Gale Force by Owen Laukkanen is a realistic story where readers take the journey with the characters as they board the ship, and feel the splash of the waves. It is an attest to the author’s writing style he is able to make an intense adventure story of a maritime salvage operation.
The plot has McKenna Rhodes inheriting the Gale Force, a salvage boat, after her father died in violent weather on the open seas. Hearing about a salvage operation, she and the crew decide to attempt a rescue of a freighter, the Pacific Lion, which has turned over on its side during a horrific storm. A stowaway who has stolen fifty million in bonds from a Japanese gangster hampers them along with other salvage tugs. After finally getting a contract from the insurance company McKenna and crew can earn $30 million for saving the ship and its property. She is smart, brave, beautiful, and wants to prove that she is able to navigate this male-dominated world. A struggle for their survival and the Pacific Lion’s survival makes for a riveting plot.
Elise Cooper: How did you get the idea for the story?
Owen Laukkanen: The wreck at the center of the tale is based on the real-life saga of the Cougar Ace, which did in fact capsize near the Aleutian Islands. It had to be salvaged. I tried to stay pretty true to the industry, though I think as thriller writer I had to take some liberties. My position on building a world like the maritime industry in Gale Force is to lean on salient details that will provide flavor, but to try keep the action going as quickly as possible. Having a good editor definitely helps.
EC: Do you think the ocean is a character?
OL: You’re so isolated on the water, and at the mercy of very powerful forces of nature. The potential for conflict and action is always there. It’s just such a different environment from anything any of us is really used to, in particular in really remote places like the Aleutian Islands or the Arctic Ocean, where the weather is very much a character all its own. There are rogue waves and waves that buck. My challenge was keeping the ocean as an ever-present threat without being boring.
EC: It is almost that the ocean plays an antagonistic and protagonist role?
OL: Every second the crew spends on the ship they must realize that the ocean could suddenly turn on them. The main characters love the ocean and feel at home around it. They are attracted to it; yet, at any moment it could destroy them. One day the ocean is beautiful and calm, while the next day a storm can pick up, showing the ocean’s anger, basically eating someone alive. The environment is as unpredictable as any human character in the book.
EC: There is a shout out to the Coast Guard?
OL: In high school I wanted to become a member of the Coast Guard. It was not possible after I found out I was color-blind because you have to differentiate between red and green. Some of my favorite books are about Coast Guard rescues.
EC: How would you describe the heroine, McKenna?
OL: She is daunted by the magnitude and responsibility of being a captain. I based her insecurities on a lot of people I met that worked on the water and are aware that if a mistake is made people’s lives are at stake; thus, constant worriers. Also, when I was on a train going from Seattle to Los Angeles I met this single mother from Idaho. In order to feed her four children, she started a trucking company. I thought she would make a good character for a story since trucking like tugboats is a male dominated boys club. She told me how she struggled with men who tried breaking contracts because they objected to a woman trying to make in roads. I wanted to show how McKenna also struggles with this. Both were seen as a small fish in a big pond.
EC: How would you describe Court?
OL: He is essential to the story because he had a relationship with McKenna and that causes some conflict. He is indispensable to the operation. Court is cocky and insensitive, a boy genius. I based him on a friend of mine who has always been smart and a poker player. Court does not have to work very hard and is someone where things come too easy.
EC: You dedicate the book to your dad?
OL: His influence was pretty all encompassing. From the moment, I could walk he would take me down to the harbor pier where we would watch ships together coming and going. He would also read me bedtime stories about shipwrecks. At a really young age he instilled in me a love of the ocean and reading. The sea is in our blood on my dad’s side and we’ve always felt a kinship with it.
EC: Can you explain the book quote, “I miss him so much…It’s so damned hard without him.”
OL: I would like to think that the loved ones we lost are watching out for us. Because I live far away from my parents I understand how there are always things that can remind me of them. The world is full of these moments where we see signs that are unpredictable. I consider it as someone looking out for me, especially when I am in a moment of distress or peril. McKenna feels her dad’s presence when she is in his office. There is some kind of guiding hand to make sure things turn out OK. I would hope that someone’s spirit lives on.
EC: Can you give a heads up about your next book projects?
OL: The Stevens & Windermere series is on hiatus. If there is a huge demand I might write more. The McKenna series will continue. I am also writing another series that is coming out next summer, titled Deception Cove. It is about this rescue dog that gets trained by a prison inmate in one of those compassion programs. The dog is then assigned to a Marine who’s just come home from overseas with PTSD. The Marine gets into a bind, and the dog gets taken from her. After the prisoner finishes his sentence, he catches wind that the dog’s in trouble and goes to see if he can help. It’s kind of like a Jack Reacher novel with a rescue dog, except that the damsel in distress is a combat-decorated Marine and the guy who fancies himself Reacher has been in jail most of his adult life. It is based on my Pit-Bull rescue, Lucy. With any luck, I will be able to roll out two series in a year.
In the high-stakes world of deep-sea salvage, an ocean disaster can mean a huge payoff–if you can survive the chase.
McKenna Rhodes has never been able to get the sight of her father’s death out of her mind. A freak maritime accident has made her the captain of the salvage boat Gale Force, but it’s also made her cautious, sticking closer to the Alaska coastline. She and her crew are just scraping by, when the freighter Pacific Lion, out of Yokohama, founders two hundred miles out in a storm.
This job is their last chance–but there is even more at stake than they know. Unlisted on any manifest, the Lion‘s crew includes a man on the run carrying fifty million dollars in stolen Yakuza bearer bonds. The Japanese gangsters want the money. The thief’s associates want the money. Another salvage ship, far bigger and more powerful than Gale Force, is racing to the rendezvous as well. And the storm rages on. If McKenna can’t find a way to prevail, everything she loves–the ship, her way of life, maybe even her life itself–will be lost.
Filled with bravery, betrayal, sudden twists, and pure excitement, Gale Force is a spectacular new adventure from the fast-rising suspense star.
One thought on “#SaturdaySpotlight with Owen Laukkanen”
Thanks for the wonderful interview. This book sounds thrilling and I love adventures on the high seas.