Ian A. O’Connor is a retired USAF colonel who has held several senior military leadership positions in the field of national security management. In his page-turning thriller, The Barbarossa Covenant, released in August 2015, it’s the author’s expertise in neutralizing nuclear, biological, and chemical warfare threats against the United States which provides the backdrop for the story’s compelling reality, and electrifying sense of urgency.
He is also the author of The Twilight of The Day. This debut novel garnered high praise in a lengthy review in the Military Times for its realism and chilling story line. It was soon followed with the publication of The Seventh Seal by Winterwolf Publishing Company, a thriller that introduced readers to retired FBI agent Justin Scott. Both books were re-released worldwide in 2015 in Kindle and softcover formats.
Ian co-authored SCRAPPY: A Memoir of a U.S. Fighter Pilot published by McFarland & Company to rave reviews in the military aviation community. He is a member of Mystery Writers of America, and lives in South Florida with his wife, Candice, where he is hard at work writing the next Justin Scott thriller, The Masada Option, due to be released in late 2016.
Q: Congratulations on the release of your latest book, The Wrong Road Home. To begin with, can you gives us a brief summary of what the story is about and what compelled you to write it?
A: The Wrong Road Home was inspired by true events. It’s the story of a friend of mine named Desmond Donahue who practiced medicine as a surgeon—first in Ireland and later in Miami—and did so for over twenty years armed with nothing more than a Chicago School System GED certificate and a several fake diplomas. I was totally unaware of his dark secret until the exposé was splashed all over the front page of The Miami Herald, Sunday Edition two decades ago. It was a scandal that gained national notoriety.
Q: What do you think makes a good historical novel written as an exposé based on true events? Could you narrow it down to the three most important elements? Is it even possible to narrow it down?
A: I found that writing this story was similar in many respects to writing a thriller. First, the writer must have an interesting concept to ‘hook’ the reader. Next, the opening chapter, (or sometimes it’s a prologue) must grab the reader’s attention within the first or second paragraph. That’s not much time, but it’s true. Because it is here where you must compel the reader to want to continue reading in order to find out what happens next. The reader must want to be drawn to the central character, to either feel well-disposed or badly disposed to the person. Think Mother Theresa or Adolf Hitler. Both are interesting people who impacted history.
Q: How did you go about plotting your story? Or did you discover it as you worked on the book?
A: Luckily, I knew how my story would end as I began writing The Wrong Road Home. Also, plotting was not an issue because the real Desmond Donahue laid bare his whole life to me, oftentimes at great embarrassment to himself. But let me stray just a tad from the question asked to say this about writing in my usual genre, which is the thriller category. I have a pretty good idea how my story is going to unfold before I write my first sentence. That’s because I spend several months—or longer—researching facts regarding locations, cultures, history, skills possessed by my protagonists and antagonists, and also discovering how various things work. I do write an outline, oftentimes it’s lengthy, but I recognize that as I write, the story will morph to a degree, but always for the better.
Q: Tell us something interesting about your protagonist and how you developed him or her. Did you do any character interviews or sketches prior to the actual writing?
A: My protagonist in The Wrong Road Home was a personal friend whom I thought I knew. Obviously, I didn’t. I mean, how many people do you know who have been friends with a doctor for years to suddenly discover the man’s a complete fraud? I’ll wager, not many. The more I finally got to know the real Desmond, the more I came to realize just what nerves of steel he must have had to pull off such a scam in the first place, and then continue to live the lie for another twenty years. It’s the stuff of fiction, but fiction it wasn’t.
Q: How did you keep your narrative exciting throughout the novel? Could you offer some practical, specific tips?
A: Because The Wrong Road Home was such an exciting story in its own right, I decided to write it in a similar vein to producing a thriller. The reader must be propelled ever onward with interesting twists and unexpected turns in the narrative, and my chapters are not formulaic in either substance or style. By this I mean some chapters are short, others longer. But a constant throughout this work is my liberal use of dialogue. Readers love dialogue. They identify with characters more easily when they hear them speak, rather than being told what is happening. “Show, don’t tell” is a maxim introduced to most writers early in their careers and should be ignored at great peril.
Q: Setting is also quite important and in many cases it becomes like a character itself. What tools of the trade did you use in your writing to bring the setting to life?
A: Much of the mood developed in The Wrong Road Home dealt with setting, which really means time and place. How did Desmond Donahue become such a successful doctor without any discernible medical training? Could such be possible today? The short answer is no.
Because of the Internet and universal access to computers, a Desmond Donahue today would be uncovered in short order. His school records would be verified in moments, ditto for any medical diplomas, and his memberships in professional societies vetted in an instant. This was not the case in the late nineteen-sixties through the early nineteen-nineties when Desmond Donahue lived his life of lies, not only posing as a surgeon, but actually practicing his craft day after day.
Q: Where does craft end and art begin? Do you think editing can destroy the initial creative thrust of an author?
A: That’s an interesting question, and I’m not so sure I have the answer. I see both as being intertwined and the lines blurred. Let’s just say craft and art for a writer should be something seamless. As for editing, I think the author needs to concentrate on getting the story onto paper as his primary objective. Editing should come later. If an author spends too much time editing as he writes, then, yes, I could see how initiative could ebb—and even get lost—if too much emphasis is placed on editing an unfinished story.
Q: What three things, in your opinion, make a successful novelist?
A: First, a novelist must come up with interesting plots, then he/she must exhibit the discipline to actually sit down and create the story out of thin air, and, last, a writer must never shortchange the reader by becoming a lazy hack. You might get away with producing one bad book, but “fool me once…”
Q: A famous writer once wrote that being an author is like having to do homework for the rest of your life. What do you think about that?
A: I’m going to take exception to that premise because it implies the writer’s life is one of drudgery, and that’s certainly not the case. At least not for me. I can’t ever remember saying in high school or college, “Oh, boy, six hours of homework tonight, and a ton more this weekend!” Writers write for the sheer pleasure of writing. It’s akin to horses running for the sheer pleasure of running. It is a stimulating endeavor, and one I will never tire of.
Q: Are there any resources, books, workshops or sites about craft that you’ve found helpful during your writing career?
A: I will lie awake at nights in wonder at just how I was able to create stories without the help of the Internet. There is nothing now beyond the reach of any author regarding, people, places, and things. It is possible to become an expert on the most picayune subjects, and in turn the reader has the ability to discover if you indeed know what you’re talking about. So I doff my hat to the likes of Dickens, Defoe, Austen, and countless others who actually produced such stellar works that we still delight in reading them today.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to share with my readers about the craft of writing?
A: If any of your readers should discover they have a story to tell, then by all means begin the journey. It will take a lot of hard work, tons of trial and error, criticism and rejection, but the key to success is perseverance. If you truly believe in yourself you will achieve your goal, and the satisfaction that come with a job well done.