To start the New Year off with something a little different, today I have military action writer Jack Murphy, Reflexive Fire and the Promis series, here on the blog to “rub shoulders with another genre” as he puts it. The two of us thought it might be fun to pose some writer’s craft questions to Jack and see how his process writing military fiction differs from the romance writers’ approach. Or is similar as the case may be!
Jack will give one autographed copy of his book to a randomly selected Commenter and I’ll kick in a $25.00 Amazon gift card to that same person. Just leave us a comment below to be entered. I’ll select the winner by random number generator at 6PM Tuesday January 10th.
Welcome to Jack!
A little background about Jack, before we dive into the writing questions:
He’s an eight year Army Special Operations veteran who served as a Sniper and Team Leader in 3rd Ranger Battalion and as a Senior Weapons Sergeant on a Military Free Fall team in 5th Special Forces Group.
After growing up in New York, Jack Murphy enlisted in the US Army at 19 years old. Completing Infantry Basic Training, Airborne School, and the Ranger Indoctrination Program, he was assigned to 3rd Ranger Battalion. As a Ranger he served as an Anti-Tank gunner, Sniper, and Team Leader and he also graduated from Ranger School and Sniper School.
Having left the military in 2010, he is now working towards a degree in Political Science at Columbia University
Tell us about your journey to that first published book, when did you start writing, how long did it take you to write RF:
I had written fiction irregularly since I was in High School, mostly short stories and novellas in the action-adventure genre. I never took it very seriously until I got out of the Army in 2010 and started reading about e-readers and the self publishing revolution. I guess I’m another child of Konrath, I read his blog and the words jumped right into my mind: THIS IS THE TIME!
It probably took seven or eight months to write Reflexive Fire and of course that was the easy part. Then came the editing, hiring a proof reader, hiring a cover artist, navigating the technical aspects of KDP and Create Space, and everything else.
Are you a pantser or a plotter?
I had to look that term up! I chart out the plot with bullet points, add in notes as to ideas or statements I want to include and then start writing. So I do some plotting but most of it is by the seat of my pants. I think outlining an entire novel is dreadfully boring.
What kind of research did you do?
Much more than I had anticipated as it turned out. I had to do tons of research on everything from narco-terrorist groups to illegal finance techniques. Even though I have a background in weapons and tactics I still needed to hit the books some more and make sure I had my facts together so I was reading up on Anti-Aircraft weapons, explosives, and a lot more. I also had to get in depth on researching the countries that my characters travel to in the novel, even though I had spent time in some of them. It’s an exhaustive process, but one that I enjoy.
You have several very complex, intense battle scenes in Reflexive Fire, with multiple POV going on. How do you keep track of the action while you’re writing the scenes? Does it just flow out of your own experience, do you lay it out on story boards…..?
Usually there are not any story boards or anything like that. Direct Action operations have a set of procedures, standardized tactics, that you use as a start point. Than you modify them to the specific situation you encounter. Of course since I’m aiming for realism, I show what goes wrong as well, there is no such thing as a perfect, text-book patrol. It is difficult to convincingly show platoon and company level operations as a written narrative without being confusing, I think this is why you hardly ever see it in movies or books. Usually writers find it easier to write about a lone operative or a small team for instance. I thought it was important to show how various elements such as riflemen, machine gunners, mortars, snipers, and recon soldiers all work together and compliment each other on the battlefield. I think the reader can really take something away from that if I’m successful at this endeavor!
Same question for that amazing cruise ship and the battle on board – did you diagram the layout before you wrote?
In this instance I did have a diagram drawn out since this was a massive battle in a unconventional setting, a super-cruise liner. There are only a couple super-liners in existence and I studied their layout carefully and researched how they are built and maintained. The cruise ship that serves as the setting for the climax of Reflexive Fire does not actually exist but is based on a real ship which I used as a template. From there I just cranked up the volume a bit and extrapolated what the next generation of super-liners may look like.
Do you have beta readers or critique partners? Work with an Editor?
I worked with a proof reader but never an editor. A number of beta readers read the novel before release and I incorporated some of their corrections and suggestions into the finished product. I’m luckily to have readers who are very technically minded, not just military veterans but people who work as helicopter mechanics, engineers, and even a scientist who works at the tip of the spear in his field.
What was the hardest part about writing RF? Do you write a set # of words a day, or time?
I tried to write at least one page per day, more when inspiration struck of course. If I can say this without seeming to pat myself on the back here, I think RF was very ambitious for a first novel and that made it fairly difficult to put together. The book could have very easily been 1000 or more pages. It’s about a Private Military Company and as such in involves the big three of military operations, intelligence, logistics, and operations. For the sake of not pushing the patience of my readers and developing a fast paced thriller, I focused on the operations side although intel and logistics is detailed to some extent. Knowing what to write and what to leave on the cutting room floor (or save for the sequel) was probably the hardest part of writing this novel.
I clearly see the seeds of the series in some of the “loose ends” in the plot. Do you have the series outlined? How many books do you think it will be? How do you track the themes you want to explore in each book to make sure you lay the right trails for the finale in the early books?
It will be a series and I can foresee at least another five novels. I have the ideas of the themes of future books laid out as far as what issues I’d like to address. As an independent writer I don’t have to worry about some corporate committee telling what to write so I’m going to explore some topics you don’t normally see in military thrillers. I don’t have the series outlined in anyway, it will evolve with time, and I will have to decide how to end it if and when the times comes.
Do you interact with other military action writers? Do you guys have groups? Conventions?
I’m in touch with a number of other writers in this genre, guys like Hank Brown, D.R. Tharp, Jack Silkstone, and a few others here and there. It’s a great community of writers but right now we are really just trying to revive this genre after it has been left stagnating since the 1980’s. As a veteran, I know that a lot of soldiers are coming home and many of them will be readers, some of them will turn into writers as well, so I think the next generation of military fiction is quickly approaching. Conventions? We can only hope!
I’m assuming the characters are composites of people you’ve known? Was the hero Deckard based on anyone in particular?
Deckard isn’t based on anyone specific but rather he is based on a combination of personalities and ideas. There is a little of me in him and a little of others I have worked with. As he is, I don’t really think someone like Deckard could exist in today’s military (maybe that is why he is a mercenary in the book) due to the level of corporate cover-your-ass measures that exist in today’s Army. Even Special Forces soldiers suffer under the burden of risk mitigation and online safety surveys. Deckard flies in the face of this mentality in many ways.
How do you balance your personal life with your writing career?
My wife hates it but puts up with me anyway! It’s never easy especially since I’m also a full time college student.
Who do you feel is your target audience?
Men between 25 and 50 years old is the demographic for these types of books. That said, I also want to point out that these books are written for everyone. I didn’t write Reflexive Fire as an elitist novel that is only for military veterans. At the same time, I also don’t write down to my readers. I don’t waste your time explaining the difference between the Marines and 82nd Airborne. I know that readers are much more sophisticated than publishers would give them credit for.
Who are your favorite authors?
I mostly read non-fiction these days but as far as fiction writers, I’m fond of Don Pendleton, Robert Howard, Mark Greaney, and many others.
If you could be a fictional character, who would that be?
Deckard has a pretty good gig even though he takes a beating. The problem is that he is a little more manic than I am.
Do you have a motto you live by?
When in doubt, shoot from the hip and go with what you know. That’s from an old Platoon Sergeant I once worked with.
What’s the one thing you wish you’d known before you started the book?
How important it is to “prep the objective”. I was smart enough to start a blog but I should have cast my net wider, and into social media a lot sooner.
Was it a challenge to tell enough but not too much detail about ops and techniques, in terms of compromising reality?
Very much so. The tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP’s) in the book are accurate as far as publicly available information is concerned. The room clearing techniques are straight out of The Ranger Handbook but are not the latest and greatest tactics used by Rangers and Delta Force. I’m not going to write anything that could compromise ongoing or future operations.
Since you read the book, you also know that the villains have a plan to launch a coup in America. I was going to write a detailed plan on how they intended to kill the President and than decided that something like that should just be left to the reader’s imagination!
Are we going to learn more about Deckard in the coming books? His backstory?
Absolutely. I’m also writing the PROMIS series which is about Deckard’s father, Sean Deckard. In the course of the series we’ve already learned who Deckard the younger’s mother is, the circumstances under which he was born, ect. The the coming novels much more will gradually be revealed about this character.
What are the two things Deckard would take to a desert island?
A .45 and a bottle of whiskey.
Who do you see playing Deckard if RF gets picked up as a movie or series?
The only actor I could even remotely see as Deckard would be Clive Owen. He plays a tough, intelligent, bad ass very well but also has that kind of outlandish quality about him, the sense of the absurd, that Deckard also shares.
And Jack, I’m a romance writer, I HAVE to ask this – will Deckard ever have a lady in his life?
Maybe. There is a leading lady in the sequel to RF but I don’t think they are destined to be together. We’ll see what the future brings!
VS sez :Really enioyed having Jack here today as my guest and if you have a husband/brother/son/friend/significant other who enjoys good hard hitting military action novels based in the reality of current events, or you are looking for one yourself, I recommend checking out Reflexive Fire . Warning – Jack doesn’t pull any punches on the gritty, violent world of the clandestine operator.
Reflexive Fire is available here.