Thursday, February 29, 2024

Jeffrey James Higgins, Author of The Forever Game

Jeffrey James Higgins is a former reporter and retired supervisory special agent who writes thriller novels, short stories, creative nonfiction, and essays. He has wrestled a suicide bomber, fought the Taliban in combat, and chased terrorists across five continents. He received both the Attorney General’s Award for Exceptional Heroism and the DEA Award of Valor.


Jeffrey has been interviewed by CNN, New York Times, Fox News, Investigation Discovery, Declassified, and USA Today. He has won numerous literary awards, including the PenCraft Book Awards Fiction Book of the Year and a Readers’ Favorite Gold Medal. Jeffrey is a #1 Amazon bestselling author.


He’s also a hell of a nice guy who is tireless in his support of other authors. I met Jeff when I moderated a panel a few years ago at the Creatures, Crimes, and Creativity conference and always look forward to getting together with him. I suspect you will, too, after reading this.


One Bite at a Time: Welcome back to the blog, Jeff. It’s always a pleasure to chat with you.

The new book, The Forever Game, doesn’t just have all the elements that made your earlier thrillers so popular, but is timely to boot, as it deals with artificial intelligence. Knowing the lag times between writing a book and seeing it on the market, you were a little ahead of the curve in latching onto AI as the motivating force here. What brought this to your attention so much you decided to write a book about it?

Jeffrey James Higgins: About five years ago, I heard about the CEO of an AI company in Silicon Valley who had offered a beta program to friends and family where he would download a model of their brains. In effect, he was attempting to preserve a digital version of their minds. The minute I heard the story, I knew I had to write about it.


Artificial intelligence will change everything. Most people don’t understand all the ramifications, but the world as we know it is about to change. AI can be scary, but the genie is out of the bottle, so we need to embrace the future and try to make the best decisions we can.


Ethical and moral questions are moving from the theoretical into the real world. It’s an amazing time with potential to make the world better, but it’s also fraught with danger.


OBAAT: Adam Locke is a decorated DEA agent, which is something you know quite a bit about. How did your experiences shape the story?

JJH: I open the story with Adam Locke conducting a DEA mission. I conducted hundreds of operations over the years, and I’ve been in combat, so I think I write with realism. I’ve had bullets snap through the air over my head, RPGs fly past me, and rockets land around me.


Having those experiences allows me to describe what characters feel during life-and-death conflicts. The Forever Game is a thriller, but the protagonist is an ex-DEA agent, like me, so the way he approaches a mystery is authentic. I was fortunate to be able to serve my country, and I hope my investigative experience translates into believable fiction.


OBAAT: The Amazon page reads: “The Forever Game examines the philosophical issues that arise when artificial intelligence can cure disease, download minds, and offer eternal life. It explores the nature of consciousness and what it means to be human.”


“Examine” and “explore” can be loaded words in fiction. Did you have a position you wanted to take, or was the goal only to make people aware of aspects of AI they might not otherwise think of?

JJH: My protagonist, Adam Locke, has a girlfriend who is dying of cancer, and he’s trying to save her. Artificial intelligence gives him hope that he can do that. But scientists are dying, and he believes someone is killing them to steal the priceless technology. In reality, AI can become an incredible medical diagnostic tool. Not only will it be able to detect disease early on and with less human error, but using technology like nano bots, it will cure disease and repair the human substrate. It has the potential to extend life for hundreds of years. If we can model the human brain, we have the potential to download consciousness. My novel explores the ethical issues that arise as we near this potential, but it does so within a fast-paced thriller. I don’t take a position on the issues, but I show the reader the benefits and dangers we will face living in a world with AI.


OBAAT: New York Times bestselling author Mark Greaney said The Forever Game is “a tautly-plotted thriller bursting with both action and depth.”


Speaking as both a writer and a reader, I can attest that pulling off both action and depth is a lot harder than it sounds. Action tends to skim the surface of thought to trigger the reader’s adrenaline; depth implies time for thought. How did you balance the two, and did one tend to come easier for you than the other?


JJH: That was a nice blurb by Mark Greaney. If anyone hasn’t read his work, I recommend it. The Gray Man is an iconic character, and I enjoy everything Mark writes.


I think depth of character is important to make readers care about characters when they’re in jeopardy. Internal and external conflict are both important to a layered story, and both must affect each other. A character must want something, and obstacles must prevent him or her from getting it. As important as character wants are what a character needs to change. One drives plot and the other structures the character arc. Ideally, a character’s needs must influence the resolution of the wants in the external conflict.


Action should also be more necessary to advance plot. Everything in a story should further either plot or character. Plots themselves can have depth if they include deeper themes. Universality of themes helps readers relate. I also like to travel up and down the ladder of abstraction to keep the pace moving and make reader think.


OBAAT: We’ll talk about Elaine’s more later, but how does being a more or less full-time restauranteur affect your writing schedule? Maybe even more important, has it affected your process?

JJH: I don’t consider myself a restauranteur because Elaine’s is my wife’s dream, but I work there between 50-60 hours a week as day manager and general manager. I also coordinate literary events and interview authors, which takes another 10-15 hours per week.


I was a full-time author before we opened the restaurant, and I wrote at least two thousand words a day. Now, I get up early and am lucky to write one thousand words a day. My time is very structured, which is necessary when I’m so busy. I think the key to remaining productive is to write every day. Even a few hundred words a day will result in a book a year. My process is the same, but instead of having all morning to write, I only have one or two hours. I believe that’s enough, as long as I stay focused and make the most of my time. We all can find an hour or more each day, so there’s no excuse not to write. As a storyteller, I need to write to be happy.


OBAAT: Elaine’s, the restaurant you operate with your wife in Alexandria VA has become a salon for writers’ events; you’ve been kind enough to host me twice in the past year. As I can attest firsthand, your skills as a moderator and one-on-one interviewer aren’t just excellent; you’re the best I’ve worked with. How do you put together the questions for such events, and, maybe even more impressive, where do you find the time?

JJH: Thank you so much for that wonderful compliment. The restaurant is my wife’s passion, and I saw the opportunity to use our space to help the writing community. A massive predatory industry has cropped up and targeted authors, so we decided to become a haven for readers and writers. We don’t charge anything for literary events. It’s our way of helping writers and giving them a place to celebrate their work.


I love interviewing authors. I’m fascinated by their relationships with story, how they create characters and plot, and their process. I think my genuine interest creates fertile ground for good interviews.


You’re right about my difficulty in finding the time to hold these events. I also moderate other events online, and I’ve had weeks where I’ve interviewed more than ten authors, so I rarely plan more than a few minutes before each. I usually read a chapter to get a feel for an author’s style then I question them about their work and the craft of writing. I listen to what they say and ask deeper questions. I pride myself on asking authors questions they’ve never heard before and making them think.


I’ve been recording my interviews, and I hope to share them as a podcast, videos, or written transcripts. The authors I’ve spoken with are talented writers and interesting people. I think readers will enjoy hearing what they had to say.


OBAAT: What’s on the agenda for you? Conferences, other appearances, writing projects? Whatever is on your mind right now.

JJH: I’ve never been as busy as I am right now. I addition to launching The Forever Game, I’m working with three other publishers. I just signed a four-book contract with Severn River Publishing for my Nathan Burke espionage thriller series. I’m working with them to edit the first book, “The Havana Syndrome,” and book two is due in August. Next year, Running Wild Press will publish “Shaking,” a mystery thriller, and I’m about to sign a contract with another publisher for “The Fluttering,” a psychological suspense thriller. My agent and I are also working on “Relic,” an action-adventure thriller trilogy. I’m also working on a sequel to my novella, Forsaken. I’m excited about all these projects, and I wish I could focus on them full-time.


There are so many wonderful writing conferences, and I recommend authors seek them out to meet other writers. Conferences are wonderful opportunities to learn the craft and network within the industry. This year, I hope to attend Thrillerfest, BoucherCon, and Creatures, Crimes, and Creativity.


Thank you very much for hosting me again. If readers are interested in my writing, they can find links to my work at


OBAAT: It was my pleasure, Jeff. Readers, if you get a chance to catch Jeff conducting an interview or sitting on a panel, take full advantage. I’ve never worked with a better interviewer. 

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