What have you experienced during your writing journey?
That’s very hard to put into a short answer. Suffice it to say, leaving the Army for a writing career was about as different as could be imagined. It’s been a whirlwind.
You have a back ground as a Delta Force Commander. Did this knowledge help or hinder you when you decided to write a military thriller?
It definitely helps. I selfishly adhere to the axiom “write what you know”, and having served for over 21 years in Special Operations allows me to develop very realistic story lines, but it is a double edged sword. One thing I never want to do in my writing is harm our national security by divulging classified tactics, techniques or procedures, but I also want the manuscript to be as cutting-edge as possible. It’s a dichotomy that caused some serious rewrites on various scenes, such as when the Fort AP Hill ammunition supply point is attacked by terrorists. I did the research on that site, wrote the scene, and then realized I’d just written a blueprint on how to attack it that had a very good chance of succeeding. Because of my knowledge of tactics, and my ability to conduct some seriously close-in research due to my military affiliation, I had crossed the line. I had to go back and throw in some red herrings. I know I’ll get dinged on that by someone with the same knowledge as me, saying, “That would never work,” but that’s the point.
You’ve studied terrorism extensively and dealt with Muslim terrorists. What do you show about terrorists in your books?
I try to show why they act as they do and what motivates them. Too often terrorists are portrayed as some Doctor Evil with a one-track agenda, when in fact they’re human beings, with human emotions – including self-doubt. No terrorist is born. They’re made, and I try to show that through my writing.
How do you put yourself into the mind of the villain, in this case terrorist?
Basically, the same way I do my protagonists. As I said, terrorists are human beings, and I keep that in mind. As you stated above, I have studied the phenomenon of terrorism quite a bit, and have had the unfortunate opportunity to talk to a few terrorists face to face, so I have a pretty good idea of how they think. It’s not perfect, though. I’m not an Islamic scholar, so I’m sure I make mistakes.
Do you have someone currently on active duty who reads your material before you publish?
I have quite a few friends in various jobs that have read my manuscripts even before it’s sent to my editor. As I said, I never want to give away anything that could help someone with nefarious intentions, so I have them read the manuscript to make sure I’m not inadvertently doing that. Invariably, they’ll come back with changes, and I always accede to their wishes. Even so, there are only so many ways to skin the cat, and I’m constantly worried that I’ll give away a secret without meaning to. One widget I created in ALL NECESSARY FORCE was something I had never seen, but I knew was technologically feasible. Sure enough, a few months after I put it on the page I was doing some work for an agency, and the guy I was with pulled out my widget. It had become real, and I was now treading on classified technology without even knowing it. I had him walk me through how it worked, and was satisfied that mine was different enough that I didn’t need to pull it. I won’t say which piece of kit it is, but it’s still in ALL NECESSARY FORCE.
The premise of this novel and your previous novel, ONE ROUGH MAN, seems to be the thread of redemption. How did you accomplish this with a military thriller?
On the surface, the novel itself is a military thriller, but that’s just because I have a background that’s conducive to writing military thrillers. If I had been a priest, it would be set in a church, but the themes would remain the same. In the same vein, the characters would be similar. The book is realistic, and folks will jump on my past and how it allows the novel to reflect real life, but that wasn’t any work. It just came out because of who I am. What I really wanted to do was create memorable characters the reader would identify with regardless of their background. Real characters that aren’t supermen or diabolically evil, but human. Like real life – only better, because who the hell wants to read about real life?
The primary theme is Pike’s redemption. I’ve always had a soft spot for books like that, and had known since I was in college that I would write about it. I wanted to describe the emotional climb of someone at his peak – someone whose peak was pretty damn high – crushed by a tragedy, and his climb back up. While redemption is something universal, the book has a separate theme that I admittedly didn’t have in mind when I started, but it did come out because of the myriad of situations I have experienced. That theme is the greater good. It’s something that the war on terrorism has in spades, but is never really discussed in novels of this type. It’s always black and white. Do “A” and save the day or do “B” and everyone dies. Most of the public doesn’t see it, but we make choices that have a slippery slope every day. I ended up exploring that, and I hope it comes through for the reader – from Jennifer stopping Pike on an individual level to the terrorists wanting to create a caliphate utopia worldwide.
ALL NECESSARY FORCE is your second novel to feature your tough-as-nails protagonist, Pike Logan, a Special Forces task force covert counterterrorism operative. What is it about Pike that you think resonates with so many readers?
First, I would say it’s the combination of both Pike and Jennifer. I get emails that are evenly split between the two, so it’s definitely not a one-man show. As to why they resonate, I honestly couldn’t say. I just tried to write what I would want to read, and I’m glad my readers have taken them to heart.
How do you give your characters the depth and detail necessary for readers to want to cheer them on?
I wanted to show a distinct moral component for the work that men like Pike Logan execute. Too often the characters in such novels or movies run around killing or torturing people without a shred of remorse, when that’s not really the case. A lot of time, effort, and thought go into counter-terrorist activities in the real world, and the men and woman who execute them operate within a moral framework. They make decisions with life or death repercussions, and live with those decisions. They aren’t robots. I wanted to show that through the interactions between Pike—an operator experienced with combat—and Jennifer—a relative newcomer to what combat actually entails.
What challenge or struggle did you face when you tried to build emotional bonds between the characters?
I suppose the same challenge other writers face, namely making it real. I write an action-oriented series, but getting the reader to associate with the characters – both on the “good-guy” side and the “bad-guy” side—is what really matters to me. It’s the heart of why I write. Bullets flying around and bombs going off are great, but they mean nothing unless someone is viscerally affected by the action. That’s what brings the story to life, and is the hardest thing I struggle to achieve. I know—and use—a lot of current counter-terrorism methods in my writing, but at the end of the day, it’s the impact of those events on the characters that makes a reader want to continue.
Do you have a favorite character in this book?
Well, yeah. Two, actually. Pike Logan and Jennifer Cahill.
Do you have a favorite scene, you can share with the readers?
That’s a tough question. I think it would be when Pike and crew interdict the terrorist attempting to obtain explosives in Budapest. There is so much intertwined into that scene – the conflicting motivations of the terrorist and an Albanian mafia don, Jennifer coming to grips with combat for the first time, and Pike pushing his team further than he should. Another favorite would be the very ending of the book, which, of course, I’m not going to share. But from emails it appears to be a fan favorite as well.
Which is more important in your stories character or plot?
Definitely the characters.
Do you write an entire outline before you begin your novel?
I don’t outline the entire novel. I do create what I call a “framework” as opposed to an outline. I know the overarching plot, and sketch out the trajectory in broad strokes, but don’t go chapter by chapter. I’ve found that a concrete outline is restrictive, and invariably, I’ll end up ignoring it. I know a start and finish, with selected points in between, and hang the meat on the bones of the framework as I go along, letting the plot twist and turn how it sees fit until it gets to the end.
What do you find most rewarding about your writing career? Most disappointing?
The most rewarding is the reader who connects with what I’ve created. I get wonderful emails from the entire age spectrum, from 70 year old ladies to 18 year old privates in the Army describing what my novels meant to them. That means more than anything else. Most disappointing is when readers email me mistakes I’ve made in the book. I work very, very hard to ensure accuracy, and have at least six or seven different people reading the manuscript, and yet somehow errors slip through. It’s frustrating, but I’m finding it’s just the way of writing. No matter how much I try, I’m not going to reach perfection. Don’t take that as me being disapointed in the people who email. I’m disapointed in myself. By all means, send in every error you find, because it allows me to fix the manuscript before it comes out in paperback.
If you could give writers one small piece of advice, what would it be?
Write. I know that’s what everyone says, but they do so because it’s true.
What is something that you often see beginning writers doing wrong?
I am a beginning writer, so far be it from me to start analyzing others. I’m sure I’m the one doing things wrong.
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Thank you so much for sharing your writing journey with us.
Thank you for having me.
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