Christian Burton is a graduate of the United States Air Force Academy. As a member of the air force intelligence community, his military service included stops in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, South Korea, Japan, and Germany. He leveraged his experiences overseas in crafting Energy Dependence Day.
I had a number of key scenes in my head. After writing those, I worked to connect those key scenes together. I had a professional critique my initial draft. He told me to focus on my most compelling story line and create more tension between the hero and the villain. We cut a lot out of the book which in turn led to more writing. Cut. Write. Refine. Edit. Write. Refine. Edit. Edit. Edit.
How have your life experiences influenced this work?
I'm old enough to remember when gas was less than $1 per gallon. When I was ten, yellow ribbons were tied around the elm trees outside my elementary school during the Iran hostage crisis, and scary pictures of the Ayatollah Khomeini were constantly on display during the evening news. Gas prices rose dramatically. It seemed clear who was at fault.
Although my parents are very conservative, conservation wasn't a dirty word in our household. When gasoline prices spiked during the hostage crisis, my family made the switch to more fuel efficient cars. I don't recall this being some kind of political statement on my parents part. It was just a change that needed to me made. We scoured the car lots looking at the MPG ratings of all the vehicles.
Perhaps, this is because they grew up during the Great Depression and World War II. They remembered victory gardens and scrap metal drives. Although my father was an attorney, we had a big garden, we went berry picking, we canned, and we raised chickens. We saved, reused, and conserved. My mother knows how to darn a sock.
My older brother and sister attended college at the Air Force Academy, and I eventually followed. I was at the Academy during Operation Desert Storm. It's an odd feeling watching a war and wondering if you'll soon be joining it. As it happened, the fighting was over well before I joined active duty. However, the Middle East was our primary Area of Responsibility at my first assignment.
I spent 90 days in Saudi Arabia in support of operation Provide Comfort II. I was stationed in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia prior to the Khobar Towers bombing, so I actually got to see a fair amount of the country. My time there was insignificant when compared to the number of deployments that our military forces have had to endure since in Afghanistan and due to the 2nd Iraq War.
In hindsight, I never really appreciated the danger that I may have been in. The fact that we'd often have to wake up the Saudi guard when entering the USMTM compound seemed more like an annoyance than something of vital importance. There were two abandoned vehicles located in the compound parking lot the entire time I worked there. Our living quarters were a forty-five minute drive away at Eskan Village. It was common to see civilian vehicles parked just outside the perimeter fence of the village. Notionally, they were just trying to intercept the television signals that were transmitted across the compound. American movies, some R-rated, were often played.
I don't want to give away too many of my observations about the country because they're in the novel. Nonetheless, the gap between the haves and the have-not was very stark. In general, I was much more leery of the religious police than I was of the average Saudi Arabian citizen. I even bought Christmas ornaments from a local vendor while I was there. Almost twenty years later, I still hang the ornaments on our tree every year.
After serving in the Air Force for six years, I transitioned to civilian world and worked as a project manager for a major cell phone company. I caught the tail end of the dot-com bubble. It was a good time to be working for a technology driven company. However, I was downsized a few years later when the bubble burst.
Initially, I wasn't too concerned. My wife had a good job, and I was preparing to become a stay-at-home dad anyway. Unfortunately, my wife lost her job as well soon after returning from FMLA leave. We were both out of work when the September 11th attacks occurred. Unemployed, with a six month old baby, I remember feeling numb as I walked out to check mail during the anthrax scare. Needless to say, it wasn't the best time to be looking for employment. Luckily, my wife found a full-time job in October of that year, and I found part-time work as a swim instructor.
It's strange to think that our nation has been at war practically throughout my eldest daughter's entire life. Although, if you asked her about it, she probably wouldn't even know it. While I may be romanticizing the past, the United States fought World War II as a nation. It was a team effort relying on substantial contributions from both the military and civilian sectors. Whereas today, our government tries to insulate the public from war. While politicians often cry for the public to rally behind our troops, true civilian sacrifices are not required, and subsequently, the national debt stands at over $17 trillion dollars.
During my lifetime, the United States has supported the Shah of Iran, Afghan rebels, and Saddam Hussein, all to disastrous effect. Over and over again, we make dubious foreign policy decisions in the name of Middle East stability instead of preparing our nation for the inevitable instability. When Iran's monarchy fell, the United Sates was caught unawares. Will we be any better prepared when the Saudi monarchy crumbles.
Two countries, different in almost every way, yet bound by the common thread of oil. What would happen if that thread broke? When the turbulent waters of the Arab Spring reach Saudi Arabia-the birthplace of Islam and home to fifteen of the 9/11 terrorists-the United States will need to balance conflicting ideological goals, and learn how to determine when old friends turn into new enemies.