ABOUT THE BOOKThis is the story of a young American who would eventually fulfill his dream of becoming a CIA Case Officer, only to have a promising career cut short after having been purposely poisoned by a contact.
Eric Burkhart was raised in Europe in a bilingual household, and accepted a job in Africa right out of college. Upon his return to the United States, he was hired as an Immigration Agent in Laredo, Texas, working Inspections on one of the busiest port-of-entries connecting the United States and Mexico. This experience is detailed in this humorous, occasionally heartbreaking memoir about choosing to be a survivor.
In 2000, Burkhart accepted a position as a Case Officer with the Central Intelligence Agency. The book includes details of both the notoriously arduous hiring process and the rigorous training program, including Burkhart's eventual successful completion of the Espionage Course taught at the famous "Farm." Burkhart's first overseas working experience was in war-torn Kosovo, where he was unwittingly poisoned by an unstable intelligence contact. Burkhart would struggle with the repercussions of this episode for the remainder of his career, and eventually be obliged to accept full medical retirement from the CIA.
However, before retiring, Burkhart completed tours in Iraq and Africa. His time spent in the Green Zone almost immediately following the occupation of Baghdad, constitutes the majority of this enlightening book. Burkhart exposes the reader to the human element within the CIA, and we are introduced to a variety of characters, some who will seem familiar, and some who reveal the eccentricities we expect with this kind of occupation.
Follow Burkhart through the battlefields of Iraq, past the Iraqi Insurgency, and to his next assignment in Africa. Burkhart leaves no emotion unexpressed as he details his medical struggles with the horrific damage caused to his body from Toxic Exposure. Wracked by pain, Burkhart reaches the point where he must consider quality of life issues, and has to accept retirement as a necessary decision. Burkhart has a story to tell, and leaves no stone unturned during this turbulent time both in his life, and in our history.
INTERVIEW WITH ERIC BURKHART
Eric, how did you get started writing?
I have always been a reader. I can't remember the last time that I wasn't in the middle of a book. Along with reading, I've always enjoyed writing, but never considered becoming an author until I was facing medical retirement. It was difficult accepting full retirement at my age, but it was very important that I stay focused on the positive and work towards staying healthy. I decided to write the book as a part of "self-therapy." I have always been saddened by the dirth of available information regarding the realities of working in espionage in the 21st century, and I decided to write about my career, which included enough of a variety of scenarios and events to answer many questions that people have about the CIA. I also used the effort as part and parcel of my recovery; as I progressed, another chapter would be completed.
Do you have a writing routine?
When working on Mukhabarat, Baby!, I made a point, whenever possible, to write everyday. My book utilizes events from my career to provide the opportunity to explain the entire intelligence collection process. In that circumstance, it was easier for me to write as much as possible at one sitting, and leave as little time as possible in between writing sessions. This allowed for vital continuity to the mood and atmosphere of the story. In most instances, I used a full chapter to break down each respective story. I gave myself plenty space to adequately introduce the characters, storyline, and backdrop.
What do I think makes a good story?
A story won't be good if the author is not 100 percent committed. The best books are the ones that insist on being written. If the writer truly appreciates their own story, and is confident in his/her ability to paint the visual impression, then all that remains is the telling of the story.
Do you write everyday?
As I mentioned earlier, when I'm working on a book, I prefer to write everyday. For my style it is imperative to keep continuity of mood and atmosphere. A substantial break during the writing of a particular event or story can impact the its flow. At the moment, I haven't decided if a second book is in my future, but I can't imagine writing in any other style. Once a story decides to be told, it really tries to rush out of me, and at times I have no choice but to write everyday.
How often do you read?
I read all the time, and at times have been scolded for reading at the dinner table and when entertaining guests. I love to read more than anything, except discussing the book I've just read another serious reader. Actually, my reading preference is different from the genre in which I write. Normally I read biographies and non-fiction, but I truly enjoy classical literature. My preference is French classical literature from within the last two centuries, but nothing very recent. I also really enjoy a number of American writers as well, especially Flannery O'Connor and Katherine Ann Porter.
Is writing your dream job?
No. I wrote my memoir because I seemed to have reached the perfect opportunity to focus on that form of expression. I was recently retired, in need of a focus, and in possession of a collection of memories that, if presented properly, should get the attention of many people. I began writing my book with a passion for the subject matter which has yet to wane. I have no idea if I have another book hidden away somewhere in the ol' grey matter. Although I thoroughly enjoyed the actual writing process, I can think of a number of jobs that I would prefer. I love the world of espionage. It's something that I will forever feel connected to, and something at which I did well.
Do you have any marketing tips you could pass on to indie authors?
Absolutely - although I realize how it is when money is tight, all authors really need a Publicist. If your book has been published by a publishing house, then in most instances it will be provided to you (no guarantees that all in-house Publicists are top notch). I made the decision to contact a publicist and was lucky enough to get her to represent me. I went from book presentations at the local VFW, to traveling across the country for radio and TV appearances. Do your homework and read references; there are a couple of great publicists waiting for good books and dedicated authors.
Okay, now for some fun stuff. If you could watch one television station for a year, what would it be?
I would choose any 24-hour TV channel from France. French is my first language, and just hearing it spoke by a native speaker breaks back memories of a childhood in southwest France, surrounded by castles, quaint little villages, and the best bread in the world.
How often do you tweet?
I tweet roughly six times a day, enough to mention the subject of my latest blog post and provide a link. I can appreciate Twitter, but personally, I don't enjoy it enough to dedicate the necessary time.
How do you feel about Facebook?
Facebook can be useful, and it has helped me relocate with a number of old friends. Facebook has a number of useful options, including sharing pictures, chatting, spreading social awareness, organizing, and many more. But I remain concerned about the amount of information that Facebook not necessarily collects, but has the ability to collect. When I am on Facebook, I have no real assurance that Facebook hasn't found a way into my CP and all my tax and banking records. I also have great concern about the likelihood that children will be exploited through these new tools for social networking.
For what would you like to be remembered?
I would like to be remembered as my father's son.
What five things would you never want to live without?
I would not want to live without food, soap, shampoo, books, and my glasses.
Wise choices. What do you love about where you live?
I live in Texas, and I love its BIGNESS. West Texas is sparsely populated and contains the Guadalupe Mountains, the Marfa Lights, the McDonald Observatory, and Big Bend National Park. East Texas is full of forests and rivers, ideal for camping and searching for Bigfoot! South Texas binds together the Hispanic community that was here when Spain ruled over the Brazos, and the spirit of the American settlers that arrived her looking for a new life. What do I love about Texas? We Texans don't bicker with each other. I speak Spanish, and I think anyone who lives permanently this far south should consider it as well.
What is your favorite fast food?
Since my medical issues required an abrupt change in my diet, I can't eat the way I used to. Also, when I became a vegetarian at twelve, I wrote off all the Big Macs and Hunger Busters. But at the end of the day, nothing beats an order of French fries from McDonalds.
What drives you crazy?
I am annoyed to great lengths by hard-working demographic groups within our community, who continually vote the same way, year-after-year, regardless of what has or hasn't been accomplished. I am truly disgusted by the same political machines (on the border in Texas, they've made it an art form) taking for granted some of the most hard-working, honest, decent people that our country has the pride to call its own. Regardless if any of the promises have been fulfilled, its the same names and same party getting into office every election. Taking advantage of good folks really drives me crazy.
What is your superpower?
I have two: I can tell immediately when someone is lying, and I can also size up people quite quickly. Both skills were greatly enhanced during my career, and also used regularly.
Name one thing you're really good at and one thing you're really bad at.
I'm really good at finding four-leaf clovers and really bad at basketball.
What do you wish you could do?
I wish I could provide a home for every abandoned cat and dog in the world, and I wish I could make a law that only people who are willing to spade/neuter their animals should be given a license to have one. The situation is out-of-control, especially with cats. When people see abandoned cats hanging around dumpsters, they assume that cats live just fine in the wild, but they don't; they are domesticated and fall victim to diseases, predators, starvation, and the elements. And in Hollywood, tiny dogs have become fashion accessories.
Where is your favorite place to visit?
My favorite place to visit to see family is France, but for shorter excursions, I love Savannah, Big Bend, and South Africa.
What would you name your autobiography?
I would title my autobiography .... When The Long Trick Is Over.
Describe yourself in five words:
I am obsessive, compulsive, clean, neat, and private.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
After completing college, Burkhart relocated to South Africa for a job in community planning and design. After returning to the United States in 1994, Eric started a career in federal service by becoming a Federal Agent. In 1999 he moved over to the CIA, which became his passion and focus in life. After being poisoned while working in Kosovo in 2001, Burkhart was eventually obliged to medically retire, but not before extending his career to include tours in Iraq and Africa. Mukhabarat, Baby! is Burkhart's first book.
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