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John Gilstrap is the New York Times bestselling and Thriller Award-winning author of Final Target, Friendly Fire, Nick of Time, Against All Enemies, End Game, Soft Targets, High Treason, Damage Control, Threat Warning, Hostage Zero, No Mercy, Nathan's Run, At All Costs, Even Steven, Scott Free and Six Minutes to Freedom. In addition, John has written four screenplays for Hollywood, adapting the works of Nelson DeMille, Norman McLean and Thomas Harris. He will write and co-produce the film adaptation of his book, Six Minutes to Freedom. A frequent speaker at literary events, John also teaches seminars on suspense writing techniques at a wide variety of venues, from local libraries to The Smithsonian Institution. Outside of his writing life, John is a renowned safety expert with extensive knowledge of explosives, hazardous materials, and fire behavior. John lives in Fairfax, VA. Now, let’s dive into my conversation with John Gilstrap:


Please tell us a little about your latest thriller, Final Target.

I love this book.  What should be a routine rescue mission for Jonathan Grave and Boxers turns into a nightmare when it becomes apparent that nothing about the mission is what it was purported to be.  By the end of the first chapter, we learn that the team they are working with are in fact their enemies.  Jonathan can forgive a lot of transgressions, but betrayal is the step from which there is no forgiveness.  As they try to find their way out of trouble, they inadvertently endanger the residents of a nearby orphanage, and now they need to make their way hundreds of miles to the coast with a bunch of kids in tow, all while a brutal cartel leader is trying to kill them all.


How did the quick sale of your first book change your process of writing, if at all?

Well, not to put too fine a point on it, but my “first” book, Nathan’s Run, was actually the fourth book I’d written.  It was, however, the first book I thought was good enough to be publishable.  Twenty-seven rejections later, I found an agent who was willing to take me on, and from there, a lot happened very, very quickly.  Within three months, Nathan’s Run had been purchased by publishers in over 20 countries, and I’d sold the movie rights. That sale didn’t change my process so much as it made me suddenly conscious of my writing.  On the heels of that kind of stunning success, you begin to wonder what was it about the book that people liked so much.  Was it the characters?  Was it the twists in the plot?  Once you start thinking too hard about that stuff, the result can be stifling.  We’ve all heard about “sophomore syndrome” and I think that’s where its roots lie—in thinking too much about a process that defies definition.  My wife, Joy, was the one who put it in perspective when she pointed out that the success of my storytelling might lie in the fact that I simply wrote a story and had fun doing it.  So, in the end, I guess the sale didn’t change much about my process.   But it took a long time to get there in my head.


How did you celebrate the publishing of your first book?

Actually, that’s a funny story.  I learned of the six-figure sale of North American rights while I was at my office, working late.  Our son was only eight years old at the time, and it was 7:30 or so—too late to go out anywhere and celebrate.  Plus, there wasn’t much food in the house.  So, Joy and I celebrated with peanut butter crackers and champagne.


Please, tell us a little bit about the Jonathan Grave Challenge Coin.

Challenge coins are a part of the military and emergency response worlds.  They are tokens of friendship and respect.  I originally developed the coin for Jonathan Grave as a marketing plan, a form of swag, but after I received the first shipment, I realized that that was a bad idea.  It ran counter to the principle of a coin.  So, I changed my plans to use those coins for their original purpose, as tokens of gratitude and respect.  Thus, when members of the military or emergency communities lend me assistance, I offer them a coin as a token of thanks.  Via my website, I will trade coins with just about anyone who has a similar token to trade. After it became apparent that many of my fans who have no involvement with groups of the sort that trade coins, I wanted to create an avenue for them to get a coin.  I worked with the SEAL Legacy Foundation, a wonderful charity that supports the needs of families of fallen and wounded Navy SEALs, to develop a program whereby anyone can make a $20 contribution to the foundation, and in return, I will send them a coin on my own dime.  Please visit my website, www.johngilstrap.com, for details.


How has being a firefighter/EMT as well as being expert in explosive safety and hazardous waste influenced your writing?

My years in the fire and rescue service inform everything I do, including my writing.  I don’t think you can deliver babies into the world, or hold a person’s hands as they die, or nearly die yourself in a burning building without the experience changing you at a fundamental level.  I believe there’s a humanity in my books that is rare among thrillers, and I trace that humanity to all those very human interactions in my youth. The explosives and hazmat backgrounds lend themselves very nicely to some of the technical sides of what I write.


If there’s one thing you believe all aspiring authors need to know, it is...

Aspiring writers need to know that writing a good story is more difficult than it appears.  They need to own the fact that their early works are probably not going to be very good, and that that’s the way it is supposed to be.  “Writing a book” should not be the goal.  The goal should be to tell a good story well and take the reader on an entertaining ride.


Thank you for reading!