Brad Taylor has only been writing for four years, but he's already about to publish his sixth novel. When "Days of Rage" comes out this week, Taylor will be in Minneapolis to launch the book at Once Upon a Crime bookstore.
Frequently compared to Tom Clancy and the late Vince Flynn, Taylor writes military thrillers — all national bestsellers, so far — drawing on his 21 years in the U.S. Army Infantry and Special Forces. He conducted operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and still serves as a security consultant. His protagonist, Pike Logan, heads up a top-secret military task force that travels the world foiling terrorists.
Taylor talked about humanizing bad guys, the origin of Pike Logan, and Taylor's eerie prescience in writing about Boko Haram.
Q: How did your time in the military inform your writing?
A: Beyond description. As they say, you write what you know. I don't use any real-world operations in my books — I'm not cloaking fact in fiction — but I can't possibly write about such things without my experiences coming into play.
Q: How much — if at all — is Pike Logan based on you?
A: Pike Logan is an amalgamation of men I have served with, but he's definitely not me. It is very, very hard to get to the level I did in special operations. But even that level has separation. Probably only 1 percent of the entire world could play golf on the PGA tour. Most people have never heard of the guy who's 100th on the money list, but they've all heard of Tiger Woods.
I'm 100th on the money list. Pike Logan is Tiger Woods.
Q: What about the other characters — where do they spring from?
A: I suppose they come from my everyday life. We've all met a multitude of people, from the lady at the DMV who aggravated us to the guy at the grocery store who went out of his way to help, and all I do is take a look at that human experience.
I've had the fortune — or misfortune — of meeting the enemy I'm writing about up close and personal, so I have a little bit of insight into his head, and the key thing I took away from my time in the arena was that while they are doing evil things, they are human.
Q: Which authors have inspired you?
A: If you mean who's influenced my writing, it would be guys who write murder mysteries. I don't read a lot in my own genre, and have always read crime thrillers. John Sandford, John Lescroart, Joseph Finder, Robert Crais, Michael Connelly. Guys like that.
In my mind, a thriller has to thrill, but the characters are at the heart. They mean more than any plot, and those writers get it right time and time again. They make the reader care. I try to emulate that.
Q: Do your novels require a lot of research?
A: Holy moly, yes. Much, much more than I would have thought when I started writing, given my background. I try to infuse my novels with a taste of the geopolitical reality of the world, and that requires an enormous amount of research. When I write about Hezbollah in "Enemy of Mine," it's through research. In "Days of Rage," I wanted to juxtapose my fictional task force against a real-world element with the same power. I researched the Russian FSB [the new KGB] and a multitude of Israeli Special Forces units.
I also wanted to pull away from the "usual suspects" of Al-Qaida, so I chose an unknown group — unknown when I started writing, that is — called Boko Haram, someone we'd been following but hadn't yet made it to the world stage. Now, of course, they're on the nightly news from their heinous capture of schoolgirls.
Beyond the operational research, I have to get on the ground to see the terrain. For "The Widow's Strike," I went to Macau, Hong Kong, Bangkok and Singapore. For "Days of Rage," I spent a week in Istanbul and Plovdiv, Bulgaria.
Yes, I do research, but unfortunately I've learned that only about 10 percent of it ends up in the manuscript. I can read an entire book on a subject, which will then be reflected in one sentence in my novel. But it's worth it. I want the most accurate book I can put out.
Q: You've written six novels in four years. Is this a sustainable pace?
A: Honestly, I have no idea. Initially, after I retired from the military, I was doing a ton of security work — where I couldn't write — and thus was forced to get my books in six months early to meet the deadline. I would then sit and fume, saying, "Why is it taking so long to get the damn thing out? Why are we waiting a year?" My editor at Dutton got sick of the whining and said, "OK, smart aleck, we'll do one every six months." And we did, scaring the hell out of me. So far, it's worked out. I just typed THE END to "No Fortunate Son" right here on my deck while on vacation, and I believe it's one of the best things I've ever written.
Every book has been better than the one before. But I might be a little biased.
Q: Where are you right now? Describe what you see.
A: Ha! Well, I'm in a jail cell with two other men, both larger than me. OK, that's not true. I'm looking out over a deck at a fabulous sunset in the Cayman Islands on my first vacation in years. There's a soft breeze, and the sun is warming the deck, slowly fading away. I have my computer on a table, competing for space with bottles of sunscreen, and my family is asking what I'm doing, because they want to go snorkeling before it gets too late.
Q: What are you reading right now?
A: "The Panther," by Nelson DeMille. Really good so far. Love John Cory.
Q: Describe your writing room.
A: I don't have a writing room. I write wherever I am, whenever the inspiration strikes. I've written in airports, at my daughter's gymnastic meets, in a multitude of pubs, on my front porch, in hotels, in barracks while working security contracts, and in the local college library.
Q: What is your writing strategy — do you have rituals that you maintain?
A: The one constant I have is ending the night with a problem, then sleeping on it, then waking up and going to work out or on a run, letting the problem percolate. I used to think I had to write X amount of words a day — the given standard being 1,000 — or I wasn't going to meet the schedule. I now know that's not true, and it's better to wait until it's in my head — ready for the page. I can go a month without writing, then bang out literally five [thousand] or seven thousand words a night for five days straight.
Q: Do you have a favorite book from childhood?
A: "Watership Down," by Richard Adams. I love that book. Oh, and the entire Doc Savage series. I still have those in my attic.
Q: What's on your desk?
A: I don't have a desk, but after all of these questions about rituals and writing rooms, I'm beginning to think I need one. Am I doing this whole writing thing incorrectly?