Interview With T.S. O’Neil


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…

Interview With Khalid Muhammad



I recently had the pleasure of meeting Khalid Muhammad online and reviewing his novel, Agency Rules – Never an Easy Day at the Office. This is an unblinking look at the battle against insurgency in Pakistan, and Khalid narrates the tale with ‘been there done that’ authenticity. So, without further ado, let’s take a look at this upcoming indie author.

The subtitle of your novel, Never An Easy Day At The Office, seems almost cavalier when considering the tone of the novel and the subject matter. Was there a particular reason why you chose it?

Kamal, coming from a wealthy Pathan family, is looking for his identity. He finds it when he joins the Pakistan Army – he is a soldier. We see his growth through the story from soldier to precision sniper to intelligence officer and at no point does he have an easy time with it. Those who have traveled this journey will tell you that it’s never easy to reach that level in the military.

So the title of the novel actually comes from his internal struggle with growing into the roles that he embodies throughout the story. It really is never an easy day at the office for Kamal at any point throughout the book. I am sure that it does come off as cavalier, but it was not meant to be that way at all. It was crafted to help portray Kamal’s journey.


 You moved from Michigan into a war zone. Was this a business or personal decision?

It was a bit of both, but I think I have to provide a little background here before I answer your question. I spent the first 27 years of my life in the United States so I am not one of those who left Pakistan to study at an American university. I went through the US public school system and learned my values from both my parents and those who I associated with. While I am quite proud of the US upbringing and values that I gained, I was always going to be Pakistani, so after working for a major technology company for six years, I packed up my things and moved to Pakistan with a six month plan.

The goal was two-fold for me. First, my mother wanted me to marry a Pakistani girl, so that was in the back of my head, but I also wanted to see what the environment was like for setting up a business or working for someone in the country. When I got my first job in Pakistan, I realized that I would never get the benefits and salary I got in Pakistan in the US. They gave me a monthly salary, car and rented home all as part of my employment package! There was no way that I was going to miss this opportunity.

Now, 17 years later, I have worked for some of Pakistan’s largest technology companies, moved to London and Dubai for a period of years as part of that employment, and have owned my own company for the past 10 years. The move to Pakistan ended up being quite good for me! Oh, yeah, my wife would kill me if I didn’t mention that I got married to a Pakistani girl as well.


 The major protagonist, Kamal Khan, has a background curiously similar to that of Usama Bin Laden. Was this an attempt to ‘even the scales’ in light of criticism of upper-class Muslims providing financial support to terror groups?

Oh God no! I think that bin Laden was a scourge on the Muslim population as a whole. But then, I don’t classify bin Laden as a Muslim. He was a terrorist and will always be a terrorist. Religion had nothing to do with what he did, other than provide a recruitment cover for him to indoctrinate others into his personal war.

Kamal, on the other hand, is a hero in the making. He comes from a fairly affluent family, but he was never privy to the wealth that his family held. He spent most of this life, prior to joining the Army, at a boarding school in Peshawar with middle class students. He struggles, not against society, but against those who would tear his country apart with their opinions of Islam.

I haven’t fully addressed it in the first book, but the next two will get into the funding of terror groups operating in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Personally, I hold the position that anyone who is funding these terror groups is just as guilty of the crime as the ones who carry out the suicide attacks, car bombings and the more vicious 9/11 and 7/7 attacks. What I find funny is that these same people are involved in everything that the terror groups stand against from frequenting prostitutes to lavish lifestyles. I can’t understand how the two can get on the same page if the terror groups are really interested in establishing a Muslim society.


We find an inept Azam Shah backed by a more pragmatic Ahsan Chaudhry is resolving the issues facing the regime. Is there more to the storyline than what we first perceive? The competition between Pakistanis and Indians is well-known, and Chaudhry would be thought of by readers as being of Indian descent.

There is a great deal more to the story that will be revealed in the next book. Azam Shah is the typical Pakistani politician who enjoys the spoils of political leadership. He has a basic community college education. He is corrupt, firmly believes in nepotism and is, as you said, inept. This is the political leadership that Pakistan has dealt with in every democratic government, which is why the country is in the state it is in. But that is a discussion for another day.

Ahsan Chaudhry is a diametric opposite to Azam Shah. Ahsan is foreign educated, which in the 1990s meant that you had money. He understands some of the problems that Pakistan faces, but relies greatly on the advice of his core circle to guide him to decisions. The one characteristic that you see with Ahsan that I carried over from the historical model of Pakistani politicians, is the penchant to be controlled by the President and the Army to gain politicial power.

Chaudhry is a common name in both India and Pakistan. Punjab, where the majority of Chaudhrys reside, was divided into two at the time of Partition in 1947. Technically, all first generation Pakistanis are of Indian descent!

Pakistan’s intelligence service, the ISI, has maintained a political cell inside their walls on the insistence of every democratic government. The political cell has one function – to intimidate politicians into following or supporting the government of the day’s agenda. They have been used in the past to bring independent Parliament members into the fold of the major parties. Now, here is the interesting part: when President Musharraf was in government, he shut down the ISI’s political cell. The Pakistan People’s Party government didn’t re-instate it, but when Nawaz Sharif came to power in the rigged elections of 2013, he has tried to move the ISI to reconstitute the political cell, which has failed thus far. Since the intelligence services, which fall under the scope of the Army, don’t answer to the Prime Minister, he is unable to just issue an order and have it done. The Army command must accept the order.


 We find General Amjad Ali trying to keep it all together amidst the political and oligarchic confusion. Yet the media makes it appear as if it is the incompetency of the military that allows the Taliban to rule supreme in neighboring Afghanistan. Is your novel an attempt to set the story straight?

Excellent question! Let’s take this in parts, and I am going to apologize in advance for the long answer.

First, the media. The Pakistani media has never known what freedom of speech really means. For decades, Pakistan had one television channel and a handful of newspapers, so the government could control what was or was not printed. The current Prime Minister has a long history of fighting with the media, having once stopped newsprint to a major Urdu publication because they wouldn’t stop writing about his rampant corruption. This was in 1997-98. Since then, the media has exploded in Pakistan.

We now have over 60 domestic television channels and more than 40 daily newspapers in both English and Urdu. This revolution in the media was initiated by President Musharraf, a military dictator, not a civilian elected government.

Even with all the freedom, the media still operates like it did in the past. There are innumerable stories of yellow journalism, false stories being created to embarrass or harass opposition politicians, and some have even been accused of extortion and blackmail. It’s well known throughout Pakistan that when you hear a news story breaking, don’t bother to pay attention because in 20 minutes the story will be different. That’s not a media. That’s the National Enquirer on a massive scale.

The Pakistan Army doesn’t have anything invested in the Taliban in Afghanistan. We did for many years pre-invasion and post-Soviet withdrawal, but that was also a democratic government’s decision. In the early 1970s, Naseer Ullah Babar, a two-star general, was commanding the Frontier Corps, the paramilitary force that patrols the tribal areas of Pakistan and the border with Afghanistan. He was tasked by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, Prime Minister of Pakistan, to fund and train an Afghan mujahideen to suppress the government of Dawood Khan and his vision for a united Pukthunistan. The operation was a massive success that led to Babar resigning his commission in the Army and starting his political career with the same Pakistan People’s Party that Bhutto had founded. In 1988, Babar was appointed the “Special Advisor on Internal Affairs” in Benazir Bhutto’s first government and the Taliban was accepted as the leadership in Afghanistan by Pakistan. The ties between the Pakistan Army and the Afghan Mujahideen (later Taliban) were started during a democratic government.

There are many things that the media doesn’t bring into the conversation, which have had a huge impact on the Pakistan we see today. The media shys away from the Saudi-Wahabi connection with extremist imams in Pakistan. They don’t highlight the billions in funding that is given to these imams to establish madrassahs to indoctrinate the ultra-fundamentalist agenda of Wahabism. They point their fingers at the Army.

I should also add that during the Musharraf government, the Army has been cleansed of the jihadi elements that General Zia espoused and promoted when he was Chief of Army Staff. It was also Musharraf’s government that took the war to the Taliban elements within Pakistan. We have seen a significant decrease in this action since Musharraf left the Presidency, because civilian politicians are unwilling to take the hard steps. Even today, as the Army has pounded the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan’s hideouts and encircled them in preparation for an all-out operation, we have major political leaders, ranging from Imran Khan and Nawaz Sharif, to the religious parties, demanding that the government negotiate with the TTP, rather than deal them a death blow.

So, Agency Rules is not an attempt to set the story straight, rather it is a look behind the curtain to understand all the players, the on ground situation and how Pakistan really works beyond what the media, domestic or international, would like to portray about the country. People need to understand that there is significantly more to the story of Pakistan than the media would like to include in the discourse.


Shahid Aleem is your major antagonist, threatening the Pakistani nation with death and destruction. Yet one of his biggest obstacles is the paramilitary squabbles between the tribes. Do you feel the religious aspects of these arguments were fully discussed? What keeps Pakistan from becoming a self-styled theocracy like Iran?

Imam Shahid is a recruiter, which is why you see so much of him in the first book. He is the epitome of the role that many of the imams I mentioned in the previous answer play in Pakistan. He is someone’s puppet for money.

I didn’t go into a great detail about the religious aspects of these arguments in the first book because of how the story turns in the next book. Also, it is very difficult to separate the religious from the cultural in the Pathan culture. Being a Pathan myself, I have seen how imams use their version of Islam to convince “motivated” individuals to join madrassahs and jihadi movements. Most of what they are teaching these individuals is not Islamic, but a cultural or personal belief structure supported with single line verses from the Holy Quran, which is not how Islam is taught to any thinking person. The standard is different for those who come from a lower economic class. Since the imam is sure that this demographic will never read or understand the Holy Quran themselves, they are free to quote and state whatever they want without being questioned.

The next book, without giving anything away, will go into greater detail about this part of the dynamic in Pakistan. Now, that the reader has been introduced to Pakistani culture, I am able to break things down more into the cultures, beliefs and impacts.

Why has Pakistan not decended into a self-styled theocracy? We have! Pakistan had the unfortunate experience of ultra-fundamentalist General Zia-ul-Haq, who was the sitting military dictator during the Soviet invasion. Zia believed that Pakistan had become too liberal, with the clubs, bars and casinos, and wanted to reel it all in. To do so, he enacted a series of Islamic legislations. The most damning has been the Hudood Ordinance, which has set women’s rights on its head. He also created departments that put most of the decision making behind the approval of a group of imams that sat on the Council for Islamic Interests (CII). The CII’s sole responsibility is to determine if any law passed, or considered, by Parliament meets the requirements set forth in the Holy Quran. If it is not, then the law must be changed.

Pakistan is still living with these laws and departments today because of the sheer influence that the religious democratic parties have. I’ll give you an example: if someone dares to question the blasphemy law, which former Governor Punjab Salmaan Taseer did, the firebrand imams declared him worthy of death. His own security guard assassinated him as he exited his car outside an Islamabad restaurant. The killer was, and still is, considered a hero of Islam for what he did by those firebrand believers. Six years on, the killer has not been convicted of his crime, but sits in a jail cell in Rawalpindi. This is excluding the massive number of minorities that have been killed by angry mobs riled up to take action against someone who most likely made an unknowing mistake.


You’ve obviously done a lot of homework as regards the detailed military narrative in the novel. Do you owe any of this to real-life contacts in Karachi?

Thanks for that! I put a great deal of effort into making sure that the story flowed with the same verve that a spy thriller should. That did mean spending a lot of time with Army officers and soldiers, both retired and serving, to understand the dynamic that I had to get right. I do have a number of friends and family members that are part of Pakistan’s armed forces.

Much of what you read in the pages of Agency Rules is my own personal experience since I moved to Pakistan. I have sat and listened to Friday sermons given by these firebrand imams. I have visited some of the madrassahs in my home area of Swat. I visited the training camps and suicide bomber camps in Khyber Pukhtoonkhwa. And I have seen first-hand the destruction that the Taliban’s way of thinking has poured on Pakistan with both hands.

I can honestly say that I spent years reading everything I could get my hands on to understand all the perceptions and assumptions before I wrote a single word. The only way to get it right is to immerse yourself into the research. Then the whole story flowed as if I was living it out myself.


Reading the numerous reviews you’ve gotten on the novel, most of your critics are expecting a lot more in the sequel. Which aspects of your story are you planning to expound upon?

Critics? I have critics?!? I think that I have been quite fortunate with the acceptance that my novel has gotten across the world. Most of the reviews are very positive and you can tell that they really got into the flow of the story. There have been some that focused on what they wanted to see, rather than what was on the page and that’s ok. Every reader brings some of their own biases and thoughts into anything they read.

In terms of what I am planning to expound upon in the future novels, I can talk about book 2 and 3, which will most likely be released simultaneously towards the end of Fall 2014. Since Kamal is the focus of the story, we will see him grow. His growth will create more questions in his own mind about what he knows and what he sees. There is the introduction of new players in the arena including a suicide bomber, a young politician and a new Army Chief, who will help the readers understand more of the extremist teachings/agenda, the political landscape and the civil-miilitary relationship under a new government. The intent behind the Agency Rules series is not just to tell the reader a story, but to help them experience it from the eyes of those who are telling it. With Pakistan’s disparate population, the reader, like every Pakistani, will be wondering about the intentions of every player, every scenario, and every act. You get to see Pakistan through our eyes, with our pain and our struggle for peace and freedom against all the forces that would like to hamper it.


Where do you see the real-life situation in Karachi heading? It seems as if they’re trying to appease all sides, as is reflected by Azam Shah. Do you see a more active anti-Jihadist campaign emerging in the near future?

Karachi is a timebomb waiting to explode, but it is not the jihadis that present the biggest problem. In Karachi, we stuggle with gangs fighting for more and more terrority in the city, backed by political parties. We struggle with sectarian violence between Sunni and Shia extremist groups that find their home base in Punjab. It’s after all of this that we have the jihadi element to deal with, which is also backed by religious parties and the extremist groups.

The problem comes up when you look at the political side of it. Going back to the 1990s, the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) rose to prominence with a middle-class membership. The MQM is different than all the other political parties in Pakistan because their leadership and members are not agricultural landowners, and they find their base among disgruntled the Urdu- speaking first (emigrants from India as opposed to those already living in what is now Pakistan) and then the wider middle-class of the country. This same MQM was targeted by Naseer Ullah Baber, then Interior Minister, in Operation Clean-Up (Operation Blue Fox) where almost 15,000 members were kidnapped and executed by the Pakistan Rangers, another paramilitary force, and backed by the Pakistan Army.

We saw the power of the MQM just a few days ago when Altaf Hussain, leader and founder of the party, was arrested on money laundering charges in the UK. Karachi, a city of 20 million, was shut down completely within 20 minutes of the news being reported in Pakistan, the Karachi Stock Exchange saw a drop of almost 900 points in the span of an hour. Why did the whole city shutdown? Fear of reprecussions from the MQM.

The media, which you mentioned earlier, doesn’t help with the resolution of the problem either. For six months in 2007, a place known as Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) rose to international prominence when they illegally took over a government library to convert it into an extension for their mosque. The Lal Masjid brigade, as most Pakistanis like to call them, closed down DVD and music CD shops, kidnapped those who they thought were involved in immoral activities and kidnapped police officers that dared to come to close to their base of operations. Each kidnapped person would be released once they accepted their crimes against Islam and promised never to do it again. The media was going nuts on the fact that the Army had not taken any action even though the threat was just a few miles from Prime Minister House, Parliament and numerous foreign missions. One reporter famously asked President Musharraf why he had not ordered any action by the armed forces. Musharraf said, “I know how the media operates in Pakistan. Today, you ask me why I haven’t taken any action, but if tomorrow the government launches an operation against Lal Masjid, you will be the first ones to scream that innocents had been killed.” And that is exactly what happened.

In July when the military, led by our SSG commandos, moved in, the media changed the language from terrorist to martyr. Today, former President Musharraf stands charged with multiple counts of murder for a decision taken to protect the citizens of Islamabad.

When we talk about taking serious action against the jihadis in Karachi, people remember all that has happened in the past causing them to hesitate. The government of the day has taken the position that they must negotiate with the jihadi/TTP elements rather than taking stern military action, which has angered the public and the Army as a whole. 99% of Pakistanis want to be free of these elements in their cities. They want to live in peace, but as long as the government wants to negotiate, the Army has to sit on their hands.


Your biography indicates you’ve had a varied and extraordinary life journey, from Michigan to Karachi. How would you define your mission statement, and will you ever return to any of the places you once called home?

Hahaha… a mission statement. I have seen most of the US and lived in five states – Alabama, Missouri, Indiana, Michigan and Illinois. Outside the US, I lived in all the metropolitan cities of Pakistan, London for a couple of years and Dubai, not to mention the number of places I have traveled on business. I think if I were to give a mission statement, it would be simple. See. Do. Live. People get caught up in the comfortable and miss the extraordinary. I would rather have healthy doses of both in my life.

Will I ever return to any of the places? Of course. My parents and younger sister still live in the US. I have friends scattered around the world from my professional engagements. I will always go back and visit, but I want to see new places, experience new things and let my life enrich itself. It will make me a better writer and allow me to take my readers on wilder adventures!

I wanted to take a minute and thank you, John, for hosting me for this interview. Being that you have read Agency Rules, it made the interview much more interesting than the standard questions that everyone asks. I would also like to thank your readers for stopping by and reading this long discussion, I would hope that some of you would comment, share and tweet this to your friends and family. And, of course, I also hope that some of your readers will be willing to pick up Agency Rules and give it a try. I promise not to disappoint! You can get Agency Rules #1 – Never an Easy Day at the Office on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo and iTunes. It’s available in paperback and digital formats, so you have no excuse not to read it!


About the author…

Khalid Muhammad was born in Pakistan’s troubled Swat Valley, educated and raised in the United States, Khalid returned to Pakistan almost 17 years ago and fell in love with his country. His debut novel, Agency Rules – Never an Easy Day at the Office, is a journey behind the headlines about Pakistan, the world’s most dangerous place, to deliver an intense story that will challenge the reader to question what they have been told.

Find out more about him at, @AgencyRulesPK ( or the Agency Rules Facebook page (

Buy links

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Interview With John Tucker



John Tucker is another one of my partners in prose, a trusted friend and ally in my war against the publishing industry. His Bemused and Bedeviled series and The Rask Trilogy have established his reputation as an indie author, and he is admired by his colleagues for his ongoing projects in presenting new writers to the Internet community. 


The most noticeable works in your repertoire are the Divisive series and the Bemused and Bedeviled series. It seems like your antagonists always get the upper hand and continually escape justice. Is it a way to keep readers hooked or is there a message being conveyed?   

Both. Every good novel should have a protagonist and an antagonist, and I think the villain should be the strongest of the two. Readers react to a novel with a mixture of emotions – anger, grief, joy, shock, and awe.  The bad guy will get the majority of the memorable lines, elicit the most emotions, and are capable of driving a story to places where the reader will not expect. Personally, I was in a dark state of mind while writing Divisive.  I had some setbacks in my private life and most of my valued friends basically deserted me.  Since then I’ve recovered to a point but it’s still hard to allow people to get close to me. Fox Mulder of the X-Files had a motto – The Truth Is Out There.  Mine’s closer to Gregory House – Everybody Lies.


 There’s a lot of sexual tension in your novels bordering on soft-core. How do your female critics generally react to your story lines?   

I make sure my synopses inform the reader what they’re in for.  In Divisive and The Fifth Game, sex is primarily used as physical collateral.  Love is virtually non-existent and manipulations and lies are verbal currency.  I’m at the point in my life where I know true love doesn’t exist. Human relationships are based primarily on lust, compromise, and comfort.   As far as my female readers go, I’ve only had a few complaints. One reviewer mentioned she had Divisive pegged as a 3-Star book halfway through because of the violence, profanity, and sex but, by the end, changed it to a 5-Star because the book was so riveting she couldn’t put it down. Women today aren’t like they were 30-50 years ago. They’ve taken control of their sexuality and have made actions and feelings  about intercourse, masturbation, lust  and desires purely for their own.


I haven’t read The Little Girl You Kiss Goodnight yet, despite having reviewed a few of your novels. How does it compare to the aforementioned works?  

So far, The Little Girl You Kiss Goodnight is my sole YA effort and, even so, is aimed at the higher spectrum of young readers (17-19) There’s no profanity, sex is alluded to or implied, and there’s actually a moral to my story.   During the investigation of her estranged mother’s rape and strangulation, Steph Linder finds out the woman was a barely functioning alcoholic who flirted with or screwed any man who succumbed to her charms. With Steph involved in a sexual relationship with a teacher at her high school, she’s forced to confront her own moral demons  while wondering if she’ll end up just like her mother – promiscuous and emotionally alone.  While the overall tone is lighter than most of my novels there’s still a dark undercurrent in play, especially in the damaged Linder family dynamic .


Your Facebook and Amazon pages don’t give us a lot of information. What is your educational background? How did it impact your writing career?

Once I graduated high school, I had the misfortune/luck to get my girlfriend pregnant. For the next five years I worked two jobs to keep my family in comfort. After becoming a manager for a pizza chain, I worked the next twenty five years until a back injury forced me to collect disability. So, brass tacks, I’ve had a high school education with no college to speak of.   When I first decided to write a novel, just to see if I could, I discovered I wrote a mess.   I joined an online writing/critique group and, over the course of a year, learned the basics of English again.   While I admit my books will never be confused with fine writing, I’m proud of what I’ve done over the last four years and will defend my right to publish it.


There is a theological dialogue that resonates throughout Bemused and Bedeviled. Do you consider yourself a religious person, and does the narrative reflect a particular viewpoint?

I was raised in the Pentecostal religion for most of my childhood and believe organized religion is a poison. I believe in the Holy Trinity and the Bible and worship God and Jesus, but doubt the various saints and writers of the Holy Word knew how the spiritual institutions they built would become so corrupt over the ages.  While my Bemused and Bedeviled Series can be viewed as irreverent, my mixture of mythology and Judeo/Christian based icons clearly uphold the values of good and the horrors of evil. I will also freely admit they skewer the ritualized pomp and deeply-ingrained corruption of organized religions assorted faults and follies with a definite tongue-in-cheek.


 It seems as if the Divisive series carries a strong message as regards dysfunctional families and their effects on children in such relationships. Were there people or events that influenced you in making a literary statement?

I grew up in a very dysfunctional family. We looked close to perfect on the outside but had so many internalized problems they still affect me to this very day. I’ll not go into specifics but alcoholism, anger, apathy, and mental issues were but the tip of our familial iceberg.  In Divisive, Dennis Rask was physically abused by his single mother and sexually abused in his pre-teen years by a spinster aunt.  He came to use his hatred for single mothers who ruled dysfunctional families as a mission to rid the world of them and to keep their spawn from doing the same thing when they matured.


Tell us how your life in Georgia affected your world view as an author.

They say write what you know, and I know my home state. From the suburbs, to the urban areas, to the rural countryside.  I know accents, surroundings, and the ways of the South.  Most of my novels have taken place in Georgia – save Romancing the Fox – and I try to impart the innate courtesy and state pride most of us Georgians possess. Other than a few trips to California, and a year in North Carolina and Florida, my world has been the Peach State. Do I want to visit foreign locales and fabled cities – sure.  Will it kill me if it doesn’t happen – no.


Do politics or social issues affect your writing? Some of your novels seem to indict a flawed legal system. Do you ever think of writing as a personal platform?

I’m highly cynical about the political process. The powers that be control every aspect of it and the little people have no say, I repeat no say, in the big elections. I do believe the ones for mayor, city council,  and head dogcatcher, of course.  But the three branches of the federal government, not a chance.   I also view the leaders in law enforcement as corrupt as the religious system.


Your Facebook page shows that you spend a lot of time promoting other authors. What has been most encouraging in making your way along the literary jungle?

I promote other authors unless they become delinquent in returning the favor.  It’s definitely a two-lane street.  As a rule, Indie Authors should support each other because the ‘traditional publishing world’ doesn’t give a damn.  I’m also heartened by the fact that so many diverse people enjoy my books and support me the best they can. It does my cold, hard soul some good to see a dozen likes and shares to my posts every day, along with a few new friends, and many messages awaiting me every morning when I wake up.


When college students of the future take note of Indie Writers of the 21st Century, what do you hope they will remember John Tucker for?

For my quirky novels, my immoral villains, and my tongue-in-cheek humor.    If I become a cult-novelist instead of a famous one, I’d be happy with that too.


Here’s links to John’s work and contact info!

Facebook Author Page —-


Amazon Author Page —


Twitter — @Hutt1234John


Blog —



Twelve Doors to Ecstasy —-


Divisive —


The Fifth Game: Elizabeth’s Soul (Divisive Book 2)


Splits in the Skin —


The Little Girl You Kiss Goodnight –



The Bemused and Bedeviled Series


Vol 1 – Terpsichore in Love —-


Vol 2 – The Mark of Cain —


Vol 3 – The Seventh Seal —-



Interview With Marcha Fox


Marcha Fox is another good friend and fellow author whose Star Trails Tetralogy series is an essential contribution to the indie sci-fi genre. She is also an accomplished astrologer and spent twenty-one years at NASA. Marcha brings a lot to the table and I was fortunate to have her share with us…

You’ve gone from being a professional astrologer to a science fiction author. It appears as if a flawless transition, yet the lack of reference to astrology in your novels seems somewhat surprising.

Actually I’ve been a science fiction author long before I became an astrologer.  Would the truth be known, I was writing an SF novel back in the 80s and was developing the character of the physicist protagonist’s ex-wife who I thought would be all the more annoying if she was into astrology.  At the time as a college student majoring in physics I didn’t believe in it.  However, to develop the character I had to learn something about it and in the process I discovered that it worked. Needless to say that was a rather large “Aha!” moment.  It wasn’t until around 2004 that I really got into astrology to the point I obtained formal training and went professional.  Prior to that I worked in the aerospace industry, mostly as a NASA contractor for over 20 years.

As far as having astrology in my books, they were in the process of being written before I got into astrology other than my brief introduction to it back in the 80s.  That said, I’ve actually developed a zodiac for my fictitious planet, Cyraria,  and my minor character, Zahra, is an astrologer.  The references she uses in “A Dark of Endless Days” relate to Vedic astrology and aren’t recognizable to most English-speaking readers.  She predicts bad times based on the double eclipse that occurs in that novel.

Since my target audience is young adults I actually need to avoid astrology to some degree as one of those verboten, controversial subjects.  Since I believe my books have educational value (which is further supplemented by material on my website to assist parents and educators in using the stories as a springboard for discussion), I tried to promote them to the homeschooling market.  One magazine to whom I’d inquired about advertising wanted to read them first to make sure they were “suitable” so I sent off hardcopies.  I never heard back from her again, even when I inquired about them.  The only explanation I could conceive of was that many homeschoolers are fundamental Christians and if she googled my name online and found out I was an astrologer that could explain her behavior.  So I try to downplay it as much as possible, especially here in the Bible Belt.  Rather than making me more interesting or diverse, it makes me suspect.  Another interesting experience that will make its way into a novel someday.


What seems to set your Star Trails Tetralogy apart is the subplot involving Merapa as a tragic figure, trying to maintain his integrity while his family’s dignity is being compromised. Did you consider the fact that the sci-fi audience might be drawn into the more human and less technical aspects of the plot?

A common criticism of science fiction is that it often employs “cardboard characters.”  I didn’t want to fall into that trap.  I think one of the reasons for Star Wars’ success was due to the characters being so credible.  As someone who has worked in a technological environment I know that it is only a setting, that people are people, regardless.  If the reader can relate to the characters it gives the story another dimension.  Even if readers are into “hard” SF  I don’t think they mind entering the world through characters they can relate to.  Human emotions and needs haven’t ever changed, only the setting in which they operate.  I think convincing characters make the SF elements more credible as well.


Tell us a bit about your time at NASA. Were there any specific projects that inspired your ‘what-if’ imagination in developing the Brightstar family legacy?

The NASA experience really had little effect on Star Trails as far as the Brightstar family legacy is concerned.  There is one specific part of “Beyond the Hidden Sky” that did relate to my experience there, however, and that is when Creena is in the pod which does not have a gravity simulator.  She refuses to follow directions to exercise and stay in condition so when she finally arrives on Verdaris she can’t even stand up.  This is all based on true research and experiments related to the effects of zero gravity.

Of course the bureaucratic nature of a government agency teaches you a whole lot about politics, blind ambition, “empire building” as we called it, and seeing the darker side of human nature in that respect so that helped with developing the political structure within the novels.

When I worked there I had an idea for a novel that I never had time to write that was based on the space shuttle making an emergency landing in Africa at one of the TAL (trans-Atlantic Landing) sites.  They actually had numerous sites over there if problems arose after launch and they could make it that far.  Many of them were in tiny, unstable countries so I was going to have the locals take the shuttle and its crew hostage.  I gathered quite a bit of research along the way for it but now that the shuttle isn’t flying anymore I doubt it would be of interest.  It would have been fun to write, though, and I could have really put a lot of my experience to work.  C’est la vie.


You visited the European Space Agency as a NASA representative. How do you see the European Union’s role in space exploration in comparison to the USA and the Russian programs? What would make them a true competitor?

Funny you should mention that because at this point they are probably all ahead of us or will be soon.  NASA doesn’t even have a vehicle to get to the International Space Station anymore and is thus dependent on the Russians, private contractors such as Space-X and other International Partners including Japan to provide transportation to and from there.  NASA is crumbling under the policies of the current administration and the nation’s economic woes.  The Europeans have similar money problems and space programs are expensive but they seem more dedicated to it than we are these days.

Frankly, I don’t even see us as a competitor anymore, even with the Chinese rapidly overtaking us.  While I was working at NASA the Chinese downloaded all of our requirements documents and built themselves a shuttle.  They took advantage of many of our “lessons learned” which came from blowing things up and various accidents which of course accelerated their progress.  By the time NASA figured out what was going on secured their documents they were basically closing the barn door after the cows got out.  I don’t doubt the next ones on the Moon will be the Russians or Chinese.  They’ve stated it as a goal and they tend to do what they say.

Researchers have theorized about the moons of Saturn having ice caps that might indicate the presence of water that could support life. Yet they’ve never even considered placing a station on our own moon. Are any of these things we may see in our lifetime?

If they ever want to get to Mars they need to establish a permanent base on the Moon first.  This was in the planning stages when Bush was in office.  Such things are planned for years and even decades only to be zapped according to the political leanings of the prevailing party.  This has happened numerous times.  You may recall Reagan’s plans for Space Station Freedom, which were pretty far along when they were zapped by Bill Clinton who eventually brought it back as the International Space Station.  Our space program is a political tool and if it doesn’t fit in with their current ideology then it’s not funded consistently enough to make progress.

Thus, major projects that require years of planning and technological development to say nothing of a whole lot of money tend to die on the vine, wasting all that was done up to that point.  Our system of funding projects year to year based on Congressional approval isn’t conducive to major, longterm projects.  Whenever a new political leader comes in everything starts over from scratch, essentially reinventing the wheel.  It’s no wonder we haven’t made much progress.

Saturn is a whole lot farther away than Mars so I doubt the USA will have anything there in even my children’s lifetimes, at least as far as a manned base is concerned.  However, some other country very well might.  Technology really isn’t the problem.  Money and commitment are the problem.

Your trilogy demonstrates how politics often creates obstacles for human advancement, even when issues of survival are in question. Were there times at NASA when corporate interests obstructed and even interrupted groundbreaking projects?

It was more often the other way around.  NASA hires contractors because they can be fired, civil servants can’t.  Thus, when those political whims come along, they can ditch the contractors, which is really a misnomer since the “contract” really doesn’t mean squat when NASA decides they no longer want or need you.  As a former subcontractor I can tell you that we often felt like slaves.  NASA held our fate in their hands, both as individuals, companies and corporations, and they knew it.  While there were many honest, hardworking and intelligent people who worked for NASA it also had its share of power-hungry drones.  It didn’t matter how high up the corporate food chain you were, you had to kow-tow to the lowest civil servant.  All it took was a contract rebid and the corporation who had been the prime contractor literally on top of the world could be out on its keester, often to be replaced by a slew of small disadvantaged businesses due to congressional edict.  Politics and aerospace development mix as effectively as oil and water.

You got your degree at Utah State University. Were you thinking about writing back in your scholastic days? Has your life in Utah influenced your worldview as a writer?

HAHAHA.  I’ve been thinking of writing since I was old enough to hold a pencil.  I’ll let you in on a little secret.  I went back to college at the age of 35 with 6 (count them, six) kids at home to get a physics degree so I could write convincing science fiction.  I indulged myself by getting a minor in English along the way.  I kid you not.  I always wanted to be a writer but wanted to be a good one which requires education and experience.  Thus, the physics degree and 20 years NASA experience.  Maybe now I have something to work with.

As you can guess one of my pet peeves is when people write a story when they don’t know squat about the subject, setting or environment.  They say “write what you know” and it’s blatantly obvious when they don’t and are just making it up, at least to someone familiar with the industry.  That’s what Hollywood tends to do.  I just wrote a blog about that, actually, complaining that most movie producers don’t bother to hire an engineering or scientific consultant for a few thousand dollars to help them not violate the laws of physics with their dialog or special effects.

My life in Utah was another wonderful experience that feels like another lifetime.  Small town Northern Utah in the 1970s is totally reflected in Creena’s sojourn on Earth in “A Dark of Endless Days.”

Augustus Troy seems to be emerging as the bad guy in your trilogy. Yet he seems to be a two-dimensional character that symbolizes the detached, impersonal evil of the regime. Who would you compare Troy to in your own favorite literature? Are we ever going to get inside the mind of Augustus Troy?

Just wait until the 4th and final volume!  Like they say, “absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  He is a bit of a stereotype villain whom I’ve sidestepped a bit since these books are intended for young adults.  More of why he has it in for the Brightstars will come out and he will ultimately have quite a run.  I suppose he’s similar to Darth Vader in some respects, being power hungry and ruthless.  That nasty guy in Dune comes to mind, too, but I can’t remember his name offhand.

There’s a lot of pathos in the family relationships between Merapa and his children, and the sibling rivalry between Creena and Dirck. Were you making a statement about the dysfunctional family syndrome that is afflicting our own society?

No, not deliberately.  I was trying to make it realistic as far as family dynamics are concerned and point out that kids don’t always get along, usually because they are programmed differently. (I could have really gotten into the astrology on that, and actually did on the side to develop the characters.)  I was making a statement about dealing with unexpected problems, being prepared for the unexpected, not taking prosperity for granted (I’m a bit of a prepper at heart), and that working together to combine disparate traits in a complementary manner ultimately pays off.

Your biography reflects a desire to see science, religion and astrology become more interrelated in our educational system. Are you planning any novels in future that may provide a platform for that discussion? 

No, but I am planning a nonfiction book that covers the history of them all, how they were once one general philosophy but split ways, and how new discoveries related to quantum physics have the potential to unite them again. Stay tuned.

Click on Marcha’s Amazon page!

Interview With Elle Klass




I’m pleased to open this new blog with an interview featuring a good friend and colleague. The lovely and talented Elle Klass is one of the industry’s most promising indie authors. Her novel As Snow Falls is a daring and innovative study in narrative technique, and her Baby Girl series is allowing the industry to witness the development of her unique talent. Ladies and gentlemen, without further ado…

Your first-person narrative style in As Snow Falls was highly distinctive. You went to a more traditional style in the Baby Girl series. Can you tell us more about your development process in Snow, and whether it was something you would want to try again? Was there a reason you might have thought it wouldn’t have worked in Baby Girl?

In As Snow Falls I wanted to do something that most authors are too afraid to try, something unique in the literature world. I did that. With Baby Girl I went again with the first person narrative, but there is a lot of dialogue which gives the reader different perspectives. I have some other works I will be publishing in the future, which are more traditional third person narrative. Every book is different and so is its narrator. Anything is possible in the future, but As Snow Falls will most likely stand as an exclusive literary treasure.

 Baby Girl follows an exotic storyline, with Cleo riding the rails across America in Book One before ending up in Europe in Book Two. Were you paying tribute to the classic Cinderella fairy tale? What assets and qualities did you endow Cleo with to enable her to carry such a series?

Cleo is intelligent, even though she never made it past the 6th grade. She is also a superbly hot babe who is alluring to the male gender, secretive, and not afraid to take chances. One of my favorite of her qualities is her ability to slip past trouble, however that quality wouldn’t be there if the others weren’t present.

 There’s not a whole lot of political discussion in your novels, though there are a lot of sociological overtones in Baby Girl. Considering the immigration controversy in France and the overwhelming issues facing the homeless, will Cleo possibly return to her roots in weighing in on the situation?

Cleo isn’t much for politics, she’s young and somewhat tunnel vision. Her future is finding out who she really is. That idea becomes more consuming to her as she grows older. In France she was hold up in a luxurious resort of a hotel with a devastatingly handsome and rich man. After the housing situations and poverty she grew up with she enjoyed being spoiled. In Baby Girl 3 she will make it on her own, meeting a few new characters, relationships she even holds onto long into the future. She really comes into herself in book 3. In book 4… writing that now.

We see how Didier was reminiscent of a number of protagonists in classic literature, most notably Edward Rochester in Jane Eyre. Are we looking forward to Cleo to find the mature lover in her future, or will she continue climbing the ladder to the success that she and Einstein never achieved?

There are a few surprises there. She does meet another, Fetch, who reminds her a bit of Einstein in personality. The idea scares her a little, but I hate to give away any secrets. There is another man she meets, he’s not good looking or rich. He is endearing and works himself a special place in her heart.

You were born in California, then moved to Florida. How have your life experiences influenced your novels? Was the homeless community in the two cities different for young people like Cleo and Einstein?

I have lived on each coast and travelled through most states in between. People are people. The homeless situation is bad everywhere and many kids find themselves prostituting, using drugs, or worse human trafficking or ending up dead at the hands of a psychopath. I wanted something a little lighter for my characters. When I moved to the south I was culture shocked at first, rebel flags, gun racks, Nascar and hunting were new to me. I also couldn’t understand people because of their hefty southern accents. I’m going to mention here in did an 8 year stint in Virginia before moving to Florida so when I talk about accents that was in Virginia. People where I live in Florida don’t generally have a heavy drawl, some do. For Cleo and Einstein each city was different but they never changed their M.O. get in, get out and don’t get caught.

A lot of people would have wanted to see Einstein continue alongside Cleo in her journey. What made you decide to remove him from the storyline?

They were too young and every girl needs a heartbreak. Cleo’s heartbreak stays with her and shapes her future, which will be seen more after book 4. Yes, I have Cleo’s life planned out for more books of which I may tie book 1 together and produce two more full length novels to make a trilogy. The future will see.

 Can you tell us about your days at the University of North Florida? What made you realize you were going to become a novelist?

Being a novelist is my dream, but I didn’t think it would make enough to help raise my daughters so I chose education, and have now spent 11 years teaching. Education seemed a little more stable. With all the changes in education over the past few years I unfortunately have to say that’s not true anymore. There is little to no job security now for new teachers in Florida or even for those of us who have been at it before the rules changed. Writing was something I enjoyed since I was young, my children are grown, less the job security thing I figure now is a good time to get started on my dream. As Snow Falls was the first novel I wrote after realizing teaching had one great fringe benefit (still does), summers off. I spent one entire summer plugged into my old Dell.

 Who are your favorite writers? Which of them have been your biggest influences and why?

I studied literature in college and loved some of the classics, but my favorite novelist of all time is V.C. Andrews. Her books probably influenced my style more than any other author ever. In fact ,I still have all my old trade paperbacks of the Dollanger and Heaven series. I’m thrilled that Lifetime is making them into movies! It is the intense and subtle darkness in her words that keeps me glued to the pages. Her ability to give her protagonist a fairy tale life and then take it away at the drop of a hat. By no means would I compare my writing to hers, but I do associate with the darkness, only my books are somewhat lighter with humorous overtones.

Do you have a great Elle Klass novel you’re dreaming of writing? Tell us about it.

I have a slew of novels. For starters Eye of The storm the first of a trilogy will be released this fall. Cleo’s adventures will span a few novels. This fall, for NaNoWriMo I’m contemplating between writing book 2 in my Strom series or going with a hilarious third person narrative that is currently a sketch about a biology teacher Joan, who with the aid of her students have a hilarious and somewhat disturbing day, which could also lead to a series since I have so many teaching stories to embellish on. I also have a rough draft of a stream punkish book about a teacher who lives below a serial killer and beside a group of vampires. The idea from this book comes from a personal experience. In my private thoughts I have a zombie novel forming, gruesome and funny.

 What is your biggest criticism of the indie writing scene these days? What do you think can be done to improve it?

There are so many indie authors out there it is highly competitive. I published As Snow Falls knowing nothing about publishing and little about the differences of publishing indie style or traditional. It seems there is still a lot of criticism about indie writers, not being true authors. I would like to say that is so not true. I am an avid reader and spent my childhood reading traditionally published novels. Now that I’m older I enjoy sitting down with a fantastic unknown indie published book. I may check out a traditionally published book from the library, but my money goes strictly to indies.  To improve the situation an author needs to do their research and use the same tricks the big guys use. We also need to work together as a team, getting our work out there to the public using all means possible. A few great indie authors I would recommend checking out are for starters John Reinhard Dizon, my sister and YA fiction author Terri Klaes Harper, for excellent poetry Jeniann Bowers, and for intense multi genres John Tucker. I could keep going with this list my Kindle is full of excellent indie reads. I even have a few autographed paperbacks that I cherish as much as my beloved V.C. Andrews collection.

Check out Elle’s Amazon Author Page!!!