Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Interview with Michael McMenamin, Co-Author of Appointment in Prague

Michael McMenamin is the co-author with his son Patrick of the award winning 1930s era historical novels featuring Winston Churchill and his fictional Scottish goddaughter, the adventure-seeking Hearst photojournalist Mattie McGary. The first five novels in the series—The DeValera Deception, The Parsifal Pursuit, The Gemini Agenda, The Berghof Betrayal and The Silver Mosaic—received a total of 15 literary awards. He is currently at work with his daughter Kathleen McMenamin on the sixth Winston and Mattie historical adventure, The Liebold Protocol.

Michael is the author of the critically acclaimed Becoming Winston Churchill, The Untold Story of Young Winston and His American Mentor [Hardcover, Greenwood 2007; Paperback, Enigma 2009] and the co-author of Milking the Public, Political Scandals of the Dairy Lobby from LBJ to Jimmy Carter [Nelson Hall, 1980]. He is an editorial board member of Finest Hour, the quarterly journal of the International Churchill Society and a contributing editor for the libertarian magazine Reason. His work also has appeared in The Churchills in Ireland, 1660-1965, Corrections and Controversies [Irish Academic Press, 2012] as well as two Reason anthologies, Free Minds & Free Markets, Twenty Five Years of Reason [Pacific Research Institute, 1993] and Choice, the Best of Reason [BenBella Books, 2004]. A full-time writer, he was formerly a first amendment and media defense lawyer and a U.S. Army Counterintelligence Agent.    

Kathleen, the other half of the father-daughter writing team, has been editing her father’s writing for longer than she cares to remember. She is the co-author with her sister Kelly of the critically acclaimed Organize Your Way: Simple Strategies for Every Personality [Sterling, 2017]. The two sisters are professional organizers, personality-type experts and the founders of PixiesDidIt, a home and life organization business. Kathleen is an honors graduate of Sarah Lawrence College and has an MFA in Creative Writing from New York University. The novella Appointment in Prague is her second joint writing project with her father. Their first was “Bringing Home the First Amendment”, a review in the August 1984 Reason magazine of Nat Hentoff’s The Day They Came to Arrest the Book.  While a teen-ager, she and her father would often take runs together, creating plots for adventure stories as they ran.



About the Book:

Author: Michael McMenamin & Kathleen McMenamin
Publisher: First Edition Design Publishing
Pages: 160
Genre: Historical Thriller

In the novella, Appointment in Prague, one woman, a British secret agent, sets out in May 1942 to single-handedly send to hell the most evil Nazi alive—SS General Reinhard Heydrich, the head of the SD, the domestic and foreign counter-intelligence wing of the SS; second in rank only to the head of the SS himself, Reichsfuhrer SS Heinrich Himmler; and the architect of  “The Final Solution” that will send millions of European Jews to their doom.

When British Prime Minister Winston Churchill authorizes the SOE—the ‘Special Operations Executive’— in October 1941 to assassinate Heydrich, he is unaware that the entire operation has been conceived and is being run by his Scottish goddaughter, the former Pulitzer Prize-winning Hearst photojournalist Mattie McGary. The SOE is Churchill’s own creation, one he informally describes as the Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare and, at his suggestion, Mattie becomes one of its Deputy Directors. 

Mattie has a history with Heydrich dating back to 1933 and a personal score to settle. In September 1941, when the man known variously as ‘The Blond Beast’ and ‘The Man With the Iron Heart’—that last coming from Adolf Hitler himself—is appointed Reichsprotektor of Bohemia and Moravia, the remnants left of Czechoslovakia after the Germans had dismembered it in 1939, Mattie is determined—now that he is no longer safely within Germany’s borders—to have him killed. She recruits and trains several Czech partisans for the task and has them parachuted into Czechoslovakia in December 1941.

An increasingly impatient Mattie waits in London for word that her agents have killed the Blond Beast. By May 1942, Heydrich still lives and Mattie is furious.  The mother of six-year-old twins, Mattie decides—without telling her godfather or her American husband, the #2 man in the London office of the OSS—to parachute into Czechoslovakia herself and  “light a fire under their timid Czech bums”. Which she does, but her agents botch the job and Heydrich is only wounded in the attempt. The doctors sent from Berlin to care for him believe he will recover.

On the fly, Mattie conceives a new plan to kill Heydrich herself. With forged papers and other help from the highest-placed SOE asset in Nazi Germany—a former lover—Mattie determines to covertly enter Prague’s Bulovka Hospital and finish the job. After that, all she has to do is flee Prague into Germany and from there to neutral Switzerland. What Mattie doesn’t know is that Walter Schellenberg, Heydrich’s protégé and the head of Foreign Intelligence for the SD, is watching her every move.



Q: Welcome to The Writer's Life!  Now that your book has been published, we’d love to find out more about the process.  Can we begin by having you take us at the beginning?  When did you come up with the idea to write Appointment in Prague?
A: Well, it’s somewhat complicated. One idea is commercial. The other is creative. 
Commercial first: The book is a novella that began life as the Epilogue (set in 1942 Prague) to our novel The Berghof Betrayal written with my son Patrick. The novel was set in 1933 Germany where the evil Nazi, Reinhard Heydrich, gives our heroine Mattie McGary more than enough reason to want him dead. But, in a historical novel, you can’t kill actual historical characters before their time. Hence the Epilogue in 1942 when Heydrich was actually killed. We eventually cut the Epilogue after we found a more immediate way for Mattie to put the fear of God into Heydrich. 
I hate to waste good writing, however, and I really liked that Epilogue. When, earlier this year, I finished The Liebold Protocol, the 6th novel about the adventures of Mattie McGary, the intrepid Hearst photojournalist who is Winston Churchill’s goddaughter, I was inspired to expand the Epilogue into its present novella form in order to provide a platform for a six-chapter preview of the new novel. I did so by adding additional scenes after Heydrich dies in Prague, including Mattie’s capture by SS Counterintelligence as she attempts to flee to Switzerland.
Creative next: Here’s how I came up with the creative idea for the Epilogue that evolved into our novella, Appointment in Prague.
I was in Prague for a legal conference when I noticed a sign on the street pointing to the ‘Reinhard Heydrich Museum’. I was taken aback. A museum to Heydrich?? In Prague?? Czechs hate Heydrich!! So I had to visit the museum, which was located in the basement of a church where Czech partisans had hidden after the murder and where the Gestapo found and killed them all. So the museum is more a shrine to them and not a homage to Heydrich. I knew the general details of Heydrich’s assassination by agents of Britain’s Special Operations Executive [SOE], but at the museum, I bought several books on the assassination and learned three new things. First, the SOE agents had been in country for nearly 6 months before they finally did the deed. Second, doctors from Berlin thought Heydrich was going to survive [and he would have lived except for the fact that the Germans didn’t have access to penicillin]. Third, he lived for a full week after he was wounded and finally died from septicemia.
That extra week in Heydrich’s life was all I needed. Mattie McGary may have put the fear of God into Heydrich in 1933 in The Berghof Betrayal, but given what Heydrich had done to her, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to let her take her revenge as well by personally killing Heydrich.  So, I envisioned what Mattie would be doing in 1942. Then I put her in the SOE, the personal creation of her godfather Winston Churchill; made her the SOE control officer over the Heydrich assassination mission; parachuted her into Czechoslovakia to find out from her agents why, after six months, Heydrich was still alive; and, when Heydrich initially survived the assassination attempt, I had her come up with a new scenario on the fly where she would gain access to the hospital and poison the bastard herself. Then, when she successfully escaped from Czechoslovakia into Germany on her way to Switzerland, I had SS Counterintelligence capture her before she reached the German-Swiss border. To go further would be a spoiler. Read the book! It’s not that long.
Q: How hard was it to write a book like this and do you have any tips that you could pass on which would make the journey easier for other writers?

A: It’s not as hard as it used to be. I had written and had published two non-fiction books before I began to try and write fiction. I wasn’t sure I could do that so I used Dramatica Pro software to help write the first two historical novels in the 1930s featuring Mattie McGary and her godfather Winston Churchill, The DeValera Deception and The Parsifal Pursuit. I learned a lot from that software and I highly recommend it to anyone writing fiction for the first time. It works! Both novels, published by Enigma Books in New York, were named Grand Prize Winners for Fiction by the Next Generation Indie Book Awards and Book of the Year in both the Historical and Thriller & Suspense categories by ForeWord Reviews.

I wrote the next four Mattie and Winston novels and Appointment in Prague primarily using the 12 stages of Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey as well as things I learned from Dramatica Pro. The best book for helping a writer use the 12 stages is The Writer’s Journey, Mythic Structure for Writers by Christopher Vogler. I recommend it highly as well. Just remember to “show not tell” and use “said” as a verb that always follows—not precedes—a noun or pronoun like “he” or “she” [Advice from my daughter with a Masters in Creative Writing from NYU]. 

Q: Is there anything that surprised you about getting your first book published and how did you find your publisher?

A: My first book arose out of the Senate Watergate Committee hearings in the 1970s and was published in 1980 by Nelson Hall—Milking the Public, Political Scandals of the Dairy Lobby From LBJ to Jimmy Carter. The only thing that surprised me was how easy it was to find a publisher, as Nelson-Hall was one of the first three publishers to whom I had simultaneously submitted a book proposal. Maybe I should have had an agent. The advance was only $300.

Anyway, finding a publisher for my first and subsequent novels is a more complicated story that begins with Martha Stewart. No, really. I am a Contributing Editor for the libertarian magazine Reason. My article “St. Martha: Why Martha Stewart Should Go to Heaven and the SEC Should Go to Hell” was the cover story in its September 2003 issue. It was a spirited defense of the still-undefined ‘crime’ of insider trading generally and Martha’s actions specifically. I wrote it with my other daughter who has an MBA from Dartmouth and was, at the time, a hedge fund analyst on Wall Street. Her name does not appear as a co-author because we thought it was not a wise career move for a Wall Street financial analyst to publicly defend insider trading.

Shortly after that, I received a call from an editor at Praeger, which was owned at the time by Harcourt. He wanted me to submit a proposal to make the cover story into a book that would include Martha’s criminal trial. Wow! Never happened before and I’ve had a lot of  Reason cover stories. I submitted the proposal and even hired a researcher to cover the trial for us. Alas, the proposal was not accepted. Still, I now knew an editor at a publisher like Praeger and my story on how I became a published novelist continues.

In 2004, I prepared and delivered a paper at the 2004 Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, Becoming Winston Churchill: How the Political Thought and Oratory of Winston Churchill Were Shaped by His Irish-American Mentor, Bourke Cockran. Based on my research into the Churchill-Cockran correspondence, I decided I could expanded it into a into a joint biography of young Winston and Cockran who was really a fascinating guy who did a hell of a lot more for Winston than his distant father, Lord Randolph ever did. The fact that Churchill met Cockran at his mother’s suggestion after Cockran and Chuchill’s mother had an affair in Paris shortly following Lord Randolph’s death made it perfect. Sex!

And I now knew an editor to whom I could submit a proposal for what eventually became my 2nd book, Becoming Winston Churchill, the Untold Story of Young Winston and His American Mentor, whose Foreword was written by Churchill’s granddaughter Celia Sandys. Churchill’s official biographer, Sir Martin Gilbert, called it “Fascinating: a tour de force that brings life and light to one of the great early influences on Winston Churchill” and Allen Packwood, Director of the Churchill Archives Center at Cambridge wrote that it was “A magnificent achievement and an illuminating study of a largely forgotten relationship.” So, my editor friend at Praeger whose name, sadly, I can’t recall, sent my proposal to Greenwood World Publishing in the UK, another affiliate of Harcourt , where Simon Mason, the Senior Acquisitions Editor, bought the book and Greenwood published it in 2007 in both the UK and US.

OK, we’re almost up to how I found a publisher for our Mattie + Winston novels. I said it was complicated.  In 2009, Enigma Books in New York bought the trade paperback rights to Becoming Winston Churchill. Enigma specialized in non-fiction books on 20th century European and US history. I got to know Enigma’s editor, Robert Miller, quite well when I would come to New York at my expense whenever he could arrange a new venue for me to talk about my book because all three of my children lived in the city and their mother and I could visit and stay with them.

At that time, I had written with my son Patrick two unpublished historical thrillers set in the 1930s featuring Winston Churchill as a catalyst for our main characters like his goddaughter Mattie McGary and we were in the middle of writing a third. Our agents [different ones for each of the first two books] had secured quite a few rejection letters from well-known publishers praising our work, but alas no sale. I noticed in the backlist for Enigma that, while almost all of its 50+ books were non-fiction, it had also published 3 historical thrillers. I told Robert Miller that we had written two Churchill historical thrillers and asked him if he would like to read them. He did and, after he read them as well as a synopsis of the third novel, we signed a three-book deal for them shortly thereafter and became published—and literary award winning—novelists.

Q: What other books are you working on and when will they be published?

A: The Liebold Protocol, a Mattie McGary + Winston Churchill 1930s Adventure will be published in October 2018. It is set mainly in Nazi Germany in the days leading up to the ‘Night of the Long Knives’ on 30 June 1934 where the SS murdered most of Hitler’s political enemies. It was written with my daughter Kathleen McMenamin who thinks she knows more about fiction than her brother and me because she has a Master’s degree in Creative Writing from NYU and we don’t. We (modestly) point out that we have literary awards and she doesn’t, but—to be fair—she and her MBA sister have written a critically acclaimed book, Organize Your Way: Simple Strategies for Every Personality [Sterling, 2017], where they give organizational advice based on personality types. They have more TV appearances to talk about their book than we do, but that’s a low bar.

My daughter Kathleen and I are currently at work on The Prussian Memorandum, another Mattie + Winston adventure that will be published in 2019. It’s set in 1934 and tells the true story about the legislative process in Germany that led to the 1935 Nuremberg laws making German Jews second-class citizens and forbidding their marriage to Aryans. The Nazis used American state legislation and case law re racial miscegenation and second-class citizenship in the U.S.—what the Germans called ‘The Prussian Memorandum’—as models to do the same to Germany’s Jews. Neither the Americans nor the Nazis want this made public. Any journalist—like Mattie McGary—who attempts to do so will be placed in peril.

Q: What’s one fact about your book that would surprise people?

A: The same fact that surprised me when I was in Prague, i.e., that Heydrich lived for a full week after he was wounded and would have survived if his doctors had access to penicillin.

Q: Finally, what message are you trying to get across with your book?

A: Have fun reading the book and learn some history at the same time.

It’s not widely known that the first book Winston Churchill—who received the Nobel Prize for Literature—wrote was a fictional romantic adventure, Savrola, where his hero not only vanquishes the evil dictator, but also makes off with his wife, ‘the most beautiful woman in Europe’.

The message he was trying to get across in Savrola, he wrote his mother, was that it was a “wild and daring book tilting recklessly here and there and written with no purpose whatever, but to amuse.”

Yeah, me too. That’s what I try to do in all our books about Mattie and Winston, including Appointment in Prague. Have fun; learn some history. We always put in the back of our novels a “Historical Note” telling our readers the historical facts supporting the story as well as the things we invented.

 Q: Thank you again for this interview! 

A: You’re welcome. Thanks very much for having us here.

Q: Do you have any final words?

A: Sure. Here are the best ways to connect with us or find out more about our work:

The following two links have some really good stuff, but they are not current. It’s more fun to write books than to update the links. Volunteers to do so will be gratefully accepted.

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