of the Month
I chose Karna Small Bodman because, as far as we know, she is the only woman who served as a Senior White House Official (of any administration) who is writing novels today. A highly talented author, her first political thriller, Checkmate, was published by Forge in January 2007. It’s an exciting, engrossing story of a young scientist who develops a breakthrough technology to help defend against cruise missiles…but soon finds she must fight for her life in a power struggle that will bring two countries to the brink of war. Her follow-up thriller, Gambit, is scheduled for release in early 2008.
I first met Karna during a Romance Writers of America Convention several years ago and learned that we shared something in common, outside of the love of writing: We both had political jobs during the Reagan Administration. I worked on Capitol Hill and Karna worked in The White House.
Karna Small began her career in San Francisco as a reporter for KRON-TV, then anchored the news for KGO-TV, covering breaking news stories throughout the Bay area. She moved to Washington, DC after receiving a contract to anchor the Ten O’clock news on Channel 5 and host a nationally syndicated program on business and economic issues. If that wasn’t enough, she also hosted a three-hour news/talk radio show.
Then, when Ronald Reagan was elected President, he named Jim Brady as his Press Secretary and Karna as Jim’s Deputy. That assignment thrust Karna immediately into the tough task of explaining domestic policy initiatives to members of the national press corps. Her exciting career continued when she later became a Senior Director and spokesman for the National Security Council.
When Karna left The White House to become Senior Vice President of a Public Affairs firm, she was the highest ranking woman on The White House staff.
Karna: It was extremely fast-paced – handling domestic policy issues, answering questions, arranging interviews, setting up Presidential events and news conferences for the White House Press Corps along with columnists, out-of-town editors and others who had a by-line. There were some 3,000 members of the press who had been “cleared” to come into the White House at various times, and every single reporter was looking for a feature, a scoop or a head-start on the rest of the pack.
An experience that is seared in my memory occurred about nine weeks after the inauguration. The date was March 30—the day of the assassination attempt. I was scheduled to be in the car with Jim Brady on March 30 to go to a speech the President was giving to a union group at the Hilton Hotel. At the last minute, Jim suggested I stay back and return a bevy of press calls and do other work. His last words to me were, “This is just a simple speech over at the Hilton. You go to the event tomorrow. I can handle this one alone. I’ll be back around 2:30.” But as we all know, he never came back!
A few years later, I had a chance to switch to foreign policy issues and join the staff of the National Security Council. In that job, I was a member of the team that went to Arms Control Talks with the Soviets, Summit Meetings with General Secretary Gorbachev as well as Economic Summit Meetings with our allies.
Linda: You bring considerable background about the White House to Checkmate, which makes the book all the more intriguing, It also contains lots of information regarding our national defense – specifically, cruise missiles. How did you go about doing all the necessary detailed research for your book?
Karna: The story of Checkmate was inspired by President Reagan’s announcement of his Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) or “Star Wars” as one columnist later dubbed it. I saw first-hand the many divisions in the Administration over the idea of building a missile defense system with some saying it would never work, but that’s okay – we’ll just use it as a bargaining chip and trade it away for some big Soviet missiles, and that would be good for us. Others said it might not work, but that was okay because we could try to build it. That would cost a lot of money but it would force the Soviets to spend a lot of money trying to keep up with us. It could bankrupt their economy and that would be good for us. However, President Reagan took what he believed to be a “moral approach.” He said that if the Soviets happened to aim a missile our way, even by mistake, millions could die and all we could do to retaliate would be to send a missile their way where more millions would die. It was called “Mutual Assured Destruction” or the “MAD” Doctrine. Instead, he called on our country’s best scientists to try to invent a system that would stop a missile before anybody died. His famous line was: “Wouldn’t it be better to save lives than avenge lives?”
However, it didn’t really matter who was right. The point was – the Soviets THOUGHT it might work and they came back to the bargaining table where I saw, first-hand, the power of an idea. George Bernard Shaw said, “The best way to get your point across is to entertain.” I thought, If I could put a good story together involving missile defense, hopefully people would have a good time reading it and at the same time understand how important such a system is to our country. Thus – Checkmate, the story of a brilliant young woman who invents a new technology to defend against cruise missiles, foreign agents trying to steal it, a member of the NSC staff who’s trying to help her, and a lecherous Congressman more interested in her than in her new technology – hey, it’s Washington!
As for research, I worked with our Missile Defense Agency as well as sources at a number of defense contractors and former members of the White House staff.
Linda: Speaking of research, you share some interesting, generally unknown facts regarding famous personalities in CHECKMATE. Could you share one of them for our readers?
Karna: Well, for one – did you know that Julia Child worked for the OSS – precursor to our CIA?
Linda: No, I didn’t. From the OSS to cooking. Amazing. How intensely do you plot your stories before sitting down and writing them?
Karna: I first wrote a short (4-5 page) synopsis, then a character outline (listing each major character, the description, background, “goal, motivation and conflict”) and then put together a chapter outline and attached research to the chapter where I thought I might use it. Going through and organizing all of my research is fairly arduous, but once that’s done, I sit down and start typing “Chapter One.”
Linda: Are the characters in your book based on actual people you knew while in the White House, or are they strictly fictional?
Karna: Some of the characters are composites, but all in all, I’d say they’re fictional.
Linda: Do you belong to any writers’ groups?
Karna: Yes. There are many excellent groups that are very supportive, have great meetings, conferences and workshops. I’m currently a member of: International Thriller Writers, Mystery Writers of America, Sisters-in-Crime, and Romance Writers of America.
Linda: What is your writing schedule like?
Karna: I have to say that I don’t have a “set” schedule like some authors I know. I write whenever I can find the time. I do a lot of research throughout the year – clipping articles, conducting interviews, reading books. Then when I sit down to put the whole story together, I do try to concentrate and write constantly for several months. Once the outline is done, I can write the book (roughly 400 pages) in three months or less.
Linda: Has an editor ever asked you to cut out or significantly change something in the story that you felt strongly about and/or would not compromise on?
Karna: Not really. In Checkmate, my editor wanted me to add some more tension to certain chapters, which was easy to do, and she also suggested we delete one chapter. She was right – it wasn’t important. In the sequel, Gambit, which will be out in early ’08, there were practically no edits – the process went very quickly.
Linda: What personality trait of yours do you think creeps into every book?
Karna: My “Rule of the 6 P’s: Proper preparation precludes pathetically poor performance.”
Linda: LOL Say that three times real quick. What type of promotion do you do for your books?
Karna: As most writers know, publishers are not in a position to support a brand new writer all that much – the author has to do most of the marketing. In my case, I put together an extensive book tour where I’ve now had over 80 speeches/events/signings/interviews all over the country. There are many corporate, civic, political, alumni, library and other groups that are always looking for speakers. I love to give talks to groups and I’ve been traveling around the country doing just that. I always invite a local bookseller to come and sell my books (I don’t sell my own books). And at each event, I have a sign-up sheet where people are encouraged to list their address or email (which I promise I will not share with anyone else). I tell them that I’ll use this information to let them know when the sequel comes out.
Linda: What has been the most rewarding moment in your writing career?
Karna: Moment? There have been so many. First, it was seeing a copy of Checkmate on the “New Release” table in the front of Barnes and Noble and Borders. Then, over the months, it has been wonderful to receive emails (through my website: www.karnabodman.com) from complete strangers who read the book, told me the parts they liked best and asked if there would be a sequel. (Yes!)
Linda: What is the best piece of writing advice you received?
Karna: The old rule, “Write what you know. Write about the White House.” And so I did.
Linda: What advice do you have for authors?
Karna: Join writers groups. Subscribe to writing magazines. There are several that are most helpful, such as “Writer” and “Writer’s Digest.” And remember the old line: You never fail until you quit!
Linda: What are you working on now?
Karna: As I mentioned earlier, the sequel to Checkmate will be out in early 2008. The title is Gambit and gives our hero and heroine yet another foreign policy crisis to solve. So right now I’m concentrating on two things: (1) gathering ideas and invitations to speak to various groups when GAMBIT comes out and (2) researching and writing book #3 where I will be creating some new characters. For the first two books, I used titles from the game of chess. For the third book, which will involve new people, she plans to use a title is from the game of bridge. If I return to the original characters in a subsequent story, I’ll try to come up with another chess title.
Now I’d like to invite you to visit my website: www.karnabodman.com and if you have any questions or would just like to chat, send me an email through the site. I would be delighted to hear from you!
Cameron "Cammy" Talbot, a brilliant researcher at Bandaq Technologies, has developed a missile defense system, called Q3, that uses computers to lock onto the missiles, gain control and, ultimately, turn them back to their originators. However, Bandaq needs additional government funds for Cammy to continue her research.
Lt. Col. Hunt Daniels, detailed from the Pentagon to the White House National Security Council, attends the Congressional hearing and learns about the Q3 technology from Cammy’s presentation. Hunt understands the potential for her unique technology: not only can it save the government millions, it can also save lives. But, in the wrong hands, Q3 could completely alter the balance of power throughout the world.
Militant terrorists have stolen three Pakistani missiles and launched the first against an Indian army base. The U.S. President does whatever is necessary to maintain peace between these two countries, and also arranges for Hunt and other high-ranking representatives to fly to New Delhi to investigate the stolen missiles, then attend a ceremony at the Taj Mahal.
When the terrorist leader learns about Cammy’s technology, he sends an agent, Jambaz, to Washington, DC, with orders to steal Dr. Talbot’s system for their use. Failing that, Jambaz has orders to kill her.
The tension and intrigue quickly escalate on both fronts. Cammy’s home computer is stolen, her car is forced off the road, and an assassination attempt on her life kills a co-worker. Meanwhile, the terrorists train one missile at New Delhi, saving the biological warhead for the Taj Mahal ceremonies.
The Honorable Karna Small Bodman, who worked as a Senior Director for
the National Security Council at the White House, brings extensive insight
and knowledge to her first release. She provides a unique insider’s
view of the White House, a chilling discussion of our defense systems,
and an all-too-real political scenario in Checkmate, a gripping, edge-of-your-seat
international political thriller where not just one life, but thousands
are at stake. Top that with just the right touch of human interest and
you have a definite, exciting keeper. Checkmate held me spellbound from
the first page to the last, and I eagerly await the follow-up novel, Gambit.
2007's Honorary List