May 2, 2022

Natalie Walters Answers The "What If?"

Natalie Walters

The plot for Fatal Code came about, I think, like most stories do when an author comes across a bit of information that makes them ask, “What if?”

That exact moment happened to me while visiting a family member who lived in Los Alamos, New Mexico. If you’re not familiar with Los Alamos that’s the location where the atomic bomb was developed and created. It’s also the location of the Los Alamos National Laboratory—a top secret, government facility that continues to design projects in the fields of science, technology, and engineering.

I had the opportunity to visit the museum and learn about the history of the laboratory, the contributions made by the scientists, engineers, and developers, and how seriously they protect the work happening there. Working at the labs requires top secret security clearances and if a scientists leaves, they (and their home) are thoroughly investigated to make sure no secret leaves with them.

And this was my moment! What if a scientist was working on a project that never fully became developed. It was left unfinished but the parts…the plan was still there? How could I make this happen? Through research I did discover that there have been a few cases in which top secret plans have been stolen from the labs and so with that as my guide I began brainstorming my plot.

With the plot in mind, I knew the next thing I needed to figure out was, were there characters who would be smart enough to figure out what they stumbled upon when they discovered the unfinished project. Enter, Kekoa Young, a former Navy Cryptologist and cyber-genius (according to him and his team) who grew up cracking codes as a junior sleuth and Elinor Mitchell, an inquisitive aerospace engineer who was raised by her physicist grandfather.

When I began creating Kekoa’s character, he started out as this fun, no-worries, kind of character who didn’t take life too seriously. I needed him to take this plot seriously, the fate of the world was at hand…okay, a bit dramatic but also kind of true. I had to figure out why Kekoa was the way he was and soon discovered that his boisterous confidence happens behind the safety of his computer. Put him in a position of having to protect someone and he is reliving his worst nightmare. Make him lie about it, well now I’ve put him on a ledge.

Especially if the person he’s lying to already struggles with trusting others. I knew I needed my heroine to struggle with trust and what better (or awful) way than to give her two parents who willingly dropped her off with her grandfather because they had more important jobs to do than raise her. This abandonment causes Elinor to question what she did or why she wasn’t good enough for her parents to stick around and leaves her to guard herself against relationships for fear of driving them away too.

In writing Fatal Code, the story that started out as plot-driven, quickly became character-driven as I weaved the insecurities of both characters into a plot that would force both of them to confront their flaws and then decide how to overcome it. It’s that conquering moment, when the characters defeat the lies that hold them back that make me as a reader and writer happiest.

Natalie Walters is the author of Lights Out, as well as the Harbored Secrets series. A military wife, she currently resides in Texas with her soldier husband and is the proud mom of three. She loves traveling, spending time with her family, and connecting with readers on Instagram and Facebook. Learn more at


  1. Sounds intriguing, Natalie. I love asking the "what if" question when I'm plotting. Congratulations on your new novel.

  2. This is fantastic. I bet it was a lot of fun researching!

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