I have heard good things about espionage and thriller author David Stone so when I was offered the chance to interview him about his new book, The Skorpion Directive, I jumped at the chance.
David Stone is not his real name – he writes under a pseudonym because of his past as an intelligence agent. And it is that experience, and that old adage of "write what you know," that makes his book compelling reading. So most of my questions centered around that topic.
The Skorpion Directive is Stone's fourth book featuring character Micah Dalton, a CIA cleaner. This time he is trying to determine why a friend is dead and why the CIA seems inclined to pin the death on him.
How long have you worked in the intelligence community and are you still in that career? What were the highs and lows in that job?
I was active in the intelligence field for 23 years, if we include my time in the military. I’m retired now, and writing spy stories. What were the highs and lows? Details would still be classified, but essentially I was proud to be a part of an operation that provided weapons and cash to an insurgency in Central America that was fighting a Marxist takeover of that country by a man who was a devoted admirer of Che Guevara.
I admit that every time I see some brainless college kid wearing a Che Guevara tee-shirt I’d like to take him to the villages where Che lived and worked and get the survivors to explain to this kid just precisely what kind of psychopathic murdering sadistic cold-blooded man he really was.
So, being part of the force that fought and prevailed against what we called “The Children of Che” was a privilege I will always be grateful for. Other than that, we saved a lot of young combat soldiers by being able to tell them what was probably waiting for them in the dead brush at the head of the trail.
I also discovered that tracers work both ways and that the most dangerous thing on the battlefield is an officer with a map and that nothing brightens your day better than getting shot at and missed.
What do you think you bring to novels about intelligence work that others who have not worked in that capacity may lack?
Knowing what it feels like to get shot at and see people die around you and how men and women behave in that kind of situation, is a great help to the work. It’s one thing to write well, and entirely another to write convincingly.
Regarding authenticity, which may lie at the core of your question, Le Carré had real field experience and he writes brilliantly, although I personally loathe his politics. But does his “authenticity” derive from his experience, or from his gifts and his dedication to working hard at the craft?
His experience has led him into some grievous follies, chief among them is his belief that there is no qualitative or moral distinction between Totalitarian Russia and the United Kingdom. This is childish and shallow and glib. But Dear God, the man can write a better story than any other espionage writer I have ever read. So now where are we?
In the book I saw a few references to other writers – John Le Carré comes to mind. Were those intended as shout outs or put downs or just reference points with no particular added meaning?
I’m not sure what a “shout out” is, but if you mean do I mention him in order to be complimentary within the pages of one of my books, I hope not. When he’s mentioned by Deacon Cather in The Skorpion Directive, the words are Deacon Cather’s words and the reference to the phrase “Moscow Rules” is a true one. Le Carré was actually the author of that phrase.
In many ways Mister Le Carré created the language of espionage fiction (my apologies to Joseph Conrad and Graham Greene) and then it was adopted by the real life players in that field, much as some of the Cosa Nostra rituals described by Mario Puzo or filmed by Coppola became adopted by real-life Mafiosi.
So when you ask if this was a “shout out” or a “put down” or “just reference points with no particular added meaning” — something I think no good writer would ever allow into his work — I think we can agree that “none of the above” would be a good answer. Generally, if I’m referring to another writer inside the book, I believe I would not do so unless the reference were an admiring one, and consistent with the character speaking, or in harmony with the needs of the passage I am trying to perfect.
What is your goal with your novels?
To tell a good story, hold the reader’s attention from page one until the close, and do it without trickery or condescension. My goal is to speak straight across the table to the reader as if we were good friends, sharing a bottle of chilled Pinot Grigio on a balcony in Siena.
My books tell the truth about the internal landscape and moral challenges presented by covert combat, as felt and lived by men such as Micah Dalton, Deacon Cather, Allessio Brancati, and women such as Mandy Pownall — one of my favorite female characters of all time (can’t believe I created her) — but my characters do so in ways that are not excessively lurid or, worse yet, utterly implausible.
And I make sure the book has humor. We had it ourselves, in the field, and it was often the most valuable thing we carried.
If I mention an historical fact or the details of a weapon system or the techniques of small-unit combat, I make damn sure I know what I’m talking about. I am utterly obsessed by details.
5. Would you suggest readers start with your first book or this one?
Start with this one, The Skorpion Directive, and then seek out the others. They do follow a progression, but each one was designed to stand alone.
I read what I perceived as both criticisms of the war on terror language (page 22) and, later, comments that seemed to be insulting the current administration. Do those comments reflect your own opinion?
Well, most of the men and women I know who are still in Intelligence work share my views of the current state of the war on terror, so I guess it may be said that my own opinion is supported by people in a position to know what they’re talking about, which you will either find persuasive, or not persuasive.
I will admit that when I attempt to comprehend the inner soul and the mental operations of people in outfits such as the John Adams Project or the ACLU or Code Pink — or those despicable thugs who show up at military funerals carrying homophobic placards and celebrating the death of a soldier — I find myself at a loss. I cannot begin to understand how they have reached the positions they have taken. In regards to the ACLU and the Gitmo opponents and the people in the “current administration,” I accept and honestly believe that these are good-hearted and well-intentioned people of solid principles. But they are also dead bang wrong.
What they’re doing is giving aid and comfort to our most implacable enemies, and through their mildness and delicacy and their self-imposed state of “dhimmitude” they are creating an escalation of Islamic terror, and I sincerely wish they would stop. Everyone I know who is currently at the sharp end of this existential war thinks so too. If this belief is reflected in my books, well, as we used to say in Guanacaste Province, “there it is”.
What are you working on next?
The fifth in the Micah Dalton series, called REQUIEM IN PRAGUE.