Carter appeard on Fox 4 to discuss The Lincoln Prophecy. Dan Godwin showcased the novel on his Fox4ward segment where he and Carter discussed the various locations that inspired the book and what drove Carter to write the story.
What is The Lincoln Prophecy about?
It’s a cyberterrorism thriller set in Dallas and it has scenes in Rockwall. The central character is an SMU law professor named Michael Riley, who is out for a morning jog in Rockwall when he stumbles on a murder. Riley is forced to learn why the victim was killed in order to save himself and prevent a major cyberterrorist attack.
The murder scene happens north of town near the San Martino Winery. There’s an old irrigation canal there that runs into Lake Ray Hubbard. So he’s jogging along that canal when he comes across the murder.
What made you decide to use that location in Rockwall?
It’s where the whole concept of the book got started. My brother-in-law and I were down kayaking in that canal, and we got way down in there where the trees hang over the whole canal and it gets a bit dark and sinister. I pulled up next to him and said, ‘You know, this would be a really great place for a murder.’ And that’s where it kind of stuck. That whole murder scene just played out in my head, and so that’s why I picked that location.
How about some of the other locations in the book – the SMU campus, the G.W. Bush Presidential Library, Lakeside Park?
Because the main character Michael Riley is an SMU law professor, I see the SMU campus as Ground Zero for the book. I ended up choosing places that when I went to quite a bit when I was in law school at SMU, like I ate at Peggy Sue BBQ all too often while I was there. And then it was some other places around town that I generally like or that the story led the character to those places. For example, I proposed to my wife at Lakeside Park, so that place makes an appearance. The George Bush Library is a really great place for one of the crucial scenes in the story where Riley meets up with the FBI. So sometimes the scene I was trying to write called for a certain location.
How similar are you to the story’s hero, Michael Riley?
I’d say I’m probably pretty similar to him. The idea behind Michael Riley is that he’s an ordinary guy who’s just thrown into this world that he doesn’t know or understand. This world of government conspiracy and cyberterrorism – it’s absolutely unfamiliar to him. It’s an ordinary guy thrown into extraordinary circumstances, and how would an ordinary person solve these problems with people chasing him down. So I guess I’m a little like him in that respect.
Talk about the book’s major theme – national security versus personal privacy – and why you think it’s a relevant topic today.
That’s ultimately the question the book puts to the reader, and I think it’s really pertinent to our society today. There are a couple of things that happened that really caused me to want to write the book, and one was I work for a cybersecurity company and have for the last 10 years. I just noticed some things in working here that really struck me as interesting about the cybersecurity world. Several years ago, we discovered a virus called Flame, and it’s really scary what this thing can do if it gets into your computer or phone. That virus became the central piece to the technology that’s in the book. The technology is very real and it’s used in a couple of places throughout the book. The other thing that happened which caused me to want to write the book was the Edward Snowden revelations. So when those things all came together, it really formed a picture in my mind. That really got me thinking – how much personal privacy are we willing to give up to the government in order to stay safe? It’s kind of where we are today, and I think the book really digs into that question.
Another theme in the book is terrorism versus patriotism; there’s this line where people feel like they’re doing what is best for the country, but it’s actually terrorism. They’re driven by this love of country to do these kinds of extraordinary criminal acts. So that theme is explored in the book as well.
Do you feel that’s the kind of mindset that the story’s main antagonist, Isaac, has when he’s committing these kinds of acts in the book?
Absolutely! He is driven by this love of country, or what we can probably all agree is a perverted view of that. He believes what he’s doing is going to make the country better, stronger and more true to its original values. He sees himself as a patriot, not as a terrorist.
And what about Michael Riley? How does he view himself?
I think he sees himself as the unluckiest guy on the planet, to have been jogging at that moment in that place. He certainly wrestles with that same theme of privacy and national security, and he gives the reader his perspective on that. He certainly doesn’t see himself as a terrorist, he’s just unlucky more than anything else.
When you were developing the characters in the book, did you draw from people you know in real life or were they made up from your imagination?
Pretty much every character in the book is based on a friend of mine, or the name at least. So most of my friends made it into the book, but as far as the background for these characters and who they really are, that was really mostly imagination.
How long did it take you to write the book?
This book took quite a while to write because I didn’t really understand how to organize something of this length and depth. Learning to organize took the most out of my time, so I probably spent a year outlining and developing each of the chapters. It took about nine months to get the first draft done. I just finished the second novel and it was much faster, because I know what my system is to organize. I finished my outline for that in six months, and when I sat down to write the new novel it took three months to get the draft done.
What is your upcoming novel about?
The upcoming novel is called The Scorpion Code and it is a historical thriller set in 1861 in Washington, D.C. It’s about a young police officer named Levi Love who gets called in to investigate the murder of a prostitute, who was found dumped in an open sewer running through D.C. That murder investigation puts him on the trail of a Confederate spy who’s operating in the city and who is working to uncover a real life secret weapon that the Union Army was working on. The book will come out probably by the end of the summer.
Are you an avid reader? Who are some of your favorite authors?
I read all the time. I read largely to do research on novels that I’m thinking about writing. I’m doing some research for the follow up to The Lincoln Prophecy and I’m also reading for a potential follow up to The Scorpion Code. I read a lot of history, and I try to keep a fiction book going at all times. I like to read page-turners and thrillers as well. I read pretty much anything Daniel Silva has written. I like Dan Brown, David Baldacci and John Grisham. Probably the best description of The Lincoln Prophecy in terms of other writers – and I’ve heard this from other people who have read it as well – is that it’s a Dan Brown-meets-John Grisham-type of book. I think for local readers in particular, this book is a fun read. I think it’s fun when you’ve got a book that takes place in a city that you know, with places you’ve been to or at least places you could go to quite easily.
By Austin Wells, Blue Ribbon News. Photo courtesy of Carter Hopkins.
Rockwall plays a “pivotal” role in Carter Hopkins’ debut novel, “The Lincoln Prophecy,” about a Southern Methodist University law professor who gets caught in the middle of a life-or-death fight against cyber terrorism. Hopkins, a Rockwall resident and alumnus of Rockwall High School, drew his inspiration for the book while kayaking down a Rockwall canal near the San Martino Winery. A chase scene he envisioned at that location is the introduction to the novel.
The book deals with themes of privacy, security, patriotism and the motivation behind terrorism. Hopkins found inspiration from real-world cyber security threats like the “flame virus.” His experience as a lawyer working with a cyber security firm, and his favorite places in DFW, are major influences in the novel.
His next book, “The Scorpion Code,” is a historic novel taking place during the Civil War that is set to release soon. Hopkins is working on a sequel to “The Lincoln Prophecy.”
In a personal Q&A interview Hopkins’ shared insights into “The Lincoln Prophecy,” and becoming an author:
Q: What is the book about?
A: “The Lincoln Prophecy” is a cyber terrorism thriller about an SMU law professor, Riley, who lives in Rockwall. He’s out for a morning jog, and he stumbles across a murder. The murderer sees him at the scene, and it leads to a chase. Riley has to figure out why this person is murdered to save himself and avert this cyber security threat that he doesn’t know exists.
Q: How important is Rockwall in the story?
A: It all kicks off there. It’s where Riley finds the murder scene and it’s where the chase begins. It’s pivotal from that perspective.
Q: Why should people pick your book off the shelf over the one next to it?
A: I think, speaking for local people —Dallas, Rockwall, DFW area — it’s really fun to read a book with places you know and that you’ve been to or heard of. Dallas is definitely central to the book, and Rockwall plays a big part. Generally speaking, a good reason to pick up the book is the discussion about personal privacy versus national security. For me, it started with the Edward Snowden revelations. I learned how much information the government is collecting on average citizens. It’s that tradeoff. The government is always collecting information off of us. It poses a very viable question.
Q: Do you want this book to contribute to the national discussion of privacy versus security?
A: I hope so. There’s a lot of commentary on cyber security and how much information the government should have.
Q: Where does a book start in your imagination?
A: The Lincoln Prophecy started in a few places. When those few places came together in my mind, then it really felt right. It really started a few years back on a kayaking trip with my brother-in-law, near the San Martino Winery. There’s a channel north of town, off Highwy 205. Just before you get to the winery, there’s an irrigation canal that was built in the 70s. There’s a place where you get away from everybody and the trees arch overhead, and I thought, ‘OK, this is a good place for a murder.’ That stuck with me, and then we saw some people down there who looked shady. That’s where the seeds were planted. Then for the last few years I’ve worked with a cyber security company, so through my career I’ve really gotten to know the cyber security industry and I’ve gotten to see how things work. I started noticing various threats. There was one called a flame threat a few years ago. It was terrifying what the virus does when it gets into your system. That was the basis for the virus that comes up in the book. The third thing was Edward Snowden. Those three things came together and formed the story.
Q: Where does the title “The Lincoln Prophecy” come from?
A: There’s this letter that people thought for many years that [Abraham] Lincoln wrote. And (another theme in the book), I found it interesting that terrorists would take a perfectly valid text, like the Quran or other religious texts, and interpret it to their own ends. They’ll take it and they’ll just pull out of context and put their own slant on it to justify what they want to do. I thought that was interesting. So I found this letter from Lincoln that the terrorists leverage to twist what they’re doing into some patriotic effort. That’s what “The Lincoln Prophecy” is. It wasn’t some religious type of thriller, it was more political patriotism, so I used a historical text from Abraham Lincoln, an unquestionable hero, to bring out that theme, that terrorists will twist things to meet their ends.
Q: When did you decide to write fiction?
A: The first time I thought about it was in college. I went into my roommate’s room and said, “Hey, let’s play some ping pong.” We had a ping pong table that dominated our whole living space. But he said, “Nah, I’m doing something.” I asked what he was doing and he said, “I’m thinking about writing a novel.” That struck me as odd. ‘Can normal people do that?’ I thought people who were talented and super smart, those people did that. I thought that would be a really cool thing to try and do. Then it just stuck with me. Once I wrote this book, I realized how much I really loved it.
Q: Do you have a background in creative writing?
A: No. I’m a lawyer, so I do a lot of legal writing, but it’s super structured and professional and boring, relatively speaking. It was a steep learning curve. I’d never written fiction, and never something that long. In the legal world, there’s page limits on everything. This was freeing to have as much space as I wanted to be able to tell my story.
Q: Do you want to live off your novels some day?
A: I would love to. Being a lawyer is fine, but this is fun. Writing is super fun.
Q: How did you pick the locations?
A: The locations in Rockwall were just there. I didn’t pick those, they picked me. The rest of it played out for me as some of my favorite places show up. Ground zero for the Dallas side of the story is SMU. Riley is an SMU law professor. It radiates out from there, where the story needs to go. For example, there’s a scene where Riley goes back to campus to meet up with his friend, who becomes his love interest — there’s just a sprinkle of love in there, not too much. They met up and they’re going to lunch and he’s going to tell her what he saw with the murder. Where I went to lunch when I was in law school was Peggy Sue BBQ. Some of them were places where I went a lot. Later, there’s a chase scene where he hops on a bus from SMU to escape the murderer. I had to trace, where does this bus line go? I had never taken it. Sometimes the story is leading me to places and sometimes it’s the other way around.
Q: How did you write the scenes that weren’t in the DFW area?
A: There are some scenes in Washington D.C. at the end. There’s some climactic scenes, so my wife and I flew to D.C. and took some pictures. It was awesome. We had a good time. Doing that physical research was fun. I’d never done that, going to a location to set up a scene, see how it would play out. I’ve been to the Lincoln Memorial many times, but it’s really different when you are there to set up a scene. Where are people going to hide? Where are they going to run. I did a lot of Google Earth stuff, as well. Before we went to D.C., I said, “Okay, so here’s how they’re going to approach the memorial, and here’s how they’re probably going to get away.” Then when I got there, I walked that exact route and realized, ‘this isn’t going to work at all. This is the worst way for somebody to try to get in or out of this memorial.’ But I ended up putting that in the book, because Riley doesn’t know. He’s just a dude, a normal dude, thrown into this thing. In the book, he just did what I did. He said, “This is how we’re going to do it.” Then he realizes, ‘this isn’t going to work at all. This is terrible.’
Q: What was your favorite part to write?
A: I really love the local stuff. But it was all fun. But it’s pretty fun to imagine all this crazy stuff happening in DFW.
Q: How long did the project take?
A: When I decided, ‘I’m going to actually put pen to paper, I’m not just going to think about this,’ probably two years. Because I’m an outliner. I have outlines for my outlines. It’s crazy. I’m a little obsessive about that. I’m a lawyer. I have to be structured. I just put the scenes together, trying to figure out how you write something this long. I didn’t know what I was doing. The next book, when I started writing, it took me maybe three months. But I also knew I needed dedicated time, so I was going to do. This first one was rough.
Q: What is Riley’s biggest challenge?
A: The biggest challenge he faces is that he’s in a world he doesn’t know. He doesn’t know the inner workings of the government agencies that are pitted against him. He doesn’t know how much trouble he’s in. He has to overcome all of those things. He has to uncover all these things to figure out why this man is trying to kill him.
Q: Where does the character development for Riley come from?
A: I think with Michael Riley, the starting place is me. I put myself in all of these places and say, “What would I do to get out of this situation?” You have this huge character outline about this guy, and most of it’s not needed. Like, he’s a University of Texas grad, he teaches at SMU and I went there. A lot of his character is like me. He was my first main character so I just ended up putting myself in many of those situations. I had to learn to balance character development and plot. It’s a thriller and a thriller has to move. You can’t spend 30 pages talking about Riley’s background. This is a plot-driven novel, like all thrillers. The plot pulls the character instead of the character pulling the plot. You learn about these characters through the plot, but you don’t have 30 pages about his childhood.
Q: What should readers look forward to in the sequel?
A: The opening bit in the next book, which is tentatively called “The Prague Connection,” just a working title, starts with this eccentric billionaire. He ends up getting up murdered in Reverchon Park, which is downtown. His wife, an ex-super model, is initially charged with the murder. Riley is called in to help the defense team, then that murder trial ends up intersecting with a presidential election and a terrorist attack in Prague. He ends up getting caught in the middle of this.