Authors tell you what inspired their work

Emily Benedek, author of "Red Sea"

I was at home in New York City on the morning of 9/11, when United Airlines Flight 175 and American Airlines Flight 11 smashed into the World Trade Center. I was shocked and furious. A couple days later I visited the still-burning hulk with my Newsweek editor. The devastation was appalling. I began to write. The first article was about Israeli counter-terror experts. The next concerned cyber-terror. For another magazine, I wrote about an FBI special agent and SWAT operator working counter-terror at DFW airport and an F-15C pilot who flew her fighter jet in Iraq during the American invasion.

Several months after the first Newsweek article, I received a call from one of the counter-terror experts I'd interviewed. He told me he was coming to New York for business and would I like to meet? He was smart, charming, and completely inscrutable. He had a prominent but faded scar on his face. A smile came easily to him and he had a happy laugh. Yet, on occasion, an expression of intense concentration passed over him that told me he was no stranger to death. A few more months. More meetings.

Eventually, he asked if I would consider writing a book about airline security. His credentials told me he knew what he was talking about. I placed a tape recorder before him. For the first time in months, he seemed unable to talk. I snapped off the machine and asked him if it would be easier if I tried to tell the story in a work of fiction. Maybe, he said. Maybe.

I needed to understand terrorism because it terrified me. September 11 was my three year-old daughter's first day at nursery school. One of the parents was killed that day. I used to look out my kitchen window and imagine a mushroom cloud rising up from lower Manhattan, knowing I'd be obliterated before I hit the ground.

For three years, I hung out with counter-terror operators, fighter pilots, FBI agents, Israeli commandos. The book wrote itself. It sounds like a cliche, but I can hardly remember how it happened. It was as if someone else were writing through me.

Visit Emily Benedek's website here to learn more about Red Sea.

(photo credit: Marion Ettlinger)

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