In honor of author Frank Boccia, who passed away last week, I am re-posting an interview I did with him last year. He was a great man, and I appreciated his honesty and that he took the time to speak with me about my first book, Single in the CIA. Frank’s book, The Crouching Beast: A United States Army Lieutenant’s Account of the Battle for Hamburger Hill, May 1969, is available on Amazon, and other places books are sold. He will be missed.
Frank: You write well, economically, clearly. As a professional author, I appreciate that kind of writing.
I can see why the book might have made the CIA squirm a bit, but considering the bad press they get I suppose they’re used to it. And, yeah, the waste of money is disturbing, but then the entire government does the same. I know. I had two separate and brief periods of employment with Uncle Sam and spent most of the time shaking my head.
But I’m left with a question that I hesitate to ask, but must. First, let me make clear that I am not making a moral judgment here; I would be the world’s most egregious hypocrite if I did, because I was an executive in a major corporation and there was a period when I was the Barry or Archie — well, no; not Archie. I could never reach his level of weird hypocrisy — or Jarod. I’m ashamed of it now, but back then — well, there were a lot of attractive women in our company. So, if anything what I did was much less ethical. A young clerk and a middle-aged exec is not a fair match.
So… the question is, how did you come to bare all that you did? I don’t mean for its affect on the Agency, or even your partners — no matter that you changed their names (I know you did because I was forced to change a lot of names in my account, or the lawyers would have hissy fits and massive heart attacks) many of your former colleagues will know who the men were — but so what? They probably did anyway. No, I’m thinking only on how it affects YOU. Did you hesitate at all, for that reason? I understand that this is probably an embarrassing topic, but, you must have known your father and his colleagues and friends would read it. I sat and thought about that after I read the last paragraph.
Regarding his book, The Crouching Beast: Many have remarked on how intimate and revealing some of my passages are, showing things that weren’t necessarily attractive in my character. I wrestled with that, but in the end decided that if was going to be honest, and write about my comrades as I did, then I had to write about myself, warts and all. Again — no moral stance here. Call it vulgar curiosity, or, as I think of it, a professional writer’s research. I will thoroughly understand if you don’t wish to answer, or if you send me a blazing dart filled with names — all of which I’ve been called before, probably deservedly — and suggestions for my future address.
I will say it took courage to do what you did. Sort of like charging a machine gun nest. After the first step it’s too late to back out.
Shelly: To answer your question – I really don’t find anything that I exposed in the book embarrassing… In today’s world, what I wrote is practically a child’s cartoon. I think at the end of the book I clarified that I was never a victim in the situations I was in, I was merely along for the ride. I was actually just as bad as the men I talk about in the book (and I’ll add that Barry and I are still friends). They don’t have a name for the female equivalent of a womanizer… But that’s what I was! I think the book actually delivers a good message in the end – it shows that no matter how much BS you deal with and how dreadful your life can seem (as it did in the Fall of 2011), things can completely change in a very short span of time. Because of the risk I took leaving the Agency my life became 100% better. I am now living happily with a young son, happily married, and doing things I never could – with the help of my book sales! I think the book is more of a triumph than something to be embarrassed about. And as you know, as a writer, you cannot hesitate or censor yourself if you want to write well. I struggled with censoring myself quite a bit while writing it – I left out A LOT of really bad behavior – both on my part and others. That’s the stuff that might actually embarrass me. But, I also know that I wouldn’t be afraid to write a sequel to Single in the CIA, which could include some of the worst behavior that I left out this time around.
And don’t worry, I am not offended by your question at all!!! Hey, I am a 40 year old woman now, whose book is doing well considering the obstacles I have (friends who don’t know how to use the internet, friends who are afraid their CIA cover will be blown if they purchase the book, etc). I’m not easily offended – I kept reading your question over and over trying to figure out what you think might actually offend me!! I can’t find anything. Trust me, the book could have been WAY more intimate – I went light on the sex stuff. I’ve had so many people tell me that I needed to put MORE of the sex in the book – they said it wasn’t sexy enough.
Regarding the changing of names – yes, I did that – but that is more because when you work for the Agency we all get pseudonyms. So half the time we didn’t even know each others’ real names!
In closing, all of the “douche bags” in the book have contacted me since its publication, and none of them are mad about what I wrote – except Archie. But, like I’ve said before, if you don’t want someone to write about your bad behavior one day, don’t act like a douche bag!
The good news – I’ve apparently got a huge following of certain officers in the CIA. Some of them have thanked me for “bringing it all together” for them. They are coming to grips with the idea that they may not be able to get another job when they leave the Agency – their professional life is a big black hole, more so than mine, and they are squirming now trying to figure out what to do if and when they jump ship. Most will stay there until they can retire, living very unhappy lives, because they are, in a sense, prisoners to the Agency.
Thank you for saying it took courage to write it! I always have been a risk-taker, and also a pretty blunt person. Not everybody recognizes that, but I am also a very misunderstood person. That’s ok with me.