“Espionage Books are Boring!”
I make no claim to being qualified to provide expert advice on fiction writing style and techniques. I have no intention of doing that. I do have some thoughts on the writing process, self-publishing, and just being a guy who wants to write books. I follow intelligence and current as a profession. Every week or so, I am going to post a few paragraphs here in these areas.
Many years ago, I decided I wanted to write a spy novel. More accurately, a true espionage story, although I am not sure how that is defined.
I thought it would be cool. I worked for the Central Intelligence Agency for eight years, and in corporate intelligence at Motorola for sixteen more; I figured I had some knowledge — perhaps credibility. Many years later, that decision ended up being Secret Wars: An Espionage Story.
When I was in the CIA, in the daily chaos of intelligence and espionage, I was struck by the quality and character of the people I met. I wanted to make certain this was one of the key themes in Secret Wars. My other mantra while writing was to be as accurate as I could without going to prison.
There are many fantastic thriller authors (Thor, Clancy, Flynn, Silva, Childs, Greaney, etc) who have made exciting characters. They are assassins. Black ops specialists. Anti-heros. I love them. But I didn’t work with anyone like that, and I was in covert action. The closest I got was supporting the many military and para-military personnel working against the Soviets in Afghanistan, terrorism, narco-traffickers, etc.
The problem, as my CIA friends reminded me: “Espionage books are boring.”
No one wants to read about endless meetings, report writing, or balancing the cash box. I decided to be more psychological than physical. Internal intelligence world balanced with the external current event. Mind more than gadgets. Invisible people needing to deal with a certain level of ethical complexity.
I didn’t want to just copy a current trend. What would I like to write that I think people would want to read?
I am not immune to current tastes in thriller fiction, or the writer’s ego to create something people would like (and want to buy). So I worked on a hybrid, what I call ‘historical espionage fiction.” My structure combines historical foreign policy events, with a dose of espionage (John Le Carre – the espionage writer – read him), and Tom Clancy-type thriller action.
The feedback has been better than I hoped. Feedback shows the use of memorable events hit a nerve with readers. The realism keeps the attention of the reader despite the lack of constant action found in other books in the genre. And I can build an espionage story connecting them.
Maybe I found a niche. I know that I like to write it.