As a writer, you often hear the old saw, “Write what you know.” Well, at Two Navy Guys, we take that to heart. So when we needed some overseas locations for our novel Weapons of Mass Deception, we fell back on what we know.
J.R. was the U.S. Naval Attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Helsinki, Finland for two-and-a-half years. As he will explain in a minute, Helsinki makes an ideal setting for our kind of thriller, for a whole lot of reasons.
But before we get to Finland, let’s cover a few project updates:
- Schedule: As I posted about a month ago, we had a two-track plan for our book. We’ve taken another look at the project and rewritten the entire schedule. You can see it here. Spoiler alert: we’re taking the long road.
- Kickstarter: one of the main reasons for reworking the schedule was to plan a Kickstarter campaign to fund the printing of WMD, as well as an audio book. However, before we launch the Kickstarter campaign, we want the manuscript completely finished so we can put the funds to work immediately and get the rewards into the hands of our supporters.
Now, on with J.R.’s post on Helsinki:
When one thinks of Finland, what often comes to mind are saunas, hockey, cross-country skiing, hockey, vodka, and perhaps, reindeer. Oh, and hockey.
European history buffs will recall that Finland was originally part of the Swedish Empire, but was lost to the Russian Empire in 1808, when it became the Grand Duchy of Finland. The Czars granted significant autonomy to Finland, and just over 100 years later, in 1917, when the Russian Empire collapsed after bowing out of World War I, Finland declared their independence.
In the winter of 1939, at the opening of World War II, the neighbors came knocking again and Finland beat back a massive attack by the Soviet Red Army. As a nation, the Finns felt betrayed by nonexistent support from western nations and reconciled themselves to going it alone in future conflicts. You still see vestiges of that philosophy today: Finland is not a member of NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization), and remains clearly separated from modern Russia.
If you look at a map, you’ll see Finland sandwiched between Sweden and Norway on the west and Russia in the east. The major cities of Helsinki and St Petersburg (Russia’s second largest city after Moscow) are both port cities on the Gulf of Finland in the Baltic Sea. Because the Finns remained strongly independent from both the Warsaw Pact and NATO, but still maintained a well-controlled border with the Soviet Union, Helsinki made an ideal location for high-level meetings between the United States and Soviet Union during the Cold War. In fact, some of the most important treaties to reduce and control the massive stockpiles of nuclear weapons were hatched in Helsinki.
Tourism and Spies
Helsinki is a wonderful place to visit, especially as a tourist. Regardless of the season, visitors can find ample public transportation to get around the country. Add in Helsinki’s location vis-à-vis the old Soviet Union, and one might begin to understand why Finland was at the center of so much of the clandestine human intelligence (HUMINT) operations during the Cold War.
Helsinki remains today a great “hunting ground” for espionage operations, including the corporate type. For instance, suppose you were an Asian operative working to enhance your country’s position in the cellular phone market. You might find a way inside Nokia’s technology development center by recruiting a source, allowing your government to quickly reverse engineer and produce a new mobile phone, thence undercutting Nokia on price on a global scale.
What’s that you say? Didn’t that happen to Nokia? Please, everyone, a reminder: we write fiction.
Helsinki as a Setting in our Novel
With its rich history as a facilitator of nuclear peace negotiations, Helsinki is an obvious place for us to stage some of the US-Iran peace talks. Iran also has an embassy in Helsinki, which is another necessary ingredient in our plot. In case you are wondering, North Korea does not have an embassy in Helsinki, but they do have one in nearby Sweden, and in Moscow.
There’s another factor. For a person with the right HUMINT training, Helsinki is a perfect place to operate. In addition to the public transportation infrastructure and the way the city is designed with open boulevards, it also has an extensive underground network of tunnels to connect major shopping areas. All of these features would give any character in our story lots of flexibility to detect any watchers as they set up a clandestine meeting.
Helsinki – there you have it. A little history, a little espionage, and a little taste of what’s to come.
David Bruns is the creator of the sci-fi series The Dream Guild Chronicles, and one half of the Two Navy Guys and a Novel blog series about co-writing the military thriller, Weapons of Mass Deception. Check out his website for a free sample of his work.