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How 'Barbican' came about

The origins of 'Barbican: A Sterling McQueen Spy Story' date back to 1990. This was actually the very first book I started writing. It began on my honeymoon in August of 1990. Susan I went to Europe. We flew into Brussels and boarded a train bound for anywhere. We had both only been to Europe once, and that was two years prior in Paris.

Just riding the rails and seeing all of the sites sparked the creative juices. I started writing bits and pieces down about an American spy in Europe. That's really all I had. I began to incorporate the places we visited into the story.

Then we happened upon a little town in Austria called Kufstein. It was a ski town and there really wasn't much going on during the summer. There was a fortress there that we toured. I thought it was so cool and began incorporating it into the story.

When we returned home I got distracted by other things. Then our first son was born a little over two years later and I essentially shelved the project. Another son and then a move to Philadelphia. And then another son. I would pull the manuscript out from time to time and write a little here and there.

I first tried to follow the typical spy template with copious helpings of high-tech gadgetry. As an example, early on in my writing I had Sterling McQueen fitted with a transponder under his skin. This was strictly from my imagination. By 1998, the microchip implant became a reality. Later it would be used in a James Bond movie. Every time I came up with an innovative plot device it would later become reality. I soon realized that technology was moving so quickly that my imagination couldn't stay far enough ahead of reality.

Flash forward about 20 years from the inception of Sterling McQueen and I decided to do something different. By then, all this technology was becoming a major privacy concern. Corporations were tracking our lifestyles, even our every move. I had also become tired of all the high-tech gadgetry in movies. The unrealistic use of satellite tracking and chintzy sound effects with every computer keystroke became commonplace in spy movies. That's when I decided to take a different approach to my hero.

I wanted a spy who would endure the test of time. I also longed for the old spy novels where the main character relied on his wits and spycraft instead of technology to save the day. I decided to dust off the old manuscript and remake Sterling McQueen into a classic spy. Not only would he not employ gadgetry and technology, he would be openly hostile to it. No computer. No cellphone. He would solve mysteries the old-fashioned way through his amazing skills of deduction and by utilizing human intelligence.

You can see this aversion to anything new in his lifestyle. He wears classic clothing, not the latest fads. He lives on a classic boat. He drives a classic car. Some might call him a dinosaur, but try tracking a dinosaur.

What was once old was new again. Also refreshing. Sterling McQueen would evade the bad guys by making himself technologically invisible. There was no way to track him because he used no tools that would allow them to be tracked. He slips in and out of countries and cities undetected. He flies below the radar. His enemies can employ any technology they like and they will never see him coming. Until it's too late.


Phil Valentine is an award-winning talk show host, screenwriter, and documentary producer. His radio show is syndicated with Westwood One.

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