Tj O’Connor is the 2015 Gold Medal Winner of the Independent Publishers Book Awards (IPPY) for mysteries and the author of Dying To Know, Dying For The Past, and Dying To Tell. Tj is an international security consultant 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. He was raised in New York’s Hudson Valley and lives with his wife and Lab companions in Virginia where they raised five children. Dying to Know is also a 2015 Bronze Medal winner for the 2015 Reader’s Favorite Book Review Awards, a Finalist for both the 2015 Silver Falchion Award and the Foreword Review’s 2014 INDIEFAB Book of the Year Award.
About the Book
Dying to Tell is the third installment in my mystery series, The Gumshoe Ghost—let me say here that I don’t care for that moniker but my publisher bestowed it. Dying to Tell follows Oliver “Tuck” Tucker, a dead detective—yes, dead—who solves modern murder cases that have a historical subplot and a paranormal twist. In Dying to Tell, Tuck is on the case of a murdered reclusive banker whose secrets from Cairo, Egypt in World War II are coming out. When his stash of stolen Egyptian antiquities are stolen, archaeologists, spies, and killers descend on small-town Winchester. Tuck must sort out the good guys from the bad guys. During the case, he uncovers the remnants of a famous—and real-life—Nazi spy operation that infiltrated the Allies in Cairo during WWII—Operation Salaam. The past collides with the present as Tuck’s long-dead grandfather, Ollie Tucker, his namesake, arrives with his own agenda. While chasing a killer, Tuck must come to terms with his failing marriage to Professor Angel Tucker. After two years with Tuck as a dead detective and dead husband, Angel’s struggling with guilt and the reality that Tuck is back among the living but not truly one of them—but she has a lot of life yet to live.
Why don’t you begin by telling us a little about your writing background?
I’ve written eight novels and I’m working on my ninth. Dying to Know, the first in the current series, was the fourth book I penned and the first to be published. Dying to Tell, the recent release, was actually the seventh book written. I wrote my first novel right out of high school, and it was horrible! But, over the years, I continued to write and refine my work and style. About ten years ago, I got serious about publishing and really focused on the craft. Dying to Know was published just after I turned 53.
Over the years, I focused on writing thrillers. Of course, that was because of my profession as an anti-terrorism agent and security consultant. Dying to Know was my first murder mystery and I wrote it for my daughter, Jean. The story was based on a 20 year nightmare I had after leaving he first Gulf War. In the dream, I was killed during an operation and returned to hunt down my killer. Jean is a fan of mysteries and paranormal stories and encouraged me to write it as a murder mystery—sort of Castle (Nathan Fillion) meets Ghost (Patrick Swayze), or for the more mature fans, Topper meets the Thin Man. I wrote the book and it came out so well I sent it out to a couple prospective agents. I landed my first agent, the amazing Kimberley Cameron, and soon thereafter, landed my first book contract. Currently, I’m working on a thriller about domestic terrorism.
Do you have another job besides writing?
Yes, I do… and it’s what pays the bills! I’m a security consultant specializing in anti-terrorism and risk consulting. I consult on projects analyzing security and anti-terrorism initiatives, perform investigations, and run security assessments. I’ve been in the anti-terrorism and investigations field my entire life. I’m a former OSI agent and I’ve had the fortune to have lived and worked in places most people only read about in books. I’ve also had the privilege of having known some extraordinary people.
I devoured books as a kid and still do. I first began reading for pleasure in the fifth grade with Mystery of the Witches Bridge by Barbee Oliver Carleton, then Gordon Shirreffs’ Mystery of the Haunted Mine. I was hooked. I began consuming the Hardy Boys and everything I could get my hands on. By the seventh grade, I was reading Agatha Christie and Raymond Chandler (bear in mind, this was the early seventies!). Then I graduated to modern thrillers by Robert Ludlum and Alistair McLean. But the turning point for me was James Grady’s Six Days of the Condor. I knew I wanted to be a writer in the fifth grade and used to write plays and short stories for school and my friends. But after reading Six Days of the Condor, I also knew I wanted to work in intelligence and security—which I ended up making a career.
Did your book require a lot of research?
Yes, research in several forms. First, many of my story plots, characters, and even story methods come from my own background. Over the years, I’ve chased terrorists and spies, investigated murderers and other criminals, run security operations and investigations in several countries, and been exposed to some fascinating world events. I draw on those experiences constantly. But, I also due pure research, such as historical events that I use for my subplots and characters. For instance, when I have a foreign character, I research speech patterns, habits, customs, etc. If I have Angel Tucker, a university professor, discussing something in the story or using her knowledge to solve the crime (which is in every story), then I have to research the events to make sure she sounds credible. It’s a big part of the story preparation and one of my favorite things.
What type of writer are you—the one who experiences before writing, like Hemingway, or the one who mostly daydreams and fantasizes?
Without question, I experience first—except for being a dead detective, I’m fortunate not to have experienced that yet. But I also daydream a little about “what if” plots and story vignettes. Commuting to work or on business travel, I always ponder my stories and have some of my best ideas and edits done while driving or late at night. I am constantly making notes and sketching out ideas for both my current project and future ones.
As a writer, what scares you the most?
Not having time to write as much as I wish to. I would love to write full time. Unfortunately, four dogs, a wife, five kids, and five grandchildren would not understand. Neither would my mortgage company and Jeep dealership. I have no visions (yet) of being Nelson DeMille or James Grady and making a living from writing, so I’ll have to slog it out in the trenches like the rest of America! Working 50-60 hours a week makes it a struggle to write as much as I want. I tend to write early morning before work, lunchtime, after work, and all weekend. (As I’m the primary dog-person in the house and I have the bulk of the cooking and such—all of it I love, too.) But that makes time for writing a struggle sometimes.
What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
Write. Edit. Write. Write. Write. Don’t stop. Don’t quit. It’s not an easy world and you don’t get ahead wishing. You have to work and you cannot give up. I think Billy Crystal said in a movie once, “Writers write.” Absolutely. No one can teach you. No one can do it for you. Writing is not a team sport. If you don’t commit to it, if you don’t work hard at it, you won’t succeed.
Do you have a website/blog where readers may learn more about you and your work?
Do you have another book on the works? Would you like to tell readers about your current or future projects?
My current work in progress follows Jon Hunter—a government counterterrorism operative who is called home by his long-estranged brother after 20 years of silence. He arrives in time to witness his detective-brother’s murder and the beginnings of a series of terrorist attacks in the Washington area. Hunter has to face personal demons as he learns his brother has been married—to an Iranian refugee—for years and he never knew. As he hunts for the killer, Hunter is being stalked by Caine—a shadowy mercenary—who’s trying to keep him away from some secrets swirling around his brother’s killing. Meanwhile, a terror plot is building, and while the FBI and CIA are scrambling to stop the looming attacks, Hunter is falling into the plot left and right. The only real question for Hunter is—who is really responsible for his brother’s murder, the good guys or the bad guys? And, are they one and the same?
New Sins for Old Scores: Kimberley Cameron, my amazing agent, is shopping this paranormal murder mystery as we speak. I wrote New Sins for Old Scores a couple years ago while writing Tuck’s mystery series. Here’s a brief summary:
Murder, like history, often repeats itself. And when it does, it’s the worst kind of murder.
Detective Richard Jax was never good at history. After years as a cop, he was about to get the lesson of his life.
As Jax lay dying after being gunned down at an old inn while on a case, he’s saved by Captain Patrick “Trick” McCall—the ghost of a World War II OSS agent—who has been waiting since 1944 for a chance to solve his own murder. Soon, Jax is a suspect in a string of murders—murders linked to smuggling refugees out of the Middle East—a plot similar to the World War II OSS operation that brought scientists out of war-torn Europe. With the aid of a beautiful and intelligent historian, Dr. Alex Vouros, Jax and Trick unravel a seventy year-old plot that began with Trick’s murder in 1944. Could the World War II mastermind, code named Harriet, be alive and up to old games? Is history repeating itself?
Together, they hunt for the link between their pasts—confronted by some of Washington’s elite and one provocative, alluring French Underground agent, Abrielle Chanoux. Somewhere in Trick’s memories is a traitor. That traitor killed him. That traitor is killing again.
Who framed Jax and who wants Trick’s secret to remain secret? The answer may be, who doesn’t?
I hope you see these on the shelf soon!