On June 30, 2016 this interview appeared in
The Big Thrill
a website belonging to The International
The Yemen Contract
by Arthur Kerns:
By J. H. Bográn
I first began trading emails
with Arthur Kerns back in 2014 when he participated in the Thriller
Roundtables, a weekly forum for thriller writers to take part in themed
discussions. At the time, Kerns was promoting the second book in his Hayden
Stone series. Since then, readers have waited for another “Contract”—but now
the wait is over!
This month, Kerns chats with The
Big Thrill about his new book, THE YEMEN CONTRACT, which author D.P. Lyle
describes as “A modern thriller that echoes today’s headlines.”
In your own words, what is
THE YEMEN CONTRACT about?
After completing a successful
assignment in Africa we find the protagonist, CIA operative Hayden Stone,
living at the Tuscan villa of Contessa Lucinda. She wants him to settle down
with her and the offer is tempting until an urgent message arrives from Stone’s
mentor Colonel Frederick. Stone’s CIA colleague, Sandra Harrington, has been
attacked and arrested in Sicily and they need his help to extract her from
jail. It’s learned that Abdul Wahab, Stone’s nemesis, is the instigator. His
intention is to lure Stone to Sicily in order to kill him. Wahab a villain from
previous novels has long-term intentions of seizing power in the Arabian
Peninsula and wreaking havoc on the West. Without giving away too much of the
plot, Stone rescues Sandra and both travel to the ancient land of Yemen and do
battle with Wahab. Having traveled many times to the fascinating country of Yemen,
I try to use what I know about the land and tribal system as a backdrop to the
What makes Abdul Wahab
believe he can take Hayden?
Abdul Wahab makes his third
appearance in THE YEMEN CONTRACT and his character continues to grow. He is a
bastard, but has many redeeming qualities that my fellow writers who critique
my work admire. This is a problem as he has killed a number of CIA officers,
and there’s no way that he can get away with that. The clock is ticking. He’s
very smart, having attended Cambridge and read into Middle English. He has two
wives, a Saudi royal, and the other an Englishwoman with a title. Although he
is well connected and educated, he’s not averse to personally pulling the
trigger. He fought the Soviets and the Americans in Afghanistan, and knows how
to handle weapons. Hayden Stone has become an obsession and he blames Stone for
his failures to accomplish his terrorist goals. What gets in Wahab’s claw is
that he believes Stone to be not up to his intellectual level or as cunning.
Yet, at the end of each encounter, Stone wins!
Since this is his third time
out, what can we expect from Hayden Stone?
Hayden Stone thrives on action.
Although he is tempted to settle down with the Contessa and enjoy the good life, the minute the right opportunity
presents itself, like an action adventure, he’s off and running. He knows his
limitations and is aware he makes mistakes
from which he must extricate himself sometimes at a cost. The only authority
figure he answers to is his mentor Colonel Frederick. He is a loner and a
patriot who finds himself a warrior against evil.
What’s with Hayden Stone’s
love life? Why is he reluctant to fully commit to the Contessa?
I’m told that it’s best not to
have your action hero tied down. Keep the hero, male or female, always free and
available. This does make it easier for the author coming up with plots.
However, after a few books, your protagonist starts building a life history and
I think Stone’s problem is that he loves the Contessa, but he’s still smarting
over a bad divorce. Besides, he’s a loner and a bit self-centered. However,
here is a question I’m never asked. What is the possibility of Sandra
Harrington snagging Mr. Hayden Stone? I’ve seeded over the course of three
novels instances where she shows deep feelings for him, but keeps their
relationship at a professional distance. He relies on her and enjoys her
company, but has never made a move. Well, he made a subtle pass once, but you
have to find that in THE YEMEN CONTRACT.
What kind of research did you
For the most part I skated on
the research. As I said I’ve traveled to Yemen and could get along in Arabic in
Sana’a, although the ageless dialects spoken in the villages escaped me. I have
had some familiarity with counterterrorism programs and how they work. Where I
did some research was on Sicily and the Sicilian dialect. It’s been years since
I’ve visited the island. I did some background research on Tuscany and Cyprus,
both places I’ve been to and desire to return. Cyprus is especially an interesting
place and has a great history. Years ago I was briefly an FBI firearms
instructor but I sought advice from a fellow veteran FBI instructor on weapons
and ballistics. Hold on! I’ve done research on the meals that appear in my
novels, even so far as personally cooking some of the dishes. I avoided those
featuring goat. In The Riviera Contract I set out a Marseille bouillabaisse
dinner with all the trimmings. It was almost identical to the one I had at a
restaurant about a mile down the coast from the American Consul General’s home.
I expected a fish stew, but the eight of us were presented with a three-hour
parade of Mediterranean seafood.
Most movies and books depict
the FBI/CIA relationship as some sort of sibling’s rivalry. As you’ve worked
with both agencies, what can you tell us?
Since J. Edgar Hoover’s time
there have been periods of fierce competition at the higher ranks of both
agencies. This is normal beltway politics and any super bureaucrat worth his or
her salt will make sure that the agency under their care does not slip in
prestige or power to the advantage of the other agency. On the street level
it’s a little different. When serving as an FBI special agent I had good
relations with the CIA people. Of course, human nature being what it is, there
will be some agents or CIA folks who dislike each other because of the cut of
their jib. Again in the Riviera Contract I bring this up when I have Hayden ask
a CIA officer why after being affiliated with the CIA, Stone was still
considered as “the FBI guy.” The CIA officer explains the opinion both FBI and
CIA veterans have that, “to be considered family you have to be baptized into
your agency from the beginning of your career.”
Your bio claims you’ve
visited more than 60 countries. Any chance that you’ve visited my hometown
Honduras? Or is it a secret?
Yes. I visited the country a few
years ago while helping with security issues at the U.S. embassy. The climate
was mild and the town pleasant. On the outskirts I recall seeing many happy
people on horseback. Ah, those good cigars. The Gunnery Sergeant in charge of
the embassy’s Marine Security Guard and his wife entertained my group for
dinner at their home one evening. I have fond memories of my time in
Tegucigalpa and still have the Marine Corps mug that Gunny gave me.
What are you currently
I have a murder mystery
manuscript with my agent that I’ve been working on for some time. A sequel to
THE YEMEN CONTRACT may be in the works, tentatively titled The Tuscan Contract.
Some of my fellow writers have suggested a new series with Hayden’s colleague,
Sandra Harrington, as the lead character. She has developed over the course of
three novels and I’ve become to like her. She is tough, yet vulnerable. Very
professional. If I were serving as an FBI special agent and I led a raid, I’d
want her to cover my back.
CRIMESPREE MAGAZINE June 28, 2016
Appeared in FEATURES
BEHIND THE BOOK: ART KERN’S THE YEMEN CONTRACT
Sometimes the old tune, “Far Away Places with Strange Sounding Names,” plays in my mind when searching for my story’s setting. The South of France brings to mind fragrant sea breezes, delicious food, and forbidden romance. The writer Somerset Maugham said of the French Riviera that it was “a sunny place for shady people.” What better setting for my first book, The Riviera Contract, an espionage novel where one can die in colorful surroundings? My second novel is set in beautiful, exciting Africa. The times I visited that fascinating continent I always had an overhanging apprehension not of falling victim to a terrorist or thug, but to the local fauna. Leopards are known to sit on roofs at night waiting for someone to walk out the door. They then pounce on the person and drag their bodies up onto a tree limb to age before dining. The black mamba will size you up while deciding when to strike and then if you run will chase you across the bush until you’re out of breathe. Now there’s a backdrop for your protagonist while he or she is trying to deal with the bad guys.
My latest novel, The Yemen Contract, takes place in the mysterious, largely unknown country of Yemen on the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula. There amongst the rugged beauty of an ancient land nearly every man carries an AK-47. The surroundings definitely keep my protagonist, Hayden Stone, on his toes while he tries to save Western Civilization.
I recall flying into Sana’a airport back in 1999. The airport handled both commercial and military aircraft. Parked off the runway sat vintage Russian MIG-15 fighters, droopy-winged four engine Ilyushin transports, and derelict helicopters lined up in rows more for a toothless show than ready combat. Taking a deep breath I could taste the dust.
The drive to the capitol, Sana’a, takes a little less than an hour on a good day, one without traffic jams or police checks. I never enjoy the ride from the airport: it doesn’t pass my romanticized image of Yemen. Garages, machine shops, and ramshackle eateries line the tarred road littered with trash. Some of the buildings had been interesting to look at years ago, but now had fallen into a form of suburban decay. Dust and diesel oil hang in the air.
My hotel, the Taj Sheba, in downtown Sana’a never seems to change and is the reason I stay there and not at other hotels that Westerners frequent.
The city always looks busy, not too loud, and from the front stairs of the hotel you look out and beautiful buildings surround you. A calm, tawny setting brushed by dusty, wood burning smells. Along the street women pass by fully covered in black robes accompanied by men in tribal attire, their ornate daggers, the jambiya, tucked in their belts, many have AK-47 Kalashnikovs slung across their backs. This is the Sana’a I know.
That night after an unremarkable dinner, an occasion during a previous trip came to mind and prompted me to leave the hotel. I walked along the busy street, turned into a narrow dark lane toward the old city, and passed a souk dealing in vegetables and fruit. At the open square I had visited years before, I stopped.
Before me I viewed a moving magical, fantasy world. Dim light bulbs, candles, and propane lamps hanging from carts and trailers revealed in a soft glow Yemenis standing and sitting around their makeshift stands that displayed their wares. The voices and calls were not harsh, but at once earnest, happy, and argumentative. The locals ignored me and left me in peace to take in the scene.
The angular multilevel buildings surrounding the square reflected the yellow glow from market lights. The structures twinkled colors from stained glass windows, some which were large, many small and all in various round and oblong shapes. They were haphazardly positioned on the building facades.
I looked up at the sky and saw the sharp cold stars. The last time there I remembered my colleague, Richard, say softly, “This is the closest you’ll ever get to the Arabian Nights.”
Due to the present war and turmoil the country is off limits to travelers. I hope my novel, The Yemen Contract, can provide a look into this forbidden world.
For me a book’s setting is very important, a character itself, that not only serves as background tapestry but something for my characters to take into consideration as they travel through the story.
The following article appeared in Criminalelement.com on June 21, 2016.
How Counterintelligence and Counterterrorism Has Changed
One night, after working on a murder mystery that was going nowhere, I toyed with the idea of starting an espionage thriller series. Along with tossing around possible locations and when the action would take place, I had to come up with realistic characters. Who would be the protagonist?
Naturally, all the interesting people I had met through the years who served in the FBI, CIA, and other intelligence organizations came to mind. My hero, who I named Hayden Stone, had to have a unique face and behavior, perhaps a composite of all those people I knew. However, what experiences in his intelligence career would shape Hayden Stone at this particular time in history—the post-World-Trade-Center-attack world?
I began to think back on my career. Years ago, when I was first assigned to the FBI counterintelligence squad in New York City, the atmosphere in the office was what could have been termed “clubby.” A newly assigned agent to the squad was smart to be low-key and hope to be taken under the wing of one of the seasoned veterans. You had to learn the tricks of the trade, and, at that time, the tools were file reviews on your target, physical surveillance, and informants—which, in the intelligence parlance, we called assets.
New York City was a melting pot of espionage and, from what I hear, still is. Spies from all countries walked the streets looking for the opportunity to spy on the US, on other countries, sometimes on themselves. For a young agent, going to work was exhilarating.
Counterintelligence gets into your blood. It’s a different mindset from being a spy but, on the other hand, there are similarities. A takeoff on the old expression about catching a thief: it takes a spy to catch a spy. FBI agents match wits with spies, and if they’re good at their job, the targets are wise to look over their shoulder and be worried about being wrapped up.
The atmosphere changed when I was assigned to the newly formed counterterrorism squad. No longer did the well-mannered rules and understandings of the espionage game apply. The targets, now, were killers and thugs with a different set of rules.
Now, the FBI had to work with other members of the Intelligence Community to face the threat in the United States, as well as abroad. The tools available to the counterterrorist agent had to expand. Time became a critical factor. An agent could no longer spend months, sometimes years, developing a program to ensnare the opposition. Human intelligence had to be augmented by technical tools. A counterterrorist agent had only days, maybe hours, to stop a terrorist intent on bombing a US embassy or kidnapping a US citizen.
Thus blossomed the array of technical and electronic devices and techniques designed to locate and track the terrorist. Some of the wizardry we see in the James Bond films actually exists.
Soon, reliance on technical coverage to thwart the terrorists grew to the detriment of the street-level effort. The results, when good, came fast and timely. Decision makers directed resources away from human intelligence to these new, costly programs.
However, the horrific successes of the terrorists forced a reevaluation of this mindset. It was realized that human intelligence had to have a bigger role in the counterterrorist portfolio. Agents and assets were necessary to combat and infiltrate terrorist networks.
This is how I envisioned the role of my protagonist Hayden Stone as a retired FBI agent who had worked counterintelligence and counterterrorist cases. A person bypassed for a time by the modern world and now was called back by the CIA to confront the terrorist threat overseas.
He is a street agent—a journeyman in the intelligence trade who relies on old fashioned, time-proven techniques to get the job done. He is neither ignorant nor skeptical of science in achieving his goals; he just tries to find the proper balance when using it. He knows, as he faces his adversary with his vintage Colt .45, he’s there because a drone in the shape of a bird had located the bastard.
Mia Thompson interviews Art Kern
for: The Blog, Prose&Cons
Art, you’ve had quite an exciting life so far: FBI, counter intelligence, consultant for the Director of Central Intelligence, the list goes on. How did you adjust when settling into the calmer life of an author?
I found it easy to slip into the writing world. However, if you want to succeed you learn it’s a lot more demanding than you expected. Many of us had the vision of working on a manuscript alone in that mountain cabin, or maybe a seaside cottage. We writers know it’s not quite that way. The hassle of marketing, attending book signings, workshops, and conferences takes up a lot of your time. Then there’s the research necessary for your story. Eventually, you try to find time to write. A calmer life is, I suppose, a relative concept. Overall, to steer me through the writing process, I’m fortunate to have a great agent in Liz Kracht and a supportive publisher, Diversion Books.
How much of your character, Hayden Stone, do you see in yourself?
Hayden Stone is very much a creation. Yes, we have similar backgrounds and some character traits, and likes and dislikes, but Stone’s ventures into the spy world of counterterrorism is his own making. Now, I am interested in the foods of the world and enjoyed my travels to far-away places, but the action (and romance) sequences are from whole cloth.
Having travelled to over 65 countries in your line of work, does writing exotic locations come easy to you?
I love traveling to places off the main route. Many of the countries I traveled to in Africa, most people don’t know exist and if they did probably couldn’t find a tour company to take them there. When I was young, I was an avid reader of Richard Halliburton’s travel books. If fact, I have two first editions in my library. I chose Yemen as a location for my next novel, because I traveled there many times and found the people and landscape fascinating.
I see you as the Ian Fleming of the States. How would you feel if Hayden Stone ended up on the big screen, and which actor would you like to see in the role?
Don’t we all want to have our novels end up on the big screen? Jon Hamm, now that Mad Men series is over, he has time on his hands.
You’re working on the third book in your series right now, The Yemen Contract. How many Stone books do you think you’ll write?
After the Yemen Contract, I can see one, maybe two more books. As a matter of fact, I’m just about to hand to my critique group the draft of the first chapter of the Tuscan Contract. However, I have another manuscript in the works, which focuses on the unsolved murder of an FBI agent in 1929. Another idea percolating is a series about an FBI agent sent to Latin America during WW II to counter the Nazi threat.
With all the places you’ve been in the world, where is your favorite place to write?
My favorite spot to work is right here in my home office. My wife, Donna, did a great job of helping me put together the perfect place to write.
The African Contract byArthur Kerns
Arthur Kerns comes to the business of writing novels after a long career in the FBI and intelligence community.
Interview by Guy Bergstrom
So was he a spy?
“No,” Kerns said, “and if I had been I’d say no. I worked counterespionage, so you could say I was in the counter-spy business. A similar, but separate discipline.”
His latest novel, THE AFRICAN CONTRACT, is set in many countries where Kerns has worked, including Liberia, Sierra Leone, Cameroon, and South Africa.
Where do you see the future of thrillers heading?
Kerns said Africa has always pulled at him.
“Years ago, Ernest Hemingway and Jack Kerouac were pop stars,” Kerns said. “I
wanted to join in on the African safaris, Spanish bullfights, and of course go ‘on
the road.’ When I tried writing I found I didn’t have the skills or the ideas to
write a good story.
“Many years later, after a lot of hard work attending classes, conferences,
workshops, and supportive writing groups, I was able to land an agent by
presenting her with a respectable manuscript. Patience and perseverance won
the day. Like playing football in high school, when I was a lineman, a grunt
whose bruises numbed after the fourth play but kept alert enough to break
through the line and nail that glamour-boy quarterback—you know the one who
dated the good-looking cheerleaders. That was almost as satisfying as
being told a publisher accepted my novel.”
In his latest novel, the action for hero Hayden Stone starts with a mysterious boxcar sitting, locked, in the wilds of Namibia—with people who would kill to obtain it or die if what’s inside gets put to use. Hayden travels through slums, mansions, and the shadowy world of black ops, unable to trust any of the players.
I’ve injected a lot of spy tradecraft (into my novels). You see a lot more espionage today from the major authors, like Daniel Silva and Alex Berenson. The Cold War spy novel may have had its day, but could in time return. What I find fascinating is the interest in the espionage thrillers of writers like Alan Furst who concentrate on the era just prior to World War II. Or the writers taking on the World War I era.
Thriller plots that just approach the terrorist threat as thugs versus the good guys may soon find limited appeal. The constant stream of news regarding the relentless terrorist campaigns waged against the U.S. is tiring many readers. They may look for escape somewhere else. That’s one reason why I try to make my locales interesting, whether it’s the French Riviera or Africa. I want the reader to take in the place with all their senses, see the scenery, learn what the people have for breakfast.
How has the business of writing changed for you, with such upheaval in publishing and authors shouldering more and more of the burden of doing publicity and marketing?
Since I’m a newly publisher author, I’ve stepped into this “new age” with open eyes. It must have been great back in the time when your publisher gave you big advances, scheduled your book tours to neat places, and sent those fat royalty checks on a regular basis. Then again the publishers will tell you it was great when they were able to take those long lunches at famous Manhattan restaurants to schmooze with their pals.
Kidding aside, the burden of publicity and marketing hits where it hurts most—taking time away from your writing. The publishers still want a book a year from you and finding the time to be creative and sit before the computer and write is harder and harder.
Some writers detest going on tiresome book tours, sitting on panels before large groups, and hosting lonely book signings.
I’m often asked, “What’s a platform? My agent says I need a platform.” After I explain what it is, they say, “Am I a writer or performer?”
Yes, I tell them, and by the way I have to get back to that novel my publisher’s been asking about.
What’s next for Hayden Stone?
I’m writing the next sequel, THE YEMEN CONTRACT, which of course takes place in Yemen, a country in which I’ve spent a lot of time and again found to be a fascinating world. Stone goes to Yemen on a mission and meets many of his old comrades and enemies.
Turning a Career of Travel Into a Novel
Interview by Karen Randau
Diversion Books published the debut novel by Arthur Kerns, an espionage thriller called The Riviera Contract, in March 2013. For Art, it the extension of a long career in intelligence.
“I’ve traveled to over 65 countries,” he said. “I saw areas of the world that you would not normally see as a tourist. Some of the countries I went to are off limits to tourists today.”
He knew since high school that he enjoyed writing, but, “I didn’t think I could write fiction, and I didn’t really have anything to say.” So, he went to college, spent three years in the Navy, and retired from the FBI after 24 years before starting to take writing lessons while also consulting with the U.S. Department of State.
Art attributes three things to getting his first novel published: good teachers, good classes and good
critique groups. After moving to Arizona, he began networking with other authors, joined the Sistersin
Crime Desert Sleuths chapter, along with the Society of Southwestern Authors.. He enteredc ontests,
twice winning short story awards from the now-defunct Cave Creek Film and Art Festival. And he
started the grueling search for an agent.
“I kept an Excel spreadsheet on the attempts to find an agent,” Art said. “I must have had 40 to 50
rejections before Liz Kracht of Kimberly Cameron Associates in California picked me up. Liz negotiated
The Riviera Contract by Arthur Kerns was published by Diversion Books. “It all” includes the contract to publish The Riviera Contract, along with teaching/speaking engagements, media interviews, and a pending contract for another book, The Africa Contract.
I asked what kinds of mistakes he sees new authors make in their novels. “Don’t give CIA officers the responsibilities and work projects that the FBI would have,” he said. “The CIA can’t arrest anyone. They’re officers, not agents. FBI agents sometimes do drug busts, if they’re connected to organized crime. The DEA usually does drug busts.”
Art says that most authors today try to be as accurate as possible, and TV crime programs have helped. “I think most have both FBI and CIA consultants aboard.” But he cautions that you should confirm everything online. Even he doesn’t rely completely on his memory. He uses the Internet to confirm details.
Art’s advice to new authors:
• Learn the craft: Even if you’re a marketing writer or a journalist, there are things to learn about how to write a novel.
Art has found good classes in community colleges, universities and libraries.
• Share with others: A critique group is a must, especially if it’s well rounded. But, if it starts to feel toxic, get out.
• Network: Attend conferences, join associations, go to book signings at bookstores, get to know other writers. Once
you get published, you’re going to be in charge of promoting yourself, and these contacts will be valuable in every
step of the way.
• Read: Enjoy your genre, but also read genres that overlap. Do you have a romance scene in your thriller? Read
some romance novels in addition to other thrillers.
If you have specific questions to ask Art, contact him via his website: www.ArthurKerns.com.
You can also read his book reviews on http://www.wirobooks.com.
Interview and Contract Signing for The Yemen Contract at the
Poisoned Pen Bookstore, Scottsdale AZ - August, 2016
Please see my interview by Nancie Clare on her podcast, “Speaking of Mysteries,” number 66, dated September 2015. Hope you find it entertaining.
Interview and Book Signing at the Poisoned Pen Bookstore,
Scottsdale, Arizona on October 25, 2014
Interview and Book Signing at the Poisoned Pen Book Store,
Scottsdale, Arizona on January 23, 2014: