TheDC Interview: Thriller author Brad Thor
Earlier this week, Brad Thor’s latest thriller, “Hidden Order,” hit book stores. In an extensive interview with The Daily Caller, The New York Times best selling novelist dishes on his new book, his writing process, and his journey from being “an absolute idiot as a kid” to conservatism.
Your next novel is “Hidden Order.” Tell us about that.
In the wake of 9/11, my wife Trish and I were stranded on the East Coast. We had planned a vacation to Greece, but flights had been halted. Instead, we ended up on a tiny island off the coast of Georgia.
While there, I learned about an organization more secretive than the CIA, or even the NSA. It has been around for a hundred years posing as an agency of the Federal government – but it isn’t Federal at all. In fact, every facet of this organization reads like it has been ripped right out of a modern spy novel.
It fascinated me and I wanted to write about it for ten years, but that invisible hand was there. This time, though, it wasn’t pushing me ahead, but rather holding me back. The time hadn’t been right – not yet. Then I saw a shift in the United States and I knew the time was right to write “Hidden Order.”
It was the same feeling I had with “Black List,” he thriller I published last summer that presaged the NSA scandal. I knew that was going to be the next big thing we’d all be talking about. I feel confident that “Hidden Order” will not only give people a thrilling read, but also an insight into the next big scandal we’ll be talking about.
What do you think of the famous French spy novelist Girard De Villiers? Have you met him? Have you ever had an experience, like he has, where something you wrote occurred after your book was published?
Girard and I haven’t met, but I certainly would enjoy sitting and chatting with him.
My wife has a good sense of humor and instead of calling me psychic with my novels, she simply refers to me as being “psycho.” That’s because multiple things in my books have come true. Not only the NSA scandal, but the 9/11 attacks, the “suicide” of Abu Nidal (who was “found” to have shot himself “multiple” times in Iraq), and a host of other items.
You are part of a special government program in which you collaborate with the Department of Homeland Security to try to imagine ways terrorists might attack us. What does that involve?
The Analytic Red Cell Unit was created in the wake of 9/11 to help the government stay three to four steps ahead of the bad guys. The goal is to identify potential targets at home and abroad, and how they may hit us here, as well as American interests and citizens abroad.
It is easily the most aggressive, forward-thinking program I have ever seen the Federal Government stand up. They bring in creative thinkers from outside the Beltway to sit down with a range of government, military and intelligence people to create possible scenarios. One of the proudest moments of my life is when my country asked me apply my creativity to helping keep our nation, its interests, and citizens safe.
As far as what is specifically done in the unit, I like to refer to Red Cell as the “Las Vegas” of government programs – what happens in Red Cell, stays in Red Cell.
At least one of your books was reportedly banned in Saudi Arabia and your life has reportedly been threatened for allegedly mocking the Muslim prophet Muhammad in one of your books. In what ways has your life changed because of these threats? Do you travel with security?
Man often defines himself by what he is not. After the Berlin Wall came down and Communism was on the run, I looked around and wondered what the next threat to the United States would be.
I had been fascinated with Islam since college – particularly how it could inspire such fervor in our modern age and move a significant number of its followers to horrific acts of violence. That invisible hand moved me to study more and more about Islam. As I did, I became convinced that the next great war we would fight would be with Islamic fundamentalists and it wouldn’t be a cold war either. It’d be hot – very hot.
What fascinated me the most about Islam were the inconsistencies in the religion and how its founder took great pains to paper them over. Most people are not aware that the Koran isn’t organized chronologically; instead it is assembled based on chapter length. If it had been organized chronologically, you’d find the first half of the Koran – when Muhammad was in Mecca trying to woo Jews, Christians and pagans to his new religion – to contain the most peaceful verses.
When Muhammad moved to Medina, the second part of his prophethood started and he grew into a powerful warlord and not so coincidentally, increasingly intolerant of those who wouldn’t follow his new religion. This part of his life is where he committed some absolutely horrific violence, and some of his most horrifically violent chapters for the Koran were revealed.
This created a problem for Muhammad as his followers noticed a disconnect between the old Muhammad and the new Muhammad. “How can Allah convey such contradictory messages,” his followers wondered. To handle the dissension on the ranks, Muhammad came back to his people and told them that if the Angel Gabriel revealed something to him today from Allah, that contradicted one of Allah’s previous revelations, that today’s should take precedence. It is know as abrogation.
The only problem for the rest of the non-Muslim world? Muhammad’s last set of commandments to his followers are some of the most violent contained in the entire Koran and “abrogate” all of the peaceful verses Muhammad ever voiced.
That got me thinking. What if there was a final revelation that Muhammad shared with his disciples that would upend the entire religion and over which his closest followers would be willing to kill him to keep secret?
It seemed like a very good backdrop for a thriller, especially considering that there’s evidence the Koran is incomplete and that Muhammad was in fact murdered. What if this missing chapter could be found today? Think “Indiana Jones” meets “Mission Impossible,” and sprinkle a little Thomas Jefferson and the Barbary Pirates in and you have a perfectly potent cocktail. Cool, right?
As it turns out, for certain “misunderstanders” of Islam (as the Muslim apologists like to paint them), they don’t like the premise of “The Last Patriot” at all. Apparently, Islam is a peaceful and tolerant religion, but if you fictionalize it – “we’ll kill you.”
“The Last Patriot” has been banned in Saudi Arabia, which is a shame because there are some really, really good Muslim characters in the book. As for death threats yes, I’ve had many and therefore we have security. We have it wall to wall. It is very expensive, but they’re great guys who I am grateful for and proud to have around my family.
You are an outspoken conservative. Were you always a conservative? If not, how did you come to conservatism?
I was an absolute idiot as a kid. I actually thought that the more liberal the Supreme Court, the more just and “open-minded” the rulings would be – same thing with politicians. You know what changed my mind? Paying taxes and starting my own small business.
I started looking into where my taxes were going and wondering why, in the country where the business of America was business, it was such a pain in the ass for a startup.
My company’s first, big break was with public television where I launched a travel series, “Traveling Lite,” for which I was the writer, producer and host. I worked with some great people, but every time I turned around, someone had their hand in my hard-working pocket and it ticked me off. They were unfairly demanding the fruits of my labor.
My relationship ended with me taking my Public Television partners to court, me representing myself and what was right, and winning. After that, I not only didn’t do any more with Public Television, but I was a solid conservative who refused to align himself with anyone who wasn’t willing to equally contribute and pull their own weight.
What three books most influenced your worldview?
“Great Expectations” (“portable property” I always cash checks the day I receive them), “1984,” and “The Road to Serfdom.”
What is your take on how President Barack Obama has handled foreign policy since he became president? What do you think about intervening in Syria?
You mean the whole “If we extend our hand, they’ll unclench their fist” thing? Why don’t you ask the people of Cairo that?
Listen, our president is a foreign and domestic policy disaster. I’m tired of trying to “bring” democracy to other countries. You can’t give it to people. They have to fight for it themselves. Remember when we had to fight for it in the 18th century? Sure the French helped us, but not before they knew it was a sure thing.
The president’s job is to secure America’s interests first. There’s only one true democratic republic in the world and that’s us. The rest of the world, as my brilliant pal Tom Boyson says, is made up of dictatorships, “communist” regimes, and highly socialized nations such as Canada, England, Germany and France.
I think Syria is fraught with peril. Nothing good will come from our involvement there.
Tell us how you got into the business of writing thrillers.
One of the worst pieces of advice young writers hear when starting out is to “Write what you know.” This is terrible advice. If this was legitimate advice, we’d never have had Tom Clancy (who was selling insurance) or J.K. Rowling (who couldn’t jet off to Hogwarts to learn how wizards are made).
I always tell writers that they should write what they love to read. That’s where your passion is and that’s where you’ll succeed. You can’t be a great writer without being a great reader, and if you’ve been reading in a particular genre for a while you’ll be surprised with how much you know about what works and doesn’t work just based upon what you like (and don’t like).
To write the books you do, I imagine you have to understand the details of intelligence work and military operations. Where and how did you develop your expertise on these matters?
I grew up reading the great Cold War classics of Freddy Forsythe, John le Carré, Robert Ludlum and Clancy. I learned a lot about tradecraft in those novels. I also have many close friends who are active in the special operations, intelligence, law enforcement, and political worlds. They form my key group of sharpshooters who help me with each novel I write.
Where do you get your ideas?
In the shower or on my couch (after a glass or two of wine). In all seriousness, Stephen King once said that a writer is someone who has trained their mind to misbehave. He is 100 percent correct. I am a voracious consumer of news. I am reading everything through a “what if” filter that takes my mind racing in multiple directions with each interesting story I come across.
There’s also an invisible hand – to steal from Adam Smith – that seems to guide what I write about. I just get a feeling that a particular subject matter is going to be the next big thing we’ll be talking about in the public square – like the story behind my new thriller “Hidden Order” – and I become compelled to weave it into my novel.
I think that’s one of the hallmarks people enjoy about Brad Thor thrillers – they beat the headlines.
What is a day in your life like when you are working on one of your novels?
Before my feet hit the floor, I’m on my iPad scanning a select list of news sites (Daily Caller included) to see what happened overnight. I’ll check my Twitter and Facebook feeds and throw up a post or two, then the day kicks into gear.
I’m a big physical fitness guy, so each day begins with a run or weights and then shower, breakfast, and I’m at my desk.
I have a goal of writing 2,500 words a day, Monday through Friday. That’s about five, single-spaced pages. Some days are easier than others. I’ll take multiple breaks to check up on the news and Tweet/Facebook and then I’m back to writing.
I have two children, so I like to be in the kitchen by 5 p.m. if possible. If there’s a deadline looming, I may eat at my desk, but I always make sure I’m there for bath time. I know that these wonderful days of having young children will be gone before I know it, so I try to make the absolute most of them, even when I’m deep into writing a new book. I always say “take care of your family and everything else will take care of itself.”
That goes double for my muse, my wonderful wife Trish. A dear friend of ours gave a beautiful toast at our wedding. Holding up his glass, he looked at both of us and said, “Never forget that your marriage can either be 90 percent of your happiness or 90 percent of your sadness.” I have never forgotten and I always make sure that my wife knows how much I love and appreciate her.
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