Charles Ota Heller is the author of four memoirs in English and one in Czech. The former are Prague: My Long Journey Home, Close Encounters with the Famous and Near-Famous, Ready, Fire, Aim! An Immigrant’s Tales of Entrepreneurial Terror, and Cowboy from Prague: An Immigrant’s Pursuit of the American Dream.
Dr. Heller was born in Prague three years before Czechoslovakia was invaded and occupied by Hitler’s Germany. His father escaped and joined the British Army, his mother was taken away to a slave labor camp, and Charlie was hidden on a farm until the war’s end in 1945. Twenty-five members of his family were murdered by the Nazis in the Holocaust. Reunited after the war, the three Hellers escaped after the Communist takeover of the country and came to the United States in 1949 following fifteen months in refugee camps.
After high school in New Jersey, Charlie entered Oklahoma State University, where he earned a basketball scholarship and received BS and MS degrees in engineering. After working in the aerospace industry in California and for Bell Labs, he and his wife Sue came to Annapolis, Maryland, where he became one of the co-founders of the aerospace engineering department at the Naval Academy. Soon after he earned a Ph.D. from The Catholic University of America, Dr. Heller was bitten by the entrepreneurial bug. He co-founded two software companies—CADCOM and Intercad—and was CEO of both for the next eighteen years. After cashing out, he went to the University of Maryland, where he was Director of the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship until 2000. That year, he became a venture capitalist, investing in high-tech companies.
Today, Charlie is a full-time author and serves on several boards of directors, including the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library and Walden University. He has received a number of awards: Maryland’s Entrepreneur-of-the-Year, the Lohmann Medal (OSU’s highest award for engineering graduates), Catholic University’s Distinguished Alumni Award, and he was named the first Professor of Practice in the history of the University of Maryland. In 2015, he was inducted into the Oklahoma State University CEAT Hall of Fame.
A widower, Dr. Heller lives in Annapolis. He has one son, three grandchildren, and one great-grandchild. He is a member of the Annapolis Yacht Club, Naval Academy Golf Association, Rotary Club of Annapolis, Oklahoma State University’s O-Club, the Authors’ Guild, and Maryland Writers’ Association. He is an avid golfer, skier, sailor, kayaker, and hiker.
Tell us the story of your book’s title. Was it easy to find, or did it take forever?
I was born in Prague, Czechoslovakia (today, Czech Republic), and I played basketball for the Oklahoma State University Cowboys—thus “Cowboy from Prague.”
How did it feel when you first saw your book cover? Or when you first held your book in your hands?
I’m always excited when I first hold one of my new babies in my hand. It’s a loving relationship that follows years of hard work.
Who/what made you want to write? Was there a particular person, or particular writers/works/art forms that influenced you?
I am an immigrant who took advantage of everything the United States had to offer me. During the 2015-16 presidential campaign, when one of the candidates brought thousands of immigrant-haters out of the woodwork, I felt it necessary to write a book about this immigrant’s successful pursuit of the proverbial American Dream.
What other professions have you worked in? What’s something about you that your readers wouldn’t know?
I have a doctorate in engineering. I worked as an engineer in the space program before entering academia. I taught at the U.S. Naval Academy and the University of Maryland. After being bitten by the entrepreneurial bug, I co-founded and was CEO of two software companies. Additionally, I was a partner in two venture capital firms.
What was the most rewarding/meaningful part of publishing your book?
Most rewarding has been the sizeable readership I’ve developed over the years, with whom I communicate directly and via Facebook.
If your book had a soundtrack, what are some songs that would be on it?
The Folks Who Live on the Hill and Wind Beneath My Wings.
What is one thing you hope readers take away from reading your book? How do you envision your perfect reader?
That with persistence and courage one can overcome great difficulties.
What new writing projects are you currently working on? Or, other projects that are not writing?
I am doing a rewrite and retitling of my first memoir (published in 2011), Prague: My Long Journey Home. I’ve discovered a great deal of new information (from readers and research) since the initial publication.
How was working with Atmosphere Press? What would you tell other writers who want to publish?
I’ve greatly enjoyed working with Atmosphere Press and intend to publish my next book with them. The company’s professionals have been extremely helpful and pleasant to work with, and the process has been smooth and seamless.