How can I find out if you’re going to be doing any book signings or appearances?
Keep checking this site!

What is your email address?

What is your political affiliation?
I am a registered Independent. To serve the leadership of both parties faithfully as an active duty military officer, I believe you have to be.

The characters in The Lazarus Covenant battle against some very tough moral and international threats, especially religious extremism and Weapons of Mass Destruction. Do you see a link between these threats?
It's a worst case scenario, but I do believe there is an intrinsic linkage between both threats--if you consider the crises, conflicts and wars we've been injected into recently, it's not difficult to conclude that religious extremism is a first cousin to political extremism. Given the irrational thought process required for any deliberate WMD attack to occur, extremist views and policies of state or nonstate actors are the first prerequisite--well before means and motive.

Historically, the “Balance of Terror” between The Soviet Union and the United States was regulated by a U.S. policy of Containment and by a presumption of rational decisionmaking. But how do you contain a zealot or a regime led by religious or political extremists armed with the means to execute a nuclear, biological or chemical attack? Our nation's Special Mission Units--Delta, SEAL Team 6, and others—exist precisely for that purpose... and we are indeed fortunate to have them!   

Is it true that your first job in the Army was to defend against WMD attacks?
Yes.  The first five years I served in the Army, I was a “Chemical Officer” stationed in Germany. In that role, I developed programs and means to defend our soldiers against nuclear, biological, and chemical attack on the battlefield. During those Cold War days I was also responsible for the authentication and release of nuclear weapons if the National Command Authority ordered it. I still vividly recall the 2 AM phone calls alerting us for the no-notice nuclear release authentication exercises! As soon as the Army gave me permission, I went through the Special Forces Selection and Qualification Course, and I've been a Special Forces Officer ever since. I look back on it all now and it's been a wonderful experience, and a great ride!

How does a Green Beret end up working in the White House?
I’ve been very fortunate.  Looking back over the past two and a half decades, I’ve been able to serve our nation around the world during extraordinary times of peace and war.  About ten years ago, prior to coming to the White House, it occurred to me that in my role as a Special Forces company commander, I was in the role of executing our nation's foreign policy. With every deployment I made abroad, I realized that I was missing something important. After my first deployment to Bosnia--after everything I’d seen there--I started searching for the connective tissue that makes national policies relevant to our foreign policy, and to our armed forces. Acquiring an intimate understanding of our government, I realized, can only be gained through active service at all levels, and it led me to the White House Fellowship program. It’s a remarkable program available to Americans of all professions, and I found it interesting that as a young Army Lieutenant Colonel, Colin Powell had been a White House Fellow!  I knew that it was a very competitive process, but I had nothing at all to lose by applying. If selected, it would allow me an opportunity to work in an arena where national policy and strategy intersect.  That’s precisely what happened.  After an extensive selection process, I was notified that I was selected as a White House Fellow in the 2000-2001 Class.  My first work placement was in the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, and then as administrations changed, I moved to the Vice President’s Office. When the Fellowship year concluded, I stayed on as Governor Ridge’s Staff Director.

Did you invent the color-coded alert system?
I didn't "invent" the Homeland Security Advisory System (HSAS), but I initiated the process and led the effort in developing it. I had a LOT of help from some extremely talented and dedicated people. In the wake of the September 11th attacks, I was serving as Governor Tom Ridge’s Staff Director. The days after September 11, 2001 were hectic, and yet very, very productive. The pace of each day was fast and the hours were long. If you recall, the country was being inundated to threats at that time and we were reacting to them in the best way we knew how. FBI Director Mueller, Attorney General Ashcroft and Governor Ridge were being put into the rather unenviable position of alerting the country to those threats--without any real framework or frame of reference to convey the severity. The second time Governor Ridge went on national television to alert the public was in December 2001. I recall sitting on the sidelines of the White House Press Room watching the press conference. As usual, Governor Ridge did a remarkable job; and yet, as we were walking back to his office, I sensed his continued frustration that we still weren’t operating with a real system. I assured him we would develop a good one. I was at my parents’ home in Illinois over that Christmas and I recall sitting at their home computer generating ideas for a threat advisory system. When I returned to the White House, I brought them into a series of brainstorming sessions with my colleagues. Over the next several months, we all worked exhaustively to develop a comprehensive and informative system with input from all of the stakeholders: federal departments and agencies, the States, major cities, corporations, and the American People. Love it or hate it, my own belief is that when it’s used properly, it’s a great system to keep the American people informed of threats to our security.  In recent years, the HSAS has come into its own, providing a common "national vocabulary" for terrorist threats that is easily understandable and eminently useful, but I believe there's still much more to do in the realm of public warning.

If you could say it all in just one sentence, what have the past two decades taught you about our military?
Now, more than ever, serving in our nation’s military requires a deep understanding that our armed forces must be a part of society, rather than apart from it

And in one sentence, what did serving in the White House teach you?
That one person can make a difference in our government!

How can I get you to speak at my convention/event? Who do I contact?
Send a query through this website (Contact), with the title “Appearance” or “Event” in the subject line. Mention that you want me to appear at your event. There is a charge that is consistent with what speaker’s bureaus typically cost out for authors. I’m happy to make these appearances, but it’s difficult to fit them in; and the logistics of travel with my schedule can be challenging, so pricing events and speaking engagements is unavoidable.


Where do you get your ideas?
I often get my ideas from my own experiences, past and present, in the White House, in the Pentagon, in international crises spots, and then connecting the dots in an interesting way. Asking the question “What if?” is always a key consideration for any novelist, and I am no exception. What if the Vatican had its own elite commando force to protect itself, like other governments have? What if one of the great Western Christian religions was able to be hijacked by extremists? How could that happen?

Why did you become a writer?
I started writing nonfiction articles early on in my career in the Army. They were mostly professional articles that dealt with military strategy and international strategy. Writing novels isn’t that much of a leap, when you consider that if it’s done properly, it can reenact the same dynamics and facts and make them more easily understood, albeit in a fictional venue. I have always been an avid reader of authors like Alan Furst, Brian Moore and Graham Greene. You just don’t get any better when it comes to international suspense than these great novelists!  My belief is that the best fiction instructs as well as entertains. 

Can you describe your writing day?
I wake up by 5:00 in the morning (sometimes earlier), work my way downstairs to brew a cup of coffee, climb back upstairs and write for a few hours until it’s time to go to work. I try to get a few hours of exercise in during the day to clear my mind.  Normally, I’ll start writing again by 8 or 9 PM when I get back home.

How much research do you do?
The majority of the time I spend on a novel is spent on research. I believe research is crucial to establishing realism and plausibility in a novel.  Interviews, visiting the setting locations, and identifying the best methods to weave story, plot, theme and characters are all part of that process. I’ve found, though, the best “research” is my own life experience: having gone to war, working in the White House, jumping out of airplanes with a full battle gear onto a darkened drop zone, pulling bodies out of mass graves, hammering out national policy, seeing the terrible aftermath of war, firing foreign weapons, traveling around the world, testifying at The Hague…all of it provides a foundation for what I write and for the raw human emotions found in my writing. To the extent I can, my goal is to put you “there” with me. For what I haven’t been exposed to, and for those issues I’m not an expert in, I talk exhaustively to friends (or strangers!) who are doctors, veterinarians, pilots, naval officers, policemen so that I can get it right. Plausibility and realism are critical to good suspense and drama. I enjoy learning about many topics, so I’ll often pick a subject that I find intriguing but never have been exposed to. It all adds authenticity, and from my own experience as a frustrated reader of novels, I know my readers want to know the inside story…what you won’t read in the papers or see on television. My pledge is to offer you precisely that insider’s view!

Next Books

What are the next John Fenzel books?
I am now hard at work on a second novel tentatively entitled Truth of the Father.  It is a psychological suspense novel. Storyline: A successful congressman puts his life on hold to investigate his family's distant past during World War II and the Cold War in the Baltic States...changing his life, his outlook, his relationships, and his political views forever.

I have another Mark Lyons novel in the works as well. In the Ukrainian/Russian Breakaway Republic of Kazakia (Homeland of the Cossaks) while on an election monitoring mission, Sandy Evenson is kidnapped. Mark Lyons must successfully negotiate a dark labyrinth of international agendas and enemies in his efforts to rescue her.  In the process, he discovers a deadly international plot that threatens a tenuous peace between Russia and the United States.

I've started a non-fiction book that explores the issue of our homeland security alert system and proposes a strategy of public warning for terrorist attacks.  The basic premise is that five years after 9-11, we are still operating with an ad hoc approach that doesn't serve us well.  The book will show how a strategic approach to public warning, if done properly, could have not only reactive and proactive value, but also provide a preemptive capability against our enemies, foreign and domestic.

Are you going to do a Lazarus Covenant movie?
With the right screenwriter, the right producer and the right director, I would certainly consider it!


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John with Medal of Honor Recipient and Friend, COL Roger Donlon
10th Special Forces Group Ski Training in Colorado—Truly God’s Country! 

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