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Author Update: J.R. Seeger

J.R. Seeger uses his experience in the military and the CIA to write authentically about the workings of espionage. He is the author of the MIKE4 series, about a family who serves in the intelligence community from World War II to the present, and the Steampunk Raj books that follow the same family during World War I. The Enigma of Treason, published in 2023, is the third novel in the Raj series. You’ll find all of John’s books on his Amazon author page. Read more about his writing in his 2020 interview for SouthWest Writers.

The Enigma of Treason (and your Steampunk Raj series) is a significant departure from your MIKE4 novels. What are the differences between the series, as well as similarities?
The Raj series is designed to be historical fiction with the addition of Central Asian mysticism (or magical realism, as my publisher prefers to call it) as spice to the dish. I have dabbled in historical fiction before in my short stories set in colonial New Mexico, but this is full on historical fiction with historical figures and real events passing through the novels. The only real similarities with the MIKE4 novels are the nature of “the trade” (espionage) and the importance of intelligence operations in the larger canvas of conflict among nations. Of course, for those who have read the MIKE4 series, they will know that the antagonists in the Raj series are related to the protagonists in the MIKE4 series. That connection was underscored in the MIKE4 novel Graveyard for Spies and will be more apparent in the next Raj book.

Who are your main characters? Did they surprise you as you wrote their story? Will those who know you recognize you in any of your characters?
Enigma of Treason continues with the same characters in A School for the Great Game and A Sound like Distant Thunder. The Bankroft family and the O’Connell family are on opposite sides of the imperial battle for control of the Middle East. I worked to make both families believable and have tried to make Michael O’Connell’s transition from an isolated, lonely boy to a hardened enemy of the Raj credible. Probably the most curious character in the books is Chodak. He lives in a shadow world of demons or, perhaps, exclusively in the minds of the main characters. His periodic appearances in the novel did surprise me as I wrote them.

I have worked hard not to put myself in any of my books. I do use my experience with tribal leaders from throughout Central Asia to create believable characters caught in the middle of this conflict of Empires. In the MIKE4 series, there are many characters who resemble composites of real people.

What are the main settings in the book and how do they impact the story and the characters?
The story is set in Mesopotamia — a part of what we would call Iraq today — and in the borderlands between the Ottoman Empire and the Persian Empire. The region was important in World War I as it is today. It is the crossroads of trade and central to the growing dependence on Middle East oil. The strategic significance drew three empires — Ottoman, German, and British — into conflict. Agents of great powers will always be involved in conflict zones where resources are abundant and local political control is weak.

Tell us how the book came together.
The story has its origins in my personal interest in many of the real adventurers in the region during World War I. Most will recognize the name of TE Lawrence, but his work in the Hejaz (western Saudi Arabia and Jordan) was only one of many efforts by “oriental” experts working in support of the German and British militaries. Most of these characters have appeared in the Raj series and there will be others as the series progresses. It seemed only fitting to take my characters from earlier books and place them in Mesopotamia in 1915-1916.

As to the actual craft of writing: The Raj series takes about four months of academic research before I can assemble a plot. Once that is completed, all of my books follow a basic pattern: four–five months to write, another two–three months of editing and then another month of larger assembly/formatting. Mission Point Press has a terrific graphics team that creates the covers and my wife, Lise Spargo, a formally trained, botanical illustrator, agreed to provide the chapter illustrations. From start to finish, my books take about a year from writing the first chapter to their placement on Amazon.

Is there a scene in the Enigma of Treason that you’d love to see play out in a movie?
I have tried to make my stories vivid enough that readers can imagine them in a movie. I think the final confrontation in this book mixing face-to-face combat as well as combat in the mystic plain would be a most interesting scene.

All of your Steampunk Raj books have intriguing titles. How did you come up with the title for this third novel in the series?
The Enigma of Treason title was originally planned for a MIKE4 novel. However, I realized it was a far better match for the Raj series since we have many characters trying to understand how individuals make up their minds to commit treason. As a result, MIKE4 #7 became Playground for Ambition and Raj #3 became The Enigma of Treason. I suppose I am lucky to have attempted poetry which forces compression of an idea into a few words. So far, so good, eh?

What writing projects are you working on now?
I just submitted MIKE4 #8 to my publisher. We probably won’t get it out in time for Christmas, but it is good to see another plot finished and submitted. I already have about 1/4 of the next MIKE4 book written which is another retrospective story of the life of Peter O’Connell, senior. The material written is entirely a function of the fact that I had intended to embed the story into #8 and realized it was too cumbersome for me and, I suspect, for any future reader.

As I said earlier, the Raj series requires serious academic research to match my storyline with the real world. I am about halfway through that research for Raj #4, so that will be a project for the Fall. It will be complicated, because 1916 was such a pivotal moment in the Great War as well as in the history of the British Empire. I have one nonfiction article on the world of intelligence in 1941 that I am shopping to journals as well as an outline for another of my Inquisitor short stories. I always have at least two to three stories ongoing just as my desk and my bedside table always have two to three books.

KLWagoner150_2KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. Kat has a speculative fiction blog at and writes about memoir at

An Interview with Author Brian House

Besides being a lawyer, minister, hunter, motorcycle adventurer, and cancer survivor, Brian House is a poet and an author of short- and long-form fiction and nonfiction. His second novel, the espionage thriller Reich Stop (Corsair, 2023), is book one in the Brock Donegan series. You’ll find Brian on his website at and on Facebook and Instagram. Visit his Amazon author page for all of his books.

What is your elevator pitch for Reich Stop?
Brock Donegan — a deadly special agent for hire for the Defense Intelligence Agency — races to prevent neo-Nazis from implementing a time-warping gene therapy that could start a new world war.

What inspired the story idea, and how long did it take to write the book?
Reich Stop is a modern-day thriller set in significant part in southeast New Mexico in the Cloudcroft/Sunspot Observatory/Alamogordo/Las Cruces area. I owned a home in Alamogordo for several years while my son was stationed at Holloman Air Force Base there. During those years we spent many days at Cloudcroft and Sunspot and I fell in love with the area and its beauty. There was an incident during that time when the military descended on Sunspot to secure the facility against a security threat. That gave me the idea for using Sunspot as a key location in the book. Reich Stop came easy to me. I wrote the first draft in thirty-five days. Editing of course is another matter altogether. I kept revising the book for months through the various beta readings and editorial challenges.

Tell us about your main characters.
Brock Donegan is the protagonist. He’s a wealthy middle-aged, battle-hardened former soldier having served in the French Foreign Legion. A hard man skilled with weapons and a nose to find trouble and deal with it. He lives discreetly on a farm in the Bluegrass area of Kentucky and has an on-again, off-again romantic relationship with Defense Intelligence Agency Special Agent Sandy Wallace.

Pelham Auxier III – Ox – is Brock Donegan’s best friend and faithful sidekick. He too is ex-French Foreign Legion, as deadly as Brock and content to let Brock find the jobs and lead the way.

Sandy Wallace – Special Agent with the Defense Intelligence Agency and Brock’s love interest. She brings the stolen gene therapy crisis to Brock’s front door and supplies the assets he needs to get on with the job.

Dr. Karl Wunderlich – the brilliant researcher who discovers a ghost gene and uses it to create the gene therapy that has anti-aging cancer fighting properties.

The Fortin family – wealthy wine producers with Nazi links from the second World War running an organized crime ring in France. They will do anything to get their hands on the gene therapy.

At what point in the writing process did you know the story was strong enough for a series?
I had the thought for a series in mind as I was writing the book. To be honest, it was so much fun creating the characters and putting them into the narrative, I really did not want to see them end after just one book. Later, when the reviews started coming in, people asked for more. That’s when you know. When people ask for more, you know you have a series on your hands.

What are the key issues when writing a series to keep readers coming back for more?
I think two kinds of relationships are at work here. The first is the writer’s relationship with the characters. I want the characters to be fresh and original in each story while maintaining their essential identifying characteristics. Brock Donegan is battle tested and a killer but he is not a murderer. Ox is a brilliant academic who is also a deadly mercenary who will do anything to protect Brock. Those things will never change. The second relationship is the one I have with the readers of the Brock Donegan series. I have an obligation, a desire really, to keep the stories fresh. Some of the settings will be familiar and some of the characters will reappear but the central dilemma Brock and Ox must resolve will be entirely new and involve new antagonists.

The story starts out in New Mexico and follows Brock Donegan to Bavaria. How does the setting impact the story and the characters?
The setting shifts had to happen. The story must go to Bavaria, to the birthplace of Nazism and all its evil. It will be there that Brock confronts the darkness that threatens to emerge again on the world stage.

Is there a scene in your book that you’d like to see play out in a movie?
Yes. Brock and Ox ruining the Nazi rally at Oberst Lodge. I could see some major pyrotechnic effects being used there!

How would you compare your experience with traditional publishing versus publishing independently?
I’ve had one book published through a traditional publisher. My other books have been indies. The upside of going the traditional route is the more meticulous editing and then the obvious distribution network to get your book out there. If I were forty years younger and trying to make writing my day job, I would have stayed in that world but I am sixty-five years old, a two-time cancer survivor who has made a good living as a lawyer. I am writing now because I love the art form. Indie writing is more immediate in terms of getting to market and seeing your work come to life. I like that, but you have to understand the responsibilities that come with indie writing. You have to be your own critic and editor. I am careful to seek out multiple beta readers. I literally beg for people to read my manuscripts and tear them apart. I look for all the critique and suggestions I can find.

Knowing what you know now, what would you do differently if you started your writing and publishing career today?
When people ask me to describe my career path, I tell them I’m a writer who went to law school to feed his family who then became a minister in his forties. When I was in my twenties there was no internet, now social media, no Amazon, no print-on-demand companies. Getting “out there” was very hard. If I were twenty years old in today’s world, I would be very persistent to get my manuscript in order and then work as hard as I could to secure an agent and follow that route if I wanted to make a living as a writer. I would also keep my day job. Even Hemingway had to borrow money off friends to pay his taxes.

Of all the books you’ve written, is there a particular genre you enjoy writing the most?
I have written two thrillers which have been published, a western which I have not published, and I am finishing the edits on a romantic manuscript that falls into the literary genre. It is by far and away my favorite book. I look forward to seeing it come to market.

What kind of writer are you? Do you prefer to outline, or do you dive right in and let the story unfold organically?
I know my characters and my story before I start. I think with thrillers that understanding of character and plot line are essential, at least for me, otherwise the story would be a confused, rambling mess. The literary piece I mentioned above began as a short story I was writing for a competition but it grew into a hundred-thousand-word manuscript.

Who are your favorite authors, and how have they influenced your writing?
It depends on the genre. In terms of classic American writers, it would be Hemingway. I discovered him in my early teens. His use of tight declarative sentences influenced the way I write as a lawyer and in my books. He is at the top of the heap of writers as far as I am concerned. F. Scott Fitzgerald for the sheer beauty of his work. No one can compare to him. His was a life that ended far too soon. Agatha Christie for her witty intrigue and durability. Her books have made billions of dollars. English professors can make fun of her but her estate can buy and sell most universities outright. Clive Cussler when he actually wrote his Dirk Pitt novels. Fun stuff. Tony Hillerman’s Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee novels are outstanding. I have read them all. He was an amazing writer. Both Cussler and Hillerman had great storylines and kept their character development consistent from one book to the next.

When can your readers expect to see the second book in the Brock Donegan series?
Likely in 2024. I am finishing the literary manuscript this year and will put it in the editing phase. My wife and I are spending several weeks in Seattle and Coeur d’Alene this summer as part of my research for the next Brock Donegan story. After that, I will return home and see what happens.

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?
I would say to anyone who is hesitant to write for fear of rejection — don’t fear rejection! All writers are rejected at some point, actually multiple points in their careers. All writers have been rejected by an agent. Write because you love the craft and remember to be disciplined in your work ethic and be willing to accept criticism of your work. Writers are like musicians and painters. Very few of us will ever get rich doing this but we can contribute to the art form that has been given to us as our talent, our gift. I think that is a wonderful calling in and of itself.

Su Lierz writes dark fiction, short story fiction, and personal essays. Her short story “Twelve Days in April,” written under the pen name Laney Payne, appeared in the 2018 SouthWest Writers Sage Anthology. Su was a finalist in the 2017 and 2018 Albuquerque Museum Authors Festival Writing Contest. She lives in Corrales, New Mexico, with her husband Dennis.

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