Your novels are often set in a volatile period, such as WWII. What draws you to that type of story?
Periods and settings in turmoil are fertile ground. I'm always drawn to characters who are stuck between two worlds and in over their heads with a plan that's doomed to fail, but they stick with it anyway. They often don’t know exactly what they’re doing, but they believe in making the effort. That is the main character in all my books, really — the outsiders and the underdogs.

Photo: Heidi von Tagen

My books tend to involve some overlooked historical theme. I like researching and using historical detail when it helps the story and including a degree of duplicity, often in the form of espionage or crime. I always aim to set up a clear sense of place for the reader. And there has to be loss. If a character is to gain something, something also has to be lost. It’s sad but true and I like realism. There’s truth there, if you can find it.

You use setting and locale as an integral part of your scenes. How do your characters interact with their surroundings?
My main characters are often torn between two sides, at first guardedly enthusiastic but soon they’re committed to a pursuit that can’t be won and they feel it. This is where my in-between settings play a part. I think my books are like noirish Westerns in this way. The setting seems to inspire something like hope, but will quickly work to help isolate the protagonist.

Who are some of your favorite authors?
This is tough. Graham Greene, John Le Carré. Alan Furst for the historical detail. Charles McCarry and Robert Lee Burke for the craft. Elmore Leonard for the humor. Patricia Highsmith, Martin Cruz Smith, John Steinbeck. That’s already too many. It’s often whoever I’m reading at the moment and like. John Lawton recently, and Philip Kerr, and Ben Pastor, James Benn. Okay, I'll stop.

What was the subject of your study when you were a Fulbright Fellow?
I did the fellowship in Munich and had the opportunity to research the early US occupation in Southern Bavaria in the few months after the end of WWII. I was intrigued by the idea of relatively sophisticated little towns cut off by the chaos, making do and starting anew on their own like far-flung towns in the American Wild West. The research was for my masters thesis but also inspired the first novel manuscript I attempted years ago, one I reworked many times until it became my novel Liberated. The main character Harry Kaspar is a German-American US occupation official who tries to solve a murder amid the chaos of governing a small German town starting over after war. He's also the younger brother of Max in The Losing Role. The two brothers are finally united in Lost Kin. The Kaspar brothers series wouldn't exist without that Fulbright fellowship. 

Who reads your books?
Anyone who’s willing to face some grim truths. Not all readers want to know that power can corrupt even the good or that the bad have their reasons. Or that the accepted lines might just include the big lie. Hopefully they appreciate learning weird bits of history or local color on the way. So, any reader of crime, espionage, mystery.

What is the best thing about being a fiction writer?
There are so many things. Since my novels have come out, connecting with readers has been great. But it really goes back to creating stories that start to take on a life of their own. When you’re humming along, and you’ve put the work into shaping a character, and that character wants to do things — has to do things — through your fingers. That’s an amazing feeling. It’s like you’re channeling something larger than you, someone who's seen far more than you. Maybe the best thing is knowing what I want. This is what I do. I have to do it. It's a pain in the ass sometimes but it makes me feel alive.