Ed Fuller and Gary Grossman talk about “RED HOTEL”
Q. Your book starts off with a bang. Literally, when the Kensington Royal Hotel in Tokyo is bombed. As in real life, hotels are now ideal targets for terrorists. Why?
Ed Fuller: Hotels are called “soft targets” when compared to Embassies, military bases, etc. In international countries, American branded hotels become targets. Condoleezza Rice commented recently that, after 9/11, hotels became known as “soft targets” as they are unable to be hardened much like a U.S. embassy. Many times, they don’t have the stand-off distance or the physical security measures in place such as an embassy.
Gary Grossman: With more Americans traveling and International travelers coming to the US in record numbers, hotel security must be a top priority. RED HOTEL deep dives into a plot that shows just how important safety must be and what we can do to become more aware of our surroundings.
Q. The character Dan Reilly visits Capitol Hill to lobby the government about intelligence sharing with US corporations. Why is this so important, both in your book and real life? Does the government share intelligence with US companies?
Ed Fuller: Several countries, including the United States, work with hotels and other industries, as well as agencies like the FBI, the military and the CIA to gain information about guests. These agencies also provide security information to companies doing business globally. After the bombing of Pan Am 103 in 1988, the U.S Congress passed legislation mandating that the Intelligence Community warn U.S. citizens if the IC becomes aware of threats to Americans. These warnings are channeled through the U.S. State Department’s Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC). Many hotel companies have their own intelligence operations within their security departments (Condoleezza Rice calls it “mini CIA’s). These intelligence operations use a combination of “open source intelligence” (Opsint) and “human intelligence” (Humint). Additionally, some of the security departments have staff with Top Secret security clearances which gives the access to U.S. Government classified intelligence.
Gary Grossman: I learned firsthand from Ed Fuller that we’re safer when critical information is shared between intelligence agencies and hotel businesses. Moreover, with active, open relationships comes increased speed in communicating potential dangers. Speed and information allow potential targets advance time to bolster security measures. In the case of RED HOTEL, these measures are based on Ed Fuller’s actual work in the field. The basic rule—make a soft target less attractive with stepped-up visible, “hardened” security measures in place and terrorists are more likely to walk.
Q. The State Department often issues travel advisories. Is that enough to keep travelers safe?
Ed Fuller: Yes, and they provide additional travel data. The State Department’s OSAC rates countries from 1 to 4, depending on security. A security rating of “4” means U.S. Citizens should not travel to it. Travelers have an obligation to research the country before travel and, when traveling, take necessary precautions to be safe.
Gary Grossman: Read the State Department advisories before traveling. They’re available to the public by logging onto https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/traveladvisories/traveladvisories.html/
The advisories are ranked from Level 1 EXERCISE NORMAL PRECAUTIONS to Level 4 DO NOT TRAVEL. They’re easy to follow. We recommend you take the time to check.
Q. Dan Reilly feels it’s important that the US government protect its citizens when they travel abroad. Is the government responsible for US citizens when they travel overseas?
Ed Fuller: No, and it depends! The government can’t protect the average traveler. Obviously, if the traveler is an American citizen and is in trouble they can reach out to the US Embassy. However, local laws prevail. The U.S. government can provide travel warnings and security guidelines. It is up to the traveler to take necessary measures to be safe.
Gary Grossman: As former President of Marriott International, Ed has the inside track on this. Just be aware of your surroundings wherever you go.
Q. Like Ed, Dan Reilly, is a former army man, and now a high level hotel executive. Dan contacts his friends at the CIA to help track down the people responsible for the Tokyo bombing. Is this kind of “information sharing” a common practice in real life?
Ed Fuller: Absolutely (See #2), especially the State Department. Many times, this would be largely dependent on relationships. This type of executive would have developed relationships with local intelligence sources who he could reach out to for help.
Gary Grossman: As you read RED HOTEL, you’ll get a real sense of why the hotel industry has to have “friends” in the intelligence community.
Q. If a hotel receives intelligence that it could be a target, what are some of the obvious and not so obvious security measures that are put in place?
Ed Fuller: That is when, if it isn’t already established, many companies will institute a RED HOTEL procedure (described in the book). If the hotel is already operating at threat condition red, they could establish “surveillance detection teams” to identify potential terrorists conducting surveillance of the hotel. They could alter security measures already in place to avoid setting patterns that can be monitored by potential terrorists.
Gary Grossman: Adding to Ed’s comment, RED HOTEL provides an accurate representation within an international thriller plot, of what he developed for real. It’s all there.
Q. What are some key things travelers can do to keep themselves safe when visiting foreign countries?
Ed Fuller: Have situational awareness.
Always have an escape plan in mind whether walking down the street or staying in a hotel.
Know where the fire exits are and how you will get to them.
Don’t open your door unless you know who is on the other side.
Before traveling abroad, check out the U.S. State Department website. It contains invaluable information on visa requirements and grades countries on their travel risks
Motor vehicle accidents are the number one cause of injuries abroad. This includes pedestrian accidents. Obey local traffic regulations and stay alert.
Be aware of your surroundings and people around you at all times.
Know where your Embassy is located and their phone number.
Travel with all your personal medications and simple medications such as Motrin and Imodium. You never know when you might need them and a pharmacy in a foreign country may be hard to find.
A small flashlight always comes in handy. You never know when you might need to look under an airline seat to find your cell phone or use it when the power goes off in your hotel. More than your phone.
Be cautious of engaging with strangers. They may want more than directions when they approach you.
Plan ahead regarding accommodations, don’t assume there always be rooms available at the price you want.
Check weather forecasts and plan clothing for the various climates you may experience.
Leave your travel schedule and phone numbers with your family and friends. With today’s technology keep your family up to date on your travels.
Secure your travel documents as they are as valuable as your currency and more valuable when lost.
For long flights (8 hours or more) dress with loose fitting clothes, avoid drinking alcohol (it dehydrates you), wear compression socks, and sleep as much as possible.
Do not take excessive jewelry or personal valuables that aren’t necessary. Use the hotel safe to secure your valuables when you are not in your hotel room.
Review carefully the life safety instructions in your hotel room and note the fire escapes in the halls. In an Air B&B this is even more important.
Gary Grossman: The best advice is “If you see something, say something.” That goes for domestic travel and everyday life as well.
Q. In your opinion, what is the safest place to stay when visiting a hotel (i.e. by an exit or elevator, top floor, close to an indoor pool, etc.?)
Ed Fuller: Lower floor, not beside, but near a stairway, or the first six floors on the back of the building.
Gary Grossman: You heard from the expert!
Q. Russia is a key focal point in your book. In a roundabout way, the events in your book suggest Russia is attempting to cause instability and chaos in border nations leaving them vulnerable for a possible land grab. Why was it important to create several villainous characters whose ultimate goal is just that?
Ed Fuller: Russia has occupied the Ukraine in recent years and is operating an indigenous military trying to acquire more of the Ukraine. Their current leader has openly stated that he wishes to Soviet Empire still existed today.
Gary Grossman: The Russia of tomorrow could look very much like the Soviet Union of the past if it successfully seizes the Baltic States and other former Eastern Bloc nations. It makes for good fiction, but it appears to be the avowed goal of the Kremlin.
Q. For the hotel bombings in your book, did it mirror any real life terror attacks that you may have thwarted or experienced?
Ed Fuller: None that were thwarted in this version. However, others were.
Q. What are some real life hospitality experiences that you fictionalized in RED HOTEL?
Ed Fuller: The creation of the global security system is real. The development of a global communications chain, the establishment of emergency crisis committees, and the commitment to protect guests and employees of the hotel comes from my years at Marriott.
Q. How did the story of RED HOTEL come to you?
Ed Fuller: Working with Gary Grossman, combining history, reality, and blending the real world of hotels and the hospitality industry with international politics and actual threats. It’s an explosive mix.
Gary Grossman: Ed’s experience figures into every aspect of RED HOTEL. Together, we worked to creatively integrate real-world events into our not-so fictional settings. As a result, there’s so much that’s just on the edge of reality and other elements that could be in tomorrow’s news. RED HOTEL is a wakeup call to the dangers, packaged in an exciting plot.
Q. RED HOTEL is a work of fiction, however, Dan’s secretary is named Brenda Sheldon. Ed, your assistant’s name just happens to be Brenda Shelton. Coincidence?
Ed Fuller: No, the only difference is she never brought me coffee and the fact that we are still working together after 41 years.
Q. Gary with your background in television, do you think RED HOTEL would make a better movie-of-the-week, cable series or feature film?
Gary Grossman: The style is truly cinematic. The action is fast-paced. The tension builds in the book like a movie. Critical things happen around the globe simultaneously and then come together as the clock ticks louder. So yes, we’d love to see a RED HOTEL film spinoff.
Q. Who would you cast to play Dan, who you describe as 6 feet tall, trim, with wavy black hair and bright white teeth?
Ed Fuller: George Clooney, with Grecian Formula black hair.
Gary Grossman: George, call us! You’re perfect.
Q. Describe RED HOTEL in five words or less.
Ed Fuller: “Sex, Lies & Videotape Meets The Red Sparrow in hotels”
Gary Grossman: “RED HOTEL – Where terrorists, spies, and global politics meet.”
Q. Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Ed Fuller: Hotels are exciting, can be dangerous, but are like a city with numerous characters, priorities, needs and secrets.
Gary Grossman: Enjoy the world, but be an informed visitor and keep your eyes open.
Q. How did your writing process work? Did you write this book in the same room? Arrange conference/SKYPE calls?
Gary Grossman: Ed and I constantly collaborated. We met for initial interviews and traded ideas. Then we outlined the plot and I began to flesh out the manuscript with Ed filling in more detail sharing both his experience and his insider’s knowledge of what dangers are around the corner. We continued to meet regularly to craft the plot and once finished with the first draft, then collaborated fully through the rewrites. All in all, it was a wonderfully creative experience.
Q. Gary, as a seasoned thriller writer, why is it important that your books have some “sizzle?” Does your career as a Hollywood producer influence the way you write?
Gary Grossman: The pace of life is faster today than years ago. So the pace of television and movies is quicker. Stories must handle multiple angles converging into one and characters on divergent tracks who discover what they have in common. My experience as a story teller in television absolutely influences the way I write. It’s filmic from page one and hopefully delivers right through the final sentence. That’s the hallmark of a good movie. It’s the approach I take to writing thrillers, too.”
Q. What is the hardest part of writing for you? What’s the easiest?
Gary Grossman: The hardest part of writing is keeping the computer battery charged. Really. As a former newspaper columnist with a daily deadline, I can write anywhere, anytime. I’m able to get right back into the action. So if the laptop is charged, I’m all in. If not, there’s old school—paper and pencil. The easiest part is answering questions about work we love to do.
Q. What has been the most surprising part about your literary journey?
Gary Grossman: I like to say I don’t write first drafts. The characters do. They take over and tell the story. I come in, and in the case of working with Ed Fuller, we come in on the rewrite and take the story to the next level. If it sounds a little like a “Twilight Zone” episode it really is. The characters become so real that for much of the process, we take dictation from them.
Q. Why did you choose to write for specific genre?
Gary Grossman: I grew up in a political and law enforcement family. News was always discussed. The Cold War was as real in my hometown as it was across the country and throughout Europe.
I read political fiction as a kid, did duck and cover exercises at school, stocked a bomb shelter in our basement at home, and watched the Soviet Union fall. And then came 9/11. I was in New York City when the World Trade Center was attacked. Two days later, with airports nationwide closed, I began driving back to Los Angeles and considered how I would process the events. Two works came out of the thinking along I-70 – a History Channel documentary on the history of Civil Defense in America and a plot for my first novel, EXECUTIVE ACTIONS. Both gave me the creative room to dramatically address the real and present dangers we faced then. Yet, those dangers have only increased in the years since. My collaboration with Ed Fuller on RED HOTEL is the latest thriller that looks at the threats that could bring us to the brink of war.