Thursday, February 5, 2015

Q&A with TJ O'Connor

This week, we sat down with TJ O'Connor, author of the Gumshoe Ghost mysteries. His latest book, Dying for the Past, was released last month.

Midnight Ink: How long have you been writing?
TJ O'Connor: I first began writing when I was in the 5th grade—that was about 1972. Holy crap, has it been that long ago? I wrote short stories and plays in class for my friends. I was caught one day by my teacher and he read one out loud—first to embarrass me. But everyone liked it and he ended up being a big supporter of mine all the way through high school.

MI: What influence have other authors had on your writing?
TJO: More than you could imagine. I first began to read ferociously in the fifth grade as an escape from a tough home life. It started with Mystery of the Witches' Bridge by Barbee Oliver Carleton, and then Gordon D. Shirreffs’ Mystery of the Haunted Mine. From there, I began reading every Hardy Boys mystery I could find. By the time I finished my third book, I knew I wanted to write. As I grew older and read more and more genres, authors like Agatha Christie, Robert Ludlum, Nelson DeMille, Raymond Chandler, and a long list of others influenced my love of mystery and thrillers. But it was a book by James Grady called Six Days of the Condor—a story about a CIA researcher being hunted by his own people—that made lead me into my profession in intelligence and anti-terrorism. From there, between my profession and my passion for writing, my entire life thus far played out. All thanks to some amazing authors.

MI: If you weren’t a writer, what would you be doing?
TJO: What I’m doing already—I’m an international security consultant specializing in anti-terrorism, investigations, and security operations.

MI: If you have a job outside of writing, what is it?
TJO: I’m an international security consultant specializing in anti-terrorism, investigations, and security operations. That, and a family of five kids, four kid-spouses, five grandkids, three Labs, and a host of others who appear in my house routinely for meals and movie-night.

MI: What is/are your favorite thing/s to do when you’re not writing or working?
TJO: That’s tough since I work and write collectively about 90 hours a week. But if I can steal some time here and there, I am an avid Harley Davidson rider, spend time with my grandkids and Labs, and love old movies. In fact, the old movies keep me up all hours of the night while I write notes and ideas for my books.

MI: Who is your favorite mystery sleuth and why?
TJO: There are way too many to say favorite. So I’ll name those I’ve enjoyed the most over the years. (In no order of importance) In my youth were the Hardy Boys. DeMille’s John Corey; Christie’s Poirot; Earl Biggers’ Charlie Chan; Anthony Horowitz’s Christopher Foyle; and who could forget Scooby and Shaggy!

MI: Do you have a favorite murder case from a book (either yours or another author’s)?
TJO: Actually, two of my unpublished works, New Sins for Old Scores and Double Effect are my favorites. New Sins for Old Scores is a historical murder mystery with a paranormal twist. The murders of a WWII OSS Operative in 1944 and a Virginia BCI agent in 2014 connect the two stories—they collide with a historical subplot. In Double Effect, the detective-brother of Jonathan Hunter, an Iraq War covert operative, is murdered while tracking down a local street gang with ties to Middle Eastern terrorists.  Hunter returns to get answers about his estranged brother and lands smack in the middle of a series of murders and corrupt cops.

I love these two cases because so much of them comes from a Frankenstein soup of my life’s work. I stole bits and pieces of cases I worked on and cases my mentor worked on— he’s one of the last World War II OSS Operatives still alive.

MI: What was your inspiration for the Gumshoe Ghost mysteries?
TJO: A nightmare that plagued me for over twenty years. In the early 1990s, I was a government anti-terrorism agent serving overseas. While in Greece, I ran dozens of anti-terrorism operations. When I returned home, I started having a recurring nightmare that I was killed on an operation and returned as a spirit to help my partner solve my killing. Over twenty-years later, after telling my daughter about the nightmare, she encouraged me to write the story. I did—but only for them. Oddly enough, it turned out good—a fun, fast-paced murder mystery with a paranormal twist. And poof—I found an agent and Midnight Ink picked up a three-book series centered on this nightmare.

MI: Tell us about Tuck.
TJO: Tuck is about one-half me (not the dead part though) and one-half a mixture of all the things I think I wish I were. He’s a funny, sometimes sarcastic, but a driven detective who is killed in the opening pages of Dying to Know. He returns to solve his own crime, and in the process, learns that he has a very unique skill—he can connect with other murder victims form the past and commune with the living to solve their cases. He is a champion of cold cases—dead cold—and he helps the victims who’d been forgotten find a little cold-justice. He loves his beautiful, brilliant history professor wife, Angela—Angel—whom knows he’s around and works as his partner with the living—often times begrudgingly. And he’s got Hercule, his black Lab companion who is Angel’s protector and Tuck’s conduit to other characters in the stories. Tuck was never a student of history, but his stories always have a historical subplot and Tuck learns as he goes—both about the historical events surrounding the murders and about himself and the new murder cases. He’s finding out in Dying for the Past that his own family roots—he was raised in foster care and never knew his family—are filled with criminals, spies, vagabonds, and spirits.

MI: Do you have a pet? Tell us about him/her.
TJO: I raise pure-bred Labs. Until a couple months ago, I had three Labs—Mosby, Maggie Mae,  and Toby. On Veteran’s Day, we lost Mos. He was 14 years and 3 months old. It broke my heart and continues to be a painful chasm. All three of my Labs—but Mosby the most—are the most gentle, intelligence, and loving creatures I’ve ever known; and perhaps ever will.

MI: If you don’t have a pet, do you have a favorite animal?
TJO: Our Labs allow us to have a self-centered cat who stalks them without mercy.

MI:What food could you live off of for the rest of your life?
TJO: I’m the chef in the family and love to cook. So whatever I can find in my pantry and frig I can whip into something pretty damn good. But if the zombies or Martians invaded us and I had a supply of peanut M & M’s, I could find the strength to fight back.

MI: Do you have a favorite recipe?
TJO: Anything Greek, French, or Italian. Like Greek tiropita or Coq au Vin.

MI: What is your favorite part about being an Inker?
TJO: Actually, it’s not about being an Inker so much as the privilege and luck of simply having my first of eight novels published by Midnight Ink. They gave me a start that I hope will flourish into many published novels to come. If that never happens, I’ll be thankful for Midnight Ink for allowing me to share Tuck, Hercule, and Angel’s cases with a few fans.  

Pick up your copies of Dying for the Past online and in bookstores now!

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