My NativeAdVantage: Douglas Waller: Author of DISCIPLES: The World War II Missions of the CIA Directors Who Fought for Wild Bill Donovan
Douglas Waller is a veteran correspondent, author and lecturer. In almost two decades as a Washington journalist, he covered the Pentagon, Congress, the State Department, the White House and the CIA. From 1994 to 2007, Waller served in TIME Magazine’s Washington Bureau, first as a correspondent then as a senior correspondent. At TIME, Waller covered foreign affairs extensively as a diplomatic correspondent, traveling throughout Europe, Asia and the Middle East as well as in the Persian Gulf region. He has reported extensively in the past on Middle East peace negotiations and the wars in Iraq. He came to TIME in 1994 from Newsweek, where he reported on major military conflicts from the Gulf War to Somalia to Haiti. Before joining Newsweek in 1988, he served as a legislative assistant on the staffs of Senator William Proxmire and Representative Edward J. Markey.
On October 6, 2015, Simon & Schuster released Waller’s latest book: Disciples: The World War Two Missions of the CIA Directors who fought for Wild Bill Donovan. Waller’s previous biography, Wild Bill Donovan: The Spymaster Who Created the OSS and Modern American Espionage, was published by Free Press in 2011 and became a New York Times best seller, a Washington Post Best Book for 2011 and a Wall Street Journal Notable Book for 2011.
Disciples is the ninth book Waller has authored or coauthored. His other books include the national best seller, The Commandos: The Inside Story of America's Secret Soldiers, which was published by Simon & Schuster in 1994, and Air Warriors: The Inside Story of the Making of a Navy Pilot, which was published by Simon & Schuster in 1998. His sixth book, BIG RED: The Three-Month Voyage Of A Trident Nuclear Submarine, was also a national best seller published by HarperCollins in 2001. In 2004 HarperCollins also published Waller’s critically acclaimed biography, A Question of Loyalty: Gen. Billy Mitchell and the Court-Martial that Gripped the Nation.
A 1971 graduate of Wake Forest University, Waller now lives in Raleigh, N.C., and is at work on his next book.
What do you do best?
As a researcher for historical biographies, I think I’m a fairly good treasure hunter. For my latest book, DISCIPLES, I spent a year hunting through the millions of pages of OSS documents stored in the National Archives at College Park, Maryland. These once-secret documents have all been declassified, but they are difficult to traverse and material on the OSS operations of my main characters was scattered among thousands of boxes. I enjoyed hunting for needles in the haystack. I also had to spend months at archives around the country and overseas that housed the personal papers of my book characters or other government documents. The families of my four main characters also cooperated with the project. I spent days interviewing them and copying material from their personal collections. All told I interviewed forty-five family members, friends, OSS colleagues and intelligence experts for this project.
What makes you the best?
I’m not a terrific stylist. I can name a great many other biographers and historians who are far better writers than I am. But I think I can write clearly and I do a fair job of organizing and presenting the mass of material I vacuum during my research. I was deeply gratified by the Wall Street Journal review of DISCIPLES, which commented on my narrative: “It’s a hell of a good tale, aided immeasurably by Mr. Waller’s skill at disentangling the knotted story lines of his protagonists and his dexterous straightening of the often contradictory accounts of the shadow war’s dauntingly complex machinations. Having immersed himself in the copious archives, Mr. Waller never allows himself to wallow, or drown, in their details, and his eye for journalistic color (honed by his stints as a correspondent for Time and Newsweek) turns his solid research into taut narrative. Charged, too, with directing a supporting cast of nearly 100 characters and leading men scattered here, there and everywhere, Mr. Waller could easily have made an incomprehensible hash of it. Instead, ‘Disciples’ is a remarkable work of synthesis.”
I have authored or co-authored nine books, several of which have become best-sellers. I’m proud of that. But my biggest success has been being married to my wife Judy for forty-three years, raising with her three wonderful children, and now enjoying six grandchildren with a seventh on the way.
What are your aspirations?
Personal: Being a good grandpa.
Business: Completing my next book.
Most challenging moment?
Launching a new book project is always challenging. The years of research that lay ahead can be daunting. After I stop researching, it takes me almost as much time to organize and outline as it does to actually write the manuscript. So I’m not overwhelmed, I break down the project from beginning to end into small, bite-sized chunks, establishing tasks I have to perform and deadlines I have to meet each day. And I become obsessive about meeting those daily deadlines.
I’m not a big quote guy. I don’t walk around with a favorite line in my head. Sometimes a quote will come to mind depending on what’s in the news on a particular day. The current political silliness we’re seeing in the presidential campaign reminds me of what Adlai Stephenson once said: “In America anyone can be president. That’s the risk you take.”
My family, first and foremost. I also cherish the many friends we made during the more than thirty years I worked in Washington. And now we have a number of close friends in Raleigh, North Carolina, our new home.
We love renting a cottage during the summer at Holden Beach, North Carolina and having all the children, their spouses and the grandchildren there for a week. It’s total chaos and it could not be more fun.
I love books and browsing bookstores filled with used books to hunt for obscure volumes no longer in print. I haven’t adapted to e-books yet. I still need to feel the pages and turn them.
My next book will be about espionage during the Civil War. So I’m now consumed with reading books—many of them published in the 1860’s—on that tragic conflict.