What made you decide to be an author?
In the fourth grade, I recalled at the last minute a book report was due the following morning. I hadn’t even chosen a book. What to do? Why not write one. I immediately constructed a story in my mind, plot, characters, conflict and resolution.. Then, I wrote a report on that book. I titled it, “Big Red: the Story of a Boy and his Horse.” My mother helped me with the drawing on the cover. I got an A. And thus my humble beginnings as a writer.
What do you like best about being a writer?
I’m a solitary person. I’m not the type who has to be surrounded by a covey. I’m not the party-party type. I enjoy solitude and writing certainly offers solitude if nothing else. I’ve always been interested in language and I enjoy the challenge of taking something from my imagination and putting it into descriptive words. At the same time, I’m able to keep active what Agatha Christie’s Poirot calls, ‘the little gray cells’.
How do you think your life experiences have prepared you for writing Espionage thrillers?
After spending around 40 years conducting and supervising agent operations, teaching and practicing the skills necessary to keep both intelligence operative and agent safe, and consulting on espionage matters, I think I’m fairly well prepared to write about the subject.
Have you ever felt as if you were being dictated to while you wrote a book–as if the words came of their own accord? If yes, which book did that happen with?
This has happened with each of my novels and many of my short stories. If you know your characters well enough, you just give them free rein and write as quickly as you can, trying to catch up with them. I’ve learned that when I try to put one of my characters into a situation the character finds uncomfortable, the writing slows to a trickle. It’s only when I rip up those pages and once again, let the character do what is natural in the given situation that I hear the dictation in my mind once again.
You’ve written three (3) novels and are working on a fourth(4) novel and three (3) short stories. What’s your favorite time management tip?
I have no precise day or time of day I spend writing. Even when I’m not physically engaged in writing, I’m thinking and wondering where my characters are going to take me. When time permits, when the ideas are about to hatch, I put everything down on a lined pad, using my Agatha Christie Mont Blanc fountain pen. I have to write longhand at first. I find my fingers move more quickly over the keyboard than my mind can handle. So the leisurely pen is most appropriate. From the pad, it eventually goes into the computer. I guess the point is, if you have to be forced to write, you’re not a writer.
Are you a plotter or a pantser, i.e., do you outline your books ahead of time or are you an “organic” writer?
I stay far away from outlines, story boards and the like. They inhibit me. I mentally plan the general outlines of my protagonist’s mission. He discusses the parameters with his boss. If I approve, the novel is underway. If I disapprove, the start of the novel will wait another day.
If you had one take away piece of advice for authors, what would it be?
You must be a student of human behavior. Until you understand what motivates people, how people meet challenges, how they meet with disappointments, successes, failures, it will not be easy to depict such events convincingly. You have to “feel the soul” of your characters in order to present them realistically to the reader.
Do you listen to music when you write? Do you have a theme song for this book? What music did you go back to over and over as you wrote it, or as you write, in general?
I found music to be a distraction. When I write, I need total silence. How else to hear my characters speak to me?
Tell me more about The Chimera Legion.
The Chimera Legion is an espionage thriller wherein my two protagonists battle against a malevolent al-Qaeda plan to inflict Western populations with Ebola-like viruses that will be incurable. CIA’s ‘Terminator’, Sean Brogan and Mossad’s senior Special Operations officer, Rachel Allon are assigned the mission to take whatever measures are necessary to ensure the al-Qaeda element does not succeed.
How about an excerpt from The Chimera Legion?
Wazir had a reputation as a strongman. He and his brother, Farooq, a man even more powerful than Wazir, had fought in almost every engagement against the Russian kafir invaders. His feats in battle were the stuff of legend. Mustapha Raza sat behind the counter of his small tea shop, thinking about this, uncertain of what to do. He was certain that he was the first human ever to see Wazir cry.
Teary-eyed, Wazir lifted his head and looked at the shopkeeper. “Mustapha, my friend, my brother is dying. My brother Farooq is dying a most horrible death,” he wailed, repeating his lament.
“What are you talking about? Since when?”
“I saw him at the hospital in Islamabad. It appeared as if blood was seeping through his skin—from his nose, his mouth, his ears. From his eyes, even. My brother Farooq was crying tears of blood.”
Mustapha stopped wiping down the small tables and stood upright at this improbable tale. “Which hospital, Wazir?” Mustapha asked. “Tell me, at which hospital did you see Farooq?”
“Around the corner from the Shifa International Hospital—a private clinic.”
Mustapha walked from behind his counter and went over to Wazir’s table. The oppressive heat lay upon the area like a smothering, down-filled comforter, making the slightest movement seem an effort. Wiping at the sweat pouring off his face with a less than clean dish towel, Mustapha took a seat across from Wazir.
“You must tell me what is happening, Wazir. I saw your brother only last month. He could have vanquished an ox.”
Wazir shrugged his shoulders in bafflement. “I cannot understand, either. His flesh seems to have melted. He—he is like a large balloon that has lost its air. His flesh lies upon his bones like loose rags.”
Mustapha gripped Wazir’s arm in an effort to comfort the man. “Could you speak with him—ask him what happened?”
Wazir shook his head. “No, not possible. They had placed his bed in a special, sealed room. I could look at him through a large window but he could not hear me. I was not certain if he was awake or not.”
“I do not understand, Wazir. You say he lies in a sealed room. How does he get care, medicines? How do the doctors treat him?”
“I saw two people in the room with Farooq. I could not tell who they were, men or women.”
“How could that be?” Mustapha asked.
“They wore special suits, special gloves, and boots. They had large hoods over their heads. I could see only part of their faces through the window in front of the hoods.”
Where can readers find more about your stories, books and you on the Internet?
A quick look at my web site will fill you in on who I am, what I’ve done and where I’ve done it. You can check me out on Amazon.com, I have a page there and you can learn something about my other two novels at the same time.
Author’s Note: I spent almost 30 years as an operations officer in the CIA, many of them as Chief of Station. During those years, I engaged in a wide variety of clandestine and covert operations in Southeast Asia, Western Europe and Central and West Africa. For another 10 years, I served as a consultant to the CIA, both as a tradecraft trainer and as a supervisor of counterterrorist operations in the CIA Counter Terrorist Center. Currently I consult on intelligence and national security issues.
Thank you so much for being with us here today. I know my readers will enjoy your work and your interview.