Thursday, August 9, 2018

Blog Tour l Author Interview l Michael McMenamin, Author of Appointment in Prague

APPOINTMENT IN PRAGUE by Michael & Kathleen McMenamin, HistoricalThriller, 160 pp., $12.95 (paperback) $4.99 (Kindle)

Author: Michael McMenamin & Kathleen McMenamin
Publisher: First Edition Design Publishing
Pages: 160
Genre: Historical Thriller

In the novella, Appointment in Prague, one woman, a British secret agent, sets out in May 1942 to single-handedly send to hell the most evil Nazi alive—SS General Reinhard Heydrich, the head of the SD, the domestic and foreign counter-intelligence wing of the SS; second in rank only to the head of the SS himself, Reichsfuhrer SS Heinrich Himmler; and the architect of  “The Final Solution” that will send millions of European Jews to their doom.

When British Prime Minister Winston Churchill authorizes the SOE—the ‘Special Operations Executive’— in October 1941 to assassinate Heydrich, he is unaware that the entire operation has been conceived and is being run by his Scottish goddaughter, the former Pulitzer Prize-winning Hearst photojournalist Mattie McGary. The SOE is Churchill’s own creation, one he informally describes as the Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare and, at his suggestion, Mattie becomes one of its Deputy Directors.

Mattie has a history with Heydrich dating back to 1933 and a personal score to settle. In September 1941, when the man known variously as ‘The Blond Beast’ and ‘The Man With the Iron Heart’—that last coming from Adolf Hitler himself—is appointed Reichsprotektor of Bohemia and Moravia, the remnants left of Czechoslovakia after the Germans had dismembered it in 1939, Mattie is determined—now that he is no longer safely within Germany’s borders—to have him killed. She recruits and trains several Czech partisans for the task and has them parachuted into Czechoslovakia in December 1941.

An increasingly impatient Mattie waits in London for word that her agents have killed the Blond Beast. By May 1942, Heydrich still lives and Mattie is furious.  The mother of six-year-old twins, Mattie decides—without telling her godfather or her American husband, the #2 man in the London office of the OSS—to parachute into Czechoslovakia herself and  “light a fire under their timid Czech bums”. Which she does, but her agents botch the job and Heydrich is only wounded in the attempt. The doctors sent from Berlin to care for him believe he will recover.

On the fly, Mattie conceives a new plan to kill Heydrich herself. With forged papers and other help from the highest-placed SOE asset in Nazi Germany—a former lover—Mattie determines to covertly enter Prague’s Bulovka Hospital and finish the job. After that, all she has to do is flee Prague into Germany and from there to neutral Switzerland. What Mattie doesn’t know is that Walter Schellenberg, Heydrich’s protégé and the head of Foreign Intelligence for the SD, is watching her every move.

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KEEPING SECRETS from her husband, Bourke Cockran, Jr., was nothing new for Mattie McGary as she gently kissed her sleeping husband goodbye before she left for her office where she had to prepare two pieces of correspondence. One was an ‘eyes only’ letter to her godfather, Prime Minister Winston Churchill, telling him everything about her new mission, one he never would have approved had he known beforehand. The other was a letter to her husband on the same subject where she most definitely would not tell him ‘everything’. The second letter would be much more difficult to write than the first.
When she had been a Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist for the Hearst organization in the 20s and 30s, she often had promised confidentiality to her sources and kept their identities a secret even from Cockran, both before and after he became her husband. He understood because, as a lawyer, he never disclosed to her privileged and confidential communications he received from his clients no matter how newsworthy and interested she might be in that information.
Once her godfather, Winston Churchill, became Prime Minister in May 1940 and, at his request, she joined the SOE—the ‘Special Operations Executive’—Mattie’s entire professional life became a secret from Cockran, courtesy of Great Britain’s Official Secrets Act. The SOE was Churchill’s own creation which he informally, albeit accurately, described as the Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare.
A year later, in June 1941, at the behest of his law partner, William ‘Wild Bill’ Donovan, Cockran began work for a new United States government agency that became the OSS—the ‘Office of Strategic Services’—so that his entire professional life became a secret from her thanks to the America’s Espionage Act of 1917.
Now, Cockran was the #2 man at the OSS station in London and she was the Deputy Director of the SOE for Central Europe. It had certainly complicated their marriage, Mattie thought as she softly closed the door to their suite at the Savoy.

Inter-Services Research Bureau
64 Baker Street
Saturday, 2 May 1942

MATTIE STOOD up from her desk in her office at SOE headquarters, the outside of which carried on a brass plate the innocuous name of Inter-Services Research Bureau, and walked over to the sideboard. She made herself a cup of tea and looked down on the traffic below on Baker Street where it was raining and pedestrian umbrellas were out in full force.
A husband and wife being spies for different Allied governments raised more than a few eyebrows in the SOE and the OSS, but each spouse had their own high-ranking patrons, Mattie with her godfather as the British Prime Minister and Cockran with his old law partner Donovan as head of the OSS. Nevertheless, they never brought work home to their suite at the Savoy and never discussed with each other what they did.
Mattie was in a dilemma today, however, because they had made each other a promise that she was about to violate. For the sake of their two six-year-old children, fraternal twins Nora and Eric, they had promised not to volunteer for any dangerous assignments in the field. At the time, it seemed like a safe promise as both were sufficiently high-ranking in their respective organizations not to be sent into any countries occupied by the Nazis.
That was all before Operation Anthropoid—the assassination of SS General Reinhard Heydrich, the ‘Butcher of Prague’—went off the rails. No one else at SOE knew the reason why, but she did. The operation was her idea from the outset. She had conceived it; she had personally trained the three Czech SOE agents involved; and she was their handler now that they were in the field.  They had been in Czechoslovakia for almost six months and nothing had happened. Others might disagree, especially if they knew why she had pushed Operation Anthropoid so vigorously, but she thought she was the only one with the necessary background to get the show back on track.
That was why she was not flying to Stockholm tomorrow for her bimonthly interview with the SOE’s most highly placed asset in Nazi Germany—her former lover Kurt von Sturm, a high-ranking aide to the head of the Luftwaffe, Reichsmarshall Hermann Göring. Instead, she would be resurrecting from storage the leather flying outfit she had first worn over ten years ago—a shearling–lined sheepskin flying jacket with matching sheepskin trousers, boots and helmet—when she had flown across the country in Cockran’s autogiro in her attempt to break Amelia Earhart’s coast-to coast autogiro record. Then, that night, she would parachute into Occupied Europe to kick-start an assassination plan that should have been completed six months ago.
Travel outside Great Britain came with the job descriptions for her and her husband. Typically, they told each other when they left the country unless the destination itself was mission critical. Well, her destination this time was most definitely mission critical and she would be breaking her word to Cockran by doing so—she not only had volunteered for the mission, she had created it. Still, she didn’t want to lie and telling him she would be away for a month on assignment without adding that she would be out of the country would almost be the same as a lie.
Finally, Mattie settled on the least deceptive option. She would tell him the truth, just not all the truth. Isn’t that what lawyers did all the time? She would tell him she was going to Switzerland on assignment. Which she was, eventually, if she survived the most dangerous part of the mission. She just wasn’t going there first. She went back to her typewriter to finish her letter to the Prime Minister filling him in on her mission and instructing him on what he was to tell her husband if she didn’t make it back. She knew Winston wouldn’t like what she was doing any more than her husband and indeed likely would have forbade her to do so had he known. But her godfather had a war to run and he could not possibly keep track of every SOE or MI-6 mission abroad. From her days working for Hearst, Mattie had always believed begging for forgiveness afterwards was better than asking for permission beforehand.  After all, it wouldn’t be a violation of the Official Secrets Act for the Prime Minister to know what her husband could not.
Over nine years in the making, an old score was about to be settled. Reinhard Heydrich was about to discover that, just as Death once had an appointment in Samarra, Mattie McGary had an appointment in Prague.


Thank you for this interview!  I’d like to know more about you as a person first.  What do you do when you’re not writing?

Before I became a full-time writer, I was also a lawyer specializing in First Amendment and Media Defense with clients like Readers’ Digest, CNN, Ted Turner, FOX television stations, the Associated Press, Harper Collins, Clear Channel, 20th Century Fox and James Cameron. I once defended the last two clients in a federal copyright lawsuit against the film Titanic [a really great film] where they paid me to watch the film, rather than the other way around. Twice.

Now, when I’m not writing, I read, play tennis and travel.

When did you start writing?

For publication? In college at Western Reserve University, I wrote a weekly column on national politics for the campus newspaper.

For money? 1975. A cover story for REASON magazine (where I became and am still a Contributing Editor), “Milk Money & Monopoly” which formed the basis for my first book Milking the Public: Political Scandals of the Dairy Lobby from LBJ to Jimmy Carter [Nelson Hall, 1980]

As a published author, what would you say was the most pivotal point of your writing life?

As a novelist, the most pivotal point was when, in 2009, Enigma Books in New York bought the trade paperback rights to my biography of the young [age 20-45] Winston Churchill—Becoming Winston Churchill, the Untold Story of Young Winston and His American Mentor—the hardcover version of which had been published in the UK and the US in 2007 by a division of Harcourt.

Enigma specialized in non-fiction books on 20th century European and US history. I got to know Enigma’s editor quite well when I would come to New York at my expense whenever he could arrange a venue for me to talk about my book because all three of my children lived in the city and their mother and I could visit and stay with them.

At that time, I had written with my son Patrick two unpublished historical thrillers set in the 1930s featuring Winston Churchill as a catalyst for our main characters like Mattie McGary, Winston’s fictional goddaughter and intrepid  Hearst photojournalist. We were in the middle of writing a third. Our agents [different ones for each of the first two books] had secured for us quite a few rejection letters from well-known publishers praising our work, but alas no sale. I noticed in the backlist for Enigma that, while almost all of its 50+ books were non-fiction, it had also published 3 historical thrillers. I asked Enigma’s editor if he would like to read our first two Churchill historical thrillers. He did and, after he read them as well as a synopsis of the third novel, we signed a three-book deal for them shortly thereafter and became published—and literary award winning—novelists.

If you could go anywhere in the world to start writing your next book, where would that be and why?

To start writing? My study in Shaker Heights, Ohio with all my biographies, history books and reference materials close at hand. I couldn’t write without them.

To revise an already complete manuscript where I wouldn’t need to have all my biographies, history books and reference materials close at hand? A palazetto in Venice off the Grand Canal in late October, early November, NOT in the summer with all those tourists.

If you had 4 hours of extra time today, what would you do?

2 hours writing; 2 hours reading or watching the documentary segments on the DVDs of ‘The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles’. Fantastic series, based on solid historical research.

Where would you like to set a story that you haven’t done yet?

Any countries/cities I’ve visited and not yet set any scenes in. For Western Europe, only Oslo, Norway and Barcelona, Spain are left. I’d do Barcelona first. In South America, I’ve already set a scene in Buenos Aires so that leaves Chile and Brazil. I can see doing Brazil first. In Asia, I’ve only been to Japan and I have no idea how I would fit a scene there into one of our books.

Back to your present book, (Appointment in Prague, a Mattie McGary + Winston Churchill World War II Adventure), how did you publish it?
Well, the book began life as the Epilogue (set in 1942 Prague) to our novel The Berghof Betrayal where my son Patrick was my co-author. The novel was set in 1933 Germany where the evil Nazi, Reinhard Heydrich, gives our heroine Mattie McGary more than enough reason to want him dead. We eventually cut the Epilogue and found a more immediate way for Mattie to put the fear of God into Heydrich.
I hate to waste good writing, however, so I was inspired to expand it into its present novella form to provide a platform for a six chapter preview of our next Mattie McGary + Winston Churchill 1930s Adventure, The Liebold Protocol, a full length novel that will be published in October 2018 where my new co-author will be my daughter Kathleen McMenamin, who has a Master’s degree in Creative Writing from NYU. I did so by adding additional scenes after Heydrich dies focused on Mattie’s capture by SS Counterintelligence as she attempts to flee to Switzerland

In writing your book, did you travel anywhere for research?

It turned out that I did—Prague—but it wasn’t planned that way.

Why was writing Appointment in Prague, a Mattie McGary + Winston Churchill World War II Adventure, so important to you?
I was in Prague for a legal conference when I noticed a sign on the street pointing to the ‘Reinhard Heydrich Museum’. I was taken aback. A museum to Heydrich?? In Prague?? Czechs hate Heydrich!! So I had to visit the museum, which was located in the basement of a church where Czech partisans had hidden after the murder and where the Gestapo found and killed them all. So the museum is more a shrine to them than homage to Heydrich. I knew the general details of Heydrich’s assassination by agents of Britain’s Special Operations Executive [SOE] but at the museum, I bought several books on the assassination and learned three new things. First, the SOE agents had been in country for nearly 6 months before they finally did the deed. Second, doctors from Berlin thought Heydrich was going to survive [and he would have except for the fact that the Germans didn’t have access to penicillin]. Third, he lived for a full week after he was wounded and finally died from septicemia.
That extra week in Heydrich’s life was all I needed. Mattie McGary may have put the fear of God into Heydrich in 1933 in The Berghof Betrayal, but, given what Heydrich had done to her, I couldn’t pass up the chance to let her have revenge as well by taking out Heydrich herself.  So, I envisioned what Mattie would be doing in 1942. Then I put her in the SOE, the personal creation of her godfather Winston Churchill; made her the SOE control officer over the Heydrich assassination mission; parachuted her into Czechoslovakia to find out from her agents why, after six months, Heydrich was still alive; and, when Heydrich initially survived the assassination attempt, I had her come up with a new scenario on the fly where she would gain access to the hospital and poison the bastard herself. Then SS Counterintelligence would capture her as she tried to escape to Switzerland. To go further would be a spoiler. Read the book! It’s not that long.
Where do you get your best ideas and why do you think that is?

From reading lots of books on history.

Why? Because, like I did with the books I bought in the Heydrich Museum, that’s where I find little known historical facts that I think can form the core around which to set an historical thriller. Appointment in Prague is one example. Other examples are below:

The DeValera Deception was based on the little known fact that Weimar Germany and the Soviet Union were Allies during the 1920s where, in violation of the Versailles Treaty, Germany developed modern weapons systems which they shared with the Russians. The real purpose of the two countries’ alliance was to invade and divide up Poland that had been carved out of both Germany and Russia at Versailles.

Suppose the plan to divide Poland is set in motion in 1929? Since France will not march to defend Poland without Britain’s help, what if the Germans finance an IRA coup d’etat in the Irish Free State to distract the English with arms they buy in the United States?

The Parsifal Pursuit was based on the little known fact that both Kaiser Wilhelm II and Adolf Hitler believed the ’Spear of Destiny’ [that allegedly pierced the side of Christ on the cross and is on display at Vienna’s Hofburg Museum] had magical powers that great leaders in the past like Charlemagne and Frederick the Great had carried into battle.

Suppose the Kaiser has agreed in 1931 to have the Crown Prince placed on the German throne after President Hindenberg is assassinated so long as the Spear of Destiny—now missing and hidden away in the Austrian Alps—is returned to him? Hitler wants the Spear also as does Churchill and three teams set out for the Austrian Alps to find it.

The Gemini Agenda was based on the little known fact that America led the world in eugenics studies in the 1920s and 1930s. By the time Hitler came to power in 1933, America had forcibly sterilized over 60,000 ‘feeble-minded’ women and Germany none. The Nazis then copied the model U.S sterilization statute and began its own campaign of sterilization. The U.S. also led the world in eugenics studies of twins, a matter of great interest to the SS doctor Josef Mengele who would go on to conduct gruesome lethal studies of twins at Auschwitz in 1942 in the name of science.

Suppose U.S. eugenicists and the SS team up in 1932 to conduct Mengele’s lethal experiments in Germany with kidnapped American twins whose names were furnished to the SS by the U.S Eugenics Records Office?

The Berghof Betrayal was based on the little known fact that rumors were widespread in Berlin in early 1933 that the Nazis were planning a fake attempt on Hitler’s life as a pretext for declaring martial law and imprisoning their political enemies.

Suppose Hitler’s enemies inside and outside the Nazi Party hijack the fake plot and turn it into a real one while Mattie McGary is by his side after an interview?

The Silver Mosaic was based on two little known facts: (1) The German economy was very weak in early 1933 when Hitler came to power and, in the face of spontaneous violence against the Jews, a world-wide boycott of German exports almost crashed the economy, taking Hitler with it; (2) the Nazis, in order to defeat the boycott, were secretly negotiating with the Jewish Authority in Palestine for it to buy German exports in exchange for allowing German Jews to emigrate to Jewish Palestine and take more money with them that German currency controls permitted.

Suppose a journalist—Churchill’s goddaughter Mattie McGary—sets out to discover how the Nazis’ secretly plan to defeat the boycott and both the Nazis and Palestine Jews are determined to stop her?

Any final words?

Sure. Here are the best ways to connect with us or find out more about our work:

The following two links have some really good stuff, but they are not current. It’s more fun to write books than to update the links. Volunteers to do so will be gratefully accepted.

Michael McMenamin is the co-author with his son Patrick of the award winning 1930s era historical novels featuring Winston Churchill and his fictional Scottish goddaughter, the adventure-seeking Hearst photojournalist Mattie McGary. The first five novels in the series—The DeValera Deception, The Parsifal Pursuit, The Gemini Agenda, The Berghof Betrayal and The Silver Mosaic—received a total of 15 literary awards. He is currently at work with his daughter Kathleen McMenamin on the sixth Winston and Mattie historical adventure, The Liebold Protocol.

Michael is the author of the critically acclaimed Becoming Winston Churchill, The Untold Story of Young Winston and His American Mentor [Hardcover, Greenwood 2007; Paperback, Enigma 2009] and the co-author of Milking the Public, Political Scandals of the Dairy Lobby from LBJ to Jimmy Carter [Nelson Hall, 1980]. He is an editorial board member of Finest Hour, the quarterly journal of the International Churchill Society and a contributing editor for the libertarian magazine Reason. His work also has appeared in The Churchills in Ireland, 1660-1965, Corrections and Controversies [Irish Academic Press, 2012] as well as two Reason anthologies, Free Minds & Free Markets, Twenty Five Years of Reason [Pacific Research Institute, 1993] and Choice, the Best of Reason [BenBella Books, 2004]. A full-time writer, he was formerly a first amendment and media defense lawyer and a U.S. Army Counterintelligence Agent.  

Kathleen, the other half of the father-daughter writing team, has been editing her father’s writing for longer than she cares to remember. She is the co-author with her sister Kelly of the critically acclaimed Organize Your Way: Simple Strategies for Every Personality [Sterling, 2017]. The two sisters are professional organizers, personality-type experts and the founders of PixiesDidIt, a home and life organization business. Kathleen is an honors graduate of Sarah Lawrence College and has an MFA in Creative Writing from New York University. The novella Appointment in Prague is her second joint writing project with her father. Their first was “Bringing Home the First Amendment”, a review in the August 1984 Reason magazine of Nat Hentoff’s The Day They Came to Arrest the Book.  While a teen-ager, she and her father would often take runs together, creating plots for adventure stories as they ran.





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