The Next Big Thing: What I’m Working on Next

Cliff Garstang, founder of my beloved writers group, SWAG, and the author of In an Uncharted Country and What the Zhang Boys Know, tagged me in a blog chain called “The Next Big Thing.” This is not quite the same as other blog chains because you, as a writer, get to focus on a piece of your work. In a blog post you answer ten questions about a published work or a work in progress, then you “tag” two to five other writers, and they tag two to five other writers, and you get the picture. I think it’s a clever way to network with other writers and get a glimpse of their work, and you get to brag on yourself a bit.

Click here for the post from Cliff, wherein he tagged me.

And here we go!

What is the working title of your book?

A War of Deception

The title is based on a quote from Sun Tzu’s The Art of War: “All warfare is based on deception.” The Art of War is a book I’ve read or listened to many, many times, mostly on my way into work every morning in the last few years before I retired. The Art of War is as close to a bible as any book is for me.

Where did the idea come from?

It’s inspired by the real-life FBI mole named Robert Hanssen but with a slightly different twist. I’ve always been fascinated by the people who keep secrets and the people who sell them and for what reasons, and this encompasses all of that.

What genre does your book fall under?

I’d like to think of it as falling under the genre so masterfully done by John le Carre and Alan Furst, historical thriller.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Stana Katic (and that’s because everybody picks Angelina Jolie) and Viggo Mortensen for the two main characters, Mai Fisher and Alexei Bukharin. Since Hanssen has already been portrayed in the movie Breach by Chris Cooper, I don’t see why he couldn’t reprise the fictional Hanssen, who in my book is named Theodore Holt. For the sadistic chief Russian spy in the U.S., Ivan Sanel, I’d call on a Russian actor, Sergey Bezrukov. Bezrukov acts mainly in Russian films and happens to be named after the poet Sergey Esenin and portrayed him in a movie about his life.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

What should have been a simple exchange of information reveals not only a possible mole in the FBI but also an almost-forgotten event from someone’s past, which has fostered a desire for long-denied revenge.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I would like to have it represented by an agency. Barring that, I’ll look at small, independent presses, with self-publishing as a last resort.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

The actual first draft took exactly thirty days because I dashed it out for National Novel Writing Month a few years ago. The current, revised draft was two additional years in the making, consisting of two major edits by me, a run through my critique group, then a final edit incorporating the critique group’s suggestions.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I may be way out of line in this comparison–in fact, I’m sure it’s just my own wishful thinking–but le Carre’s A Perfect Spy, which is about a British spy who defects to then Czechoslovakia, or Furst’s Blood of Victory, which is about a Russian emigre who pretends to be pro-Nazi while he’s secretly planning to blow up Romanian oil fields for the British Secret Service.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

As the Robert Hanssen story unfolded, it became obvious to me his motivations for selling secrets to the Russians were very different from Aldridge Ames, the CIA employee who passed secrets in almost the same timeframe. In fact, the Russians used Ames to verify Hanssen’s information and vice versa. Unlike the venal Ames, Hanssen saw his game as an intellectual exercise where he could show everyone how smart he was and a way at getting back at bosses he deemed less capable than he rather than a monetary boon. He took money, of course, but far less than Ames. Hanssen’s words upon his capture intrigued me. He smiled and said, “What took you so long?” I knew there was a story there, and I knew I wanted to put my own spin on it.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

I don’t rely a lot on gadgets and spy gear, as you might see in a contemporary James Bond or standard thriller. I prefer to focus on old-fashioned tradecraft, tried and true methods of espionage, and show how they are still germane in a world of spy satellites and remote-controlled drones. Strong, female characters are important to me as well, so I have a protagonist, Mai Fisher, who can take care of herself–and others, also.

And now, those I have tagged:

Jennie Coughlin, author of Thrown Out: Stories From Exeter and the upcoming All That is Necessary. Her post will appear on December 28.