David Freed is the author of the critically acclaimed Cordell Logan mystery series. An instrument-rated pilot, contributing editor at Air & Space Smithsonian magazine, and a former Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for the Los Angeles Times, he has also worked extensively within the United States intelligence community. His newest, The Kill Circle (available October 31, 2017), is the sixth entry in his oeuvre. Freed splits his time between Santa Barbara, California, and Fort Collins, Colorado, where he is an adjunct professor of journalism at Colorado State University.
Recently, the author generously made time in his schedule to answer questions pertaining to the evolution of his series and protagonist, intrigue in the JFK assassination, the dynamics of romantic suspense, and the similarities between piloting and writing.
The Kill Circle is your sixth Cordell Logan mystery. In what ways do you see this book as an evolution of the overall story arc? Conversely, how does it stand alone, and do you have a tried and true approach for achieving a balance between the two?
Let me demonstrate here my vast knowledge of classic literature and writers (not): Thoreau wrote that the mass of men leads lives of quiet desperation. One can only hope that most people are able to mitigate those desperate moments with a few highs now and then—or in the case of Cordell Logan, the occasional punch fest, gunfight, and more than occasional snarky quip.
Logan has fumbled his way through life, as most of us have. He’s made his share of regrettable mistakes. Loved and lost. But, as I’ve tried to conceive him, he’s also struggled to find the enlightenment and peace that might ultimately lead him from those dark places. In this regard, I think The Kill Circle represents an evolution of sorts in that Logan has finally met someone with whom he just might enjoy an intriguing, adventurous future.
I’m a big believer that what we’ve done and where we’ve been ultimately make us what we are. Accordingly, much of how Logan comports himself is rooted, one way or another, in his past. As such, each book is loosely built upon the previous. They all can stand alone, but it certainly doesn’t hurt if they’re read in sequence. You get to know Logan a little better each time in the same way you do a friend who becomes a better friend over time—when they don’t give you their unabridged life’s story over that first beer.
The Kill Circle is no different in that regard—Logan’s reveals are layered—but what I hope makes this book stand alone is that this one is predicated on real-world events, both past and future. We’re talking about the 1963 assassination of John F. Kennedy and the actual pending release, more than 50 years later, of classified documents relating to the assassination—files that were deemed too sensitive at the time to be shared with the public.
Those documents have been locked away all this time in the National Archives. Their contents are supposed to be made public before the end of this year. At this point, they remain a tantalizing mystery in what arguably was the most infamous homicide in modern American history. I mean, c’mon, if that’s not fodder for a murder mystery, I don’t know what is.
What drew you to the Kennedy assassination, and how do you manage not to get bogged down in the minutiae?
I was eight when Kennedy was shot. I remember how they announced the news over the public address system during lunch recess at my elementary school in Denver and let us out early. I remember walking home to find my mother in the living room, weeping. The assassination was arguably the seminal event of my lifetime. Without it, there likely would not have been an escalation of the Vietnam War, Richard Nixon, Watergate, and a collective societal cynicism that has since festered across the land, affecting virtually every element of our cultural mindset.
As I grew older, I guess you could say that I became somewhat obsessed with what happened that day in Dallas. I read book after book on the subject. I crouched in the sniper’s nest on the 6th floor of the old Texas Book Depository building, looking out the window and imagining what Oswald was thinking as he peered through the telescopic scope of his cheap, Italian-made rifle while the presidential motorcade turned down Houston Street and into his sights. I was struck by how short the distance was between that window and the president’s skull.
I spent a day prowling Dealey Plaza, standing on the concrete perch where Abe Zapruder took his famous film, and lingering a long time behind the picket fence on the grassy knoll where some believe a second gunman took aim at Kennedy—the perfect L-shaped ambush. I eventually came away convinced that there was no grand conspiracy, that Oswald acted alone. After all, the first thing you learn as a newspaper reporter, which I was for nearly 20 years, is that nobody can keep a secret.
However, only a few of the kinds of details that I amassed amid my years of obsession with JFK will you find in The Kill Circle. As you correctly point out, John, I didn’t want to bog down the story. I didn’t want to make it only of interest to conspiracy theorists. A few of those theorists, by the way, have already been in contact, offering what can only be described as, shall we say, some pretty “entertaining” assertions.
Your protagonist is a former government assassin turned aspiring Buddhist. Tell us a bit about his evolution as a character. In what ways do Cordell’s new beliefs change his approach to dealing with … adverse situations?
As a former A-10 Warthog pilot who flew plenty of close-air support missions in the Middle East and, later, the token Air Force guy assigned to a covert, direct action, government hit squad, Logan has known more than his share of violence. He’s introspective enough, though, to recognize that you can’t spend your life taking lives—no matter how virtuously—without there being some eventual karmic payback.
Consequently, he finds himself often struggling to reconcile his violent past with the gentle lessons of the Buddha. There is obvious conflict between those two schools, and conflict—as any good writing teacher will tell you—is the lifeblood of compelling storytelling. That said, I will continue to hope that as Logan gets older, he will find himself less inclined to pull the trigger or punch his way out of a bad situation. But, hey, let’s face it. Sometimes, some people just need killin’.
Cordell has a romantic interest in this book. How does such a dynamic lend itself to heightened suspense, and did you allow yourself to consider the future ramifications of this, or was it a more organic development?
I read somewhere that 90 percent of the things straight guys do, they do to impress women. The other 10 percent, they do to impress women.
For guys like Logan, women are the ultimate mystery. They’re intrigued as hell by women, but most of the time, they simply don’t understand them. Women are arguably more evolved than men. Their circuitry is more complex than ours. They communicate in nuances largely lost on our Neanderthal gray matter, and they get frustrated with us when we don’t understand them.
I mean, you want to talk suspense? Try forgetting your wedding anniversary. Or insist that you never heard your woman say anything about getting together this weekend with her parents when she told you three freakin’ times already! And, for god sake, whatever you do, don’t claim, as I once did, that you didn’t hear her because you were too busy watching a football game. I’m not saying you’ll be seeing such interactions in future Logan adventures, but I’m not necessarily ruling them out, either. If it’s organic to plot and character development, you just might.
You and Cordell share a common pursuit: piloting. In what ways are you able to incorporate your own experiences into these books, and how do you feel that they inform a person’s character and/or abilities?
I’m a firm believer in the old cliché: Write what you know. Before I wrote a word of Flat Spin, the first Logan book, before I conceived of even the germinal notion of a story, I sat down and inventoried what it is that I do know. I knew that while I may not be an expert in anything, really, I’ve been fortunate to have led a life in which I’ve learned a little about a lot—much of it as a journalist.
I learned to fly when I was in my early 20s. The son of a cop, I wrote about the military and police as a reporter for many years. I covered a war. I was no stranger to murder scenes and criminal investigative procedures. I later worked in the intelligence community. Today, I count among my friends former spies, commandos, and fighter pilots—even a few convicted felons.
All of my work-related experiences and relationships factored one way or another into the making of Cordell Logan. So I do more or less write about what I know. And if I don’t know it—spoiler alert—I just might make it up. After all, it is fiction, right? You know, it’s funny: when you’re a reporter, some people are absolutely convinced you make up the stories you write. When you’re a novelist, they’re convinced you’re spouting the whole truth and nothing but. Go figure.
Have you found that, despite their differences, piloting and writing share common ground? Assuming so, in what ways do discipline and mindfulness inform both endeavors?
That’s a great question, John. For sure, writing and flying share much in common. At their core, both require intense, detail-oriented concentration. If you aspire to write for a living and don’t pay attention to detail, you will likely end up selling appliances at Sears. If you don’t pay attention to detail in the cockpit, you will likely end up dead. As my first flight instructor told me before my first lesson, “An airplane will kill you faster than just about anything.”
To fly and write well, both require that the practitioner do them often. If I don’t write for several weeks, or I don’t fly, my skills quickly erode. I love both endeavors. That one helps financially support my addiction to the latter, for me, is about as great as it gets.
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David Freed is an instrument-rated pilot, contributing editor at Air& Space Smithsonian magazine, and a former Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for the Los Angeles Times. David has also worked extensively within the United States intelligence community. He splits his time between Santa Barbara, California, and Fort Collins, Colorado, where he is an adjunct professor of journalism at Colorado State University. Visit David at david-freed.com.
John Valeri wrote the popular Hartford Books Examiner column for Examiner.com from 2009 – 2016. He can be found online at www.johnbvaleri.com and is featured in the Halloween-themed anthology Tricks and Treats, now available from Books & Boos Press.