by Sandra Murphy
& Lorie Lewis Ham
As we continue to celebrate Father’s Day we decided to pick a mystery writer who is a father to feature in today’s issue. This week at KRL we are reviewing John Gilstrap’s latest mystery novel Damage Control, interviewing him & giving away a copy of the book–details at the end of this article.
Damage Control by John Gilstrap
Review by Sandra Murphy
No cozy mystery here—this is a definite thriller, action packed and a warp speed read. Jonathan Grave aka Digger aka Scorpion is a hostage recovery agent. The Mexican drug cartels have created a new revenue stream by adding kidnapping to the mix. Grab the subject, demand a ransom, get paid, and return the hostage. A simple business plan so things shouldn’t go wrong. So by Chapter Two, why are there twenty or so dead bodies to contend with?
A busload of teenage missionaries and their chaperones is taken soon after crossing the border. What’s unusual is that the kidnappers have the names and photos of each passenger indicating a targeted kidnapping, not random one.
The Crystal Palace Cathedral church has agreed to pay the three million dollar ransom and hired Security Solutions aka Jonathan to bring them home. The money is ready and the meet is set in the middle of a jungle area when a group of new people show up. Shots fired, it all goes south in a hurry.
Jonathan and Boxer now only have one kidnap victim to bring home but find their means of escape cut off. Thanks to Venice (pronounced Ven-EE-chay) Alexander, the voice in their earbuds, the men are able to get intel on what’s ahead: the lay of the land, approaching troops and suggestions for getting the heck out of there.
Back on the home front at Security Solutions, things aren’t going so well either. Somebody had to tell the kidnappers what and who to look for. Somebody had to leak the information to sabotage the rescue mission. Who would put a group of teenage missionaries at risk?
Layers of plot, likeable characters and action that make a reader hold his breath for 438 pages, all combine to make a great book. When asked about a final body tally of bodies, Gilstrap said, “I don’t know how many there were. Jonathan and I were too busy to stop and count!”
Don’t even open the cover before the weekend—this is a read-straight-through-book you don’t want to miss.
Previous Jonathan Grave books:
No Mercy (2009)
Hostage Zero (2010)
Threat Warning (2011)
Interview With John Gilstrap
Lorie: First off let’s talk about being a father.
John: Joy and I have one “child”–he’s 26 now. His name is Chris, and Damage Control is dedicated to him. He was eight when I wrote Nathan’s Run, so I’m not sure he remembers a time when I wasn’t a professional writer. As such, I don’t think that my writing was ever that big a deal–it was Dad’s job. We’ve always had a terrific, special relationship, complete with “Guys’ Nights” (think junk food and movie marathons), hot sauce dares, rapscallion hunts (long story), and more recently, book challenges. Right now, I am reading (and loving) World War Z as a negotiated price for him reading Stephen King’s 11/22/63.
Lorie: Now down to writing. How long have you been writing?
John: Communication in general and writing in particular have been the only things I’ve ever been good at. I was editor of the high school newspaper, and district champion debater in high school. When I was in elementary school, I wrote short stories compulsively. I think you could say that I’ve always been a writer.
Lorie: When did your first novel come out? What was it called, and can you tell us a little about it?
John: My first published novel was Nathan’s Run, which came out in 1996 to considerable acclaim. It was ultimately published in 23 languages. Nathan’s Run tells the story of Nathan Bailey, a twelve-year-old who escapes a juvenile detention center after killing a guard. To the rest of the world, it appears that the murder was part of his escape plan, when in reality Nathan killed the guard in self-defense. As the police move heaven and earth to bring him in, an unknown assassin is working overtime to kill him. Ultimately, Nathan calls into a radio talk show hosted by The Bitch of Washington, DC to plead his case to an entirely unsympathetic audience. By the time he’s finished, half the country is on his side, and the other half wants him put in jail forever.
Lorie: Have you always written mysteries/suspense? If not what else have you written?
John: I believe in writing what I like to read, and for me, that means suspense fiction. I’ve never written professionally outside of that genre.
Lorie: What brought you to choose the setting and characters in your latest book/series? Tell me a little about the setting and main character for your most recent book.
John: Damage Control is the fourth book in a series I’m writing that features Jonathan Grave, a freelance hostage rescue operator. A few years ago, I wrote a nonfiction thriller called Six Minutes to Freedom, which granted me unprecedented access to the community of deep-cover Special Forces operators. When these guys are deployed to foreign lands to rescue American citizens–it happens more than the media ever reports–their sole mission is to separate the good guys from the bad guys and bring the good guys home. Domestically, in the United States, that’s a task that most commonly falls to the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team, which has the additional responsibility of protecting the rights of the bad guys and collecting evidence. In Jonathan Grave, I created a former Delta Force operator who takes the military model and applies it domestically. In other words, he’s the guy you hire when you just want your loved one back and you don’t give a rat’s patootie about the rights of the kidnappers.
In Damage Control, Jonathan is betrayed by power brokers inside the Beltway when he travels to Mexico to rescue a busload of teenage missionaries and their chaperons from the hands of a Mexican drug cartel. When things go terribly wrong, and all but one of the hostages are killed, the most powerful people on both sides of the Rio Grande spare no expense or firepower to keep him from returning to the United States.
Lorie: Do you write to entertain or is there something more you want the readers to take away from your work?
John: I am first and foremost about entertaining my readers. As a writer of commercial fiction, that’s my job. If the readers find something more than just entertainment between the covers of the books, I’m fine with that. In fact, I’m honored.
Lorie: Do you have a schedule for your writing or just write whenever you can?
John: Eight years ago, I went back to a full time day job after having written full time for seven years. I discovered that playing with one’s imaginary friends all day was not as intellectually stimulating as I had hoped. Now, I have a demanding Big Boy Job (my wife’s words), and I have to carve out time to write wherever I can find it. I write most weekends for entire days, but I also can be very productive in airplanes, airport departure lounges, bars and coffee shops.
Lorie: Do you outline? If not, do you have some other interesting way that you keep track of what’s going on, or what needs to happen in your book when you are writing it?
John: I used to outline obsessively. Now, I need to know the beginning, the middle and the end before I start. The ending is particularly important, because if you don’t know where you’re going, it’s very difficult to know when (or whether) you’ve arrived.
Lorie: Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning?
John: This is a difficult question to answer. I had difficulty finding an agent. I was rejected 27 times before I found an agent who sold my work for a lot of money on the first submission. But I know authors who collected over 100 rejections before they launched very successful careers. When you think about it, it’s a daunting task. You have to get exactly the right manuscript on exactly the right person’s desk on exactly the day when they’re in the mood to read what you’ve written.
Lorie:Do you have a great rejection/critique or acceptance story you’d like to share?
John: I had a very nice run-in about a year ago with one of the 27 agents who’d rejected my first novel. She very graciously came over and said that I was the “one that got away.” I thought that was a sweet thing to do.
Lorie: Most interesting book signing story-in a bookstore or other venue?
John: Probably twelve years ago, I was in a shopping mall bookstore (remember those?), signing for At All Costs, when I saw this twenty-something guy standing off to the side staring at me. I didn’t have a lot else to do–there weren’t exactly lines wrapped around the block–so I asked him if there was something I could help him with. As it turned out, he was a budding writer, and he had questions about how to proceed. We chatted for about twenty minutes. Finally, once his list was fulfilled, he said, “Well, I don’t read shit like you write,” and he walked away. I thought that was a little insensitive.
Lorie:Future writing goals?
John: My goals are to make a decent living off my writing for the next thirty years. If I can do that, I’ll be self-actualized.
Lorie: Writing heroes?
John: Frederick Forsythe wrote the perfect thriller in Day of the Jackal. His structure and his management of tension is a master class for anyone who reads that book carefully. Stephen King does things with the language that no other writer can get away with, and I’ve always admired him for that. No one’s better than Thomas Harris when he’s in good form, and no one does startling twists better than Jeffery Deaver. But at the end of the day, I bow at the feet of Harper Lee, who moved me like no other writer ever has.
Lorie: What kind of research do you do?
John: Jonathan Grave knows a lot about weapons, explosives and tactics. That means that I have to know a lot about those things, too. The Internet is a great, though unreliable, resource for much of that stuff, but for me, there’s nothing like picking up the phone and having a chat with the people who have been there.
Lorie: What do you read?
John: Everything that interests me. Legal thrillers to zombies to toothpaste tubes. And The Washington Post every morning.
Lorie: Favorite TV or movies?
John: I love Big Bang Theory, The Middle, Modern Family, Blue Bloods, American Idol, So You Think You Can Dance, Pawn Stars, Storage Wars, and just about anything on The Military Channel.
Lorie: Any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?
John: Turn away from all the negative bullshit on the Internet about the death of traditional publishing and the attractiveness of self-publishing. Success in this business is about good stories well-told, and every agent and editor in the world is frothing at the mouth and looking for fresh new talent. Stay the course, write every day, and work very, very hard. There are no guarantees–as there are no guarantees in any profession–but the secret to success lies in professional commitment to quality. Also, remember that failure cannot be inflicted on anyone. It must be declared by the individual.
Lorie: How do you feel about the growing popularity of e-books?
John: I think e-books are one of the greatest gifts to society. I love the fact that more people are reading on more platforms.
Lorie: Do you read e-books yourself?
John: I read everything on my Kindle: The Washington Post, books, manuscripts for blurbs, everything.
Lorie: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
John: In 1978, I was featured in John Wayne’s last recorded performance when we were both in a Perry Como Christmas special filmed in Williamsburg, Virginia. I believe it was called A Colonial Christmas.
Lorie: Website? Twitter? Facebook?
To enter to win a copy of Damage Control, simply email KRL at life@kingsriverlife[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “Damage”, or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen June 23, 2012. U.S. residents only.