Brad Taylor LTC (ret.) is one of our favorite authors! He is a twenty-one-year veteran of the US Army Infantry and Special Forces. Brad pulls from his real-world experience to inform his bestselling series about ex-Special Forces operator Pike Logan, and the result is edge-of-your-seat action and entertainment. He answers some of our questons about his first bestselling book, One Rough Man, below. Enjoy!
You recently retired from the U.S. Army after twenty-one years of service. What is the most important lesson you learned?
The one thing I took away from my years of service is that perseverance means more than any other attribute. Talent and brains are important, but the will to win is what creates success. Nearly every success I managed to accomplish in my career was first preceded by failure. Getting knocked down became part of the process, but dusting myself off and getting back into the fight was what allowed me to succeed. Winston Churchill had it right when he said, “Never give in — never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense.”
What made you retire and become a novelist? Was writing something you were always interested in?
I’ve been a voracious reader since childhood. My wife calls me Walter Mitty because I’m always coming up with stories, usually to get out of some sort of trouble. In the back of my mind it wasn’t a question of whether I would write a novel, it was only a question of when. But the two careers are mutually exclusive. I didn’t do one because of the other. Retiring from the Army was a personal decision and one of the hardest ones I’ve ever had to make. I came out on the promotion list for full Colonel, which was good, but it meant I would spend the next five or six years moving my family every other year, in addition to long deployments overseas. My wife grew up as an Air Force brat and attended four different high schools in four years. My own daughter was starting her freshman year, and I didn’t want the same for her. In the end, it was very difficult to leave, especially since we are still at war, but after much deliberation I ultimately decided to turn down the promotion and retire.
In writing about the Military, you had to balance making sure the story was realistic without divulging classified government information. Was this problematic?
Other writers can guess how widget X works, and if they get it right everyone wonders how they got the information. My problem is the opposite: I do know how things work, and most of that knowledge is classified, so I have to spend a lot of time tempering what I know when I write, even if it seems mundane. For instance, I was working on a scene for All Necessary Force where terrorists attack an Army Ammunition Supply Point. I simply wrote how I would hit the ASP to get to the ammunition inside. After I was done, I read it and thought, “What the hell are you doing? You’ve just written a blueprint on how to attack a U.S. Federal facility!” My insider knowledge, coupled with my tactical skill set, had made it too real. 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.
Were there other challenges in writing the book?
For the most part, the words flowed pretty easily, probably because nothing in the book duplicates actual real-world operations I have participated in. Truthfully, the hardest thing to write about was Pike’s family and what happens to them. That was very unpleasant, because it was a fear I held every time I deployed. If there is such a thing as the “tip of the spear,” I was on it when the towers fell, and my wife was nine months pregnant. Four days after my daughter was born, I left my wife crying in our driveway, headed to Afghanistan. Luckily, nothing bad happened to my family while I was deployed, but that didn’t make writing what happens to Pike’s family any easier.
Tell us about your research. Did you have to do a lot of fact checking or was your previous career experience enough?
My previous career is absolutely essential as a starting point, but I don’t have an encyclopedic memory. Suffice it to say, I have to do an enormous amount of fact checking, from something as minute as how long a certain flight would take and the time zones involved to whether a particular weapon fires from the open-bolt position. Invariably, whenever I tried to wing it based on my memory and experiences alone, I’d find out I was wrong. I’ve learned to fact check just about everything. Luckily, if I can’t find the answer on my own, odds are very good that I know someone who can.
For example, Jennifer and Pike get stopped at customs at the Atlanta airport and have to break out of the secondary interrogation facility. I called up some pilot friends of mine and proposed a simple question: How can I get out of the Atlanta airport without going the usual route of the passengers? They gave me the breakdown of what crewmembers do, including locations of employee lounges and employee bus routes. From there, I simply flew to the airport and retraced Pike and Jennifer’s steps from customs, noting the security in place such as cameras, alarms, and checkpoints. After casing the place it was pretty easy to figure out how they could escape.
I couldn’t afford to do what I did with the Atlanta scene for the scenes in Bosnia, Oslo, or Guatemala. In those cases, I had to rely on the internet, my memory and friends with specialized knowledge. There’s a military phrase called Open Source Intelligence, which basically means, “read the paper and see what you can find out.” In today’s times, that means the internet, and it’s amazing what’s out there. For instance, I’ve been inside the White House situation room—once—but I’m certainly not well versed on the White House floor plan. Obviously, getting in and stomping around the president’s personal space was problematic. Luckily, there’s an entire website dedicated to the history of the White House, complete with the floor plan through the years and photos.
What do you want readers to take away from reading One Rough Man?
First and foremost, I want the reader to enjoy the story. I didn’t set out to have any message other than a damn good read, but there are some themes that ended up occurring. The primary one is the concept of the greater good. All too often, terrorists are depicted as twisted, evil men out to kill for killings sake, when in fact, while their actions are despicable, their motivations aren’t deranged. They fully feel that what they’re doing is in the best interest of their society. In the same vein, the Taskforce itself is anathema to the American way of life, an organization that operates outside the bounds of U.S. law, but its existence is deemed necessary for the greater good of American security. While I didn’t set out with this concept in mind, I do like it, because it’s exactly this debate that frames a lot of our national security discussions, from the use of waterboarding to the collateral damage of predator strikes in Pakistan. It’s worth exploring, and probably the reason it subconsciously crept in.
One Rough Man is the first book in a series about Special Forces Operator Pike Logan. Can you give us a sneak peek of what you are planning for later books?
I don’t want to give too much away, but in All Necessary Force, Pike has decided not to return to the Taskforce as a member of the U.S. Government. Instead, he convinces Jennifer to open a business with him that the Taskforce uses as a cover to conduct operations. The reader gets to see Jennifer grow and come to grips with the reality of fighting terrorism, along with the evolution of the Taskforce as it battles a home-grown threat that’s very, very plausible. Of course, Pike’s in the thick of it, bending whatever rule gets in his way to get the job done. In future books I want to juxtapose al Qaida against a more traditional terrorist group, like Hezbollah. As Americans, we tend to lump all terrorist organizations together, but I’d like to explore some of their differences.
If One Rough Man were to be made into a movie, who would you like to play Pike?
The question implies that all of my work was just a stepping stone to something else, instead of an end state. Having said that, I’d be lying if I said I’d never thought about it. Sam Worthington would be a front-runner. He’s the right age and as close as anybody else I’ve seen in Hollywood. Must be something to do with the Australian water.
Visit Brad Taylor on the web at www.bradtaylorbooks.com.