Interview with debut mystery novelist Michael Connick

Author Michael Connick is helping me kick off a
new week. We’re chatting about this Cold War spy novel, Trapped in a Hall of Mirrors: How the Luckiest Man in the World Became a Spy.
Bio:
Michael Connick was born in 1947 and
raised in San Francisco, CA by a fairly well-to-do family. His grandfather was
actually the highest salaried person in the entire city and his mother was an
English war bride from WWII. As a young boy he traveled extensively with his
family all over Europe. Upon leaving college he began working in the computer
field as a programmer on some of the earliest commercially successful mainframe
computers. His jobs in this field took him all over the US, Europe, and the
Middle East. While living in Iran he worked for the Shah’s pre-revolutionary
government as a consultant to the Secret Police: the SAVAK. During a career
spanning much of the Cold War he also served as a consultant to various
branches of the US intelligence community. Now retired and residing in the
little college town of Huntington, WV, his love for writing compelled him to
create his first novel, a strongly autobiographical work entitled “Trapped
in a Hall of Mirrors”. This novel has been featured in the Huntington
Herald-Dispatch newspaper and Charleston’s WOWK TV Channel 13. It will be the
first in a series of Cold War espionage novels featuring the novel’s
protagonist: Stephen Connor.
Welcome,
Michael. Please tell us about your current release.
During the height of the Cold War, a
naive computer nerd working first for the NSA, and then for the CIA, dreams of
becoming a clandestine intelligence officer. After a very successful tour of
duty in Iran, his new boss, the Vienna CIA Station Chief, is calling him the
“luckiest man in the world”. Nevertheless, he’s managed to accidentally attract
the enmity of the KGB, the malevolent attention of an East German seductress,
and the absolute hatred of a psychopathic KGB mole at the heart of Austria’s
counter-intelligence agency. Will he be lucky enough, or skillful enough, to
survive all these forces now converging to destroy him before he ever has a
chance to realize his dream?
What
inspired you to write this book?
My “bucket list” always included
writing a novel after I retired. I retired in 2015, and so I then wrote my
first novel, Trapped in a Hall of Mirrors.
In addition to that, I’ve always been frustrated by how unrealistic most spy
novels are today. Most of the heroes in these books are virtual supermen, and
the tradecraft, weapons, and tactics used in them are often absurd. Since I
actually worked with the intelligence community for many years, I felt that I
could portray what it’s really like to work in this field much more realistically.
In fact, much of Trapped in a Hall of
Mirrors
is autobiographical and based on actual events in my life. I really
did live in Iran during the time that the Shah’s regime was collapsing, and I
did work with his Secret Police. I really did live and work in Vienna when it
was the spy capital of Europe. I tried to portray these fascinating times and
places with accuracy, and to even mix in a little humor, too. The result is my
first novel: Trapped in a Hall of Mirrors.
Excerpt
from Trapped in a Hall of Mirrors:
One Saturday morning I was sitting
in a local coffee house near my apartment enjoying some sweet pastries and
coffee, and reading the International Herald Tribune. It was about the only
English language newspaper I could easily find in Vienna and I really relished
reading it. It had been providing news to American expatriates since the 1920s.
Hemingway even mentioned it in his 1926 novel “The Sun Also Rises”. I felt very
Hemingway-esque whenever I read it. It had become a ritual for me to have
coffee and pastries along with the International Herald Tribune every Saturday
morning.
The coffee house was crowded, as
usual for this time of day. So, I wasn’t all that surprised when an attractive
young woman asked if she might join me at my table. She did so in English. I
assumed she must have noticed my American newspaper.
She said
with only a slight German accent: “Excuse me, may I join you?”
“Please do,” I replied, and
rearranged the contents of the table to make room for her. She took off her
winter coat and hung it up on a hook on the wall. She stuffed her woolen cap
into one of its pockets.
She looked to be in her early
twenties. She was extremely petite; probably not much over five foot two inches
in height. She was dressed like a student with a black and white skirt, black
tights, black winter boots, a colorful blouse, a tan leather vest, and she had
short blonde hair. She had an extremely delicate figure and appeared quite
feminine and very attractive. She was carrying a copy of one of the local
newspapers, the Wiener Zeitung, and what appeared to be a large sketchbook. She
placed them both on the table and hailed a waiter. She ordered just a coffee.
She then looked at me, smiled a
radiant smile, and asked: “Are you an American?”
“Yes, I
am.”
“Oh, I’m simply mad about everything
American,” she said excitedly, and then gave a slight laugh.
“Oh, would
that include me, too?”
She laughed
more heartily now and said: “I’m sure it will.”
With that, it all started. She told
me she was a German from Berlin and was studying architecture at the University
of Vienna. She wished more than anything to move to the United States someday,
probably to New York City. She was filled with questions regarding everything I
could tell her about what life was really like in the US.
Like most Europeans she seemed to
have absolutely no idea of just how large the US really was. She talked about a
two-week trip she planned to take there next year that would need to cover
impossible distances in that time frame. I tried to make her realize just how
ridiculous her planned itinerary was, and she eventually laughed at what she
then realized was her own naivety about the true size of the United States.
The more we spoke the more I found
her to be charming, energetic, intelligent, very attractive – and very young. I
was thirty-two, then. She told me that she was twenty-two. Her youthful energy
and exuberance made me feel positively ancient.
She then told me: “I want to go to
the Schoenbrunn Palace today and make some sketches of it. Have you been
there?”
“Many
times,” I said.
“Wonderful,” she positively gushed.
“Would you be my guide? I’ve never been there before.”
Well, this was getting interesting.
Was she really just looking for a little help? I was pretty old for there to be
any romantic interest on her part. Did she have some ulterior motive? Did she
think I would be able to somehow help get her to the US? Damn, I was getting so
suspicious in my old age! Maybe she’s just enjoying being with an American.
What
exciting story are you working on next?
A sequel to Trapped in a Hall of Mirrors titled Funhouse Mirrors, which follows the further adventures of my
protagonist, Stephen Connor, as he completes his assignment with the CIA
Station in Vienna, Austria. There Stephen will act as a case officer running an
agent inside the Bulgarian Embassy, and deal with a very important Russian
defector who brings with him information that could result in an all-out war
between the US and USSR. I’ve just finished the first draft of this book and am
now in the editing phase. I hope to have it released for publication this fall.
When did
you first consider yourself a writer?
I have been writing my entire life,
although “Trapped in a Hall of Mirrors” is my first work of fiction. During my
career working with the intelligence community and the Department of Defense, a
large part of my work involved writing reports. These reports had to
compellingly communicate complex information and issues in a very readable
form. When I left the classified world of work, and became a management
consultant, I still needed to write reports and recommendations that were
clear, concise, and convincing. Over the years I refined my ability to do so.
After retiring, I then translated these communication skills into the realm of
creating fiction. Of course, I have been a voracious reader of both fiction and
non-fiction books all of my life. This exposure to so many great writers
certainly helped me in transitioning into a fiction writer. The results have
been very gratifying. So far, all of the reviews of my first novel have been
very positive.
Do you write full-time? If so,
what’s your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do
you find time to write?
I write every weekday for at least
two hours. I average about 2,000 words a day.
Since I’ve retired, I also volunteer
my time with a variety of local organizations. I’m a Patient Volunteer with the
local Hospice, and visit Hospice patients in their homes. I’m the Firearms
Docent (guide) at a local museum and lead tours of visitors, students, and
teachers in the Firearms Gallery of the museum. I also volunteer at a local
hospital. Finally, I compete in Action Pistol and Rifle matches in three states
and have even shot in state championships. So, as you can see, I have a very
busy retired life!
What
would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I write sitting on my couch in my
living room in front of a 55” HDTV that’s connected to two different computers.
I have my feet up on an ottoman, and use a Bluetooth keyboard on my lap to
write and/or edit using these tools from this very comfortable position. It
works extremely well for me, and although I look lazy, I’m really quite
productive. (Note: I’ve included a picture of my writing using this setup)
As a
child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
An FBI agent. In college, I was a
pre-law major so that I could either become a lawyer or use my law degree as an
entree into the FBI. Alas, just like my novel’s protagonist, the Vietnam War
disrupted my plans, and so the both of us ended up working with the
intelligence community instead.
Anything
additional you want to share with the readers?
Life is wonderful if you are willing
to take risks to fully live it. I have certainly been blessed with luck and
good fortune, yet I also think that much of what I have accomplished has been
due to a sharp focus on goals and plain old hard work. If you really want
something, take the risk to actually work towards getting it and I think you
will be amazed at what you can accomplish.
If you want to be a writer, then
write! If you hate it, throw it away and write something else! You can only
really learn how to write by actually writing.
Links:
Thanks for visiting today, Michael!

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