From Battlefield to Bestseller: An Interview with Military Thriller Author Ian A. O’Connor
Ian A. O’Connor is the author of a number of military-centered thrillers, and as a retired USAF colonel, and a recognized expert in the field of national security management, he is the man for the job. His work is a combination of history and fiction that has brought his novels plenty of accolades and recognition.
His novel, Point Option, was the 2022 winner of the prestigious Silver Falchion Award for the year’s “Best Thriller.” The book is a time-travel thriller that unfolds over a tense, six-day period aboard the aircraft carrier Lyndon Baines Johnson, on patrol with its Strike Group in the Mediterranean Sea. It is described as “jam-packed with more twists and turns than an out-of-control fighter jet.”
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. He stays close to what he knows and, in return, gives his readers a fascinating look into a world full of war, aviation, adventure, and suspense.
Now, he is set to release his latest work, The Pegasus Directive, a fictional look into who really killed President John F. Kennedy. The book will be out this Summer.
Thank you for taking the time to talk with Fiction Horizon. We’re excited to get to know you and all about your new book, The Pegasus Directive.
FH: Tell us about your new thriller. Why did you choose to write about this particular event in history?
IAN: 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 an audience exists for a novel that offers readers a credible alternative to the lone gunman theory that is highly believable and presented as a fictional political thriller.
FH: You’re a retired air colonel with over 30 years in Air Force technology. Were you able to use any of this experience in writing this book?
IAN: 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, they are more 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 ends up being 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.
FH: Tell us about the book’s hero, Andrew St. James. And his protégé, Justin Scott.
IAN: Both men are continuing characters in several of my stories. Andrew St. James is introduced to readers in my first book, The Twilight of the Day, while Justin Scott is a solo protagonist in two of my stories, The Seventh Seal and The Barbarossa Covenant. He will again be the protagonist in my next thriller, The Masada Option. Justin is a favorite among my readers.
FH: Who are the villains?
IAN: The villains in The Pegasus Directive are clearly the Soviet leaders of the time – Nikita Khrushchev, Leonid Brezhnev, Soviet ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin, and lastly, a fictitious Soviet defector, Major General Alexsei Zakharov, who happens to be the mastermind behind the Kennedy assassination.
FH: The Pegasus Directive is said to take readers on a compelling tour of the world in the 1960s and ’70s. Tell us about this.
IAN: The Pegasus Directive covers the most tumultuous decades of the Cold War period. Back in the 60s and 70s, America and the Soviet Union were locked in a power struggle for world dominance, and the stakes were extraordinarily high. The idea of nuclear conflict erupting at any time was most real, and the whole world lived on tenterhooks waiting for the proverbial axe to fall. Those were very anxious times, which goes a long way in enhancing and ratcheting up the drama and tension in my political thriller.
FH: There have been a number of books written about JFK’s assassination. What makes yours stand out as a compelling read?
IAN: Most of the books written on the subject are “conspiracy theory” stories that expound on the premise that Lee Harvey Oswald was hired by certain mysterious, shadowy forces – like the Mafia or certain New Orleans mobsters – to kill President Kennedy over some perceived slight. Or even more fanciful: The FBI collaborated with the Secret Service and the CIA to see him gone. All of these hypotheses have been rejected by the public over the intervening decades.
They believe there’s more to this story. The most important takeaway from The Pegasus Directive is that, first and foremost, it’s a novel, a political thriller meant to entertain while providing the reader with a very believable plot as to the who, why, and how the Kennedy assassination really happened. And the book was timed to deliberately be released this year, 2023, which coincides with the 60th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination. I don’t think my readers will be disappointed.
FH: The book sounds like it would make a great movie! Who would you like to see play this out on film? Who are some authors or filmmakers you look up to?
IAN: This is something most authors daydream about – and I confess I’m no different. Except I’ve come to a different conclusion when asked that question. My thought is that Hollywood chose an unknown actor to play the protagonist, Andrew St. James, but a man who is a recognized professional among the directors and producers. Think for a moment of Sean Connery, the first James Bond. He was a complete unknown in 1962 when “Doctor No” was released. Or, how about Alec Baldwin playing the part of Jack Ryan in “The Hunt for Red October.” And then, most recently: Alan Ritchson, a heretofore unknown actor who rocks with the audience as Jack Reacher in Lee Child’s wildly popular Amazon Prime Video series.
FH: What are you reading right now?
IAN: I’m reading the latest thriller from one of my favorite authors – Brad Meltzer. It’s The Nazi Conspiracy: The Plot to Kill Roosevelt, Stalin, and Churchill. The book was released in January, and it’s a riveting story based on a true incident towards the end of WWII. Brad never fails to deliver a top-notch story.
FH: What can we expect from you next?
IAN: I’m currently in 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 had 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 an 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.