Last week, we ran a promo for Lethal Keystrokes by John D. May. Part of my favorite things we do here on That’s Entertainment is that we follow up a lot of our promos with interviews. I can’t speak for Mike, but I love learning about the creators behind the projects we feature here and John was able to share his time with us to do just that with his book, so let’s get started!
That’s Entertainment: John, I hope you enjoyed the extended weekend we recently had; I know it was just the refresher I needed! Thank you so much for taking some time out of your day to chat with us.
John D. May: Thanks for the invitation. Great to chat with you. Yes, a long weekend is what everyone needs to recharge and a few chocolate eggs certainly lift the spirits.
TE: I’m always a bit partial to caramel creams myself, but chocolate eggs are very popular in my household! Now, you have plenty of passions in your life, one of which is writing—what led to you wanting to write a novel?
JDM: Fame and fortune (laughs). In my spare time, I started writing stories and creating comic strips around the age of ten or eleven. When life wasn’t fun, creative writing was my escape as a child. It was a great outlet for my imagination and a way to express myself untethered from the restriction of my English teachers because not only did I come up with some wild stories, but I was also a very creative speller which drove them crazy.
TE: There’s no shame in looking for fame and fortune (laughs)! I think a lot of us start certain hobbies and projects with that in the back of our minds, but then we discover the passion we truly hold for them. Just like having escapes—as children, even as adults (maybe even especially as adults), we look for escapes for one reason or another. What made you decide to switch gears to the world of novels vs. those comic strips you wrote as a child?
JDM: As a teen, I became an avid reader. Believe it or not, I read all of Charles Dickens’s works while riding on a bus to my after-school/weekend job in a restaurant kitchen. But I think it was Hemmingway’s books that really inspired me to write longer stories. I wanted to be that storyteller. It wasn’t however, until Brian Jacques, the author of the Redwall series of books, died that I was reading to my children that I began to really write. The kids were so upset there would be no more books I wanted to write something similar for them as a Christmas present. The only problem was that the short story turned into a novel and with my busy schedule as a doctor, it took 2 years and my older son was “too old” for it. The Attack of the Manorwood Brigade was published as the first of a trilogy but the publisher is sitting on the other two. I decided after my children grew up, that although I enjoyed writing for them, I really wanted to write for adults.
My family and I experienced the panic and chaos created by the enormous North East blackout of 2003. We were sitting by a campfire completely oblivious until a neighbor approached carrying a shotgun telling us that most of North America was dark.John D. May
TE: I’ve never heard of the Redwall series, but my brief interaction with it today had me reserve at the local library! I’m excited to give it a read and potentially share it with my own kids. It’s great that a short story meant for your kids blossomed into something much greater; though it’s an odd choice for the publisher to be sitting on the remaining two books! Though, that’s the point of view of a creative—have you ever thought about writing fantasy for adults?
JDM: I have started several adult fantasy ideas but unfortunately the most promising was recently used in the Apple TV series See. I was halfway through the manuscript about a similar world where everybody was blind when my editor dropped the bombshell that the idea was taken. But I will keep on trying because I love creating worlds and filling them with characters. The harder part, of course, is developing a plot. As I drift off to sleep at night, I let my mind meander through ideas. One night I will wake up bolt upright and jump out of bed and start writing.
TE: So, you’ve dipped your toes in things like comics and traditional fantasy (with more potential worlds brewing in your very creative mind). What drew you to writing a thriller, like Lethal Keystrokes, for adults vs another genre?
JDM: To be honest, I was attempting to write a very emotionally charged true-life novel about some of my experiences in cancer and palliative care. It was tough. I needed to step back. So, just like when I was a child needing a ‘reset’, I started writing something that was pure entertainment, so fast-paced and exciting that you can’t put it down, a total escape from the trials of day-to-day life. Writing it worked wonders for me and I hope that everyone that reads Lethal Keystrokes enjoys immersing themselves in the action. I also hope that this book causes people, companies, and governments to think about their digital security.
TE: Ah! There’s that escape again! It’ll be something we will always need, whether it be creating or being entertained. I’d imagine you must find it hard to find time to escape, as mentioned above and on your author profile, you have many passions—being a biologist, a physician, your volunteer service, and a singer-songwriter (all in addition to telling stories). Have these influenced your writing at all?
JDM: Certainly. My science background has fostered a keen interest in the threat we are to nature and in turn what the earth can do to us – as well the harms we cause directly to ourselves such as the use of dangerous chemicals. My experiences with people during my medical career have enriched my life and helped me create stronger characters. Really, what’s more, interesting and crazier – fact or fiction? Finally, as a songwriter, you are constantly delving into your own emotions regarding your relationships with people and the world. Being able to interpret this self-examination makes one a better writer.
TE: While the saying is usually used in the screenwriting world, writing what you know is extremely helpful in creating those meaningful stories. While Lethal Keystrokes was written to escape the real world, did any of your real life find its way into the novel?
JDM: Absolutely! One of my characters has CF, Cystic Fibrosis. I personally experienced the death of a person close to me with CF, which made the writing easy and incredibly cathartic.
My family and I experienced the panic and chaos created by the enormous North East blackout of 2003. We were sitting by a campfire completely oblivious until a neighbor approached carrying a shotgun telling us that most of North America was dark. He said it was a Russian cyberattack. My twelve-year-old son couldn’t sleep that night, so frightened that we were under attack and that enemy soldiers were breaking into the house. That feeling of being in the dark, not knowing the truth was truly frightening. For the next five days, our part of the world was not functioning – no credit cards, no cash – ATM didn’t work, the gas pump wouldn’t pump, store shelves were empty – the experience still haunts me and played a large part in motivating me to write Lethal Keystrokes.
TE: I’m sorry to hear about your friend that passed; I too have a friend with CF. Thankfully, she’s still here and (seemingly) kicking its ass.
As someone who graduated high school in 2002, I have zero recollection of this ’03 blackout! Now, perhaps it’s because it didn’t hit us in Philadelphia, perhaps it’s because as a 19-year-old, I didn’t pay much attention to the news, or (and this is very likely) those two things combined with my terrible memory have blocked that from my brain. But, my gosh! I can see how that led to writing Lethal Keystrokes. Were there any other inspirations for Lethal Keystrokes?
JDM: I have always had an interest in technology and computers. In fact, before medical school, I worked as a programmer for IBM. As a physician, I began to be concerned about the impact of technology on children i.e., too much screen time. But with the intrusion of social media and the ‘internet of everything,’ I feel there is too much connectedness without true human contact. My biggest concern outside the medical/social sphere is our security – individually and collectively as a nation. There are too many electronic eyes and ears out there. Are they helping and protecting us or making us vulnerable to those who wish harm upon us?
TE: (writing this on a laptop with a phone on the desk while the TV is on as background noise—and Alexa is just sitting there biding her time) What was that about too much screen time? ? Despite owing the Internet everything for what I do outside of my day job, I have a love/hate relationship with it. While I’ve done a pretty good job at curating timelines and newsfeeds and such to keep my online social life a generally happy place, the toxicity still creeps in. How do you keep a balance while promoting Lethal Keystrokes?
JDM: Great question. Marketing has changed so much. If you aren’t good with social media you’re doomed. I must embrace it, but I really don’t like the feeling of anarchy – everyone has their own truth – that exists out there in the digital world. It is a tool, not a lifestyle.
TE: It’s hard to remember that sometimes, but it’s something I’m trying to do better: detaching from social media and attaching to IRL social. Going back to the question you posed and my snarky Alexa comment, it is scary to see how these devices and search engines learn our behavior and shopping habits. With the further development of AI, I don’t see it getting much better (if you have the time, check out this video [editors note: see below for video], while it was clearly made for fun, the end result is a bit off-putting)—how close to Skynet do you think we are? Or is it just our privacy (individually/collectively) we should be worried about?
JDM: Thanks for sharing the video, very entertaining. Although it is for the most part humorous, it speaks to some of my concerns about where the world is heading, not just privacy issues. On the practical side, the potential massive unemployment stemming from the increased automation of the workplace could fuel a social upheaval not seen since the Industrial Era – that may not be pretty. A bit more ‘out there’ is the possibility of errors by humans or computers in Artificial Intelligence wreaking havoc in our lives. But really my biggest concern for our world is our reliance on electricity. You would not need Zombies to create a dysfunctional world as depicted in The Walking Dead, just take away our power, literally and figuratively.
TE: You speak from experience there. If I’m being honest, after the first month of quarantine from the COVID-19 pandemic, there came a time when I wondered if dysfunction would hit the streets akin to the way shows like The Walking Dead depict it. And I think if it weren’t for streaming services and other services, all reliant on electricity, we very well may have seen a lot worse over the course of the last 2+ years. Getting back to Lethal Keystrokes, we only briefly talked about the inspiration for the book and one of the characters. Can give an elevator pitch for the novel and tell us about some of the characters?
JDM: What fascinates me is how terrorists could infiltrate our borders and lurk in our midst – the person next to you on the bus, the co-worker or the truck driver – and whether after living in Western culture for some time, any of them have second thoughts about carrying out their plan to hurt America. In Lethal Keystrokes, not all the terrorists’ targets are what you expect and the heroes have help from some pretty unlikely sources. The main antagonist is extremely intelligent and computer savvy, not willing to “waste his life firing off an AK-47 in an airport check-in”. He wants his legacy to be enormous. With help from a computer gamer/hacker who hasn’t left his parents’ basement in years, the FBI hones in on a terrorist threat. I believe family has, behind the scenes, an influential role in the decisions made by the public figures, good and bad, we hear about in the news. The FBI agent is reluctant to listen to his wife’s hunches and the terrorist leader’s sister has second thoughts. Will either of the main characters listen to their loved ones in time – or will America never be the same again?
TE: I’ve got to say, I’ve been sitting with Lethal Keystrokes for the last week or so as we worked together, and as interested as I’ve been in it all this time, this elevator pitch sells it! And while I’m adding the novel to my “Want to Read” list on GoodReads, I’ve got to know—any ideas on what’s next? Can you tease what story you may now be working on?
JDM: Of course, I am still writing the book about my medical experiences. I have also started a second book featuring the heroes from Lethal Keystrokes combating a threat to America of a different nature. Hint: It will use more of my medical knowledge.
TE: John, thank you once again for your time. It was a pleasure to chat with you and I am very excited to see how Lethal Keystrokes captures everyone’s imagination, mine included. Before you officially go, can you share where people can find your novel and more of your work?
JDM: Thank you for having me. It has been a real pleasure for me as well. Lethal Keystrokes is available on Amazon worldwide, Barnes and Noble, and in Canada at Chapters/Indigo. I hope readers will also check out my music on YouTube and Spotify under my stage name Johnny May. My latest song Cracking Sapphires is based on a medical study about whether people really want to know through genetic testing what disease they might have inherited if there is no cure. Thanks again.
I can’t thank John enough for taking the time to do this interview. It’s always an awesome opportunity to talk with other creative people and am always honored that they’d share their time with me. Be sure to pick up Lethal Keystrokes TODAY and keep an eye out for more of John D. May’s work!
Images and Audio provided by John D. May.
Please note that Amazon links are affiliate links, meaning I get a small kickback from your purchase. Your price stays the same, so it’s a win-win and a great way to help support me!