Marsh Island by Oliver F. Chase: Interview

Oliver Chase picTell me about yourself
I grew up on military bases throughout the country. Like all boys, we played good guys and bad although I always favored the good. Coaxing me into an afternoon of baseball or hiking the Southern California hills didn’t take much unless a book grabbed me first. When the time came for the writs of passage, my best buddy Herb and I raised our hands and swore an oath joining a Marine officer’s program before college. Herb soon had his fill of school however and decided to get the war over to move on with his life. Six months later, he was dead in a Vietnamese rice paddy.

Eighteen months after graduating from college, I stepped onto the Da Nang tarmac not far from where Herb died. Thirty one other guys and I flew days and nights over the mountains and the Ho Chi Minh Trail trying to stem the North’s invasion. That didn’t work out so well. Two of the five guys in my hooch didn’t make the first year. One more made it home but never quite found his stride again and died a few years later. Maybe we all changed a little. Those weren’t the best of days.

The Smith Corona portable that I used overseas replaced yellow pads and a number two pencils. The Smith and I traveled from Vietnam to grad school, to a teaching stint on the Navajo’s Checkerboard reservation, and to several years with a police department. Somewhere along the way, I joined the FBI, too. Stories were always my release, escape, and sounding board. Sometimes, stories were the only way I could right a wrong. Life is a big damn boat that sometimes just refuses to turn when you want it to. That doesn’t mean, any of us should stop pushing. So, I’ve never stopped writing. The Smith was traded for a Zenith, a Mac, and a PC. A hardened Toshiba Satellite goes where I go now and can usually be found at the bottom of my duffle. I’ve written a box full of short stories and a couple novellas. Novels number five and six are called the The Hirebomber Crime series published by AEC Stellar. The series includes two books Marsh Island and Blind Marsh that stars the soldiers and airplanes I’ve known all my life.

If you can-please explain why being in the FBI made it difficult/impossible to pursue publication?

The Bureau is a great organization made up of fine men and women who live by a strict book of rules and laws that are dedicated to protecting the citizens and interests of our nation. Secondary employment, the acceptance of pay for services, entering into contracts with commercial enterprises – and at least during my tenure – participating in the military reserves was subject to disciplinary action. One time, the Marine reserves in Miami asked me to give them a few hours on a Saturday morning helping the family of a Marine stationed overseas. I filled out forms, figured out how to get a new ID card for the wife, and generally listened to the woes of an unhappy spouse with small kids. All of us coughed up a few weekends and nights to help out. Marines do that. Sort of second nature. A well meaning active duty sergeant put me in for a day’s pay sort of to pay me back. They sent a check and then couldn’t figure out how to take it back when I told them I couldn’t accept the money. Somehow the Bureau found out and I was called on the carpet. The SAC asked a simple question: “Would you like to be a FBI Agent or a Marine?” I gave up the Marines that day and never pushed the Bureau’s envelop after that.

When did you start writing?
I suppose all kids write and I was no exception. When Mrs. Baumgartner, my 3rd grade teacher gave out assignments, I knew she was gunning for me. The assignment was to write a story about the American Revolution. I got to thinking about Paul Revere making that lonely ride in the dark. No third grader ventures into the night without a trusty canine companion so I gave up my dog to the adventure. “Queeleen” and Paul dashed about the countryside, talking about the Sons of Liberty, and the dastardly British sleeping in our houses. I don’t recall my grade but do remember Mrs. Baumgartner very well. Even after the story we didn’t get along all that well. I needed to get to 4th grade and she didn’t think I was ready. I was consigned to summer school that year. Care to guess who taught the class?

Does having a background such as yours, the Marines, your time on the force, your 20+ years in the FBI, make it easier to write books like Marsh Island?

There’s no question that my experience adds realism to the story. Truthful writing however is more than location. The act of writing in a disciplined approach allows me to tell a story in a predictable way that is comfortable to the reader. Their primary requirement is to open the book. The rest is up to me. My job is to do the work for the reader and engage their minds enough to make coming back more pleasant and attractive. We are all readers and can recognize disingenuous and flailing prose. We should expect an arrangement of thoughts and processes to be the foundation for a story even if we’re surrounded by the mayhem of chasing criminals, the confusion in a battle, or the commitment and sacrifice that it takes to love someone for a lifetime.

Tell me about Phil Pfeiffer, the protagonist in Marsh Island? Is he any relation to Michelle Pfeiffer? (only kidding LOL)

He might wish it when it comes time to pay the bills. But, no. Michelle can hold onto her money. Phil Pfeiffer of Marsh Island and Blind Marsh is a guy caught between the generations. The difference between the 80s and 90s is as stark as that between his parent’s generation, the 50s and 60s. Phil is caught like a guy with one foot on the dock and the other on an untied boat when the tide’s goes out. When Phil’s marriage failed, the personal devastation was as long lasting as the scar he got from the car bomb. I don’t want to give away too much, but Phil is just as tenacious and gutsy pursuing bad guys as he is loyal to his friends, clients, and commitments. He’s pretty much the guy I’d expect to meet for coffee on a Saturday morning after he solves a big case. Quiet, unassuming, and leaving me thankful I was never on his radar.

What was your favorite part about writing Marsh Island?
I should probably talk about the night flight over the hills east of San Diego. The air is usually cool in the evenings after a hot day. During the right time of the year, the fifty square miles of teeming metropolitan Southern California spreads from horizon to horizon in multi colors and moving rivers of civilization. I also liked recreating my experience on the Atchafalaya under the cypress and black gum trees. The fellows in the boat and the long rifles held in the crook of their arms was a real as the green water flowing around us that day.

But no. My favorite chapters have Phil swimming with the sharks. Since Jaws in the 1970s, everyone is scared of sharks. Heck, sharks are afraid of other sharks. When I wrote this sequence, I recalled my times swimming far beyond the breakers in Hawaii and the Bahamas, floating on top of reefs, and diving on wrecks off San Juan and Key West. I recalled shadows swimming beneath the rollers and big eels eyeing me as I drifted by their lairs. A visit to the shark’s world is pretty sobering and survival isn’t complicated. Sometimes, it’s luck. When Phil finds himself swimming with the sharks, he must draw on his own will and guts. Not everyone survives that day.

What was the hardest part?
I once met Phil Pfeiffer in New York City before Marsh Island was a thought. He was an interesting guy that I never saw again. I knew some of the bad guys, too. Some face to face, some face behind the bars. I never imagined that these guys…and ladies…would take over my books. They forced me to talked about their complexities and used me to write their story. Phil, the most steadfast of characters fooled me. He was never meant to actually reveal so much of his thoughts and disappointments. Lisa, Victor, and even Kazanchy – someone you’ll meet in Blind Marsh – forced me to give them life when all I really wanted to do was use them and throw them away. Life didn’t happen like that. You’ll have to judge for yourself but trust me when I say, they made me do it.

Tell me about the second book, Blind Marsh.

Phil Pfeiffer never really quit even when an unrelenting world and a nasty serial killer crushes and leaves him for dead. With a late night knock at his door, Phil is again on the cold trail of an heiress kidnapping, a vicious plot to turn America into economic ashes, the prophetic end of the world’s calendar, and a love found in the most unexpected of places.

hhWhat are you working on now? More Marsh books or something different?

Blind Marsh may very well have ended the Hirebomber Mystery Series. Even James Bond however, warns us never to say never.

Terrorist Mirage is currently in rewrite. A young and brilliant PhD candidate from one of America’s most notable families foregoes the opportunity to lead a multinational corporation. The young man surprises everyone by joining the Army.

“Officer Candidate School waited in October. That certainly caused a family uproar. Adam listened to the arguments back and forth with some amusement. Even the family’s secretary wrung her hands at the doorway.  Grandfather Julius McCaffrey ended the argument with a snort. What the hell had they expected after sending the boy to twelve years in a military preparatory school?  Besides, a quick stint in the Navy would work well for the family’s shipping empire. Adam told his grandfather that he was joining the Army. Julies furrowed his eyebrows then laughed and slapped the table. At least the Army was sending him to MIT. What could go wrong?”

    Thanks for the opportunity to talk about Marsh Island and Blind Marsh. I hope you like them.
    Ollie Chase


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