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Novelist Mark R. O'Neil - Bound to Get Burned

*Why did you write this book?

I think our government is too supportive of the Persian Gulf countries, especially Saudi Arabia and Qatar. I also felt that the Defense Department does too much for the oil companies in that region the military becomes like a security department that the oil companies get for free from the U.S. taxpayer. I also wanted to tell a story and enjoy the benefits of being a writer. You get to communicate with many people at a deeper level.

* What surprised you the most about your time in Iraq? What are the prospects for that country?

I am fairly hopeful for Iraq, maybe 75% positive that the situation will improve. I was surprised at three things: First, some Iraqis are quite intelligent and organized, I think more so than other Arab countries. You could see that Baghdad had been a nice city back in the early 1970s. Second, they are so, so, so proud. They are fiercely proud of their history and accomplishments. Last, I was surprised at how peaceful and loving some of the Shii' can be. Most of the Shiites that I met were passive and caring people, not at all the stereotype of Arabs. The Iraqi Shii' that support Hezbollah and Iran are in the minority usually they are the uneducated and poor.

* Did you keep notes during your time in Iraq?

Instead of notes, I brought a mini-DV cam with me and shot a lot of film. I am editing it together as a sort of personal documentary. In it, I mainly concentrate on reconstruction activities that took place during the day. We re-built schools, hospitals, fire stations, sewer and water. My experience was not about fighting the insurgency, which primarily takes place at night. I hope to finish editing it and allow historians and possibly even teachers to use it. It has a kind of dry or academic slant to it. There's no nudity, sex or even violence.

* When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I always wanted to be like Robyn Masters, the novelist who owns the estate where Magnum P.I. lived. Some of my friends went into Special Forces, etc so they could be like Magnum. I was always thinking, 'Why be Magnum when you could own the estate?'

* What crowd did you hang out with in high school?

I was always the guy who got along with everyone. I hung out with mostly the speech and debate crowd or student government kids. I tried to play sports and tried to be a musician, but I wasn't very good at either. I was still friendly to the jocks and the band nerds.

* How many years did you spend in the Armed Forces? Why did you quit? Now, what work do you do?

I spent four years on active duty. I left active duty back in the 1990s because it was not really a career opportunity. There were too many chances that I could put a lot of years in and then not quite make it to retirement age. Then, I rejoined the Army Reserves, just for something to do. I was called-up as a Reservist and sent to Iraq. I still am in the Army Reserve though I think I will have to go inactive reserve because of my day-job. Currently, I work as a consultant for RLG International and ironically I primarily consult the oil companies. We provide leadership and management coaching that helps them prevent accidents and environmental problems.

* What do you think you do best and worst as a writer?

This is a difficult question. Hopefully, I am getting better. I believe that if you really work at it, you can get better at all aspects. That's not just my opinion, but brain science backs that up. Certainly talent gives you a starting place. I think am good at relating real stories and giving people an insider's view on how things actually work in the CIA, State Department, and military. After having worked with a professional editor on my first book, I know that I need to work on clarity avoiding the possibility of a sentence being misunderstood. I probably should also work a bit on making my work accessible to more people. I would like to write books that attract a wider audience in part so more people learn about what is going on in the world and how our government is involved. It's our government and our military after all.