An interview with TJ O’Connor

How long have you been a writer?

I first began writing creatively in the fifth grade—I’m 52 now—with short stories and later became the school newspaper editor when I was only in the 8th Grade. I continued running the paper through high school graduation. During my high school days, I wrote short stories, essays, editorials on school events, and other pieces for the paper. After graduating, I joined the military to get my college education. I continued writing and tried to pen my first novel—over and over I tried. I finally finished that first one, The Trial of Trinity, in 1989. I was thrilled when I typed “The End.” And after reading it, I realized it was 400 pages of dribble, poor grammar, confusing plot twists, and clichés. So now, while I always say, “I’ve written seven novels,” I don’t count Trinity. It sits in a box somewhere in my basement to keep me humble.

How influential have your past experiences been on your novels?

My past is my writing. Growing up in humble roots drove me to take on as much adventure and challenge as I could. Over the years, I’ve been a military policeman and part of a SWAT Team. I’ve been a government agent who worked all manner of crimes and eventually specialized in anti-terrorism. During the first Gulf War, I had assignments inside the area of operations and led teams of other agents on significant anti-terrorism operations. I’ve also been a senior executive with an international security consulting firm working all types of crime: threats, kidnaps, etc.

Today I work as an independent security consultant working investigations, designing and analyzing anti-terrorism programs, and acting as a senior consultant for a government contractor providing anti-terrorism expertise for the Department of Homeland Security.

Over the years, I’ve lived and worked throughout the U.S., Central and South America, Greece, Turkey, Italy, Germany, Spain, the United Kingdom, and other places that will remain nameless.

So, with thirty-plus years behind me and more to come, my characters and stories come from my past. My killers are from a few I’ve known and investigated. My spies and terrorists come from memory. Heroes and supporting characters are parts of the finest people I’ve had the privilege to work with over the years. And even places I write about are rooted in those in which I’ve lived, worked, and shared real-life adventures.

How did this title take a supernatural twist?

Real life is how. No, I’m not dead and never have been. But, as I recently blogged, while I was working anti-terrorism in Greece, I had a series of rather unnerving adventures. Shortly afterwards, I began having a recurring nightmare that I was killed during an operation and came back to help my wife and partner find my murderers. That nightmare plagued me for more than twenty years. A short time ago, after getting serious about selling one of my three thrillers I’d written, Dying to Know was born.

One evening while watching a science channel show about hauntings, I told my adult daughters about the nightmare. My eldest daughter—a fan of supernatural movies and books—commanded I write my nightmare as a novel—a dead detective solving his own case. I was skeptical at first but she cited vampire detectives, teenage wizards, dozens of T.V. shows, including several reality ghost chasing shows, and two of my favorite old-time movies—Topper and The Thin Man. (For those of you who are scratching your head, think Patrick Swayze in Ghost meets Richard Castle of T.V. fame.) She convinced me.

Who is your favorite mystery sleuth and why?

Fictionally, it would have to be the Hardy Boys—Frank and Joe. They were silly stories as I see them now, but they helped me through a tough childhood and gave me the desire to be a cop, adventurer, and writer. In modern fiction, probably either Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone or Nelson DeMille’s John Corey. Forever in first place through all my life has been Hercule Poirot who needs no introduction.

What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

That’s easy—I’m living proof. Don’t give up.

I’ve been writing since I was a kid. I wanted to be published in my twenties but was too busy with a career chasing bad guys and laying the groundwork for my novels. I didn’t get serious about publishing until I was 43. After four novels, I finally landed an incredible agent—and not for my thrillers, either! It was Dying to Know, a book I never thought I’d write or that would sell. Dying to Know is my fourth book of seven and it’s the first to be published. It will arrive on my door sometime the week of my 53rd birthday.

In the words of Kevin Costner from The Untouchables, “Never stop, never stop fighting till the fight is done” — okay, he said “fight” and not “write.” How about John Paul Jones, “I have not yet begun to write.” No, no, that was “fight” too. But you get the idea.

Tj O’Connor’s debut novel, Dying to Know, will be published by Midnight Ink January 2014. To learn more about Tj or Dying to Know check out Tj’s website at http://tjoconnor.com/.