Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Interview: Authors Robert Cornuke and Alton Gansky

The Bell Messenger
The Pravda Messenger

By Mark Young
Robert (Bob) Cornuke
Authors Robert Cornuke and Alton Gansky—at first blush—appear to be an unlikely pair. They teamed up to write two fiction thrillers The Bell Messenger (2008) and The Pravda Messenger (2009), each novel centered around a mysterious Bible handed down from one generation to the next. The series begins on a battlefield when a dying Confederate soldier gives this worn Bible to a Union soldier. This gift has a profound effect on successive generations.

Robert (Bob) Cornuke, a former FBI-trained police investigator and SWAT leader, comes across like the National Treasure character Benjamin Franklin Gates played by Nicholas Cage. Both men are globetrotting, go-anywhere archeologists searching for ancient treasures. Unlike Gates, Bob seeks treasures and artifacts revealed in the Bible. His own web site lists himself as an “adventure archeologist, traveling to some of the hottest places in the world—physically and figuratively. Egypt. Saudi Arabia. Turkey. He has even explored under the blue seas of the Mediterranean off the Island of Malta.

Alton Gansky
Alton Gansky, on the other hand, seems more suited for academic and scholarly pursuits. He has authored more than forty books, served as a pastor for over twenty years, and served as a Dean Of Students for a small Bible college. While a full-time writer, he created his own company, Gansky Communications, providing writing services for publishers, agents, businesses and other authors.

Looking more carefully into their backgrounds, however, I began to see similarities between these two men. Both men have a passion for the Bible. Bob holds a Ph/D in Bible and theology. Alton holds a B.A. and M.A in biblical studies. And for those of us interested in emergency services, both men come from that arena—Alton as a firefighter, Bob as a police officer.

Together, they have written these two novels about a subject they both know well—the Bible.

The Bell Messenger begins on the civil war battlefield when a Union officer severely wounds a young Confederate soldier. The dying soldier hands a worn Bible to the Union officer, saying “Be God’s messengers as I have been.” This begins a journey through time, winding up at the doorstep of protagonist Gary Brandon, who receives this same mysterious gift as a graduation gift in 1980. His alcoholic uncle—who claims to have discovered the Bible as he dug for valuable artifacts in a Saudi Arabian cave—wants Brandon to have it and other items, including a bit of gold found at the same site. Skeptical, Brandon begins to search the history of this mysterious gift, only to learn of the fascinating connection others have had to this book over the last one-hundred and fifteen years.

In a way, The Pravda Messenger picks up where The Bell Messenger leaves off. Tonya Novak—the girl with “the gift of the Pravda legend”— fled from the KGB in 1975, leaving her wounded father behind and a mystery inexplicably tied to the coffin of Feodor Huzmick sitting beneath a Russian monastery were her father lay wounded. Seven years later, the worn Bible reappears. Attorney Shannon Reed and an ailing billionaire’s personal secretary briefly retrieve this precious book, only to lose it when the secretary dies in plane crash while carrying it back to their benefactor.  The Bible disappears once again. In Reed’s pursuit of it—still sought by the ailing billionaire—she links up with Novak as they encounter a number of odd characters who all have hidden agendas. The two seekers must learn whom they can trust and what is the meaning of a mysterious gift that set Novak apart since her birth in Russia.

MARK: This is the first time on Hook’em and Book’em that I’ve tried to interview two authors at the same time. However, it is hard to examine these novels—written by both of you— without having both authors available for comment. So … here we are. First, tell us a little bit about how the two of you met, and how the concept for these two novels came to be.

BOB: Met via my agent Lee Hough.

ALTON: As I recall, Bob’s agent Lee Hough contacted me with the project. I knew of Bob from his many radio appearances and his nonfiction work, so I was quick to say yes.

MARK:  I tried to summarize a little bit about each novel. What did I leave out that our reader should know about The Bell Messenger? The Pravda Messenger?

BOB:  It is a story that seemed to spring-forth easily like my mind was flickering forth images before I had even offered an outline. The organic nature of the process was very enjoyable and Alton made it shine

ALTON: I think your summary is good. Bob has created a complex set of characters, settings, and plot lines, so the books are difficult to reduce to a few paragraphs.

MARK: As I read both of the novels, I tried to place these stories into definable genres for the readers. I considered defining terms such as mystery, historical, and thriller, but none seems to adequately describe what you have written. How would you characterize these novels?

BOB:  Adventure for sure with a strong historical basis.

ALTON: They’re action-adventure stories with a biblical hook. They incorporate in fiction similar adventures that Bob has experienced.

MARK:  As I began reading The Bell Messenger, I began to feel like the protagonist in H.G.Well’s novel, The Time Machine as you take the reader from the battlefields of the civil war in the first chapter to a rundown motel room in Phoenix Arizona in 1980 by the second chapter. By the end of the book, the reader has traveled back and forth through time, and across the globe, finally winding up in the deserts of Saudi Arabia. In spite of these time switches and geographical changes, I found myself following the story quite easily. How were you able to handle these major shifts in time and geography without losing your readers along the journey? What techniques can you share with other writers?

BOB:  I like the reader knowing beforehand how things will turn out from past historical events and sort of root-on the contemporary characters to solve the mystery.

ALTON: It’s a balancing act. When I teach fiction, I describe this kind of plot line a DNA structure. Like DNA it consists of two strands of plot twisted around each other and connected by a series of events that link the two strands. The key to making this work is having a strong protagonist in each timeline. Generalities won’t work. The reader has to connect the Civil War character and also to the 1980’s college grad. Bob has a great sense of story and character. The protagonists, although separated by more than a century, are similar in their determination and resourcefulness while remaining very different in other areas of personality. The case of Bob’s books, the primary connection is a very unique Bible.

MARK:  Bob, I noticed that you have had several interesting encounters while pursuing your archeological pursuits. In The Pravda Messenger, the country of Saudi Arabia plays a prominent role. I understand in one of your trips to that country you faced a harrowing situation. Can you tell us a little about that incident?

BOB:  I was arrested in Saudi Arabia and sort of escaped the peril of that situation. I have been in many deserts and exploratory situations so I had a lot to draw from.

MARK: How did the two of you manage to work together on these two projects? Bob, you seem to be constantly on the move following your archeological interests and conducting tour guides to some very remote sites. In fact, you were traveling when I tried to catch up to you about this interview. And, Alton, you maintain a very demanding writing and teaching schedule while also managing your Gansky Communications company. Tell us how the two of you managed to coordinate these writing projects.

BOB: I had the basic story in my mind and Alton breathed life into the story. It was easy by phone and email that we did all this. Alton is really a pro.

ALTON: In most collaborative writing projects, I do all the writing, but no so with Bob. He had the story largely written so that made things easier. We communicated a lot by phone and by e-mail.

MARK:  Bob—since this is a blog about mystery, crime, and cops—tells us a little about your days in law enforcement. Where did you serve and what duties and assignments were you involved with?

BOB:  I was a Costa Mesa police officer for almost a decade and in that line of duty you find so many personalities that are both good and very evil. Life lessons are a daily encounter so it make for a good rolodex of experiences.

MARK: Do you mind telling us why you left law enforcement and began this very drastic career change?

BOB:  I left the PD shortly after a shooting situation. A man died and I felt it was time to go and see the world before I was the one dead.

MARK: Alton, I noted in your bibliography that you were a firefighter at one point in your life. Emergency services issues—as they relate to mystery writers and readers—often crop up here on this blog. Writers enjoy learning from those who have provided these services in the past, so that authors might make their fiction writing even more credible. In fact, we’ve had another firefighter-turn-novelist here last July when Shawn Grady visited us from Reno, California. Would you share a little information about your fire-fighting experiences? Where? How Long? Any stories you can share?

ALTON: I was a firefighter with one of the smaller agencies in San Diego county. I attended Heartland fire academy then served for a couple of years. I was part of a CETA program, a government effort that provided money to civil service agency under the Ford administration. When the money ran out, the department had to cut back on payroll. I was laid off and went into architecture where I drew plans for houses, condos, and offices. I did that for about a decade. While on the fire department I did both engine company work and ambulance/rescue work.

MARK: Alton, you must have a very busy writing schedule. You have authored over forty books—garnering recognition such as a Christy Awards finalist for A Ship Possessed, and an Angel Award winner for Terminal Justice—while teaching and managing your own company. What does a normal writing day look like to you, or is normal not the best word to describe your schedule?

ALTON: I also direct three writing conferences. I’m not sure I know what normal is. My days are full. Through Gansky.Communications I’ve been doing a lot of collaborative writing which has been fun and given me the opportunity to connect with fascinating people like Bob. While I still write my own books, I enjoy working with others. I’ve learned a lot from prophecy experts, financial guru’s and military heros. It’s the best of both worlds.

MARK: What does the writing future hold for the two of you? Have you considered working together on other projects? What writing projects—together or separately—do you have in the making?

BOB:  Alton is a good man with a good heart, so any book with him will be good as well.

ALTON: I continue to write, collaborate, and teach. I have a fractured, er, faceted personality so I need to be involved with several things at a time. I complain about it, but I’d be bored otherwise.  At the moment, Bob and I do not have another project in the hopper.

MARK:  Gentleman, thank you for taking the time to visit us.

More information about author Bob Cornuke can be found at his Bible Archeology Search and Exploration Institute (BASE) web site.

More information about author Alton Gansky can be found at his author site—Alton Gansky—and at his business site, Gansky Communications.


  1. Mark, thanks for this well-done interview. I am addign Cornuke's and Gansky's names to my list of authors to learn more about and, of course, I'll be heading to their Web sites (thanks for the links).

    I find your/their comment about placing the novel in its genre interesting, and the clarification about the "bible hook" enlightening and clarifying. Sometimes, it really is tough to put a novel in a specific category. Sounds kind of obvious, but the "bible hook" will also help place these novels in Christian contemporary? Right?

  2. Mary: Thanks for joining us. Both writers have very interesting backgrounds--Bob and his biblical explorations;and Alton, who is great writer and teacher.(Have not had the opportunity to attend Alton's classes but I hear he is a great teacher. I have read his novels, and I think he is a wonderful story teller).

    Yes, their novels fall squarely on the Christian fiction book shelf. One of the goals here on Hook'em and Book'em is to introduce our readers to writers from both the ABA and CBA markets. Too often, we are inclined to exclude one and gravitate to the other based upon our own beliefs. There are great writers in both markets. This blog acts as a neutral corner between these two writing worlds.