I was asked by The Miramichi Reader if I would do a review of a novel by American author, Tom Gabbay. I did so gladly, as the novel – Access Point – was one that intrigued me and I looked forward to reading. (See the review here - TMR)
As I mentioned in the review, this novel captured me and I read it in one sitting. Terrific suspense, interesting story line and captivating characters. It had everything you need for a good story.
Since then, I’ve had the pleasure to meet Mr. Gabbay online and he has graciously agreed to a 4Q Interview and is sharing an excerpt from Access Point.
Born in Bloomington, Indiana on April Fools Day of 1953, Tom Gabbay has had an eclectic career. Traveling through Europe in 1973, he took a summer painting course in Avignon, France, then enrolled in the Heatherly School of Art in London. Returning home the following year to attend the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art in Philadelphia, Tom began contributing political cartoons to the Philadelphia Daily News. Upon graduation, Tom moved to New York City where he spend several years producing award-winning short films for the children's program Sesame Street. In 1985 Tom joined NBC Entertainment, serving as Director of Children's Programs, Director of Comedy Programs, and Creative Director for NBC Europe in London. In addition to his novels, Tom has written several screenplays.
4Q: Before we discuss your writing, I read online that you originally dedicated your career to filmmaking and screenwriting. Very much involved in TV. Please tell us about this experience.
TG: While attending art school in Philadelphia I'd been contributing political cartoons to the Philadelphia Daily News, which in turn led me to an interest in animation. I started making short films and when I moved to New York I heard that the children's program Sesame Street would commission independent producers if they liked their ideas. As I recall, I went into their office with a portfolio full of storyboards ideas and was thrilled when they accepted three. I learned the process of filmmaking the hard way -- frame by frame. After several more commissions, I wanted to stretch my creativity a bit, and avoid getting sucked into the New York Mad Men advertising game, so I went west, to Los Angeles. After a couple of months of searching I was offered the job of Director of Children's Programs at NBC, which meant overseeing Saturday Morning animated programs. I learned about script writing by reading stacks of Smurfs, Alvin and the Chipmunks, Spiderman and all sorts of other cartoon scripts. My move to Comedy Programs allowed me to learn from great shows like Cheers, Family Ties, and Golden Girls. When I moved back to London to take on the job of NBC's European Creative Director, I was able to get involved with drama scripts from great producers like David Puttnam. It wasn't until I left NBC to produce the drama series, "The Wanderer," that I started writing myself.
4Q: What turned you to writing novels?
TG: Frustration is the easy answer. Screenwriting is a collaborative craft, which can be a great experience -- or not. I had some very good experiences, and some pretty horrendous one. In the end, there was a particular director -- who'll remain nameless -- who drove me off the cliff. At that point, my wife and I bought a secluded farm house at the far western edge of Ireland and I tried my hand at a novel. It was hard work -- much more difficult for me than writing a script -- but I got enough satisfaction from the process to repeat it several times since.
4Q: Please share a childhood memory and/or anecdote.
TG: Well, that could be a long one. I have a true story about a crazy hitchhiking trip from New York to Florida that my family has been (strongly) suggesting that I write as a screenplay or a novel. I won't spill it all here, but I can say that it involves one 16-year old boy (not me), heartsick over his 15 year-old girlfriend's move to Florida, three loyal friends (one of which is me), and their determination to make it to Daytona Beach in order to reunite the lovesick couple. Along their zig-zag hitchhiking route through the south in 1969 they encounter a chatty bible salesman in the back of a pickup truck, a huge alligator looking for breakfast (not a good idea to sleep in the swamp), several massive rainstorms, a lost wallet, sunburn, a rented Chrysler stuck on the beach, and a South Carolina jail cell. The final hurdle was figuring out how to provide the local Sheriff/Judge with the hundred dollar bribe he demanded when all we had between us was a dollar and thirty-two cents.
4Q: Access Point is a terrific novel. Please tell our readers what to expect when they pick up a copy.
TG: : I got the idea for the novel while re-reading Carl Sagan's book, Broca's Brain. In the opening chapter he describes being taken into the basement of the Museum of Science in Paris to see the preserved brain of famous scientist Pierre Broca. Sagan speculates that since a person’s thoughts are no more than a series of electrical impulses, it may be possible, one day, to capture the impulses of a person long dead and "read" them, in the same way that we can see the light from a star that has died millions of years ago. That sparked the idea for Access Point. What if the memories of someone who has been murdered could be captured and translated? Might it be possible to play them back in order to reveal the identity of the murderer?
Beyond that I would refer the reader to your review, Allan. I can't do better than that!
4Q: I saw on your website – – your three previous novels, The Berlin Conspiracy, The Lisbon Crossing and The Tehran Conviction. Each one looks like a must read. Can you share a bit about these works?
TG: The series revolves around various important events that took place in the second half of the twentieth. Told through the eyes of disillusioned spy Jack Teller, each book takes an important turning point in history and explores the part of the story that never made it to the history books. I wanted to focus on the three "isms" that defined those years -- Nazism, Communism, and Islamic Fundamentalism. "The Berlin Conspiracy," set in June, 1963, when Kennedy made his historic visit, looks at the Cold War in the context of an attempt to assassinate the president while in Berlin; "The Lisbon Crossing" is set in 1941 in the days after the fall of France, at the time that the neutral city was a haven for refugees from all over Europe -- including the Duke and Duchess of Windsor; "The Tehran Conviction" moves back and forth between 1953, when the CIA overthrew the democratic government, and 1979 during the hostage crisis. I don't try to present a factual account of these events, but a plausible history that allows Jack Teller to give his irreverent view on events.
4Q: Favorite authors/novels?
TG: I read more non-fiction than fiction these days, but some of my all-time favourite novels include those by Graham Greene, Somerset Maugham, and John LeCarré. I'm a fan of Elmore Leonard, who had the best advice for writer: "Leave out the parts that readers skip." In my serious youth I went through Dostoevsky, Cervantes, Tolstoy, Dickens, DH Lawrence, Thomas Pynchon, and so on. I had a period of Kurt Vonnegut and I have fond (distant) memories of Mark Twain.
4Q: Do you have a favorite spot to write? Your writing habits?
TG: I always write on my laptop, usually in my office, but anywhere will do as long as I can shut myself off from distractions. When I'm fully involved with a project, I tend to write in two shifts -- morning and afternoon. Starting is always the hard part so I tend to read through and edit my previous day's work in order to build up to those blank pages. Sometimes, at the end of the day, I'll start a sentence but leave it incomplete as an easy way to pick up the narrative.
4Q: Anything else you’d like to share with us? What’s next?
TG: I've been working with a production company to take "The Berlin Conspiracy" to television. Writing the adaptation has been a rewarding process. Now we do the really hard work -- finding a good home for it. Stay tuned!
Excerpt from "Access Point" by Tom Gabbay (Chapter 10)
(Copyright is held by the author. Used with permission)
"Aside from Erik and me, you’ll be the first person to see it." Ula led Mia up the attic stairway. "I'm actually quite excited to show you."
"I'm really curious," Mia said, her voice betraying the nervous apprehension she felt.
Ula flicked the light switch at the top of the steps, revealing the makeshift laboratory where she'd spent pretty much every waking hour since coming out of the coma, ten months earlier. Something that looked like a dentist's chair had been set up in the centre of the space, with a computer station behind it. A cable connected the mainframe to a strange looking headpiece that looked like it was made out of a bicycle helmet. Mia stopped a few feet short of the configuration.
"What is it?" she asked.
Ula pointed to the chair. "Sit there and I'll show you."
Mia looked skeptical. "What does it do?"
"If you get in, I'll show you." Ula entered a series of passwords into the keyboard and the mainframe came to life. Mia took a step toward the subject chair but hesitated.
"It's not dangerous," Ula reassured her.
Mia nodded and reluctantly lifted herself into the seat. Ula did something at the control panel and the chair shifted smoothly into the reclining position.
"Just lie back and relax," Ula said, removing a silver clip from Mia's hair before placing the E.I.R. onto her head.
"What's that?" Mia asked, feeling increasingly anxious.
"It's called an Electronic Impulse Receiver," Ula explained. "It picks up electronic signals from your brain and sends them to the computer."
"Oh, wow... Really?"
"It's perfectly safe," Ula assured her as she made some adjustment to the headpiece. "You'll need to close your eyes."
"What's going to happen?"
"You'll see. Close your eyes."
Mia wondered what she'd got herself into. If this was a movie, she was playing the part of the dumb student who was about to be tortured and turned into some kind of zombie by the mad scientist.
"Are your eyes closed?" Ula asked from her seat at the computer station.
"Yes," Mia said as she closed them. "They're closed."
"Good." Ula executed a few quick key strokes on the keyboard.
"Are you relaxed?"
"Nothing bad is going to happen," Ula promised. "But it will work better if you're relaxed."
"I'll try," Mia said, attempting a deep breath but coming up short.
Ula launched the programme software, causing the screen to fill with an erratic pattern of random static noise, similar to an old analogue television when there's no signal. "Now I want you to empty your mind of all thoughts," she said.
"I’m not sure I can do that," Mia responded.
"It's not as hard as it sounds." Ula lowered the room lights from her control panel. "Imagine that you’re staring into space. All you can see is a deep, dark, empty void that goes on and on, into infinity. Now allow the emptiness to envelop you... Yes, good."
The electronic noise on the screen slowly diminished, until a calm, almost uniform pattern of black emerged. Ula made a few small changes to the polarity before continuing her instructions in a hushed, flat tone.
"Now I want you to think of a number. Any number between one and ninety-nine. But don’t force it. Allow it to come to you. Imagine the number sitting out there in the darkness, a bright white light seared into the empty space. That’s it... Now concentrate on it."
As she spoke, something started to form on the screen. Lacking definition at first, it slowly came into focus to reveal the numbers "3" and "7."
"Thirty-seven," Ula said. "You're thinking of number thirty-seven."
"Oh my god!" Mia sat up sharply and twisted around to face Ula, almost pulling the E.I.R. off her head. "How...? How did you...? Did you just read my mind?!"
"I read an image that was in your mind."
"Yes, but... Oh my god, Ula! How?"
"By processing the signal."
"The electronic signal that your brain transmits."
Mia removed the E.I.R. and looked it over. "This thing can do that?"
"It just picks up the signal." Ula limped over to take custody of the headpiece. "The computer then has to process it. Or more accurately, the software does."
"Amazing!" Mia pulled herself out of the chair. As incredible as the demonstration had been, she wasn't keen on repeating it. Maybe it was some kind of mind trick, she thought. She'd seen that sort of thing on the internet.
"You're a good subject," Ula said as she returned the E.I.R. to its proper place. "You emit a very strong signal."
"Okay, well... I guess that's good. At least I'm unique."
"We each have our own electronic footprint, but you'd be surprised by how similar we all are. As with our DNA, human thoughts are ninety-nine point five percent identical to each other."
Mia shook her head. "I guess all this stuff is beyond me."
"Don't feel bad. It's beyond most people." Ula returned to the control panel to shut the programme down. "Think of the brain as an organic hard drive. It stores electronic impulses and, when called upon, sends them to another part of the brain for processing. Once the signal is intercepted, it's just a matter of teaching the computer how to read it. That's the challenging part."
"So how did you do it?"
"It's like learning a new language. A few years of trial and error, and then all of a sudden, it all makes sense. Once I learned how to send an image to the brain, it wasn't all that complicated to reverse the process. Same language, but instead of talking, I was listening. Downloading, instead of uploading."
"Well, however you do it, it’s amazing. But I have to say, it's kind of creepy!"
Ula gave her a look. "Creepy in what way?"
"Sorry..." Mia realised her mistake immediately. She and the wine had managed to lower Ula's guard and now it had suddenly shot up again. "I didn’t mean it like that. It’s just -- "
"I guess I don't know why you'd want to read people’s minds."
"I don’t," Ula said, not bothering to mask her annoyance. "Most of them wouldn’t be worth the effort."
"So what is the point?"
"The point is to read my own mind."
"Your own mind? Why would you want to do that?"
Ula gave Mia a long, impatient look. "Because..." she said, drawing it out. "If I can capture my old memories and download them onto the computer's hard drive, I can then reload them into a part of my brain that hasn’t been damaged. Isn't it obvious?"
Mia ignored the derisive tone. She was starting to think that rather than some mad evil scientist Ula might be an honest to goodness genius. "Can you really do that?" she asked. "Reload your memories into another part of your brain?"
"There's no reason why not," Ula replied, her irritation dissipating with the question. "I just have to find an access point."
"A door into my mind. If I can do that -- "
Ula noticed that a strange, distracted expression had come over Mia. She was looking around the attic, as if searching for something in the air.
"What are you doing?"
"Don't you hear it?"
"You hear a voice?"
"Yes. Can't you?"
"No." Ula paused to listen, but there was only silence.
"It's very faint," Mia said. "It's a man's voice, calling out... You really don't hear it?"
"He's calling out," she whispered. "Calling for you. Saying your name... It's... It's coming from up there..."
She looked up and was met with a sudden blinding flash. Expanding out from its source, the attic was flooded with a light so intensely brilliant that it seemed to burn through everything it touched. Lines blurred and shapes melted into the background, until it finally became impossible to see anything but the white-hot glow of the incandescent haze.
Thank you so much Tom, for being our special guest this week. I’m looking forward to your stories. All the best in your writing journey.
For you wonderful readers that are looking to discover more about this talented author and his books, please follow these links:
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