Interview With T.S. O’Neil

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Tim O’Neil is one of my first Facebook buddies, and one of the first indie authors I reviewed. His Blackfox Chronicles is a unique example of a series shifting scenes and storylines entirely between the original and the sequel. His military background lends profound authenticity to the action scenes as well. Here’s a look at one of indie lit’s most promising stars…

Your two novels, Tampa Star and Starfish Prime, feature Native American protagonists. Is there any backstory as to why you chose them as your main characters for a series?

Inspiration for the character of Char Blackfox, the main protagonist in Tampa Star and Starfish Prime, came from various places. I wanted to create someone memorable and at the time I attended a Battlefield Walk on the Loxahatchee River in South Florida with my Army Reserve unit.

In 1838, the Seminoles fought two pitched battle against the U.S. Army. By all accounts, the Seminoles routed the Army troops as they occupied the high ground—including having talented sharpshooters among the branches of ancient Cypress trees. The Seminole were also experienced warriors with access to comparable weaponry as their foes; who were the usual mix of conscripts and seasoned veterans. More importantly, the federal troops were exhausted after having spent months on the trail in a forced march from Georgia. So, after hearing about the fierce Seminole warriors, I decided to make them the inspiration for Char Blackfox.

However, the incident that caused Char’s leg injury was based on a real event that happened to an old buddy of mine. In Tampa Star, Char was wounded by a dead guy in Viet Nam. This actually happened to a Platoon Sergeant I knew in Korea in almost exactly the same fashion. The Platoon Sergeant nearly lost a leg because he killed a VC guerrilla and then pulled the rifle away from the dead man while his just dead finger still enveloped the trigger. He had to be reclassified as an MP because he was no longer fit enough to serve in the infantry.

 

One would imagine there is a big cultural difference between Boston, Massachusetts and Seminole, Florida. What prompted the move?

What was the transition like for you? I’m from Connecticut, but did my undergraduate studies at Northeastern in Boston. Once I got my commission, I never looked back. As you no doubt know, I’m a conservative guy and believe in the freedom and the right to be left alone. I’ve lived in different countries and states and find that Texas and Florida fit this mold. In Florida, however, most people have a laid back attitude about life and I was attracted to that.

 

Florida is known for its history of Mob activity going back to the days of Meyer Lansky. Were there any real-life encounters with people in-the-know who might have influenced Tampa Star?

I once met James Gandolfini at a USO event in Kuwait and before my wife met me, she went out with a would be tough guy who used a Groupon to get a discount on dinner, so the answer would have to be a resounding no.

 

The series has progressed from a crime fiction format to an international thriller. Do you feel more comfortable with the new storyline, and is it an attempt to attract a wider audience?

I think it’s a hybrid type of novels‑‑Florida Glare, with a military undercurrent. I think that I will continue to look for a niche that works best.

 

Your profile tells us you were a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Was your experience closer to Jarhead or The Hurt Locker?

More Jarhead than anything else. I spent about ten months in Kuwait in charge of transportation in and out of Iraq and my boss, the general, thought I should see Iraq, so I was assigned up there for a while. It was mostly uneventful; a couple of times we received indirect fire from the perimeter. I mostly just bided my time and moved on.

 

Michael Blackfox is an ex-Marine Force Recon commando, and we’ve noted your experience as a rifleman with the Corps. Did you have any close-up interaction with the LRRPs, or any of the other Marine commando units? Were there experiences that you were able to draw upon in writing the novel?

Yes, about a hundred years ago, my unit did rubber boat training with RB15s with an active duty Force Recon unit in the Amphibious Warfare School that the 2nd Marine Division runs at Little Creek. Those guys are as good as I portray them as being in both my novels. As a young officer, I spent four years assigned to a unit in Army Special Operations, but not Special Forces. I also ran a Mobile Training Team made up of Army Special Forces, Civil Affairs and MPs in El Salvador in accordance with the peace treaty accords between the El Sal government and the FMLN.

 

Char Blackfox was a Vietnam veteran. What are your impressions on the relationships between Vietnam vets and Iraqi vets? My father was a WWII vet, active in the American Legion, and it often seemed as if the WWII vets were a world apart from the Vietnam vets.

In most cases, the guys who went off to war previous to Vietnam were there until it was over. They were different type guys; more roughhewed and not open to complaining. My father quit Law School in Boston to join the army and he served in North Africa in 1942-1943. I had uncles and cousins who all served honorably and one was wounded on Bougainville. Generally speaking, they did their job in the war, came home and got on with life‑‑ which included raising families. They tried to give their children all the things that they were denied and hence sometimes turned out spoiled children. Some of these folks were deluded into thinking that they could change the world through positive thoughts‑‑it seems similar to recent events. Some of this feel goodism infiltrated the military and the concepts of individual replacements on one year tours was born. It was a huge mistake. I think that was the start of the problem as any institutional learning was lost after the soldier’s tour ended. Upon his return, he was at worst labeled a baby killer or treated like a victim.

Iraqi and Afghanistan vets on the other hand, have been well treated by the public, who have managed to understand that there is a difference between governmental policy and the folks that carry it out. There are bad and good vets from all the wars, but nine times out of ten, the guys I’ve run into when I do go to one of the clubs that are most vocal about their service are Vietnam vets. I think it’s because they weren’t appreciated when they served, nor when they came home. Some of them got spit on, while troops who fought in recent wars were welcomed home as heroes. I was constantly upgraded to first class whenever I flew in uniform, people would stop and shake my hand in airports and on occasion pay for my meals.

At the end of the day, a vet is a vet. One might have fought with an M1 and another with an M16, but there is a bond that all vets share and that is self-sacrifice for the common good.

 

You earned a degree in Criminal Justice at Northeastern University. That would suggest that you had once considered a career in law enforcement. How did you end up with the Military Police instead of Boston’s Finest?

I got an ROTC  scholarship to cover my last three years in college and figured that being an MP would allow me to use my degree. Regular law enforcement didn’t interest me when I found that the  job involved dealing with people when they are at their worst. My dad was a Treasury Agent and I could have easily followed suit, but I don’t think it would have been a good fit for me as I don’t take a lot of malum prohibitum crime personally. I’m more a live and let live kind of guy and I would have been better off pursing more creative endeavors sooner. I don’t begrudge people who want to serve in law enforcement, I just hope they do it for the right reasons.

 

Starfishdiscusses some real-world scenarios such as the Iranian conspiracy to develop nukes on foreign soil. Was the evolution of the series designed to afford you a wider platform in discussing current events?

Nope, it was just good fun. I learned about a hacker who spent two years trying to hack an Insulin Pump and Glucose Meter because he was a diabetic who was justifiably worried about someone breaking into his insulin delivery system. I decided to build a novel around it. To do so, I had to develop a scenario that thrust Michael and Char back into action and the McGuffin had to be important enough to allow their redemption. I also wanted to write what Dan Pollock calls a military techno thriller. I really enjoyed writing it.

 

You haven’t been hammering them out like so many other indie authors these days. Are we going to be looking forward to a third installment of the Blackfox saga, or are you heading for the next evolution?

Yeah, well I have a new wife and a new life. I also have a regular job as an IT Architect and love to play golf, so all that takes up lots of time. I’ve started my third book, Mudd’s Luck and hope to have that out by early next year.  It is the last in the series and if there is a next one, it will be about the detective in Tampa Star, Eidetic Eddie.

 

Check out Tim’s Amazon page… http://www.amazon.com/T.S.-ONeil/e/B00DK8VL1Q/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1402068449&sr=1-1

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