“I began my professional life as a historian (Ph.D.: Vanderbilt University, M.A.: University of
Toronto; B.A.: University of Notre Dame), where I taught European History at Iowa State
University for a year before launching into a career as an intelligence officer. (I’m not sure this is crazy, but I spent 35 years working for the CIA.) Most of that time was spent in Washington, but I also had tours in Berlin, Ottawa, Baghdad, and London. Now, as
a semi-retiree I am enjoying the next stage as a writer of mysteries and thrillers that combine my love of history and literature, and memories of a great career.” ~ Bill Rapp
What’s the first book you remember reading that had a huge impact on you? How did that story affect you? How do you think it shaped your desire to be a writer?
Henry James’s The American. It captured that confrontation between the Old World and the New, a confrontation that was inevitable given our close cultural and historical ties but differing aspirations. But the story also displayed something unique and special that the New World has to offer the Old one. I think that thought lies at the heart of the Cold War Spy Series.
Did you try your hand at poetry as a teenager or use stick figures to illustrate your comic books? Tell us about your early writing efforts.
My earliest writing efforts came from my first career as a historian. I published two academic articles and a dissertation.
What’s your new book/work in progress about? What inspired you to write it?
The Hapsburg Variation places its protagonist, a young American CIA officer, in 1955 Vienna at the heart of the unfolding intelligence and diplomatic conflicts that that marked the Cold War, especially in Europe. I have also been fascinated by the world that disappeared in 1919 after WWI—especially the collapse of empires in central and eastern Europe—and the world that continues to evolve.
What do you think the hardest emotion to elicit from a reader is? Why?
Surprise. It’s difficult because I know where things are heading—but only occasionally what will happen—yet have to avoid giving too much away in the lead up.
Is there something you’ve experienced that’s affected your view of life? Tell us about it and how it changed you.
I was stationed in Berlin for the fall of the Wall. It taught me to be prepared for the unexpected, to look for the signs when change is coming.
What’s the best thing about writing?
Finishing, because of the sense of achievement and accomplishment
What’s the worst thing about writing?
The revisions. You think you’ve finished when you get to the end, but you have to go back and start all over again.
Due to oppressive taxation you have to move into a tiny house. What are the ten books you aren’t giving up?
Raymond Chandler, The Lady in the Lake; Ross Macdonald, The Underground Man; Henry
James, The American; Saul Bellow, The Adventures of Augie March; Charles McCarry, Tears of Autumn and The Last Supper; Eric Ambler, A Coffin for Dimitrios; Mark Twain, Huckleberry Finn; Johann Goethe, Faust; F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby; Thomas Mann, The Buddenbrooks, and Dashell Hammet, The Maltese Falcon. (Sorry, I couldn’t hold it to just ten.)
If you had to describe your protagonist as a weather system, what would they be?
Tornadoes, because despite their awful destructive power the impact is more isolated. This
probably reflects the nature of my protagonist as well; he will not change the system but he can have a real impact on the issues he works.
What detail in your writing do you obsess over the most? Character names? Locations? Description? Dialogue? Research?
Descriptions. It’s a challenge for a writer to determine whether he’s giving too much or not
enough for the reader’s imagination.
Is your protagonist more likely to go insane or end up in prison?
He’d end up in prison first. He’s too committed to his principles to go insane.
What’s your protagonist’s greatest fear? Why?
Betrayal, because loyalty is invaluable in his work.
What genre trope are you most tired of seeing in fiction? Why?
Cozies and spy assassins, because they do not reflect the realities of the world they allegedly inhabit.
What strategies do you use to keep your books fresh? Particularly if you write a series character, how do you keep them consistent without retelling the same content book to book?
That’s where having a Cold War Spy Series helps—there are always new crises and challenges coming.
** Photographs of the Berlin Wall and Checkpoint Charlie supplied by Sandra Ruttan, who spent time in Berlin during the fall of the Berlin wall, but was not a spy.