Jeff Wilson and Brian Andrews are the enormously successful authors behind Crusader One and the Wall Street Journal bestselling Tier One thriller series. Their military fiction regularly hits the top of the charts, and they’ve got a new thriller, Reset, coming out in April.
I had the good fortune to talk with Jeff and Brian, who aren’t just nice guys, but also very supportive of their fellow writers.
How has your extensive military service informed your writing?
JEFF: One of the greatest honors of my life is having had the opportunity to serve in the Naval Special Warfare community and deploy downrange with an East coast based SEAL team. Obviously, that has given us a real advantage in getting things right, but for us it’s less about selecting the right weapon or tactic—we hope we do that of course—but it’s capturing the characters in a way that is realistic. A lot of modern movies and books with SEAL characters paint a picture of invincible superheroes who feel no pain and press through any type of loss. I do consider the brothers I made in NSW to be heroes, but what makes them heroes is that they are NOT superheroes. They are ordinary men who have a super-normal drive and passion to do an impossible job. They’re heroes, because they do that impossible job with a commitment and expertise that defies belief, but then come home and watch their kid’s baseball game, take the trash to the curb on Thursday night, and remember to pick up milk on the way home. It’s incredible how Team guys can run night ops for sixty straight days in a row, and then two days later be loving husbands and fathers and spend Saturday cutting the grass. I wish more writers and directors would get that part right, because that’s what truly is extraordinary.
BRIAN: In the military, you encounter all different types of personalities—unique individuals with different backgrounds, ethical codes, and personal demons they battle from their time in combat and service. The professional relationships and friendships I made during my tour were poignant and strong because I knew the real struggles the men and women on the front lines are carrying inside. Good story-telling demands tapping into a character’s pain, regret, insecurity, and weakness (i.e., their personal demons). Just like relationships in real life, it’s essential to understand and develop a character’s personal narrative. Heroes distinguish themselves from villains by how they respond to adversity and how pain, regret, insecurity, and weakness motivates their behavior. In our series, the heroes strive and struggle to overcome their personnel demons. Sometimes they succeed, sometimes they have setbacks, but they’re always driving themselves to become better people tomorrow than they were yesterday. All readers can relate to battling personal demons, because we all have them. Writers need to be comfortable including these elements because it engenders empathy for the characters and also makes them ring true to real life.
Your protagonist, John Dempsey, gets to bring one thing when he parachutes into the jungle. What is it?
BRIAN: A SigSauer handgun. John feels naked without his Sig.
JEFF: Yep. A 226 or 229 I would guess. With that, he’ll get everything else he needs.
Brad Thor or Vince Flynn?
JEFF: Both! They bring very different things to the table. For realism, though, I say you go Brad Taylor or AJ Tata or Tom Young. You can just tell when your writer had been there themselves. They write with a confidence and expertise that can’t be duplicated.
BRIAN: There are so many talented men and women out there upping the stakes and raising the bar. I agree with Jeff, but would throw KJ Howe and David Ricciardi in the mix too!
JEFF: Definitely! And my favorite new author Sam Boush!
What’s your favorite season?
BRIAN: Autumn. Apple picking, breaking out the jeans after a hot summer, and anticipation of coming “Big Three” holidays for any dad with kids.
JEFF: I live in Florida now, so summer is kind of miserable. But for me, still my favorite because that’s family time for Wendy and I with our four kids.
How does the process of writing with a collaborator differ from writing solo?
JEFF: (laughs) So, where to start? I have to admit, I was the one reluctant to take a try at writing a book together. I knew Brian well because we had become friends through Thrillerfest, and I knew he was an amazing writer. I just didn’t see how the mechanics could possibly work, having written alone up ‘til then. But once we started brainstorming our first book, TIER ONE, I knew it was going to be, not just amazing, but really fun. Writing is a lonely business, as you know. Writing together is a world of fun. It also is, for us at least, insanely productive. At this point, working now on our sixth book together, it’s almost like we share a brain. In addition to being fun, it’s really cool to have someone to bounce things off of when you’re stuck—so we’ve done away forever with writer’s block.
BRIAN: The mechanics of our process differs from writing solo, because in co-authoring you have two elements you can’t duplicate alone and those are: Division of labor, and Collaboration. Division of labor lets us focus on writing chapters based on POV. This might sound insignificant, but it’s not. When you specialize on particular POVs, you get to do a “deeper dive” on those characters than you might otherwise. This creates a cool dynamic when you swap chapters to see what the other guy has been up to via the characters heads he’s been in. Secondly, by dividing the work, the projects tend to maintain constant forward momentum. If one of us had conflicts or writer’s block, usually the other doesn’t and the manuscript advances. This is incredibly motivating and guilt relieving. A good metaphor is taking turns carrying a heavy backpack, sometimes it’s just nice to share the load on a long, hard journey. The other aspect is collaboration. This is the best part about co-writing. Everyone knows the expression two heads are better than one, well, when it comes to plotting and characterization, that is true in spades. Together, we can brainstorm new plot elements, twists, and resolutions we would not think of alone. Also, our “database” is twice as big as a solo author, because we get to combine our knowledge and experiences from our different lives and backgrounds.
|Jeffrey Wilson has at one time worked as an actor, a firefighter, a paramedic, a jet pilot, a diving instructor, a Naval Officer, and a Vascular and Trauma Surgeon. He also served two tours in Iraq as a combat surgeon with both the Marines and with a Joint Special Operations Task Force.
Jeff and his wife, Wendy, are Virginia natives who, with children Emma, Jack, and Connor, call Tampa, Florida home. When not working as a Vascular Surgeon or chasing his four kids, Jeff is hard at work on his next novel.
|Brian Andrews is a US Navy veteran and nuclear engineer who served as an officer on a fast-attack submarine in the Pacific. He is a Park Leadership Fellow, has a master’s degree in business from Cornell, and holds a psychology degree from Vanderbilt. He is a husband, father, and advocate of planetary stewardship. He would like to someday take a walk about on Mars.|
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