My special guest author today is John Casey who is chatting with me about his novel, Devolution.
John Casey grew up in New Hampshire and earned a Master of Arts from Florida State University in 1994, then began his flying career as an airlift and developmental test pilot. Casey left the cockpit in 2005 to work as an international affairs strategist and diplomat at the Pentagon, embassies in Germany and Ethiopia, and at Randolph Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas where he retired in 2015. Since then, he has focused on his writing. He is passionate about fitness, music, nature and the human spirit. His writing is inspired by the incredible spectrum of people, places and cultures he has experienced throughout his life.
Welcome, John. Please tell us about your current release.
Devolution is book one of The Devolution Trilogy, a psychological spy thriller series. Book two, titled Evolution, will be released in October 2020 followed by Revelation in 2021.
In Devolution, Michael Dolan is a stoic perfectionist and former special operations pilot working a staff job at the Pentagon who is approached by the CIA with an improbable request—to help prevent impending terrorist attacks in Europe. As his deep-cover role in OPERATION EXCISE evolves, Dolan finds that of all the demons he must prevail against, the most terrible are from within…
Devolution was nominated for the IBPA Benjamin Franklin Award and is available via Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, and other major booksellers in paperback, hardcover, and all digital formats. The audiobook will be released this summer on Audible and iTunes.
What inspired you to write this book?
I began writing Devolution while working as a Special Liaison to the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in 2013 and 2014. At the time the United States had an airbase in Ethiopia with a small fleet of Predator drones whose main mission was to track down terrorist and insurgent groups like Boko Haram, Al-Shabaab, and the Lord’s Resistance Army. My job was to work diplomatically with various parts of the government of Ethiopia (and other governments as necessary) to enable unrestricted and efficient operations at that base and in the airspace over northeast Africa. To grease the rails, so to speak. In addition, I had worked previously as a diplomat at the U.S. Embassy in Berlin, Germany for the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). I also held positions at the Pentagon and Randolph Air Force Base in San Antonio, TX as a political-military and international affairs strategist. I enjoyed all of these roles to a great degree.
I always knew I had a gift for writing, but I had never really tried to do anything creative with that gift. So, during my free time in Addis I began putting the plot together for a trilogy that would capture much of what I enjoyed about human intelligence and international affairs. But I didn’t want to put another cliché spy thriller series out there—I wanted it to be different. To be more. That’s where the psychological part comes in. The dark and labyrinthine inner workings of Michael Dolan’s mind are revealed as the books move along, adding to the stories’ tension, mystery, and depth in a way that is both captivating and unique.
Excerpt from Devolution:
The following passages come from Chapter Thirty-Seven of Devolution and put you right into the middle of the action, near the end of the book. In this scene the main character is injured and finds himself confronting terrorists without backup.
Dolan stood up and pulled up his right sleeve, gingerly. His shirt and jacket were soaked with blood and both the entry and exit wounds were bleeding heavily. As far as he could tell the bullet had travelled between the radius and ulna without breaking either. Another stroke of luck. He glanced back at the tunnel. Seeing nothing he took off his overcoat and ripped off the right sleeve of his dress shirt, wrapping and tying it tightly around his right arm. His chest wound wasn’t bleeding too badly so he left it alone, donned the jacket and walked back to the tunnel. He held his breath again, this time walking inside. No change—dead bad guy on the ground, two lifeless forms inside the car. The dead bad guy looked more like a boy, now that he thought about it. Then he realized this was the first time he’d killed someone without being thousands of feet away. He had been close enough to see the whites of his eyes as he pulled the trigger. Unlike his combat experience piloting the Spectre gunship it wasn’t so impersonal, clinical. Routine. The antithesis of that, actually. And without the right training, much more dangerous. He picked up the Beretta and walked back out. By the time he exited he was experiencing extreme vertigo. He bent over with his hands on his knees and after a few minutes of deep breathing he felt better. As quickly as the gas had worked on the Algerians, he surmised he’d only gotten a very small dose. Each moment he was feeling better, aside from the tremendous pain in his forearm and the thudding ache in his chest.
Dolan forced himself to get back in his zone, to kill off the adrenaline. It was difficult but he was able to do it as he walked the path back to the house, now holding the APX in his left hand. Instead of going back to his hiding spot he turned left inside the tree line and circled the yard, watching for movement through the backlit curtains covering each window. As he was circling the back yard he noticed motion in the far-right window, probably a bedroom. He continued around until reaching the far side of the property. There was a covered vehicle parked there at the edge of the yard. Dolan left the tree line and approached the vehicle, crouched. He knelt down and removed the valve stem covers on the passenger side tires and deflated both.
There were no windows on the garage side of the house. Unable to low crawl because of the pain, Dolan hunkered down and moved steadily until he was up against the outside wall, then slid along toward the back. He quickly moved along, ducking under two windows, until he was at the back door. Locked. He’d never shot left-handed before. This worried him a bit. But he had the element of surprise, and it will be tight quarters inside. He should be able to get close.
With one swift, powerful move Dolan kicked in the door, splinters of the frame spraying in the doorway. The he stopped, head down and listening. A rustling sound to the right. Dolan bolted down the hall to the door he was sure led to the room where he saw movement and kicked it in as well, immediately diving through the doorway with the Beretta elevated toward the middle of the room. The second he saw Martin standing to the left he fired off a volley of shots. Martin sprinted toward the door he’d just come through, firing as he ran. Dolan paused for a microsecond and decided he hadn’t been hit. But how could he have missed Martin? As he got up off the floor bursts of plaster erupted from the wall as Martin let loose a barrage of bullets through from the other side. They’re all rookies, thought Dolan. He immediately fell back to the floor, left arm with the Beretta trained on the doorway and waited. He heard clicks as Martin repeatedly pulled the trigger on his empty weapon, then retreating footsteps and a door slamming. Out of bullets. He popped up and grimaced as a bolt of pain coursed through his arm, then raced out and down the hall to a door at the end, to the garage. He noticed a few spots of blood on the floor. His or mine? He could hear the garage door opening, not sure how much longer he could continue. He was gasping, in pain and out of energy.
Gritting his teeth, Dolan flattened his back against the wall, turned the doorknob and pulled the door open. Nothing. He held out the Beretta and took one stride into the doorway only to see Martin in his peripheral vision on the right swinging a two-by-four over his head. There was a wet, deep red stain on his shirt. Ah, got him in the shoulder. Dolan made a move to get out of the way and squeezed off a round toward him just as Martin hit his gun hand. The bullet struck the floor and ricocheted through the wall as the Beretta was knocked free. Dolan immediately leaned to his right and landed a punishing roundhouse kick to Martin’s kidney and he doubled over. He followed with an axe kick, his right heel dropping swiftly to impact the top of his head and Martin dropped to his knees.
Dolan turned to look for the APX. Seeing it about three meters away he noticed the panel truck, bright green with ‘Baumservice Berlin’ painted on the side. Berlin Tree Service. As he reached for the handgun he became lightheaded, almost falling. He tried to grab the handle, but his fingers weren’t working. His hand was swelling. Broken metatarsals… Martin then got up behind him, picked up the two-by-four and swung it like a baseball bat, hitting Dolan squarely on the side of the head and he crumpled to the floor on top of the gun.
What exciting story are you working on next?
I am currently writing Evolution, book two of The Devolution Trilogy. It is notable that the title of each book is not necessarily indicative of what happens with the plot but instead, of the state of mind of the main character. Michael Dolan finds himself caught in a mental downward spiral in the first book, but this is reversed in the sequel. The third book, Revelation, finds Dolan at the top of his game, which is imperative as he and his black ops CIA team will be challenged as they have never been before.
In light of the current pandemic, it bears mentioning that I began writing book two of the trilogy long before the terms ‘Coronavirus’ and ‘COVID-19’ were introduced into our lexicon. In Evolution, terrorists have developed a bioweapon and launched it in the Middle East. Thousands are dying from a terrible, hemorrhagic fever-inducing virus that makes Ebola look like the common cold. The virus is rare but real and incurable. The death rate is upwards of 90 percent. It is only coincidence that months later we find ourselves with a pandemic on our hands and are trying to deal with it globally.
In the book, Dolan works with his CIA black ops team to track the terrorists down and prevent more attacks. Since the storyline begins in the fall of 2021, what is happening to us right now is recent history in Evolution. My goal has been to fold some of the current pandemic’s events and statistics into the story, and as I finish I’ve challenged myself further with trying to predict what the final outcomes of the COVID-19 epidemic will be, as it is highly relevant to the storyline.
Evolution will be released (including audiobook) in October 2020.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
Ironically, it was not Devolution that compelled me to become a serious writer. In fact, I wrote the first fifteen or so chapters and ended up setting it aside for five years. I picked it up again and finished it late in 2019, the year it was published. You see, I was not happy with the depth of the characters in the book; I felt it needed to be better. So I decided to try my hand in writing poetry. I figured that if I could train myself to write good, emotional poetry, it would enable me to produce the kind of novel that I expected of myself.
What came of that was my first published book, Raw Thoughts. It is a compelling and mindful fusion of poetry and black and white film photography with an underlying philosophy that compels the reader to examine their thoughts, and the way they think, with the goal of improving both. For this project I teamed with an old high school friend and professional photographer from Keene, NH, Scott Hussey. Raw Thoughts was nominated for the National Book award, and select poetry from the book was nominated for the Pushcart Prize.
With the publication of Raw Thoughts in April 2019 I realized I had more or less accomplished my original goal and decided to pick Devolution back up and to finish it. This is when I first considered myself a writer.
Do you write full-time? If so, what’s your workday like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
I do not write full-time, though I wish that I could. I currently work for Conduent, a global business software solutions company. My job with them is to help lead a team in the standardization and continuous improvement of the methodologies and processes by which our developers and testers build software products—very boring stuff for most people. But it is a daily challenge and has real implications for the future of the company. And I am able to work remotely, which means I do not have to commute, and I have some additional flexibility with my working hours. This allows me to dedicate time to my writing that I wouldn’t otherwise have.
All that said, I still do most of my writing on the weekend. I typically get up early on Saturdays and Sundays, take my laptop and some coffee to the back patio and immerse myself in another world for a few hours.
What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I don’t know if this is a quirk or not, but others have commented that my writing style tends to be somewhat ‘conversational’, that is, I write in a way that approximates how people naturally speak. I’ve found that this makes it somewhat easier to read, almost as if the reader’s brain has less work to do because it’s almost expecting the next word that comes along.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I made a decision in seventh grade that I was going to attend the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, and then to become a pilot. And that is what I did. I subsequently earned a Master of Arts from Florida State University in International Affairs and went on to be a combat tactical airlift and later, a developmental test pilot. Halfway through my military career is when I decided to switch gears and utilize my advanced degree in diplomatic and politico-military affairs roles.
Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
One of the common questions I get when I do readings and events is, did I write myself at all into Devolution or Evolution, or at least write scenes as they may have actually occurred during my career? The answer is, while there is a lot of my own knowledge and experience that contributed to these novels, the story lines, scenes, and characters are all fictional. I think it’s fair to say there are elements of scenes and characters that come directly from myself, things that happened to me, and from people I have worked with and known; however I would describe them more as ‘artistic variations of reality’.
Thanks for joining me today, John.