“Espionage Books are Boring!”

Posted on May 18, 2015 in Author Thoughts ....

“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.

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