An Interview with Matthew Palmer
In this stand-alone Sam Trainor, the former top South Asia expert in the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research, has found a job in the private sector. He now works as an analyst for the consulting firm of Argus Systems where he stumbles upon an intelligence anomaly. He realizes that this transcript of a phone conversation about upending the political balance between India and Pakistan is misinformation that could cause an all out war between these nuclear countries. Sam must race against a ticking clock and find the terrorists who have stolen a Pakistani nuclear warhead to detonate in Mumbai, India.
Elise Cooper: How did your father influence you?
Matthew Palmer: I learned how to write a novel from my dad as we sat around the dinner table. He would explain how to tell a story, construct a character, shape a story arc, and keep readers engaged. My brother and I learned from pop to create tension by taking an ordinary person and putting them in extraordinary circumstances. But it is hard to do that with the same guy twice, which is why my brother and I write stand-alones instead of a series.
EC: Did you consult with him while writing?
MP: My dad was tremendously helpful and supportive. He got a huge kick from his kids writing. One of the great tragedies is that he passed away before the publication date of my first book. One of the most rewarding days of my life was the debut of my first book, American Mission. I walked into a Barnes & Noble and saw on the ‘new-release’ shelf, my father’s final book, my book, and my brother’s book, all lined up alphabetically alongside each other. This was a great moment.
EC: Why did you want to write about the Pakistan-India conflict?
MP: There have been three wars in the last thirty-five years between India and Pakistan. It was one thing when they were fractious neighbors, but it’s quite another when they’re fractious and nuclear-armed neighbors. There’s great concern about where a conflict between these nuclear-armed neighbors could lead. The stakes are higher than ever before, and the consequences are greater for the area and the entire world. The need to find accommodation and resolution is more pressing than at any point in history. That’s one theme of Secrets of State.
EC: What do you want the readers to get out of the book?
MP: To see this threat and to think of the morality and ethical issues including how far should we go to prevent terrorists from gaining access to Pakistan’s nuclear program. I also want to change how diplomats are viewed. Diplomats are frustrated for getting the short end of the stick in popular culture. We are never heroes and are cast as unsympathetic bureaucrats. I hope Americans see that diplomats have gotten a bum rap over the years. It is a dangerous job for the most junior officer to the most senior. If you walk into the State Department you will see on both sides of the wall engraved names of US diplomats who lost their lives in the line of duty. It is a long list.
EC: What about your next book?
MP: With my third book, The Wolf of Sarajevo, I’m returning to my roots. It’s set in the Balkans where I spent a good chunk of my career. My very first tour was in Belgrade at the height of the Bosnian War. This is a place dear to my heart. The hero is an American diplomat trying to find who is responsible for this new looming conflict.
EC: Rumor has it you root for your hometown teams. True?
MP: I bleed red, white, blue, and green. I am a fan of Boston teams, although when they are not playing I will root for the other league’s team, the Nationals. What I am proud of is that I was able to instill in my children the love of the Red Sox.