desire to write exciting, fast-paced, action-packed adventures that were clean, fun, and showed the growth in every way of two boys, Gabriel and Alexander Zanadu, and their dogs, Thunder and Lightning, for Young Adults ranging from twelve-years-old to sixteen-years-old. Alex and Gabe age six months in each book, starting at ages twelve and fourteen in book #1. This particular book shows Alex Zanadu, the oldest boy, gaining knowledge and experiences that will bring him close to becoming a Christian by surrendering his life to Christ.
We raised two boys through home-school and eventually high school as we traveled around the world due to my military career as an officer. Finding good reading material that was based on a Christian worldview and upbringing was hard to do. Since I told stories to our boys when they were teens as we traveled around Europe, I’ve been fascinated with turning those stories, or stories similar to that, into a twelve-book series that chronicled the lives of these boys.
What surprised you the most during the research or writing of your book?
What I enjoyed most in the research of this book was talking with a retired FBI agent, Steve, to get the details straight about how the FBI works and what types of investigative work they did. FBI agents work very long hours and when Steve was an FBI agent, he often spent a lot of time in his car or changing location to get the information needed to solve a case. I was also amazed at how quickly the FBI can crack a case using informants and other individuals to find out the details surrounding a crime.
The FBI agent I interviewed let me know that in no way would children be used the way I use them in my book to capture criminals. We both laughed when I said, “That’s why they call it fiction.” He told me that some of the FBI characters I used in my book did resemble actual mannerisms or attitudes of FBI agents he had known. Steve also let me know that since the FBI investigated cross-state crimes, the crimes I was using in my book had to take place in more than one state. He was a tremendous help in successfully authoring the book!
I love how willing experts are to share with us authors. How has God used the message of your book in your own life?
While I was writing The Crashin’ Coaster Mystery, I taught a youth group class on The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel. I made the course I taught a writing course to link the two together. I decided to use the principles Lee Strobel investigated in my book to help Alex better understand the strong case for Christ that we have as Christians.
In this book, the principles I use will also be the springboard in the next book for Alex to make a final decision for Christ himself. In The Crashin’ Coaster Mystery, the boys are involved in a youth group, and a mature teenager friend who’s part of the youth group lays out the evidence that Alex and the others in their investigative group should use to make decisions for Christ and the methodology they should use to solve the crime they are working on.
I was able to strengthen the youth who came to the class, my own faith, and with God’s blessing, the faith of those who read this book or are interested in making a decision for Christ.
What would be your ideal writing place? And…what’s your actual writing place like?
My ideal writing place is one that is a resort, tucked away from others, yet close to my current home. The reasons are that in order to write and stay focused on a long-term project like a book, I need space away from others and my normal responsibilities to focus on the writing project.
I currently take a five-day work-vacation once a month to write at a time-share that we own that’s relatively close to our house. I seclude myself from all distractions while still having some ways to relax and have fun to take a break now and then. I like to play mini-golf, walk, or go for a swim to clear my mind, and then I’m ready to get back to writing.
How nice to get away to write! When did you first recognize God’s call to write for Him?
I realized as I was ending my military career that I would need to look for future employment. I went through a process we have in the U.S. Army, then called the Alumni and Career Program (ACAP). In this process, I talked with a coach who tested me on aptitude and skill. He went through my history and also my desires, which were to serve the Lord in some full-time capacity when I left the military.
In a private session afterward, he let me know that God wanted me to use my creative side. I am a musician, which is one area of artistry, and the other was that I had told my boys stories for years. He recommended that I use these talents for the Lord.
I began writing even as I transitioned from the military. I went to a writers conference with CLASSeminars (Christian Leaders And Seminar Speakers Seminars) and found my passion and calling to write the twelve-book Thunder and Lightning Series. This occurred in 2009, shortly after my full retirement from the U.S. Army. I have seen God confirm this calling again and again over the years. What a blessing!
What ministries are you involved in, and why?
I pray for Officer’s Christian Fellowship and contribute to them as I was totally involved as a volunteer and staff member for the organization through my U.S. Army career. I stay in touch with what’s happening and continue to follow their work.
I’m a praise and worship leader, singer, and guitarist. Currently, I am a rhythm guitarist for our praise band on a rotating basis. I love to worship and lead others in worship of our Lord.
I lead a small group Bible study for our church, currently teaching in the book of Ephesians. I believe we need a steady flow of God’s word to renew our mind and spirit throughout the week.
I volunteer as a youth leader to assist our youth pastor. There are few men who will come out on a Wednesday night and help with the youth.
I volunteer as a worker in the Love One Ministry, a ministry where we give out thousands of pounds of meat to homeless shelters and other Christian caring organizations that meet some of the requirements of the needy population in the area.
With such a busy schedule and so many activities, how do you stay disciplined and meet your deadlines?
In order to meet the high demand for output, I have found that I need to make schedules and plan a year in advance for my writing and other activities, to include wife, family, grandkids, extended relatives, book sales, book signings, vacations, and other factors.
My wife and I have a weekly calendar date to discuss our schedules (she is also self-employed as a speaker, writer, and life coach). We discuss in detail where we are going and what our plans are. Once a year we take a vacation where we discuss long-range goals.
In the short term, I manage my calendar and requirements in order to keep up with the daily load of taking care of cars, housework, lawn work, relaxation time, ministry, and other items. If I find that I have not allotted enough preparation time for a project, I notify any involved person early and see if it can be moved. I am not perfect at keeping everything in line, but most times I’ve met my suspenses on time or ahead of schedule.
With an efficient system like that, you must have something new in the works. Tell us about it.
The Olympic Enigma (working title)—At the 1992 Olympics, Alex and Gabe Zanadu, with their dogs, Thunder and Lightning, and friends, discover a covert doping operation. With their friend and Australian cop, Willie, they search for evidence to nail the drug lords. But the leaders of the drug ring track down the boys first, chasing them on skis and snowmobiles throughout the picturesque French countryside. As Gabe and Alex try to evade capture, they struggle with difficult moral decisions and the fight to stay alive.
What a fun read for boys! Thanks for sharing with us, Aaron!
To learn more about Aaron and his books, please visit Aaron’s website.
Writing for Him,