Exclusive Interview With Author "Ian A. O’Conner"
Ian A. O’Connor is the author of Point Option – A Military themed thriller which was the 2022 winner of the prestigious Silver Falchion Award for the year’s “Best Thriller.” The award was presented to Ian at the 15th Annual Nashville Writer’s Conference.
He is a retired USAF colonel, and a recognized expert in the field of national security management. This background serves him well as the foundation for his novels. He is the author of The Seventh Seal and The Barbarossa Covenant, both “Justin Scott Thrillers. His co-authored book SCRAPPY: A Memoir of a Fighter Pilot in Korea and Vietnam, published by McFarland Publishing Company, which remains a favorite of the international military aviation community. It recounts the amazing career of Colonel Howard “Scrappy” Johnson, the 1958 Collier Trophy winner for the year’s most meritorious flight. His thriller, The Twilight of the Day, a harrowing tale of Vietnam pilot-POWs, was awarded a bronze medal by the Military Writers Society of America in 2018. Copies of both aforementioned books are found in the United States Naval Academy and United States Air Force Academy libraries.
His new novel, The Pegasus Directive, focuses on who really killed President John F. Kennedy and all the fiendish machinations behind the assassination. It will be out this Summer.
Tell us a bit about your background.
I was born in Liverpool, England. When I was ten, the family immigrated first to Canada, and then the United States. I received my B.A. degree in Political Science from Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas. After graduation, I was commissioned a second lieutenant in the U. S. Air Force and retired as a colonel after a 28-year career. I’m also a graduate of the Industrial College of the Armed Forces, and the Air War College. I am a licensed commercial pilot rated to fly both single and multi-engine aircraft. I was recognized as an expert in the field of national security management during my time in the Air Force.
This background served me well in writing several of my books, among them, Point Option, the 2022 winner of the prestigious Silver Falchion Award for the year’s “Best Thriller.” Kirkus Reviews wrote of The Seventh Seal and The Barbarossa Covenant, both “Justin Scott Thrillers” -- “The end result fits nicely into the Tom Clancy-meets-Dan Brown canon.”
In 2018 I was awarded a bronze medal by the Military Writers Society of America for The Twilight of the Day, a harrowing tale of ten pilot-POWs who were sold to a third country mere hours before the peace treaty was signed to the end of the Vietnam War. The reason? All had backgrounds in nuclear physics. Copies of this thriller can be found in the libraries of both the United States Naval Academy and the United States Air Force. I’m an associate member of Mystery Writers of America, and live on Florida’s Treasure Coast with my wife, Candice.
What made you take the jump from the military to writing?
I saw that transition as being a natural progression. For example, in the military, as one acquires more knowledge and expertise in a certain field, such as intelligence, the more they are called upon to find solutions to current problems. That requires learning how to ferret out sources and methods to uncover the correct answer, oftentimes found in the most unlikely of places, and usually ended up more like something found in the world of fiction. Lessons I learned during those years stuck, so that when I retired, I was ready to create stories as thrilling as the true-life adventures I had been exposed to in uniform.
Tell us about your book, The Pegasus Directive.
I feel this is my best book yet, mainly because 70% of people surveyed year after year consistently believe Lee Harvey Oswald did not act alone in killing President Kennedy. That singular fact told me that there exists an audience for a novel that offers readers a credible alternative to the lone gunman theory that is not only highly believable, but is also presented as a fictional political thriller.
Why did you choose this particular event in history to write about?
Year after year, the world’s three most frequently asked questions continue to be:
1. Who killed President John F. Kennedy?
2. Why was he killed?
3. How was it accomplished?
In my new thriller, The Pegasus Directive, I wrote that those answers came in May 1972 from a Soviet spymaster seeking sanctuary at the Canadian Embassy in Rome. He told the ambassador at the time he wished to defect to the United States in exchange for perishable information he deemed critical to America’s continued well-being. There was just one caveat: He would only surrender to an American agent he knew solely by the code name Pegasus. What he revealed to Pegasus in trade for asylum was deemed so explosive by President Nixon, that it has remained among the world’s most closely guarded secrets—until now.
How much of the book is fiction, compared to historical realism?
I would say that 20% of THE PEGASUS FILE is fiction wrapped inside the 85% of the story which is historical fact. This book is my accounting of the who, how, and why President Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963. But the reader must keep in mind that it’s just a political thriller written solely to entertain. However, should readers find themselves thinking at times, “I remember that” about some “fact” that is wholly made-up, then I’ve done my job. It is something I try hard to accomplish with all of my thrillers.
Share with us a little bit of your journey in writing this.
My first published book took three years from the time I finished the manuscript to seeing it in print. I remember the sense of pride and accomplishment I felt as I held a real book with my name on the cover for the very first time. Then other books followed in intervals of several years. More often than not I spend about two years researching my material, then another year just writing the story. Then comes the self-editing, revising, more self-editing, and, lastly, the professional edit. Only then am I satisfied the work is publisher-ready. But writing The Pegasus Directive proved to be an entirely different animal.
That journey started in 1974 with a manuscript titled: A Decade of Darkness. I sent the story to a literary agent in NYC who returned my manuscript after holding it for several months, telling me he thought the story was riveting but that no publisher would consider it during the highly polarized political climate that existed at the time. I reluctantly put it aside and moved on to other stories. However, I would resurrect it every few years, work on polishing the story, conclude the time was still not right, and write other thrillers. That was until last year, when I decided that 2023, the 60th anniversary year of President Kennedy’s assassination was the right time to finally get my thriller into print.
Who are some of your favorite writers who have influenced your work?
Four authors immediately come to mind who influenced my early career. First and foremost, was Ian Fleming. I was a young teenager when I discovered a copy of his Casino Royale in my father’s home
library. That story set the groundwork for where I fantasized a writing career could go. Another was Frederick Forsyth, author of Day of the Jackal. That thriller is still a reader’s favorite fifty years later. A third author is Jeffrey Archer who wrote the international smash-hit, Kane and Abel. And lastly, there is Ken Follett, with his gripping tale, Eye of the Needle. These men all knew how to tell a riveting story, and I found myself hooked on the genre I wanted to write in. Now fast-forward to the present day. Brad Meltzer is at the top of my list with his 2023 just-published historical thriller, The Nazi Conspiracy. What writer would leave Lee Child and his larger-than-life Jack Reacher protagonist off of any shortlist of current influential writers? And then there’s Tess Gerritsen, the really gifted writer of Listen to Me, the latest book in her hit-series Rizzoli & Isles. I’ve been fortunate to have met each of them at different writers’ conferences over the years, and all gave generously of their time to encourage me and many others to just stick with it.
Thriller writers are simply the best, especially when it comes to supporting fellow travelers!
What are you working on now?
I’m currently into the first draft of my next Justin Scott thriller, The Masada Option. It’s an ambitious undertaking, and like all of my other stories, it has taken me several years of research before I was ready to commit pen to paper—or should I say fingertips to keyboard. The story is set in the near-future, as an elite group of renegade Israeli naval officers and sailors accomplish a-thought-to-be impossible undertaking: The successful hijacking of a British Trident submarine armed with enough firepower to destroy most of the world.
Their reason? Israel has been abandoned by all of the Western Powers, including the United States. These men are the modern-day followers of the soldiers who sacrificed themselves to hold off the several Roman legions in 73 A.D. at the table-topped fortress of Masada. Their do or die mission now is to destroy Israel’s enemies in a preemptive nuclear strike. With the Doomsday Clock ticking down, the government of Israel reaches out to Justin Scott to help thwart an imminent global disaster.
For more information, please visit: https://ianaoconnor.com