Larry Matthews Interview

Larry Matthews’ interview of me from earlier this year on the program “Matthews and Friends” is now available online. You can hear it at    Larry talks to two other people during the same clip. My interview starts about 25 minutes in.

In the interview, I talk about writing my most recent novel, Secretocracy, and about my experience in the U.S. intelligence system. If you take a listen, let me know your reaction.


Obama Top Best Seller

I’m informed by the press that a book I reviewed, Barack Obama’s A Promised Land (Crown, 2020), is currently outselling all other books on the market. That’s a first for me.

In my estimation, the book deserves its sales. It’s the best nonfiction I’ve read for many years and a book I’ll long remember. You can read my review at

I liked the book for all the obvious reasons—superbly written, subject matter thoroughly explored, historical accuracy meticulously respected. But my fondness was also more personal. I find Obama himself likeable. He is, like me, a disciplined researcher, intrigued as much with the history and depth of the topic he’s writing about as with the breadth of his view. I remarked in the review on his flair for similes. And his occasional forays into humor were so subtle that I often only appreciated them in retrospect.

I can’t claim that I write like Obama. His style, like his subject matter, is complex and intricate. I, as a novelist and short story writer, stress simplicity, brevity, and poetic construction. His very long sentences, while suitable to his milieu, would not work well in my prose. And I don’t see him consciously striving for musicality in his structures.

None of that is intended to be a criticism of Obama’s writing. His style and approach are ideal for subject matter. I’m delighted at his success. I continue to believe he is a great man that we all can learn from.

Corruption of Intelligence

For the safety and wellbeing of the republic, it is urgent that intelligence professionals, those who keep our leaders informed about the doings of other nations, remain independent. They must be free to report unwelcome news to the president and other top officials. They must be invested to contradict the powerful with facts. The truth, not flattery, must guide them.

I know what it is like to be the bearer of unwelcome news. As head of the covert National Security Agency (NSA) operation in Saigon in April 1975, I repeatedly warned the U.S. ambassador, the president, and other top officials that the North Vietnamese had surrounded us and were preparing to attack the city. But the U.S. ambassador in Saigon, Graham Martin, was able to persuade top U.S. officials that the North Vietnamese had no intention of launching an assault against the city despite the overwhelming evidence I reported, based on the intercept of North Vietnamese radio communications, that the onslaught was imminent. When the attack came—and I escaped under fire—Washington was taken by surprise.

That was 45 years ago. Now we are faced with a grimly similar situation. President Trump has removed impartial experts from key intelligence posts and put loyal minions in their place. Unwilling to allow any criticisms of the Russians, for example, Trump presumably hears nothing untoward about a country that has, among other things, offered a bounty for Americans killed in Afghanistan.

The situation is particularly dangerous right now. With the government in upheaval over the storming of the Capitol on 6 January and Trump in his last days in office, this is an ideal time for an enemy to strike. Our government would have great difficulty pulling itself together quickly to detect preparations for a hostile probe and to respond.

When, later this month, Joe Biden is inaugurated as president, he will, I’m sure, clean house and see to it that intelligence officials are professional and independent. Biden has been at the top of the federal government for too long to be fooled into allowing yes-men to lead our intelligence effort.

But what might happen in the meantime, before Biden takes office or before he has time to weed out gofers? Thanks to Trump, the nation is in grave peril of being taken by surprise.

Why I’m Not Writing

I explained in a blog a few days ago why I write. But these days, I’m not writing, except for this blog. Why?

The answer is a series of events that arrived simultaneously. The onset of the pandemic brought with it a lockdown. I found myself threatened by a disease that might kill me (an older man with a history of lung cancer) and isolated from all human contact. The economy crashed. It was my extreme good fortune that my income is a federal government annuity that continued despite the shutdown. The Trump administration spiraled downward in competence and effectiveness. Worst of all, my partner for over twenty years, Su, died at the end of March.

So for the better part of a year, I have been living in a strange new world in which my life is at risk and I am devoid of human contact while I grieve over the loss of my mate. Nothing is the same. I can’t even spend time with my children lest we infect one another. I am more alone than I have ever been in my life.

One result of inhabiting a barren realm is that my drive to write has vanished. Worse, I can’t write even when I try. A part of me has gone silent. The creative juices have ceased to flow. I am voiceless.

I believe that over time I’ll return to a normal life where I meet with others and communicate. My voice will return. The story I most want to tell, of the death of a loved one during the pandemic, will finally find its way onto paper.

Maybe I’ll call it Love in the Time of the Coronavirus.

Beware Trump’s Next Moves

We are in the worst era I have lived through. The New York Times on 8 January, described it:

“The worst pandemic in a century is becoming more severe, with a contagious new coronavirus variant spreading and thousands of Americans dying every day. The mass vaccination program is behind schedule. Almost 10 million fewer Americans have jobs than did a year ago. The U.S. president, with the backing of dozens of members of Congress, has tried to overturn an election result and remain in power. Hundreds of his supporters overwhelmed police officers and stormed the Capitol, one of the few times in history that an U.S. government building has been violently attacked.”  

Donald Trump, our current president, deserves blame for how bad the situation has become. He made no moves against the pandemic and even dismissed it as trivial—we now have had more than 365,000 deaths. He failed to bolster the economy in the face of a lockdown. His “warp speed” vaccination effort is a dismal failure. We are in the midst of a depression that promises to get far worse. Then, claiming falsely that he had won November’s election, Trump urged his supporters to march on the U.S. Capitol. Once there, they overran the building, savaged offices and the Senate chamber, and triggered the evacuation of members of Congress and their staffs. Five deaths and 82 arrests resulted from the carnage.  

Months ago, I called upon Americans to beware of what Trump might do, particularly after he lost the November election. His nefarious actions since have more than met my expectations. But as I write, Trump still has eleven days in office. He wields all the powers of the presidency. We are in real danger.  

So I call upon members of Congress and federal officials to move at once to stop Trump by taking away his power. Removing him from office through the 25th Amendment to the Constitution or by impeachment are critical to the safety of the country.  

I encourage all citizens to beseech their representatives to act.

Why I Write

My recent blog post on why I write fiction begged the question of why do I write at all. The answer: because I have to.

This is not the first time in this blog that I have tackled the question of why I write. The answer is the same every time but with new understanding. I’ve known since I was six years old that I was born to write. As a youngster, I came to understand that my mandate was to tell stories—that is, my job was to write fiction as my way of telling the truth about life. And I was to be blessed with insight about the truth.

As I have reported here before, I tried to escape my fate as a young man. I always knew I was to be an artist, but I thought perhaps I could be a dancer, an actor, or—especially—a musician. I even went so far as to take a BA in music. But my patient angels consistently brought me back to my true calling.

Writing, of course, doesn’t pay, so as a young man with a wife and children, I indulged my natural flare for foreign languages, got into intelligence, and became a spy, secretly intercepting and exploiting the radio communications of other nations. I got so good at supporting friendly troops on the battlefield that the National Security Agency (NSA), my employer, promoted me ahead of my contemporaries. I got so many assignments to combat regions that I didn’t have time to write.

As a result, I retired as early as I could, with a generous annuity, so that I could write fulltime. At last I could fulfill my God-given mission. I now have six books and 17 short stories in print. You can learn about the books at the Amazon web site devoted to me

Perhaps I should explain, not for the first time, that refusing to write would, for me, invite damnation. It’s so clear to me that it was to write that I was put on earth.

Sitting on my dining room table is a mug filled with pens and pencils. I’ve had it for more years than I can remember. The words on it are, “I write because it’s my purpose.”

’Nuff said.

U.S. Shamed Before the World

Yesterday, in an attempted coup, President Trump urged mobs to ravage the Capitol. The heart of American democracy was penetrated and ransacked by throngs protesting Trump’s election defeat. During the process, four people died.

As the entire world watched, Donald Trump dragged the U.S. into shameful depths never before approached. As newscasters observed, we are now no better than a banana republic. The world’s leading democracy is shamed before the world.

For the safety of the country, Congress should immediately implement the 25th Amendment to the Constitution to disempower Trump before he does even more severe damage. And he should be indicted for his many crimes in office.

I never thought I’d live to see the day our country was so degraded.

Why Fiction?

Readers regularly ask me why I write fiction. The life I have lived thus far has been filled with dramatic events well worth writing about. For thirteen years, I spent more time on the battlefields of Vietnam than I did in the U.S. and survived the fall of Saigon. After that, until I retired in the 1990s, I did similar work elsewhere—though all that is still classified. I have, in short, plenty of stories to tell.

The answer is that my calling is fiction. Whether I like it or not, I was put on earth to make up stories and write them down. I do write nonfiction. This blog, now in its fourth year of daily posts, is all fact-based. And I have a handful of articles in print—see, for example, my piece on the fall of Saigon (you can read it at -fall-of saigon/) But the great majority of my published writing, six books and 17 short stories, is tales I have invented.

I need to stress that fiction is not falsity. According to Merriam-Webster, fiction is something invented by the imagination or feigned. And in fact, all my stories and novels are drawn from real events. My novel, No-Accounts, is based on the years I cared for men dying of AIDS; Last of the Annamese tells what occurred during the fall of Saigon—every event depicted really did happen; and Secretocracy describes what I faced during my tour as an intelligence budgeteer with the federal government, though the dates and administration involved were changed to protect the guilty.

To me, fiction is a way to tell the truth through stories. I want people to know what happened during the AIDS crisis, the fall of Saigon, and the Trump administration. So I tell my stories are as factually as possible but with fictional characters acting out what actually happened.

I have never questioned critics who have accused me of writing fiction in name only. They caught me in the act.