Ian A. O’Connor, author of The Wrong Road Home, is a retired USAF colonel who has held several senior military leadership positions in the field of national security management. In his page-turning thriller, The Barbarossa Covenant, released in July 2015, his expertise in neutralizing nuclear, biological, and chemical warfare threats against the United States provides the backdrop for the story’s compelling reality and electrifying sense of urgency.
He is also the author of The Twilight of The Day. This debut novel garnered high praise in a lengthy review in the Military Times for its realism and chilling story line. It was soon followed with the release of The Seventh Seal by Winterwolf Publishing Company, a thriller that introduced readers to retired FBI agent Justin Scott. Both were re-released worldwide in 2015 in Kindle and Softcover formats.
Ian co-authored SCRAPPY: A Memoir of a U.S. Fighter Pilot published by McFarland & Company to rave reviews in the military aviation community. He is a member of Mystery Writers of America, and lives in South Florida with his wife, Candice, where he is hard at work writing the next Justin Scott thriller, The Masada Option, due to be released in late 2016.
Congratulations on the release of your latest book, The Wrong Road Home. When did you start writing and what got you into thrillers?
Always an avid reader, I finally decided the time had come to learn the fine art of fiction writing. First, I immersed myself in college level writing courses, and then attended many writers’ workshops and seminars around the country honing my craft under the tutelage of some of the thriller genre’s most successful authors—David Morrell, Steve Berry, and James W. Hall, to name a few. Now a retired USAF colonel, I had held senior leadership positions in the critical field of national security management, and it is my expertise in countering nuclear, biological and chemical warfare threats facing the nation that adds such a sense of reality and urgency to my thrillers; The Barbarossa Covenant, The Seventh Seal, The Twilight of the Day, and The Last Grandmaster.
Although The Wrong Road Home technically is not a thriller, all of the elements found in that genre actually came into play here. For example, I have a protagonist (Dr. Desmond Donahue) who finds himself confronting an insurmountable problem, then takes the necessary (albeit illegal) steps to tackle the problem. At first, he fails, and for a while sees no pathway going forward, but after a brief period of despair, he regroups and plans an alternate strategy to achieve his goal. After discovering an alternative — and criminal — road to success, he is confronted many years later with a sudden and unexpected dramatic turn of events and his life spirals out of control. But out of the darkness that follows, he discovers redemption in an unexpected place. As with all thrillers, it is imperative that the story’s ending satisfies the reader, and from the feedback I have received, I can say, “Mission accomplished.”
What is your book about?
This is the story of a charlatan who successfully masqueraded as a practicing surgeon for twenty years before being uncovered. The book is based on the true-life story of a phony doctor who was the talk of Miami two decades ago. At his trial, it was revealed that “Doctor” Desmond Donahue possessed only a Chicago School System GED certificate and a handful of forged diplomas. Yet he was a good enough surgeon to fool the medical community in two countries for the better part of two decades. The story behind the story is just “how” he managed to pull off such a feat is the glue that holds the reader’s attention from the first page to the last.
What was your inspiration for it?
The inspiration came from the fact that I knew Desmond Donahue for years, never for a moment suspecting that anything was amiss in his life. Indeed, he was a guest at my wedding. His world exploded in a front page expose in a Sunday edition of the Miami Herald in 1994, and after declining appearances for Oprah and Bill O’Reilly’s show, First Edition, he asked me to write his story.
What type of challenges did you face while writing this book?
My biggest challenge was making sure that Desmond was telling me the truth as he recounted his life’s story. During our many months together, I kept detailed notes and even some recordings. Oftentimes I would deliberately go back to question something he had said weeks earlier, just to see if his memory had changed. Never once did Desmond falter. His memory of events from decades earlier remained true to his earlier recounting. There were times it was obvious that certain events were excruciatingly painful and acutely embarrassing for him to divulge, but he did so with a quiet humility and, yes, even a sense of grace.
Did your book require a lot of research?
Luckily, Desmond Donahue possessed a photographic memory for names, dates, places, and events. He had also kept numerous newspaper clippings from over many years, articles printed in Irish newspapers, items from papers in Maine and Boston, as well as the headline story published in The Miami Herald. I did not need to travel to Ireland or England in order to get a feeling for either country or their people as I wrote about Desmond’s youth because I, too, had lived in both countries while growing up. In fact, that is one of the reasons Desmond asked me to write his story.
How do you keep your narrative exciting?
This is probably the greatest challenge facing any writer, and one where so many fail. All of us have read books where we acknowledge the author has shown a mastery of the English language but the narrative falls flat. It’s that certain something which I describe as reading about grass growing. Boring narrative oftentimes will rears its ugly head within a book’s first page or two. Grabbing my reader’s undivided attention from the get go is a must, so the opening paragraphs must compel the reader to want to continue turning pages.
I have a few trusted confidantes I will give chapters to read as I finish them, and ask for honest feedback. These folks will tell me when I come up short, and sometimes are brutally honest in their assessments of how and where I have become bogged down and lose a readers interest. So after a little pouting, I get to work revising the offending paragraphs — or sometimes it’s as much as several pages — and if I find them to be unsalvageable, then I discard and press on. I find this something crucial to do during the writing process, because the last thing a writer wants is to have produced a three-hundred page book only to discover readers liken the narrative to learning how grass grows.
Do you have a website or blog where readers can find out more about your work?
Readers should visit my website, www.ianaoconnor.com where they can learn more about me, my books currently in print, and my upcoming projects. I’ve tried to include a lot of information about who I am and what makes me tick, including some newspaper interviews, book reviews, and photos taken at various book signing events. I do try to keep the content fresh, so I invite readers to visit often. And there is a link to my email address for folks to ask me questions, (which I will answer) or to sing hymns of praise for my books, (which I really love to hear!) or anything else that comes to mind.
Where is your book available?
The Wrong Road Home is available at bookstores everywhere, plus copies (the more the better!) can be purchased through Amazon Books for both print and eBook editions.
What is your advice for aspiring authors?
The same advice I was given many years ago from many sources. Master your craft thoroughly before jumping into the deep end of the pool. You do this by attending writing classes—preferably at the college level—and sign up for as many workshops as you can. Here you will meet fellow travelers, and if you are lucky enough to become part of a talented group, the result will be a huge improvement in your wring skills. You will also hone your prowess in the critical aspect of story development. And you should go to writers’ conferences and continue to write, write, and write. And as you are working on your first novel, get honest feedback. Not praise from a spouse or significant other, but honest critiques from readers you trust, and professional editors. And unlike my Desmond Donahue who thought there were shortcuts in life — there aren’t. The same goes for those who choose the writer’s life. And above all else, remember this: practice makes perfect!
Author photo and cover art provided by publicist with permission from the author.