"If We Survive" is my new adventure novel geared toward young adults. It tells the story of four teenagers who visit a Central American country on a charitable mission to rebuild a school. Just as they're about to leave, the place is torn apart by a revolution.
The reds take over, and wealth starts getting redistributed very fast and very violently. And naturally, there's nothing these local "freedom fighters" would rather do than murder a bunch of American kids.
The idea was to show how fast the things you take for granted can vanish — and what you have to do and what you have to become if you want to try to survive the experience. Here's the first few pages:
We were in the cantina waiting for a bus when Mendoza walked in and shot the waiter dead. It happened just like that, that fast. One second we were sitting around our table in the corner, drinking our Cokes, making conversation, eager to go home, looking forward to seeing our families again, to seeing America again. The next second the whole world seemed to explode with a deafening blam!
I jumped in my seat, shocked. I turned—and I saw the whole thing right in front of me, a sort of frozen tableau. There was Mendoza, in his rebel fatigues and red bandanna. His arm was extended. A wicked-looking pistol was in his hand. Smoke was still trailing upward out of the barrel.
The waiter was in front of him. Carlos—that was his name. A tall, round-bellied man with an easy smile. He didn’t speak much English, but he liked to joke with us all the same, liked to ﬂirt with the girls and nudge the guys as if to say, You see, my friend, this is how you talk to the ladies. This is how you charm them.
For one second—one second that seemed to go on forever—Carlos remained where he was—captured in the moment of reeling backward—a look of terror and sadness stamped on his features.
For that one second, that one endless second, we all seemed frozen, locked into that same terrible tableau. Pastor Ron, Jim, Nicki, Meredith, me. All of us motionless—frozen—as if we would never move again; all of us staring at the scene—our eyes wide, our mouths open.
Then Carlos fell. He began to take a step back as if the impact of the bullet was going to blow him across the room. But then—no—he just collapsed, his legs folding under him like pieces of string. I had never seen a dead man before, but somehow I knew from the way he went down that it was over for him.
The next second everything started moving again, moving very quickly. There was the sound of footsteps—a thunder of footsteps that seemed to come from all around us, shaking the ﬂoor and the walls. There were shouts from the street outside and then there were shouts in the cantina too. Deep, angry, threatening shouts. I heard a muttered curse from somewhere close to me. I heard a woman start to scream and then suddenly stop.
I looked around me. Men—all of them dressed like Mendoza—all of them in fatigues with red bandannas tied around their heads—were charging through the cantina’s swinging doors. They were spreading out around the room, ﬂooding the room, lining the walls, blocking the exits. Every one of them was holding a gun—the sort of machine gun you always see in action movies and on the TV news with the bullet magazine curling out the bottom of it.
Two of the men posted themselves by the front door. Two others cut off the path to the back hall and the rear entrance. Another two blocked the stairway that led to the hotel rooms upstairs. They stood there with their machine guns raised to their chests and eyed the room, eyed all of us, with a look that said, Just try to get past us. Just try, and see what we do to you.
No one tried.
It was all over in a second. That fast, we were surrounded. Trapped.
What happened next—the bloodshed, the tragedy, the sheer terror—nearly deﬁes belief.
But I guess I’d better start at the beginning.