The Ragnarök Vaults: Former NJ Reporter Pens Cold War Spy Novel

The Cold War loomed over Michael Perrota's childhood growing up in Nutley in the 1980s.

Fair Lawn's Michael Perrota's new Cold War novel "The Ragnarök Vaults: A Thomas Braddock Novel" went to print in November 2020.

Fair Lawn's Michael Perrota's new Cold War novel "The Ragnarök Vaults: A Thomas Braddock Novel" went to print in November 2020.

Photo Credit: Cecilia Levine

Nearly every movie he watched, book he read and video game he played served as stark reminders of the past.

Perrota developed a fascination with the war, devoting much of his time trying to understand it and how it affected the modern world.

After more than a decade of research and writing, Perrota published "The Ragnarök Vaults: A Thomas Braddock Novel" -- a Cold War spy novel that hit the shelves last month.

"In the end, it's a fun a spy novel," said Perrota, a dad of three from Fair Lawn. "But within it, there are a lot of nuggets of historical fact I think are more interesting than fiction."

The idea for the book came to Perrota sometime in 2010, while reading a news article about the espionage and notorious American traitors who sold secrets to the Soviets.

Perrota knew if he was going to write a Cold War spy novel, he had to make it believable.

"If people were going to allow me the concept that there are secret agencies and governments," he said, "I had to make it make sense."

And so, Perrota started writing. And he started researching.

He interviewed people in the FBI, historians and weapons experts. He read books and news articles. He watched one documentary after another.

"That was the fun of it for me," Perrota said. "Connecting the dots and making things work."

For the characters, Perrota drew on his 10-year career as a news reporter for North Jersey Media Group and the Star Ledger. 

The stories of veterans and military officials he spoke to always stuck with him, and seemed to share one common thread.

"The politics of any war was rarely their concern," Perrota said. “They were just trying to survive it.

"All they knew was that they were in a day-to-day operation. It wasn't until the war was over did some realize the politics."

While tinkering with the idea of a novel, Perrota enrolled in classes toward a degree in a master’s in fine arts in professional writing at Western Connecticut State University.

Those classes were integral in understanding the novel-writing process for Perrota, he said. Particularly, fiction writing.

"Everyone thinks they're a good writer until they're surrounded by other good writers and you’re reading your work out loud," Perrota said. "Then you have a choice: fold or compete."

Perrota chose the latter and, thankfully, most of his classes were one-on-one or working with a mentor.

"Being around all these writers and talking about ideas really helped," he said.

"You find people you kind of gel with and they push you to make you better. They helped me understand how good fiction worked."

Fiction writing, he would come to learn, would require a different set of skills than journalism did.

It meant that writing a chapter out of sequence that didn't necessarily happen next. It meant putting ideas down and coming back to it later -- sometime months later.

It meant moving the story in the general direction of where Perrota wanted them to go.

"Most of the book was written non-linear," Perrota said. "You’re going to write stuff just to throw it out. When you come back to edit, then you can agonize over it. 

"People fall apart writing because they spend so much time on that first draft as opposed to getting the first draft done."By the time Perrota graduated WestConn in 2012, he had that first draft done.

He spent the following eight years writing and rewriting. Coming up with an idea, getting it on paper and then walking away. 

But always coming back.

"I love creation and I think everybody should do it at some point," Perrota said. "Whether it’s art, or making a TikTok video -- humanity is about your creation. You should want to create something."

Finally, last spring, Perrota's creation was complete. "The Ragnarok Vaults" went to print in November.

"It was a great 10 years," the author said, "but I've got to move on."

Similarly to how the Cold War resulted from World War II, Perrota said: "The moment you topple your enemy, you look to see who is your next enemy."

Perrota says for him, it's another book. Perhaps a sequel. Perhaps non-fiction.

“A writer is always in the middle of a million projects,” he laughs. “What I want to work on next changes by the day.”

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