Interview with Peter Bernhardt

What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
Writing a novel provides an infinite number of joys. I'll pick two. A wondrous phenomenon happens during the writing process. The muse whispers into my ear and the characters and the story take off in ways that I could never have imagined. I get out of my own head and inhabit a world that is so inspiring that the clock often strikes midnight before I return to everyday life. And it warms this author's heart when a reader tells me how much she enjoyed one of my novels - an email, a card in the mail, or an acquaintance who walks up to me in the grocery store. The knowledge that someone somewhere enjoyed what I wrote keeps me going.
Who are your favorite authors?
John LeCarre, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold
Ken Follet, Eye of the Needle
Charles McCarry, The Tears of Autumn
Gerald Seymour, Traitor's Kiss
Ernest Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls
George Orwell, Animal Farm
F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
Life, Sedona's red rocks, exercise, tennis, and (of course) writing.
What is your writing process?
Pantsters write by the seat of their pants, without a preconceived list. I am a Plotter, which means that I work with a detailed outline. Some believe that an outline stifles creativity, but I find the opposite; an outline frees me up. Rather than the story conforming to the outline, it is the outline that changes as the story progresses. One of the great benefits is that the outline allows me to check the novel for consistency. When the story takes off in unanticipated directions, it lets me easily find the previous sections that must be changed to conform to the new story line. For instance, my recently published spy novel, Red Romeo, contains a character whose actions turn the plot into a direction I had not anticipated. So halfway through penning the novel, I heard my muse's message loud and clear: change the appearance and the motivation of this character. My outline enabled me to go back and make the necessary changes in the first several hundred pages of the book.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up in Stuttgart, Germany. Following the age-old advice to “write what you know,” I wove together the unlikely combination of a German upbringing, a lifelong love of opera and my experiences as an attorney.
When did you first start writing?
Writing has been a lifelong passion: Composition classes in secondary school in Germany where I often received top grade; Freshman English course at Gannon College, PA, where I was an exchange student in 1967 (a couple of my compositions were published in the university’s paper); federal district court opinions in the judge’s name, of course, and legal briefs, in which I shied away from boilerplate and strove for creativity. As my published bio points out, I had harbored the idea of novel writing for some time, but didn’t do anything about it until after retirement when my wife Marilyn called my bluff.
Who is your favorite character in the novels you have written?
My favorite character is a fictitious thirteen-year-old Pueblo Indian girl by the name of Teya in my novel, Kiss of the Shaman’s Daughter. How did she come to be? The sequel to The Stasi File takes place in Santa Fe, NM, and it features two plot lines 310 years apart that eventually merge. I wove the Pueblo Indian Revolt of 1680 that drove the Spanish invaders south to Mexico into the plot of archaeological smugglers in 1990 Santa Fe. To help the reader travel from 1990 to 1680 and back, I invented Teya. The chapters featuring her were the most fun I have had in writing. Don’t ask me how a German male in his seventies can get inside the head of a thirteen-year old Indian girl, but my muse somehow did it.
Which books left a lasting impression upon you?
A book that made a lasting impression on me: Animal Farm, by George Orwell. A close second is The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Both authors tell compelling stories with subtlety, inviting the reader’s imagination to grasp the underlying message. There is hardly a wasted word in these masterpieces, and they stayed with me long after I turned the last page. My favorite in the spy genre I write about is The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, by John LeCarré. It features an escape scene over the Berlin Wall in the 1960s. My latest novel, Red Romeo, does as well, but I faced greater obstacles in writing it, because the border in the late seventies bore little resemblance to the single Wall in the early days.
What's the story behind your latest book?
The summer of 1977 finds divided Germany locked in a fierce espionage battle in my third novel, Red Romeo. West Germany's premier spy hunter, ambitious Sabine Maier, faces off against ruthless Stasi General, Werner Heinrich. Sabine has filled half a prison with her prodigious arrests of communist spies. Heinrich is the mastermind behind a small army of spy gigolos who prey on lonely women working in the West German government's most secret divisions. Caught in the middle is ladies' man Stefan Malik, a reluctant Romeo, forced to do the general's bidding or rot in a Stasi prison.

This novel is based on real-life events. More than forty West German women in high government positions were convicted of spying for love for communist East Germany. The East German spymaster, Markus Wolfe, actually did train a cadre of handsome East German men to seduce West German government secretaries on the Mediterranean beaches and turn them into spies for the Stasi.
What are you working on next?
Since the German edition of The Stasi File is enjoying brisk sales by way of mouth, I am currently translating my recently published novel, Red Romeo, into German.
Published 2016-07-01.
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Books by This Author

Kiss of the Shaman's Daughter
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 98,470. Language: English. Published: September 18, 2015. Categories: Fiction » Thriller & suspense » Action & suspense, Fiction » Historical » Colonial America
When a Washington trial lawyer and a budding opera diva are pressed into searching for a missing archaeologist in the Santa Fe hills, they not only encounter ruthless antiquities traffickers, but find their fates intertwined with that of a shaman’s daughter, who centuries earlier played a crucial role in the Pueblo Indian Revolt that drove the Spanish from New Mexico.
The Stasi File - Opera and Espionage: A Deadly Combination
Price: $3.99 USD. Words: 137,740. Language: English. Published: September 17, 2015. Categories: Fiction » Thriller & suspense » Spies & espionage, Fiction » Historical » General
An American lawyer and his Italian lover from Berlin student days, now a budding opera diva, are drawn into an assassination plot by a Stasi General, desperate to prevent the collapse of the East German police state after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Red Romeo
Price: $3.99 USD. Words: 130,140. Language: English. Published: November 7, 2015. Categories: Fiction » Thriller & suspense » Spies & espionage, Fiction » Romance » Suspense
The summer of 1977 finds divided Germany locked in a fierce espionage battle. West Germany’s premier spy hunter, ambitious SABINE MAIER, faces off against ruthless Stasi General WERNER HEINRICH. Sabine has filled half a prison with her prodigious arrests of communist spies. Heinrich is the mastermind behind a small army of spy gigolos who prey on lonely women working in the West German government.