Interview with Kiel Barnekov

Published 2022-02-02.
• Start by sharing a little about yourself
I grew up in the Washington D.C. area, Northern Virginia. My father was a federal intelligence officer and captain in the Naval Reserve. Growing up D.C. was exciting. You had access to all of the monuments and the Smithsonian. This early exposure to history likely shaped my profound interest in it. At one point I was actually encouraged by a history professor to join academia in the field of history. But trying to support a very young family rendered that path too risky to me at that time. My first career job was with Delta Air Lines at Washington National Airport, loading bags and cargo. In 1976 we were able to relocate to Tampa where I spent four years working in airport customer service. In 1980, we relocated to Atlanta, Georgia where I was selected to attend Delta's computer programmer training. In 1997 I joined American Airlines computer services spinoff company, Sabre in Dallas, Texas. In 2003 I joined Tampa International Airport and became Director of IT. I retired from Orlando Airport in 2018. Shortly thereafter, I started writing.
• Give an overview of Shepherds of Destiny
o In the year 2028, Kristian Barnett, billionaire through inheritance of his parent’s estate, and CEO of Barnett Industries which develops, manufactures, and implements advanced transportation systems globally, falls ill at the age of thirty-three with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

o Dr. Savannah Richards, Neurosurgeon and Research Scientist at the Stanford Neuroscience Health Center has developed a means to preserve the brain of a patient whose body has been irrecoverably destroyed but whose brain is unharmed. Concurrently, Dr. Ansley Barnett, wife of Kristian Barnett, is leading the development of a cyborg body indistinguishable from a human body for DARPA.

o Soon after Kristian’s brain is removed and placed in stasis, he is approached by The Guardian. The Guardian is a spiritual being who watches for timelines that are going astray and threatening the existence of humanity. The Guardian enlists Kristian’s mind, untethered from his corporeal body, to control the actions of individuals key in keeping a timeline on its predestined course. In his current spiritual state, Kristian is able to travel to any period in the past or the future with The Guardian in order to affect changes to a timeline going worong

o With Kristian's spirit in tow, The Guardian travels back in time to the U.S. Civil War to counter a threat to the timeline in which the Union won the war is in jeopardy. Should Kristian fail to complete his assignment from The Guardian, the history of the United States is changed, and the country will not survive World War II.
o Aaron Adams, also suffering from advanced ALS in the year 2038, is approved for Dr. Savannah Richard's brain preservation procedure. But prior to the procedure his mind is scanned and stored for download to a cyborg body. Aaron is approached by The Guardian as his mind is also separated from his corporeal body. His assignment from The Guardian confronts a rift in time that threatens the outcome of World War II, and ultimately, the free world.
o Kristian Barnett and Aaron Adams, under the guidance of The Guardian then travel forward to the year 2052. The founding CEO of a high-tech information management company and two multi-billion-dollar telecommunication moguls have developed a new smartphone supporting an advanced communications technology. This technology enables the ability to control a user’s thoughts and actions without the knowledge or consent of the user.
The concepts of predestination and Good vs. Evil play a huge role in the story. Talk about your decision to include both concepts – how might the story be different if it were only 1 or the other?
Good vs. Evil has been a constant that has been portrayed throughout human history. And the general outcome is that Good will overcome Evil in the end. But how and why do we think that is inevitable? And what and how will that end be achieved?
How much research did you do for the book?
Most of the research related to the historical events brought forth in the story. For the Civil War, research included a visit and tour of Gettysburg, books, and Civil War films. For Churchill, I did not visit England for the book but have been there multiple times. Reading about Churchill’s professional career, watching dramatizations. I did tour parts of Norway portrayed in the book.
There are 2 events in this book that get altered, 2 in the past, 1 in the future. Why did you choose those specific, past events?
I’ve always been a fan of history. The 2 events in the past were based on moments that could have drastically changed history: Stonewall Jackson was killed, which according to many historians, changed the outcome of the war. Winston Churchill’s ultimate decision to stand against negotiating with Hitler. Had Churchill given in to his War Cabinet and capitulated, we probably would be looking a very different world today. In book 2, BTW, there are two more events that were on the brink of great historical significance if they had gone a different way.
How many books do you envision for the series?
I am writing a sequel to the Combined Books 1 and 2 now and hope to publish in 2022. It will likely be the end of this series as I plan on taking some of the characters into new adventures.
When did you start writing? Is it something you always wanted to do?
I actually started writing when I was a kid writing short stories. Wrote my first book, a child’s book, in the mid-1980s. 2 years ago, I decided if I was ever going to get serious, I needed to give up my professional career and get to it.
How did you create the plot for this novel?
There are a vast number of historical outcomes that, had they gone differently, would have resulted in a vastly different world. Through my love of history, I started with a couple of events that would have had a vast impact on the United States had they gone differently. Incorporating the supernatural together with future science seemed like a great basis upon which to develop the story.
Why did you give the main character ALS and why did you use it as the focus of your storyline?
I watched a colleague of mine, a pilot, slowly become disabled by ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) and ultimately die. ALS is one of the most horrible diseases because it generally does not affect the brain. The mind is wholly aware of what is happening until near the end. The physicist, Stephen Hawking, is one of the best known sufferer’s of ALS whose mind was not visibly affected by the disease. More recently, Steve Gleason, a one-time New Orleans Saints football player, who has suffered for nearly 10 years with the disease was awarded a congressional medal for his work in support of ALS victims.
Explain the idea of downloading a human mind to a cyborg or electronic brain. Do you foresee this really happening by 2040?
I first became aware of the idea of downloading the human mind from futurist Ray Kurzweil in his book The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology. The theory is that the mind can be immortal if housed in the right vehicle.
If you look at the advancements in medical science in the past 50 years, the technology described in Shepherds is possible. Artificial limbs are already being controlled directly from the mind. Recall that Orson Wells described a moon landing in the 19th Century.
Tell us about the main character: Kristian Barnett and how does the fact that he’s so wealthy allow him the medical advantages?
Kristian was an understudy to his father, CEO of Barnett Industries. Barnett Industries is a major player in global ground transportation systems including hyperloops and automated vehicles. When his parents were killed in a plane crash, he stepped into the role of CEO.
I think we all know that the very wealthy have access to medical care beyond what us mere mortals can receive. Having his wife, Ansley, a genius and medical savant who is working on top secret DARPA (The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) projects certainly can open doors that we do not even know exist.
Who is Dr. Savannah RICHARDS and what is her role?
Savannah, a neurologist and neurosurgeon, is also considered by many to be a medical genius. In the late 2020s she and her team at Stanford developed a cure that stops the advancement of Alzheimer’s disease.
How did she create the means to preserve a human brain in a body that was destroyed?
Probably the greatest challenge with a brain transplant would be the mapping of the thousands of neurons that transmit the signals from the brain to the organs and muscles in the human body. Once the mapping was accomplished, the actual surgery to transplant the brain was possible, as was the eventual download of the mind to electronic media.
Tell us about Ansley
Ansley was one of those rare children that displayed a high degree of intelligence at an early age. Her IQ tests revealed that she was indeed a genius. She entered Stanford at age 16, graduated at 18 and completed medical school and her internship at 22. She was immediately recruited by DARPA and had been with them now for about 18 years. She has been working on the cyborg project since shortly after joining DARPA.
How and why did you create the guardian?
I needed a means of incorporating the supernatural element of the story. After considering several options including an angel or spirit, the Guardian seemed like the best option. He could assume any physical appearance that was safe for humans and easily explained the time-travel element of the story.
What role does the guardian have and what impact on Kristian's life?
The Guardian is a guide and a teacher that is dispatched to use the cyborg minds to ensure that critical timelines remain on their predetermined course. One of the long-term impacts that Kristian receives from the Guardian is the existence of an afterlife.
Do you have advice for aspiring authors?
First, write only if you enjoy writing. You are very likely aren’t going to be on the NYT best seller list or get a movie gig. There are thousands of new books published every day and yours will be a drop of water in an ocean. But when you do publish, don’t be shy about telling anyone you know and even those whom you don’t know. Best to have as many evangelists as possible.
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