An Interview with Tj O’Connor Author of The Consultant


tj-oconnor-285Welcome TJ, please tell our readers a bit about yourself. Where you’re from, where you live? Do you have one of those day-jobs?

Ah, finally, someone’s asking about me and not Hunter. He’s always the center of attention ever since I put him on paper. I better answer quickly before he finds out it’s not all about him this time. So, The Consultant is my tenth novel written, and my fifth published one. A few of the early ones I never tried to publish so I’m thrilled with the past few years getting nearly every one of them out. I live in Winchester, Virginia, a wonderful historic town nestled in the northern Shenandoah Valley between the Blue Ridge and Appalachian Plateau Mountains. Before calling this my home, I’ve lived around—born in Worcester, Massachusetts, raised in the Hudson Valley in New York, and lived a dozen places including Turkey, Greece, and parts unknown.

Day jobs? How about Day-lives? I’ve been in the anti-terrorism business nearly my entirely life. Some twenty-six years ago, I left life as a military federal agent with the OSI and joined a private consulting firm. After working my way up to be its Chief Operating Officer, I went out on my own as an independent consultant in anti-terrorism and security where I’ve practiced for the past fourteen years. Today, I consult primarily with a Washington DC think tank on Department of Homeland Security anti-terrorism programs. It’s not a job, it’s an adventure!

Of all that I’ve done over my past near-forty years, I’ve always been fortunate to have worked with the finest people anyone has a right to wish for. Not all of them, mind you, but more than my fair share. They have made me who I am and without them, I dare say I’d be nothing and my books would never have been written or published.

How long have you been writing?

Ah … counting on fingers and toes (at least twice each), since I was in the fifth grade. I first started penning out short stories and plays for my friends—an escape from a rough childhood— and it became an obsession. I wrote my first novel right out of high school. Don’t ask—it sucked! But at least I reached “The End.” From there, I went on to pen three more novels over the years as I built a career and traveled the world a bit. It wasn’t until about fifteen years ago that I got serious about trying to be published. It took a couple years writing and rewriting and hunting for an agent, but I found my path just five years ago thanks to my brilliant and lovely agent, Kimberley Cameron—one of those “finest people” I mentioned above. Thank you, Kimberley!

Briefly describe your writing day.

My writing day is not what you might think. Unless you’re John Grisham or maybe a retired somebody penning novels, most of us have careers that make a writing day more like a “writing opportunity.”

So, having said that, I write whenever life allows. But I do write every day. Often I’m writing wee-early hours before I begin my consulting work–you know, the stuff that pays the bills. I control my own schedule so grabbing an hour during the day to plot outline or editing a chapter or two isn’t unusual. But I’m truly careful about stealing too much time as my phone rings and emails fly and paying clients want me on their mission. Then sometimes after I cook dinner for the family I can return to it, too. Oh yeah, every weekend—both days—at least ten to sixteen hours.

Keep in mind, writing isn’t just the novels. Most authors will tell you that writing includes editing, blogs, summaries, emails, blog tours, promotion tours such as this one, jotting outlines and summaries for a future work (the mood strikes at weird times)!

Then there is the obsession in me. I sleep little and my mind is always on work or my books. So at all hours of the night when I should be sleeping, I’m sitting up and banging out an email to myself about plot ideas, new stories, problems with blogs … it’s like an addiction except there’s no recovery program.

Tell us about your latest release?

consultant-500h-correctedI think Hunter’s ears just perked up. The first of the Jonathan Hunter Thriller series has been a labor of love for a few years. I wrote what I thought was his first adventure fourteen years ago but shelved it after it became too complicated and demanding. After two more starts and stops, I finally achieved its current story and poof, Oceanview Publishing picked it up last spring.

The Consultant follows—yes, Jonathan Hunter—as he returns home from years estranged from his brother. He’s been overseas as a terrorism operative with the government and hasn’t spoken to Kevin for nearly two decades. When he returns to Winchester, Virginia to mend fences, Kevin is murdered in front of him. Big mistake. Hunter embarks on his mission—find the killer and get revenge. Along the way, he gets embroiled in a mastermind’s terror plot to ignite another Middle East war. Here’s what my web site says:

A Rogue terrorism consultant.

His dead brother.

A beautiful Persian refugee.

Iran. Russian.

Terror. Fear. Prejudice.

America’s heading back to war. Someone has to stop it.

Jonathan Hunter, a rogue CIA consultant AWOL from his Middle East assignment, returns home to witness his brother Kevin’s horrific murder. For fifteen years, Hunter and Kevin were silent—until Kevin uttered his final words … Khalifah … Not Them … Maya …

Launched into the hunt for Kevin’s killer, Hunter stumbles into a series of horrifying terrorist attacks—all at the hands of Middle Eastern refugees—that spark a backlash across the country and threaten another war. In the shadows, Hunter’s mentor, the omnipotent Oscar LaRue, is playing a dangerous game with Russian Intelligence. All the while, neither Hunter nor LaRue understand that a new threat—the Iranian threat—has entered the game. As stakes rise, two shadowy players are one-step ahead of Hunter—Khalifah, a dangerous and terrorist mastermind, and Caine, a nomadic assassin who only dances with the highest bidder. As the attacks escalate and the country drifts toward another Middle East war, innocent refugees become the victims between the terrorists and the terrorized. Prejudice, hate, and fear vent everywhere—is this who we’ve become? Before the country explodes, Hunter must find Khalifah, learn the target of the next terrorist attack, and pray he’s in time to stop it.

Nothing is easy for Hunter, especially since he’s a rogue CIA consultant who prefers to operate by the seat of his pants instead of following orders. Eh, maybe there’s a little of me in him.

Are your characters entirely fictitious or have you borrowed from real world people you know?

Officially, “Names … are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, businesses, locales, or persons living or dead, is entirely coincidental.”

Now, under a polygraph, I might tell you that each of my characters is a Frankenstein of people I’ve met along my life’s path. The good and the bad. None are 100% someone. Nope. I swear. Still, there are a couple that are 98% … and I have their permissions by the way! Take one of the lead characters, the omnipotent Oscar LaRue—CIA spymaster and Hunter’s mentor. Oscar is about 98 proof my former friend and mentor, Wally K. Wally was one of the last OSS—Office of Strategic Services—operatives from World War II, and the former deputy director of the CIA. He mentored me in business and life and was a weekly lunch companion for nearly 23 years. We spent many of those lunches and dinners talking books—my books. I lost Wally to age and a bad heart three years ago. The Consultant was his favorite story out of all of them and literally on his deathbed, he made me promise to get it finished and published. I did and the book is dedicated to him. Somewhere, Wally is barking orders and grousing that Oscar LaRue doesn’t have enough pages.

Would you share one detail from your current release with readers that they might not find in the book?

Sure … a little bait here … Jonathan Hunter isn’t a great judge in character. Now, after you read the book, you’ll understand why.

Who has been the most difficult character for you to write? (Any of your books)

Without question, it was Oscar LaRue. As I’ve said earlier, Oscar is Wally K. The hardest part of writing Oscar was that I lost him in mid-book. I’d written two other drafts of The Consultant, and we—he and I—were editing the story when he died. For eighteen months, I languished with finishing that draft. Not surprisingly, I sent it to my agent, the aforementioned Kimberley Cameron, who politely said, “Ah, no. It’s too long, too dense, and too complicated. You’re lost between a mystery and a thriller—pick one.” After stepping back for a month, she was not only right, but I knew why I got lost. I was trying to stay closer to Wally’s vision than the story. This entire situation is captured in another of my blogs, “Dying to Kill My Darlings … Kill ‘Em All!” published on my web site— in November 2016. At that time, The Consultant was titled, Double Effect (a future title of one of Hunter’s coming stories). It was very painful and difficult to consider tackling Kimberley’s issues with my novel, so I engaged an amazing editor—Terri B.— who straightened me out wonderfully! And while I hate to say it, she even improved on Oscar LaRue. I think Wally would be thrilled with the final product.

If you could be one of your characters for a day which character would it be? Why?

Oh, hell, I sort of am already. Jonathan Hunter, of course. Now, Hunter is only a small part of me, but he’s the fun part. He’s much more daring and experienced than I ever was, but our hearts are the same and our adventurism is identical. No, I was never a CIA operative or a Green Beret—those things came from another close friend of mine. But Hunter is a rogue and a loner, more or less, and he is daring and flies by the seat of his pants a lot. Many have suggested I am those things. I will not respond to these accusations.

What’s next?

Easy—Provocateur. I just wrote “The End” on Hunter’s first sequel, Provocateur. It’s with Kimberley as I write this. In this second Jonathan Hunter thriller, Hunter takes on Cuban Intelligence, a rogue G2 operative trying to infiltrate the US to raise havoc, and all the while save the life of a Cuban spy seeking asylum for his family. The story begins in Midtown Manhattan and stretches to Nuevo Laredo and parts south into Mexico. There’s Vespa chases (yes, not car chases) hotel gunfights over lunch, slavers in Tamaulipas, Mexico, and a dark stalker trying to rekindle his deadly affinity for Hunter. Ewwww . . .  I get tingles just thinking of it!

This past week, I began work on the Jonathan Hunter Thriller book III. I was gonna take a month off to do some yard work, but hey, forget that.

All writers are readers. Are there any particular authors that have influenced how you write and, if so, how have they influenced you?

Oh my, so many thoughts and so little space. Yes, many. But let me briefly tell you about the biggies. First and foremost, there’s the brilliant James Grady. James Grady wrote a little book called Six Days of the Condor in 1974. I was a teenager and that book convinced me to be a writer and an intelligence operative. I have done both. Oh, and Six Days of the Condor went on to be a blockbuster book and movie (Three Days of the Condor with Robert Redford and Faye Dunaway). Also, Christopher Reich—another amazing author whose books have been in my quiver for years.

Here’s what’s most amazing about these two authors. First, they were famous before I even thought of publishing. In James’ case, he was before I was out of high school and with Christopher, he was nailing best sellers when I was still building my career. But the real amazing thing is … both gentlemen amazingly agreed to blurb The Consultant! Now, to many, that doesn’t seem like a big deal, right? Wrong. I’ve published four paranormal murder mysteries. I loved writing them but thrillers have always been my passion. As my debut thriller, The Consultant, was sold, I reached out to James and Christopher—never believing for a moment they’d say yes—and asked them if they’d blurb me. To my amazement, both did. Having James Grady on the cover of The Consultant was truly a dream come true—begun in 1974. Then, having Christopher Reich join him was unbelievable. I dare say not many authors can brag that their heroes played such an important real-life role in their debuts. For me, I’ve had my mentor, Wally K., and James and Christopher, too.

Thank you all, gentlemen. I’ll try not to let you down.

If you could have dinner with any writer living or dead, who would it be and why?

Well, James Grady and I have a promise to do just that in the near future when he’s not travelling so much. Then, I hope to do the same with Christopher Reich. But those are Thank Yous more than anything. I’d also love to spend a couple hours with Alistair MacLean and hear about the makings of some of the greatest thrillers of the 20th century like When Eight Bells Toll, Where Eagles Dare, The Guns of Navarone, etc. Oh, and I absolutely want to have a drink and meal with Nelson DeMille! One, he’s a military man and two, a New Yorker. Me too!

And if you guys are reading this, name the place and I’ll buy! (Just remember, your royalty checks are bigger than mine … much bigger.)

If you could ask your favorite author a question what would it be?

Will you adopt me?

Do you have a secret talent readers would be surprised by?

A secret talent? Well, I can navigate the world on my Harley motorcycle and nearly never get hit by a car. I’m pretty good with firearms, studied the Martial Arts for years (long ago), and can fake speaking three languages pretty well (I can’t, but if you’re not paying attention, it passes). So no, I’m pretty much who I appear to be. Unless you count cooking. I’m a fantastic cook and, well, modest about it, too.

Your favorite go to drink or food when the world goes crazy!

The world is crazy—period. Always. But … I’m in the anti-terrorism business. So there are times my stress level hits a maximum redline. I like good bourbon and a steak. I also love to cook Greek food and drink good wine. If you were expecting spring water with a twist and a salad, you might not like me much.

What is the one question you never get ask at interviews, but wish you did? Ask and answer it.

Well, how about “Tj, what are you going to do with that two-million dollar advance?

Answer: Plop it into the bank, semi-retire (I’ll have to work until I die just because it’s who I am), and start writing fulltime. I have at least two books a year in me. I want to return and write more murder mysteries, might even include a paranormal mystery for my old pal Oliver Tucker of my Dying series. But Hunter gets a book a year until I’m dry and I have four—count ‘em—four other one-page outlines of other books I want to write. One in particular is done in draft one but it needs a total rewrite. I wrote it as a pseudo-paranormal mystery but want to convert it to a traditional mystery. If I had the time and didn’t have to worry about silly things like mortgages, vet bills, grandchildren’s birthdays, and putting food on the table—bourbon and steak are not burdens, they are necessities), then I could write dawn till dusk and love every moment of it.

The question I want answered is, “Hey, James and Christopher, how do I get that two-million dollar advance?

Tj O’Connor is the author of five published novels—four paranormal mysteries and his latest thriller, The Consultant, the first of The Jonathan Hunter Thriller series.

Tj began writing in grade school and continued to dabble through his career as a military federal agent with the Air Force OSI, where he was an anti-terrorism agent and investigator, and through his years as a senior executive and international security consultant. During that time, he penned nine novels but began his publishing career with Dying to Know, his first paranormal mystery, in 2014. Thereafter, he published two sequels—Dying for the Past and Dying to Tell, and a standalone paranormal mystery, New Sins for Old ScoresDying to Know won the 2015 Gold Medal from the Independent Publishers Book Awards (IPPY) for mysteries and it was a Finalist for both a 2015 Silver Falchion Award and the 2014 Foreword Reviews’ INDIEFAB Mystery Book of the Year.

The Consultant is Tj’s first published thriller—his true passion—hitting the shelves in May 2018 from Oceanview Publishing. Presently, he’s finishing a sequel, Provocateur, and an unnamed Book III in his Jonathan Hunter Thriller series. Tj hopes Provocateur and Book III will see the marketplace in 2019 and 2020.

Aside from writing, Tj is an independent security consultant in Northern Virginia, specializing in anti-terrorism, investigations, and threat analysis—life experiences that drive his novels. With his former life as a government agent and years as a consultant, he has lived and worked around the world in places like Greece, Turkey, Italy, Germany, the United Kingdom, and throughout the Americas—among others.

Tj was born in Worcester, Massachusetts, and was raised in New York’s Hudson Valley. His loves include writing, reading, cooking, Harley Davidson motorcycles, and hanging with his lab companions, Tobias and Annie Rose—and of course, his wife! They continue to live in Virginia surrounded by their Labs, adult children, and a growing brood of grandchildren.