Literature influenced me from an early age. I wrote short stories in childhood, and I majored in English and American literature at Harvard College, where I studied with esteemed author Verlyn Klinkenborg and the late Seamus Heaney, an Irish poet and Nobel prize winner. In my youth, I was also a foreign journalist in Bangkok for a whirlwind period of adventure before joining the CIA.
I loved creating the climatic scenes on Malta. This former British-colony is a fascinating island-nation that has played a pivotal, but underappreciated role throughout history. The accuracy of the scenes in the capital Valetta required on-the-ground research, including visiting all the safe-houses, casinos, and government buildings that all appearing in the book. I also interviewed local Maltese officials to accurately describe the Maltese police force, which has a long and esteemed heritage. Malta’s dramatic Grand Harbor also offered a very vivid location for several critical confrontations.
The most challenging scene takes place in southern Sicily. I wanted to capture the protagonists’ sense of disorientation and dread as they confront extreme levels of stress and violence. These chapters, taking place largely at night, needed spike the reader with an adrenaline-rush.
Paul Drake and I would enjoy swapping stories over a nice scotch with a splash of soda. Paul isn’t perfect, but I agree with Katya that he has integrity. I respect Paul for the choices he made, even if his decisions come at a high personal cost and might appear conflicted or immoral to those who only see his journey from a distance.
Believe in the quality and the purpose of one’s art. I would stress the need to write on themes that are timely, accessible, and important. Readers have limited time for all forms of entertainment, including novels, so delivering an exciting narrative plot is key to engagement. However, most critically, the reader needs to care about complex and interesting characters and understand their underlying motivations and intentions. I also want to transport my readers to many fascinating places they may not have visited but through the writing can touch and feel themselves.
The thriller novel developed as a vehicle for expression based on my experience at the Central Intelligence Agency, the US Treasury, and decades of living and working abroad. My fictional characters are composites drawn from life. I draw on similar situations I have faced or were known to me, although these are dramatized and delivered in multiple points of view. When successful, I love this genre because it engages the reader in a gripping and entertaining tale, and often introduces thought-provoking themes of war, conflict, and moral choice. There are also twists and turns that the reader guessing, along with the characters as they face adversity.
Some of the greatest works of fiction have been published under pen names. There is a long tradition of author pseudonyms especially in the arena of adventure fiction. For me, using a pen name completes the artistic effort, aligning with authors such as the late John le Carré (David Cornwall), Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens), and George Orwell (Eric Blair) to name but a few.
With a series, I can take my readers on a longer journey. With each book, the reader’s understanding of the character’s motivations, desires, and flaws deepens. The narrative rewards go up the more the reader invests in this universe. At some point, the books write themselves as mere extensions of the decisions that the characters continue to take. Will Katya truly begin to love Paul in the next novel? I’m not so sure. It depends on the choices Paul makes and whether Katya herself develops beyond her past traumas. For me, the characters in a series continue to live outside each novel.
The third book in this series, Eastern Light, is currently in production and will be begin at the outset of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and about two years after the last book ends. There will be exciting, and perhaps tragic, resolutions for many characters developed in the first two books. Since the outbreak of Putin’s war in February 2022, incredible heroism has emerged. My goal is to portray the war’s brutal reality and the tactics used by intelligence services on both sides. I began the Paul Drake series while living in Kyiv; I witnessed the underlying tensions building up to this insane conflict. Paul’s younger brother, Max Drake, also takes on a more prominent role as joins the Ukraine’s international foreign brigade. The refugee situation is also acute, and the unfolding conflict is sure to shape the future of the Free World for years to come, already at a very high human cost.
I grew up primarily with the modern twentieth century classics – Hemingway and Fitzgerald, for example. I also consumed many Russian authors, such as Tolstoy and Bulgakov, and European authors, Maupassant, Mann, and Camus. Joseph Conrad was a favorite early explorer of global themes. Conrad developed a darker, multi-layered, existential writing style that was truly innovative. Conrad also conveyed an existential sense of the foreign like no other modern writer in English.
My inspiration was my time at the Central Intelligence Agency and my subsequent life and work in the far-flung locations portrayed in my writing. My novels, while fictional, are derived from real people I encountered and operational situations. Fiction is simply the most effective and entertaining way to communicate the underlying essence of these experiences—sacrifice, deception, loyalty, and heroic action. I’m not a fan of thriller fiction based on exaggerated fantasy or derived from stale Hollywood formulas. In contrast, I want my writing to remain grounded in actual tradecraft and the most relevant political issues of our time, even if such an approach is more unsettling and nuanced. I also wanted to thread together a compelling human drama that resonates beyond the espionage plot and take the story to a higher emotional and universal level.
I’ll go with Joseph Conrad. He lived an incredible life and was a master stylist in a language that was not even his native tongue. Conrad’s techniques shaped modern fiction. I would be fascinated to know more about his mind and the era when he lived.
Write clearly and precisely on important subjects that you know well from experience. My goal is to use words precisely so the reader can see, hear, taste, and hopefully feel what Paul and Katya experience. To quote Tolstoy directly: “A real work of art destroys, in the consciousness of the receiver, the separation between himself and the artist.” Just achieving some small sliver of this goal, is true gold for any author.