Q. Why did you write "Circle William"?
A. My adult life has been spent as a professional communicator. Ive written speeches, press releases and articles for publication under other peoples name. I always wondered if I could write a novel not for my boss but for myself. In the fall of 1996 I finally sat down and gave it a shot. "Circle William" is the result.
Q. How did you come up with the storyline?
A. Ive been very lucky in my professional career. Ive been places and seen things that most people will never be able to match. So I tried to find a way to describe the things I knew best the Navy and the Washington political/media scene. It seemed unlikely that any main character in the novel could bridge both worlds so I invented the brothers Schmidt who would provide a plausible mechanism for these two divergent worlds to meet.
Q. Where did the plot come from?
A. My interest was sparked by some public testimony by the then-Director of Central
Intelligence about a suspected chemical weapons plant in Tarhounah, Libya. The U.S. Navy
has often been called upon to put Muammar Gadhafi in his place when he acts up. So I
speculated on how the Navy might have to do so again in the future
and then began
thinking about how this scenario would be played out in Washington as well.
Q. Did you know how it was going to come out when you started?
A. No. I started with a very rough outline with alternating chapters between a ship at sea and Washington. I knew that the good guys would win but I didnt know how until long after I started filling in the outline.
Q. The seagoing chapters seem very realistic. Did you ever command a Navy ship?
A. No. Early in my career I qualified as an officer of the deck underway aboard an aircraft carrier. But after that tour of duty I became a public affairs specialist in the Navy. My subsequent duty was as a spokesman for the Navy but not as an operator. Many of my friends, however, are surface line officers. They were the source of most of the realistic details that you see in the seagoing chapters of Circle William. I owe them a huge debt of gratitude.
Q. Arent you worried about giving away any secrets?
A. I took great care to make sure that I did not inadvertently reveal any classified information. I submitted the manuscript to the Department of Defenses Security Review office which helped make sure that the copy was unclassified. At about the time the book was submitted to the publisher, I retired from the Navy and took a civilian job as Director of Public Affairs at the Central Intelligence Agency. Even though it was not required, I also submitted the book to the Agencys Publication Review Board which vetted it to ensure that no classified material was revealed.
Q. The CIA doesnt seem to play a very big role in the book. Isnt that odd given your current position?
A. I wrote the book during the final year of my twenty five year career in the U.S. Navy. My desire was to make the men and women of the U.S. Navy appear as hardworking, heroic and fun loving as I know them to be. Other Agencies such as the CIA are in the book to further the story along but the Navy and the White House Press Secretary are clearly the heroes. If I were to write another book, now that I am at the CIA and am made aware on a daily basis of the tremendous work Agency officers do, I would make sure that their courage and valor would also be reflected.
Q. Are the characters based on real people?
A. Most characters are composites of a variety of people and are intended to represent types of people that one encounters at sea, at the White House and in the news media. Some readers have told me that they know exactly who a particular character is based upon. Quite often they mention someone who I dont know or who was never in my mind when writing "Circle William."
Q. Which brother is you?
A. Neither. And both. There are elements of my personality in Jim and Bill Schmidt but there are many parts of their personalities and experiences that are quite different than my own.
Q. How did you come up with the title?
A. Initially I intended for the book to focus quite a bit on the antics of the two brothers so the original working title was "Schmidt Happens." Fortunately, wiser heads convinced me to look for something else. I wanted something which conveyed an insiders understanding of shipboard life and the threat of chemical weapons. So I seized upon the shipboard symbol which identifies openings which need to be closed when there is a chemical, biological, or nuclear attack imminent Circle William. Once I settled on that name, I went back and changed the name of the destroyer captain from "Dave" to "Bill" to tie in with the "William" theme.
Q. How long did it take you to write the book?
A. It took about nine months, working nights and weekends, from the time I started until I had a completed manuscript which I was ready to show to outsiders.
Q. How did you find a publisher?
A. I was very lucky. In June of 1997 I was invited to take part in a panel discussion about media/government relations at the Maxwell School of Government at Syracuse University. One of the other panelists, Tom Ricks, Pentagon Correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, mentioned privately that he had a non-fiction book coming out that fall. ("Making the Corps," a terrific book, by the way.) I was carrying a copy of my manuscript around with me trying to up the courage to show it to someone. I asked Tom if he would be willing to read it to let me know if it had any commercial prospects. The next day Tom called me to say that he had finished the entire book in one sitting. He was quite complimentary and asked if I would mind if he mentioned it to his editor at Scribner. Mind? I told him to go right ahead. Within hours Toms editor, Scott Moyers called asking if I could send him a copy. I did and before long I went from being a hobbyist to an author with a contract.
Q. If that was in mid-1997, why has it taken until February, 1999 to publish it?
A. No novel, and particularly none by a first time author gets published the way it is first submitted. Scott Moyers did an excellent job of working with me to improve the product. "Circle William" was originally scheduled for publication in mid-1998, but for promotional reasons, the publisher decided it would be best to launch it in early 1999.
Q. Isn't it unusual for a civil servant to write a novel?
Q. How did you do the research for Circle William?
A. Much of it I lived. For most of the settings Ive been there and done that. Ive been fortunate enough to work in the White House press office for four years. Ive worked for the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of the Navy and have stood duty on the bridge of a ship. For things that I was not current on I relied on the advice of friends who had first hand experience and I relied extensively in the Internet. How anyone researched and wrote a book before the WWW and PCs were born, Ill never know.
Q. What is the purpose of the "Circle William" website?
Q. What authors do you read?
A. Among others, I enjoy Christopher Buckley, David Ignatius, P.J. O'Rourke, and Dan Silva. I also like reading biographies and non-fiction works about the media and the Washington power structure.
Q. Are you planning another book?
A. Yes, I am working on a second book that would include many of the same characters.
Ive got a plot outline, but my current job at the CIA is quite demanding and it is
difficult to devote as much time to the project as I might like.