These authors ditched technical manuals to write techno-thrillers

Breakfield and Burkey

by Timothy Pike

Technology is an intriguing, rapidly evolving, and sometimes frightening field that can be hard to keep up with, which is why it lends itself perfectly to fast-paced thrillers and riveting storylines.

In this issue, I interview two authors who have made technology their life’s work, and whose stories draw on—and are very much enriched by—their years of real-world experience.

Meet award-winning techno-thriller authors Charles Breakfield and Rox Burkey, known together as Breakfield and Burkey, who are here to talk about their latest release, Enigma Tracer, their evolution as authors, and the fascinating field they write about:

Welcome, and thanks for joining us. Are you both originally from Texas?

Charles: I was born in Austin, Texas. My father, an Air Force fighter pilot and colonel, allowed our family to relocate freely to multiple U.S. and European locations. The term “Air Force brat” was my designation.

Rox: I moved to Texas from California shortly after my marriage several years ago. Now, I’m delighted to say I’m a naturalized Texan. My children are native Texans.

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Do you have work commitments other than writing? What drew you there?

Charles: We both work in the high-tech industry. Rox hired me into a government contract leadership role. We both like technology and hopscotched into multiple technology manufacturers. Our consulting expertise in technology and business is a result of working with customers, and customers’ customers, to solve business problems. Not all business problems get resolved by technology; some require process changes.

We enjoyed the variety of customers and industries. Working with bleeding-edge technology provides a view of the possibilities in our fast-paced, evolving industry. Breakfield and Burkey harvest great fodder for leveraging technology in our thrillers. Weaving these tech threats around our wide range of character personalities amplifies the suspense between the covers.

How did you get into writing?

Rox: As a natural part of our technical sales support, we frequently delivered written analyses of our work to our customers. When we provided information on the existing gaps, and potential resolutions, customers could understand their options. We wrote in our professional roles together and separately depending upon the assigned customers. Our collaboration on documents began long before we formed the LLC. We had written and contributed to several technical manuals that are often outdated after publishing because of the rapid changes in tech innovation. One day, I suggested to Charles that we should write techno-thrillers for fun and ditch the tech manuals. The rest, as they say, is history.

What gave you the inspiration to write Enigma Tracer?

Charles: We achieved the storyline destination for the first twelve books in the Enigma Series and decided to pivot and launch a younger group of cyberheroes. The new series, Enigma Heirs, is the next generation of the R-Group and CATS team, our heroes from the original series. The foundational information system, ICABOD, the resident supercomputer, and the expertise this group learned from their parents, jumpstarted their kickass approach to dealing with cyber criminals. Enigma Tracer is the first release in this new series.

Sometimes the characters and storyline tell us it is time to move on, re-invent, and deliver storytelling freshness with a different set of variables. That happened in book 12 of the Enigma Series, The Enigma Threat. The book became a storytelling Ouija board to send us in this new direction.

“Our favorite story approach is to take new and promising technologies to determine what is wrong and right.”

As for your writing process, do you start with a premise, or do you just start writing and see where it takes you?

Rox: To be honest and transparent, we constantly have a conveyor belt of technology and associated cyber threats on the radar. Charles or I will find a threat and correlation activities that interest us. We explore it with research, often finding new ways to see how the bad guys can exploit it.

Our favorite story approach is to take new and promising technologies to determine what is wrong and right. We often start with a single threat and postulate where it can take our good and evil characters. A ragged-edged, rough outline becomes the framework, and a few chapter ideas introduce the concept. Then each of us takes a chapter to head down that rough path. As the story builds like the layers of a rose, it gets richer and grows stronger. We collaborate to look at all sides of the thriller and what characters uncover or get tripped up by, and build the ideas into chapter generation. Technology shifts may take us in a new direction which becomes pivotal in the storyline. The back-and-forth sharing gives us time to polish and refine the fiction to sound plausible, thrilling, mysterious, and as if delivered by a single author.

Do you write every day, or have any daily writing rituals?

Charles: We try to do some writing or reviewing every day. Sometimes our professional career demands take precedence as meeting customers’ demands keeps us working in a thriving industry. Time is our most precious commodity for writing, but e-mail, publishing activities, and our families need some of our time. However, our ambition is to write daily. You get better if you practice, and writing is no exception.

What’s one of the biggest obstacles you’ve dealt with in your writing life? How did you overcome it?

Rox: As Charles indicated, writing time is one of the biggest challenges. We both prefer two-hour blocks, uninterrupted when creating new content. The small requests for information, complete this or that, can mess up that thought stream. It’s not uncommon for one of us to complain to the other about how we didn’t get anything done on a current project. That’s simply life, so we embrace it. Waking up before the rest of the animals in the zoo certainly helps to give us private moments for creation.

“Weaving these tech threats around our wide range of character personalities amplifies the suspense between the covers.”

It looks like you have a wide variety of hobbies and interests. Do these influence your stories?

Charles: We each have hobbies and outside interests, allowing us to zone out and interact with others on various levels. These shifts give us an emotional break, opening the window for fresh ideas. We cannot be writers to the exclusion of all else and don’t recommend that if asked. Humans are delightfully multidimensional, just like our crazy characters.

Who has been the biggest influence on your writing?

Charles: I found that Burkey, with her avid reading and reviewing of multiple genres, offers new insights. Her intuition, subtle observations on the point of view, and word/character-smithing has helped me be a better storyteller.

Rox: Nice one, thanks. I find our discussions of a story very helpful. The additional reading and critique groups are great as well. We do not have to agree on every point to finish a novel. For Breakfield and Burkey, it is not a competition but to constantly improve as writers and reach new readers. There are gazillions of readers we would love to enjoy our stories. And we appreciate fair and honest reviews.

What do you consider your biggest writing achievement so far?

Charles: I think we can agree it is when readers say we taught them something and thank us. We try to share ideas for people to help keep their space more secure from technology threats. Rox coined our slogan early in our author partnership: Technology is Today’s Weapon of Choice. It is proven daily when you look at the headlines. We all need to take care. We offer free downloads of some tips on our website that are relevant today.

Do you have any advice for writers just starting out? Did you take any wrong turns you’d like to help others avoid?

Charles: We can do it in one word: practice. If you practice every day, a time will come when you re-read your early work and admit, “This could have been better.”

Rox: Attend writers’ conferences, join critique groups, and get early feedback from beta readers. Your family loves you and won’t always give the feedback needed to improve your work. You want readers to point out missed items or inconsistencies.

Charles: You’ll only be a legend in your mind without constructive criticism from those who know how to write better than you.

What’s next for you? Can you give us any teasers?

Charles: The next book in the Enigma Heirs series, Enigma Forced, is a work-in-progress targeted for March 2024. In this thriller, we expand on human trafficking. We use location technology and even cryptocurrency that has our cyberheroes earning their keep in this next challenge.

Rox: In 2022, we started learning the cozy mystery genre and added our first book, The Flower Enigma, to the Magnolia Bluff Crime Chronicles. This series delivers a book a month by one of the dozen award-winning Underground Authors. The Killer Enigma, our newest installment, is pre-order today and will go live in August 2023. It is a great cozy mystery series with a different fan base—lots of fun.

Breakfield is a technology expert in security, networking, voice, and anything digital. He enjoys writing, studying World War II history, travel, and cultural exchanges. Charles is a fan of wine tastings, winemaking, Harley riding, cooking extravaganzas, and woodworking.

Burkey is a technology professional who excels at optimizing technology and business investments. She works with customers all over the world focusing on optimized customer experiences. Rox writes white papers and documentation, but found she has a marked preference for writing fiction.

Together these Texas authors create award-winning stories that resonate with males and females, as well as young and experienced adults. They bring a fresh new view to technology possibilities today in exciting stories. You can connect with them on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Learn more about the Enigma Series at their website.

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