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Brad Thor is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Foreign AgentCode of ConductAct of War, Hidden Order, Black List, Full Black, The Athena Project, Foreign Influence, The Apostle, The Last Patriot (nominated best thriller of the year by the International Thriller Writers Association and banned in Saudi Arabia), The First Commandment, Takedown, Blowback (recognized as one of the “Top 100 Killer Thrillers of All Time” by NPR), State of the Union, Path of the Assassin, and The Lions of Lucerne.

Brad has hosted the Glenn Beck TV and radio programs and has appeared on FOX News Channel, CNN, CNN Headline News, MSNBC, ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS to discuss terrorism, as well as how closely his novels of international intrigue parallel the real threats facing the world today.

Brad has served as a member of the Department of Homeland Security’s Analytic Red Cell Unit and has lectured to law enforcement organizations on over-the-horizon/future threats. He has been a keynote speaker for the National Tactical Officers Association annual conference, the Young America’s Foundation, and the Ronald Reagan 100 celebration. A supporter of The Heritage Foundation, Brad has spoken at their national headquarters on the need for robust missile defense.

In 2008, Brad shadowed a Black Ops team in Afghanistan to research his thriller, The Apostle.

Brad graduated cum laude from the University of Southern California where he studied creative writing, film, and television production. Before becoming a novelist, Brad was the award-winning creator, producer, writer and host of the critically acclaimed national public television series, Traveling Lite. 

Now, onto our discussion with Brad Thor:

 

This is your seventeenth book featuring your character Scot Harvath. Please let us know, how do you keep him fresh and evolving?  

That's probably one of the biggest challenges for an author who has a recurring character––to reveal a little bit more about the character each time you write them. People talk about character development a lot––particularly those who review on Amazon and places like that. I read somewhere once about characters––especially protagonists––in thrillers, that you want James Bond or Indiana Jones to be the same at the end of the adventure that they were at the beginning. You don't necessarily need them to change who they are or what they believe in, but you do want to know a little bit more about them. So, that’s what I try to do, particularly in my last three books. My wife is my first reader, and she said about three books ago that I can tell you're doing something different because we always knew what Harvath thinks, now we get to see how he feels. So now, I am trying to throw real human elements at him because that’s what unites all of us. We can all relate to the human condition.

 

How much research went into learning about ISIS, how they're organized, and how they might plan attacks, to make this book so believable? 

The whole idea of fundamentalist Islam––which is what ISIS is at its core and to a great degree what Al Qaeda is (the ideology is the same)––I've been following for over fifteen years, way longer actually as I was even interested back in college. How can 90% of a population read the same holy book and have an entirely different view than the 10% who want to go out and perform extreme acts in the name of Islam? So, I always think it's important to stress that when we talk about terrorists who are using Islam as a form of justification, these are fundamentalists. These are people who believe in the Islam as it was practiced by the prophet Muhammad way back in the 7th century. So, I spent a lot of time researching it. One of the fascinating things about it for me is that Christianity has undergone a reformation. Judaism has, but Islam has not. There's no tradition of self-examination, self-criticism in Islam. That makes it very difficult for modern Muslims to combat this ideology when it pops up in their midst. Because the fundamentalist Muslims will point to chapter and verse from the Quran and say you can’t argue with this, this is our holy book, and we accept this.  It's a complex ideology that’s fascinating to me. I'm always reading articles and books on both sides regarding ISIS. It's a never ending process to stay up on what motivates the bad guys out there. That’s what I’m putting into a book.  If there are Muslim characters who happen to be bad guys, I try to balance it out with good Muslim characters as well. I want to know what motivates them, the same way I would do for any bad guy I put in a book. I want to know what makes them tick. The more human you can make them, the more compelling they are as the character. That's true even for the bad guy. You want to make them human to a certain degree, not necessarily humanize barbarism, but make it so you understand how they got to the point where they felt they should go out and do what they are doing.

 

For those not familiar with Burning Man at Black Rock City in Nevada, describe what it is and why you chose that as the first attack.

I was looking for something that I hadn’t seen done in books or movies. Burning Man is this amazing festival that happens in the desert a couple of hours outside Reno, Nevada. People set up a tent city for seven days, people bring in RVs, there are no hotels, everything you bring in you have to bring back out with you, and it has a modern hippy vibe. Some people run around wearing nothing more than body paint. From an artist standpoint, the imagery is very rush, very real, very bright, very colorful and exciting. For somebody who studies terrorism, it's interesting because people at this temporary city called, Black Rock City, are packed tighter than they are in London. It's denser than London is. The security is probably not as much as you should have. It seems like a natural place to have an attack because you could have a significant impact. So I watched a lot of videos online and things like this, and I think maybe if I was single, not married with kids, it might be fun to go to Burning Man to “do some research” but that wasn't in the cards for me last year.

 

What are some common traps that aspiring authors can fall into?

Well, I’ll tell ya, I think authors can be too hard on themselves. I’ve always been. I came from the television world. Being an author was something I've wanted to do since I was a little boy, but I had that voice in the back of my head. I think we all have that process, you know, why should I even try to do this? You could embarrass yourself. What if the book's no good? What if you never get it sold? Why waste your time doing that? I think that which we’re most destined to do in life, we’re most afraid of. This was my case. I took a laptop overseas after graduating college. I saved money so I could live and write my first novel.  About three chapters in I talked myself out of it and shipped the laptop back home. I then traveled the world and came up with the idea for a travel show called Traveling Light in the 90’s. I pitched my idea to public television and got on the air. It was a lot of work, but it was the most bizarre form of avoidance behavior because I was afraid of what might happen if I tried to become an author. It wasn’t until my honeymoon, when, I was sitting in the piazza in Italy with my wife having a glass of wine, and she asked me, what would you regret on your deathbed never having done? And I said, never having written a novel and getting it published. She said, fine when we get home you need to start spending two hours a day, protected time, making that dream come true. If it wasn’t for her, I don't know if I would have ever taken that plunge.

 

Is there a marketing technique you’ve used that’s had an immediate impact?

That’s a great question. So, I’ll tell you, from a writing standpoint, I’m always trying to get better. That's my goal. I'm a small business person, and I want the product to evolve and get better continually. Two years ago I found a cool app. It’s called the Hemingway App. It's a couple of bucks. You can drop in sentences, paragraphs of work, and it will go through and tell you what writing level you are writing at, if you're using too many adverbs, or if your sentences are too hard to understand. It’s a fun kind of thing, but you could drive yourself crazy with it.

From a marketing standpoint, it’s tough because I don't think the publishers understand where all the readers are these days. I believe they are fragmented. The Internet has people all over the place. They’ve got a lot of stuff distracting them and taking away from time that at one point would have been spent reading. For me, the biggest thing I do is to pledge to the people who I work for––my readers, I wouldn’t have a career of writing if it weren't for the readers––that if they pick up a Brad Thor book, they are going to get a wonderful value. We can all go out and work harder and make more money, but the time you invest reading a novel you can never get that time back again. That’s time you could be spending at work or with your friends or family or in a pursuit of a hobby that you love.  So, it's incumbent upon me, as an author, to make sure people are getting an absolute, fantastic, white knuckle, thrill ride every single time. You can’t hone it in. I’ll never do that to my fans. They’ve allowed me to enjoy such a wonderful dream and career that it would be disloyal to not put all my heart and soul into writing a book.

 

If you could walk into any bookstore with the ability to merchandise your book the way you want, how would you ensure that your book is in the spotlight?

First of all, we’d reverse alphabetical order, so I’d be at the top of the shelf instead of down at ankle level. People used to ask me if Brad Thor was a pen name?  I’d say, come on, if I were going to pick a pen name I’d pick something between Clancy and Coulter so I would be racked at eye level. Joking aside, we do a lot of this with the publisher. There is a co-op fund that gets spent at bookstores. Everything important is to be on the front new releases table or the New York Times bestseller shelf, once your book hits the list. That's all important stuff. You want to stand out, and I think it's probably more important now than ever. It's important to be in any part of the store where your book can face out. In fact, one thing I have asked my publisher to start doing is to place a band on the spine that says #1 New York Times Best Seller. So if you get racked, you can still see the spine and say,  Oh wow ok! This guy a #1 New York Times bestselling author. It's important. I'm reminded of a great thriller author, Vince Flynn, who passed away several years ago, worked for Kraft Foods setting up end caps at grocery stores and places like that. He used to talk about the importance of having your product some place that catches people's eye and so end caps are another place.

 

Writing groups––especially online ones––are extremely popular these days. Are there any that you’ve been a member of or that you would recommend to an author who wants to hone their skills?

My friend, Steve Berry, was involved in a lot of them. I wasn’t involved with any writing groups other than the creative writing classes which my fellow students and I, under TC Boil at the University of Southern California, used to workshop each other’s chapters. I was writing the books for myself.  My wife is my first reader. My goal was to write is to write the kind of book I would want to read, and the other thing that I always ask myself when I start writing a new book––is this book good enough to get me a publishing contract? I'm always writing like it's my first book and I’ve got to impress a big New York publisher with it. I take it that seriously.

 

Do you go out on book tours and do you attend seminars? If so, how would an independent bookseller go about requesting your appearance?

So yes. Independent bookstores are more important than ever before. It's one of the things that breaks my heart at the reader. As Louis L'Amour said, you can’t be a good writer without being at least a halfway decent reader. I loved books before I became a writer, I still love them. I love people who write books we have a shared language. So, independent bookstores are very important to me. Yes, we do go on book tours and what my publisher tries to do is get a balance for everyone. So, its chain bookstores, its independent bookstores and even big box retailers that sell my books, so we try to do that. As far as anyone that wants to have me come or speak or anything like that, its all handled through my publicist and there is a link on my website on the connect page through David Brown, my publisher.

 

Is there anything you would like our readers to know?

That which your most destined to do in life are often the most afraid of is probably one of the greatest things I can share with everybody. I can remember a time that I had writer’s block, and I looked online for a solution because I didn’t know how to work my way out of it. I found an excellent answer. Many, many years ago when I was working on my thriller Takeout, this person said give yourself permission to write a crummy first draft, take the pressure off, just get it done and get something on paper. What you’ll realize when you read back that first draft is that it's pretty good, and you're making it too hard on yourself.  That’s why I was saying that the Hemingway app. is dangerous because you could sit there and keep reworking and reworking and reworking and you won’t get to the end. It's important to put that pen to paper and get to the end of a manuscript. Then go back and fix it and if you're as blessed as I am then you have an incredible first reader who will give you a real straight forward, honest answer on how you did and how you can make it better. Michael Crichton said good books aren’t written. They’re rewritten, even your own.

 

Does your wife give you writing advice or does she simply read for enjoyment at this point?

No, I call her Zoro, Sara. She sits in with a red pen, and she goes through it slashing stuff. 

It was very nice of you to tell me what Kris Miller said about this book. There was another reviewer that said This is the thriller to beat for 2017 and even my editor said this is the best book you’ve ever written. That’s wonderful for me. It's more wonderful for me to hear from you what Chris said than my editor and agent. The further out I get from immediate circle of people on my team … I start believing the feedback. That may sound crazy, but it's true. The people who don’t have any skin in my game they’ll give you a straight… Not that my editor or agent wouldn’t tell me hey this needs work because of that what you want them to do, but I’ve gotten such great feedback on this one. I'm real, real happy about it so hopefully, its gonna resonate with a lot of people. That’s what I try to do, quick, fun, fast read. I want to make it as enjoyable as possible, and for people to close the book and say wow, you know let's take another ride with this guy he’s a good writer, I like what he’s doing.

 

Thank you for reading!