By Tj O’Connor, author of Dying to Know, Dying for the Past & Dying to Tell
Dying is overrated. Having a little class is not.
Stop scratching your head. If you’re a struggling author like me, this will all make sense. If you’re a successful author like we all hope to be, pay attention and remember that catchphrase.
When I was a young boy, I had a tough upbringing at times. I read everything I could get my hands on to hide and maintain a little peace of mind. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it did not. I’ve said this many times, but my early favorites were the works Franklin W. Dixon and his Hardy Boys, Gordon Shirreffs’ The Mystery of the Haunted Mine, and Barbee Carleton’s Mystery of the Witches Bridge. They were huge stories to me and set me on the path to writing. There was a bigger influence, too, and that book came full-circle from my childhood to grab my attention this past week.
That book was Six Days of the Condor by James Grady.
Sometime in the early 70s, my older brother gave me a well-worn paperback copy of Six Days of the Condor. We didn’t have a lot in common back in those days; he was already escaping life in that small town and I was pining for my chance. James Grady’s first novel was my first “mature” novel that took me from the Hardy Boys mysteries into the world of the CIA, murder, intrigue, and thrillers. Six Days was at the beginning of a career that took Mr. Grady into journalism, politics, government, and Hollywood and continues to span decades of success. His is a story well worth catching up on.
For weeks while by brother was home visiting, we spent evenings on the front porch reliving the book and talking about politics, spies, and all that. I was, for the most part, totally lost. But, when you’re a young adventurer like I was, you keep up. This was the first time I’d connected with my brother in years, and my grandfather—who soon passed far too young for my liking—joined the discussions and spun his own tales of World War II in the pacific. That summer was one of my best memories as a kid.
To say that Six Days of the Condor affected me is an understatement.
My young world exploded. The Hardy Boys—sorry pals—went into a box. I spent hours in the library trying to learn all I could about this new thing called the CIA and everything I could read about our government, politics, and espionage. My research—hold on youngsters, there was no internet or computers—took me days in the library to learn that the best authors were in my new love of thrillers and intrigue. I found them—Alistair MacLean, John le Carré, Mickey Spillane, Robert Ludlum, Raymond Chandler …
Holy crap! Frank and Joe Hardy never packed heat or had the hot babes! They never infiltrated Nazi strongholds or shot it out with rogue spies in Washington either. Where had I been? Grade school, of course. But, boy, was I catching up.
Six Days of the Condor opened my world to great fiction and put the icing on the cake for my future. I was going to be an author. I was going to join the CIA. I was going to fight bad guys and have real life adventure. Me. This poor, barely-passing-English-kid from an unheard-of tiny town in upstate New York. Yes, me.
We all have our heroes and reasons we are who we are. Surprisingly, so many of us get them from great books. Oh, I won’t go as far as to say that James Grady made me who I am or was the single driving force behind my past thirty-six years. No, but it’s in the top three reasons and, without question, was the turning point in my young life from that constant, nagging question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” to a dream for chasing.
Why do I belabor this point? Because I’ve been a very lucky guy these past years and I don’t ever want to forget that. I was reminded of that this past Wednesday.
I never joined the CIA. But, for more than a decade, I was an agent with the OSI and ran investigations and anti-terrorism operations all over places most people only read about in books. I chased murderers, spies, and terrorists with some of the finest, most dedicated people I have ever known. Then, during the next few years in the private sector, I have had the fortune to have a mentor—Wally—who is one of the last surviving OSS—World War II’s Office of Strategic Services—operatives in the world and a former senior spook at the CIA. Through the years, I’ve met big shots all over—senior government (of many nations) leaders, politicians, movie stars, rock stars, et cetera, et cetera. I’ve even had the great fortune to know some amazing authors, too, many of whom have become my friends—like bestselling author, Stephen Frey, who has become a friend and influence on my books. And, all along the way, I sort of just took it in stride, never thought of what it meant or what it might come to.
Until last Wednesday.
Last Wednesday morning, I sat down to do some bill-paying work, and a note popped up on my computer from … James Grady. Holy crap on a peanut butter sandwich! Mr. Grady had—for some odd reason—found my mention of him in a blog about how I got started writing and doing my life’s work. He sat down and sent me a Facebook note to say hello. By coincidence, he is currently promoting his latest book, The End of the Condor, the next long-awaited sequel to Six Days of the Condor. In his note, he said something very important—and it is the reason for this blog—One day it would be humbling to have someone comment about me and that I should remember his words. We exchanged a couple more notes and the Ethernet returned to normal.
I heard you loud and clear, Mr. Grady. And thank you again.
I am not now, nor have I ever been, a fan boy. I’ve worked around—and even protected—celebrities and power-brokers in my life. It sort of becomes “just business.” Yet, there is something about one’s childhood heroes that breaks down the dulled senses and makes you feel like you’re thirteen years old again.
And yes, it was humbling—for me, too.
Mr. Grady took his valuable time to drop me a note and give me a little recognition. Of the tons of important and famous folks I’ve met, I can count on my fingers and toes those who ever did that. As an author, the simple fact that he thought enough about our craft and my work to acknowledge my start-up writing career was enough. But his message was ever more important.
So, what does a non-fan boy like me do when a childhood hero reaches out? Gush? Run around giggling like a school girl? (Maybe a little.) No, I grabbed my box of Midnight Ink Dying for the Past promo books (the second in my paranormal series that just released). I signed a copy with a nice note to Conan—a young aspiring writer from upstate New York—and express mailed it out. You see, Conan sent me a short story last year called The Great Pirate Adventure, which I commented on my Facebook page. He was, apparently, thrilled by that little bit of recognition. I’m not sure how old Conan is, but I hope he’s young enough to still be thrilled by a wanna-be author like me just saying hello.
Dying for the Past should be in Conan’s hands by the time this blog posts. I hope it meant as much to him as my note from James Grady. And, one day, I hope Conan writes his own novel or pursues whatever his dreams are. And, I hope he remembers my note to him and passes along that little class that Mr. Grady began this past Wednesday.
So, as Oliver Tucker said in Dying to Know, Dying is overrated—and from me, having a little class is not.