Monday, January 30, 2012

Author Brad Taylor Discusses Declassifying His Writing

It’s always a pleasure to welcome bestselling author Lieutenant Colonel (ret.) Brad Taylor back here to talk about his latest book and his writing.

Unlike most writers, when Brad (a Conroe native) writes in his novels about a particular weapon or the logistics of a military operation, he has to vet it for classified information. Brad’s experience comes from 21 years in combat zones around the world in the infantry, Special Forces, and 8 years as a commander in the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment – Delta, commonly known as the Delta Force. He was part of operations to take down Al Qaeda after the 9/11 attacks and, after retiring in 2010, continues as a classified security consultant. 
His debut novel ONE ROUGH MAN was an instant New York Times and Publishers Weekly bestseller and was welcomed with rave reviews from critics, proving to the world that he is the complete package: a writer who understands how to tell a thrilling story and has more than enough on-the-ground experience to back it up. His second novel, ALL NECESSARY FORCE, is an edge-of-your-seat thrill ride that echoes with real-world scenarios. 

Brad was gracious and answers some questions about his writing for me.

Mason - You walk a fine line writing your book, keeping the story realistic without giving away classified government information. How challenging is that?

Brad - Very challenging. One thing I never want to do in my writing is harm our national security by divulging classified tactics, techniques or procedures, but I also want the manuscript to be as cutting-edge as possible. It’s a dichotomy that caused some serious rewrites on various scenes, such as when the Fort AP Hill ammunition supply point is attacked by terrorists. I did the research on that site, wrote the scene, and then realized I’d just written a blueprint on how to attack it that had a very good chance of succeeding. 

9780525952626HBecause of my knowledge of tactics, and my ability to conduct some seriously close-in research due to my military affiliation, I had crossed the line. I had to go back and throw in some red herrings. I know I’ll get dinged on that by someone with the same knowledge as me, saying, “That would never work,” but that’s the point.  

Mason - Are all the weapons and equipment mentioned in your book real, make-believe or a combination of both?

Brad - On the weapons side, they’re all very real. If it has a bullet coming out of it, it’s something currently being used by Special Operations forces. The equipment, on the other hand, is more of a combination. I have a lot of cutting-edge widgets in ALL NECESSARY FORCE, and all are either real-world, non-classified pieces of kit, or something I created, using what I knew would work given the specific circumstances. As I said above, I don’t want to—and will not—write about any classified kit that I’ve actually used.  

Luckily, I don’t have to expose classified technology to circle the square of my plot. I have a healthy appreciation of what technology can and can’t do, and simply work with that. Even so, there are only so many ways to skin the cat, and I’m constantly worried that I’ll give away a secret without meaning to. 

One widget I created in ALL NECESSARY FORCE was something I had never seen, but I knew was technologically feasible. Sure enough, a few months after I put it on the page I was doing some work for an agency, and the guy I was with pulled out my widget. It had become real, and I was now treading on classified technology without even meaning to. I had him walk me through how it worked, and was satisfied that mine was different enough that I didn’t need to pull it. I won’t say which piece of kit it is, but it’s still in ALL NECESSARY FORCE.

Mason - Why use the Vietnam War as the beginning of ALL NECESSARY FORCE?

Brad - While I was in college, preparing to go into the Army, I read everything I could find on an organization called MACV-SOG, a top-secret Special Forces unit in the Vietnam War. It’s not hyperbole to say my path in the Army was decided in a large part by what I had read about the men and missions of SOG. Many of those members went on to form the special mission unit I served in. 

After I joined Special Forces, I was a pallbearer at my grandmother’s funeral, and found out I had a cousin who was Special Forces and was killed in action in Cambodia in 1970. I never knew him—I was five when he was killed—and didn’t even know any of my family had served in Special Forces until that day. I did some research and found that not only was he in Special Forces, he had volunteered for suicidal missions with MACV-SOG, the very organization that had set me on my path.

ALL NECESSARY FORCE is dedicated to him, and the men of MACV-SOG. They are some of the bravest soldiers this country has ever produced, and I set out to pay a tribute to them, working the plot forward from Vietnam. I tried very hard to get the nuances right, including equipment, locations and terminology that was used during that conflict, doing more research for that prologue than I had for anything else and intertwining real-world history with the fiction on the page.

For instance, Congressman Ellis himself is a name I attributed to a real-world rumor that circulated within MACV-SOG during Vietnam—namely that there was a mole inside headquarters compromising missions—and Chris Hale’s actions in the prologue are based on a real-world SOG combat mission where a Special Forces soldier was posthumously presented the Medal of Honor. I hope I succeeded in getting it right.

Mason - Looking at the finished book now, is there anything else you wish you had included but didn't think of at then?  

Brad - Not really. In truth, I wish I had the ability to keep things out of a manuscript for future use, in effect keep something in reserve for upcoming writing. Typically, I end up throwing in everything that comes to mind, and completing a novel is such a long process that I rarely have any regrets about leaving something out. 

Truthfully, I wouldn’t add anything, but I might change a few things based on the current events ongoing with the Arab spring. Keeping the book timely is always a problem because the real world marches on after the manuscript is sent to press. Luckily, ALL NECESSARY FORCE is holding up well. There might be a tweak or two, but for the most part, current events have only enhanced the plot – especially in Egypt – rather than detract from it.

Mason - What message, if any, would you like readers to take away from reading your book?

Brad - First and foremost, I want them to look at the clock and say, “Dammit, it’s midnight! I need to get some sleep.” Then keep reading. If that happens, I’ve succeeded. Other than enjoying the book, I wanted to show a distinct moral component for the work that men like Pike Logan execute. Too often the characters of such novels or movies run around killing or torturing people without a shred of remorse, when that’s not really the case. 

A lot of time, effort, and thought go into counter-terrorist activities in the real world, and the men and woman who execute them operate within a moral framework. They make decisions with life or death repercussions, and live with those decisions. They aren’t robots. I wanted to show that through the interactions between Pike—an operator experienced with combat—and Jennifer—a relative newcomer to what combat actually entails.

Mason - What can fans expect next from you?  

Brad - I took a step back with the third book, leaving behind the global nature of al Qaida and other Islamic groups, focusing instead on terrorist organizations with finite political goals. Too often we, as Americans, lump all “terrorists” together, when in fact, they have very different goals and capabilities. Like the quote says, one man’s terrorist is definitely another man’s freedom fighter. 

book coverI chose to write about Hezbollah, Hamas, and the intractable Palestinian Diaspora problem vis-à-vis Israel. Probably not very smart, considering what’s going on with the Arab Spring (yes, I’ve already had to do a ton of re-writes based on events in Syria), but it is interesting. I’ve also brought back Lucas Kane. I’ve gotten a ton of emails from folks who read ONE ROUGH MAN and couldn’t wait to see what happens to him in my “next book,” but he’s not in ALL NECESSARY FORCE. 

A great many people insinuated that I let him go in ONE ROUGH MAN simply to set up ALL NECESSARY FORCE, but in reality, I simply wrote his escape because I thought it was poetic justice for Standish. I never meant for that to be some sort of “hook.” I now realize that I made a mistake in letting him go. What he did to Pike’s family required a revisit. Everyone wanted him to get a little Taskforce justice, so I brought him back. Book three ended up revolving around him, like Darth Vader from Star Wars, and make no mistake, he gets some justice.  

Brad, thanks for guest blogging. It’s intriguing to hear about your background and how it’s hard keeping things out of your writing.

Brad will be appearing at 2 books signings in North Carolina this week. If you’re in either of these areas, be sure to drop by the signing.
* Friday, Feb. 3, 7 P.M.
Fayetteville Barnes & Noble
121 Glensford Rd, Fayetteville, NC
* Saturday, Feb. 4, 1 P.M.
Costco (Signing Only)
2838 Wake Forest Rd, Raleigh, NC

Now a little background on Brad. He was born on Okinawa, Japan, but grew up on 40-acres in rural Texas. Graduating from the University of Texas, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Infantry. Brad served for more than 21 years, retiring as a Special Forces Lieutenant Colonel.  

His final assignment was as the Assistant Professor of Military Science at The Citadel in Charleston, SC.  He holds a Master’s of Science in Defense Analysis from the Naval Postgraduate School, with a concentration in Irregular Warfare. When not writing, he serves as a security consultant on asymmetric threats for various agencies. He lives in Charleston, SC with his wife and two daughters. 

For more on Brad and his writing, visit his website at

Do you enjoy books that deal with war or the theft of war? Does it make reading more enjoyable if you know the technology used is real or at least partially real? Thanks so much for stopping by today.


  1. Brad,

    I appreciate your service to our country, sir.

    A fascinating interview! I have several writing friends (and a few family members) with special knowledge and I do understand where you're coming from with you comments w/re: protecting National secrets. Amen on that.

    I like the point you make about not all terrorist can be lumped in one category and why.

    I love a good thriller. I haven't had a chance to read your work yet--I've been backed-up with reviews. But, I know what my next thriller will be!

    As for your question, Mason, I'm a kick-ass type of girl and I love reading books that can be probable in weapons and war and especially behind the scenes maneuvering.


  2. Mason - Thanks for hosting Brad.

    Brad - I, too, thank you for your service. I can write this because of what you and your fellow service members do.

    You make an interesting point about thinking of the real-life consequences of what you write. In your case, of course, the consequences have very important national security implications. But even when that's not the case, authors do have to think about that balance between telling the real truth and asking themselves if it's possible for it to be too real.

  3. Congratulations on your books and thanks for your service. I love that you've worked hard to make your books realistic without giving away anything that would have serious security implications. It would be a tough line to follow, I'm sure!

  4. To me the best novels are the ones that rely on research and truth in crafting the story. When the story seems so real, it has that ability to draw the reader in, in a different way. Brad, your wealth of knowledge seems like a wonderful writing resource.

  5. Brad, thanks again for guest blogging and sharing your thoughts on writing. I too, wish to thank you for your service to our country. Wishing you much success.

  6. Sia, I had a feeling you would enjoy books like that. We're a lot alike in the books we enjoy.

    Margot, keeping a story real does make a difference with the reader. Even if the story is a fantasy, as a reader we want something that seems real so we can believe in the rest.

  7. Elizabeth, thanks for stopping by.

    Joanne, you make an good point about research. It is a very important element in a story.

  8. Thanks for your service, Brad. We're a military family, too. I can appreciate your concern for not wanting to include certain things in your fiction. I'm going to check into your books.

    Thanks for the great interview, Mason.


I'd love to hear your thoughts on today's post. Thanks for dropping by.