A Despicable Profession: An Interview with John Knoerle

John Knoerle was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1949 and migrated to California with his family in the 1960s. He has worked as a stand-up comic, a voiceover actor and a radio reporter. He wrote the screenplay for “Quiet Fire,” which starred Karen Black and Lawrence Hilton Jacobs, and the stage play “The He-Man Woman Hater’s Club,” an LA Time’s Critics Choice. John also worked as a writer for Garrison Keillor’s “A Prairie Home Companion.”

Knoerle’s first novel, Crystal Meth Cowboys, published in 2003, was optioned by Fox TV. His second novel, The Violin Player,won the Mayhaven Award for Fiction. Knoerle is currently at work on The American Spy Trilogy. Book One, A Pure Double Cross, came out in 2008. Book Two, A Despicable Profession, was published in August of 2010.

John Knoerle currently lives in Chicago with his wife, Judie.

You can visit his website at www.bluesteelpress.com.

Q: Thank you for this interview, John. Can you tell us what your latest book, A Despicable Profession, is all about?

It’s Book Two of the American Spy Trilogy, which follows the adventures of young Hal Schroeder, a low-level OSS agent in World War II. Here’s a brief synopsis:

May, 1946. America is basking in hard-won peace and prosperity. The OSS has been disbanded, CIA does not yet exist. Rumors swirl about the Red Army massing tanks along the Elbe in East Germany.

Former OSS agent Hal Schroeder gets an offer from Global Commerce LTD to be a trade rep in Berlin. He flies to New York to meet his new boss. Hal’s jaw drops when former OSS Chief Wild Bill Donovan strides in. Schroeder, who survived perilous duty behind German lines, says he is no longer interested in being a spy. General Donovan assures him that’s not part of his job description.

Hal comes to doubt that when he meets his immediate superior in Berlin. It’s Victor Jacobson, the case officer who sent him on repeated suicide missions in WWII.

Q:  Can you tell us a little about your main and supporting characters?

Hal Schroeder is a former OSS agent who has managed, despite himself, to become a local hero in Cleveland. He feels guilty about that because his actions were anything but heroic. He wants to make amends, with one important stipulation – he wants to live to tell about it.

The supporting cast includes the legendary Wild Bill Donovan, former head of OSS. Hal’s gung-ho case officer, Victor Jacobson. A Soviet NKVD Major named Leonid Vitinov who claims to have crossed over. And Leonid’s wan and beautiful wife, Anna.

Q: Do you tend to base your characters on real people or are they totally from your imagination?

Wild Bill Donovan was a real person of course, so extensive research was key.

But the rest of the cast are creatures of my imagination. Hal, for instance, is an idealized version of my younger self – same hard, wise-cracking exterior protecting a deep sense of uncertainty about himself.

Q: Are you consciously aware of the plot before you begin a novel, or do you discover it as you write?

I spend a solid year outlining the plot. I tried winging it one time but kept writing myself into a corner.

In the spy and mystery genres, I believe you need to know your destination before you start the journey.

Q: Your book is set in Berlin.  Can you tell us why you chose this city in particular?

Berlin in 1946 was the most interesting city in the world, IMHO. It was a viper’s nest of victorious postwar allies struggling for strategic advantage at the very beginning of the Cold War.

Q: Does the setting play a major part in the development of your story?

Yes, indeed. See above.

Q: Open the book to page 69.  What is happening?

Col. John Norwood, head of the British MI6 Berlin station, has swooped in at the last moment to rescue Hal Schroeder from a potentially fatal confrontation with the Red Army in the Soviet Sector.

A relieved Hal follows Norwood to his villa, wondering how the Colonel knew he was in jeopardy, and what the Colonel will want in exchange.

Q: Can you give us one of your best excerpts?

“Sir, my special kind of cunning is real simple,” I said, leaning forward. “I was doing a decent job in Freiburg and Ulm and Karlsruhe logging troop movements and transmitting weather reports for bomber runs. I figured if I was dead my effectiveness might suffer. And, I figured, why get myself croaked carrying out suicide missions dictated by some asshole Case Officer who was snug as a bug in Bern drinking Allen Dulles’ wine cellar dry?”

“I wasn’t,” said Jacobson, “but please continue.”

Please continue? Christ, they were shorthanded.

“I have only one job requirement sir. Survival.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” said Jacobson, drier than my swollen tongue.

Q: Thank you so much for this interview, John.  We wish you much success!

I appreciate your interest!


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