One-third of author Curtis J. James to speak at Explore |

One-third of author Curtis J. James to speak at Explore

Curtis C. Harris, one of three writers who penned "High Hand" under the pseudonym Curtis J. James, will speak Monday at Explore Booksellers.
Courtesy photo |

If You Go …

What: Curtis James talk and book-signing

Where: Explore Booksellers

When: Monday, July 18, 5 p.m.

More info:

What happens when three friends with careers in divergent fields and decades of experience writing nonfiction put their heads together to write a novel?

For the pseudonymous threesome that is Curtis J. James, it’s the global spy thriller “High Hand,” which was published earlier this year and brings one-third of James to Explore Booksellers today.

Curtis J. James is the pen name for a trio of men who are well-known in their fields but are all first-time novelists: Curtis C. Harris, a renowned cancer researcher; James Rosen, a veteran news reporter; and James Ellenberger, a prominent labor lawyer.

Harris, who lives part time in the Roaring Fork Valley, will discuss the book at Explore while he’s in town for the annual Aspen Cancer Conference.

“Writing something that was creative and fiction was just great intellectual fun,” he said.

The book is a fast-paced thriller in the John le Carre tradition. It opens with the attempted assassination of a presidential candidate in Los Angeles. The bombing sends Los Angeles Register reporter Frank Adams into a web of global conspiracy replete with a nefarious Russian plot, classified technology that allows communication using brainwaves and a resourceful CIA operative (who also happens be Adams’ ex-wife and his editor’s daughter).

The trio of authors, all based in Washington, D.C., are longtime friends and squash partners. A few years ago, when they began mulling writing a novel together, they rented a cabin for a few days and broke down the story that would become “High Hand.” They began with a screenplay of 50 scenes, and then split them up among the three of them to write into a novel.

An editor helped fuse the styles of these three writers accustomed to writing for science journals, news reports and court files.

Harris said they assigned scenes based on their expertise and their experiences in the locales where the action takes place — Russia, the Middle East and California. Rosen, who is perhaps best-known for being named a co-conspirator in 2013 by the U.S. Justice Department for some of his reporting on the State Department for Fox News, had professional experience with spies. But living in Washington, Harris and Ellenberger had their share of brushes with CIA and MI6 operatives themselves. Harris recalled his fascination with a neighbor who had flown U-2 spy planes, among other acquaintances from the world of espionage.

“They’re ordinary people — they look ordinary; they act ordinary,” Harris said. “But they can do things that are very dangerous and challenging.”

The authors planned to publish the book during the presidential election season in the hopes of it coinciding with news of the day in 2016. They didn’t realize how topical it would be: the plot involves a resurgent and aggressive Russia, an Islamic State-like group splintered from the Taliban and a billionaire presumptive Republican nominee for president.

“I made this up a few years ago; it had nothing to do with Trump,” Harris said. “Some of it was reading the tea leaves; some of it was just dumb luck that it corresponds with what’s happening today. We had an idea that there was going to be a Russian resurgence, that the Taliban was going to split up into various fractions.”

The trio is currently at work on a sequel as Curtis J. James and looking into their creative crystal ball for world events to hang the story on.

“We have a storyline, but we’re arguing whether to go back to the Middle East again or going to the South China Sea with what’s happening with China and North Korea,” Harris said. “The challenge is trying to predict something that’s going to happen two years from now.”

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