by Sandra Murphy
This week we have a review of Scorpion Strike by John Gilstrap, and an interesting interview with John. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of Scorpion Strike, and a link to purchase it from Amazon, and an indie bookstore where a portion of the sale goes to help support KRL.
Scorpion Strike: A Jonathon Grave series by John Gilstrap
Review by Sandra Murphy
Jonathan Grave is about the only guy who can take his girlfriend on a romantic vacation and end up saving the world as we know it. Jonathan and Gail are at the Crystal Sands Resort, a beautiful place where the staff anticipates your every desire. When gunfire awakens them in the middle of the night, vacation’s over in more ways than one.
Jonathan, Gail, and another couple manage to escape, but soon the husband is trying to boss everyone around. His wife might be able to tolerate his behavior, but Jonathan has no patience for it. Warned that splitting up is dangerous, the man insists they leave anyway. There are a few other stragglers, but for the most part, all guests are held around the pool. First thought would go to robbery, but that’s not the case this time. The plot is much more sinister.
Jonathan is able to reach Mother Hen, aka Venice, back in his office. She’s the one who coordinates his extractions when he’s on the job, so she’s able to assemble his team. The Big Guy, Boxers, along with Davey and Jason, are soon enroute to save the day. With the help of Tyler, who lives at the resort and knows the side of the resort guests don’t see—that is, how the help move around—Jonathan is able to keep a low profile, at least for a while.
As with all Gilstrap’s books, this one grabs you by the throat, pulls you along into the jungle, and won’t let go until the last bullet is fired and last hostage is rescued. Gilstrap knows his guns which adds authenticity to every book. Jonathan isn’t just a save-the-world guy. There are moments of humor that allow readers to catch their breath. Jonathan planned a romantic getaway with Gail who certainly knows her way around a gun as well. It just didn’t quite turn out that way. They’re a good pair. And Boxers—well, he’s a force to be reckoned with. Just don’t get in his way.
There are sixteen previous books, not all featuring Jonathan, but all a good read. For a fast-paced run though the jungle read, this is the book to pick up. Just don’t blame me when you can’t put it down. You’ve been warned.
* * * *
Where do authors get their ideas? View John Gilstrap’s YouTube channel, and he’ll tell you. Only a writer could go on vacation and view the resort as a “soft target.”
Interview with John Gilstrap:
KRL: How long have you been writing?
John: I’ve been writing stories for as long as I can remember, as far back as elementary school. I was editor of my high school newspaper. When I first got out of college, I tried my hand at journalism, but I didn’t like it, so I went back to graduate school and got a master’s degree in safety engineering. That led to a career dealing with explosives and hazardous materials, but through it all, I was always writing.
KRL: When did your first novel come out? What was it called? Can you tell us a little about it?
John: I wrote what became my first published novel in 1994, and it was published in 1996. The title is Nathan’s Run, and it became a worldwide bestseller. It tells the story of Nathan Bailey, a 12-year-old boy serving time in a juvenile detention center. When a guard tries to kill him, Nathan instead kills the guard and runs away, to become the focus of a nationwide manhunt. No one believes that he killed in self-defense, so the police pull out the stops to find a cop-killer. Meanwhile, Nathan is still pursued by the killers who put out a contract on his life in the first place.
KRL: Have you always written mysteries/suspense? If not, what else have you written?
John: My published works have all been thrillers, including my one nonfiction book, Six Minutes to Freedom, which tells the story of Kurt Muse, an American ex-pat who was held prisoner by Manuel Noriega, and was ultimately rescued by Delta Force in the opening moments of Operation Just Cause in 1990.
KRL: What brought you to choose the setting and characters in your latest book/series? Please tell us a little about the setting and main character for your most recent book.
John: Scorpion Strike, which will came out on June 26, 2018, is the 10th entry in my award-winning Jonathan Grave thriller series. Jonathan is a retired Delta Force operator whose company, Security Solutions, specializes in freelance hostage rescue. His is a strictly under-the-radar team that’s dedicated to bringing justice to the bad guys. In Scorpion Strike, the book opens with Jonathan and his girlfriend, Gail, taking a vacation at the Crystal Sands Resort off Mexico’s Pacific Coast when the island paradise is invaded by terrorists. As Gail and Jonathan struggle to survive in the jungle, they uncover an unimaginable terror plot with worldwide implications.
KRL: Do you write to entertain or is there something more you want the readers to take away from your work?
John: When a series has had as long a run as mine has, I think it’s because fans enjoy spending time with characters they like while enjoying their adventures. My sole focus in writing is to tell the best story in the best way I know how. I want to entertain, but if readers take more from the books than simple entertainment, that’s fine, too.
KRL: Do you have a schedule for your writing or just write whenever you can?
John: Writing novels is my sole job now, and I’m under contract to submit a 100,000 word manuscript to my publisher by September 15 every year to achieve a deadline to see a book on the shelves every July. Those deadlines are immovable forces, and that’s what I focus to achieve. On a granular, everyday level, sometimes I write in the mornings, sometimes I write at night. Sometimes in my office, sometimes with a computer on my lap. As September 15 looms closer, my writing days become longer and more intense.
KRL: 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, but I don’t anymore, at least not in the way most people think of outlining. I start with a premise and a couple of set pieces, and then I set off with my characters to have an exciting adventure. I know basically where we’re going to go, but I rarely know exactly how we’re going to get there. That discovery of story is what’s most fun for me.
KRL: Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning?
John: No. Once I found an agent, she sold the publishing rights within a week for an astonishing amount of money. For me, the agent hunt was the hard part. I received 27 rejection letters from agents before I found on who would take me on. I think it’s important to note, though, that my “first” novel was in reality my fourth. I wrote three previous stories that I knew were not yet ready for prime time, and I never tried to sell them.
KRL: Do you have a great rejection/critique or acceptance story you’d like to share?
John: I’ve taken exactly one creative writing class in my life, and that was with the Writer-in-Residence at the College of William & Mary in Virginia, my undergraduate alma mater. At the conclusion of the intense two-semester course, the teacher told me, and I quote: “John, you have no talent for writing.” He died before I made the bestseller list.
KRL: Most interesting book signing story-in a bookstore or other venue?
John: I was signing in one of the old-style mall stores, like WaldenBooks or B. Dalton, spending far more time directing shoppers to the restroom or the latest John Grisham book than I was signing copies of my own. I noticed a young man – late teens, early twenties – standing at a discreet distance and watching me intently. When I asked if I could help him with something, he approached and told me that he had just finished his first manuscript, and he was looking for some guidance. We chatted for probably 20 minutes and I was as helpful as I knew how to be. Then, when he’d run through his questions, he closed with, “I don’t read the commercial shit you write,” and he walked off. That felt harsh to me.
KRL: Future writing goals?
John: I just signed a contract for three more Grave books – numbers 12, 13 and 14 – so my initial goal is to keep the creative juices flowing through 2021, and I hope for a lot longer than that.
KRL: Writing heroes?
John: I have nothing but respect and admiration for any writer who dares to sit down and commit a story to the page, anyone who studies the craft, and to whom striving for excellence is an inviolable principle. The most amazing and successful storytellers throughout history all started with an idea that they struggled and failed to develop properly in the beginning, but they didn’t quit. They didn’t roll out bad writing simply for the gratification of seeing their names in print. Persistence and adherence to quality are the two traits that separate success and failure.
KRL: What kind of research do you do?
John: The flippant answer is as little as possible, but that’s not really fair. Where details matter, I work hard to get them right, but more times than not, I can write around the research. For example, most of my books are set in places I know, primarily in Northern Virginia, where I grew up and continue to live. But to avoid the research that would be necessary to learn the details on the inner workings of, say, the Fairfax County Police Department, I created a fictional Braddock County. Locals recognize landmarks and businesses, but because I call them something else, I’m free to just make stuff up.
The hardest research to do is learning the feel of the world I write about. Jonathan and his team are all Special Forces operators, so how do I capture the world view of people in that line of work? My answer is to get permission to visit and hang out with them. You’ll be shocked what people will let you do if only you ask. I’ve visited the Navy SEAL compound in Virginia Beach, the Delta Force compound at Fort Bragg, and the FBI Hostage Rescue Team compound in Quantico, Virginia. I’ve ridden with the Border Patrol’s Special Operations Group in El Paso, and I’ve visited CIA Headquarters in Langley several times.
KRL: What do you read?
John: I read everything. I’m an omnivore. I read a lot of news and nonfiction. When it comes to fiction, 90+% of what I read are advance readers copies of thrillers submitted to me by publishers seeking a cover blurb.
KRL: Favorite TV or movies?
John: A year ago, I would have told you that Breaking Bad was the best series ever on television, but now I change my vote to The Americans. Just spectacular! I also like Bosch and Billions. With the advent of big screen high-definition televisions, I rarely go to the movies anymore. First of all, I’ve had my fill of superheroes, and when I do go, I somehow always sit behind the jerk with the million-candle power phone screen who texts throughout the movie.
In terms of older or classic movies, that’s a very long list. Among the movies that will hook me no matter where in the story I drop in are: Casablanca, Apollo 13, Crimson Tide, To Kill A Mockingbird, Dead Poets Society, and Tombstone. I’m sure there are more.
KRL: Any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?
John: Don’t give up. Read voraciously and write every day. You’ve got to tie your butt to the chair and actually write stories. Blogging about writing, reading about writing and attending classes about writing is not, in fact, writing. Once you start a story, see it all the way through to the end. Even if you stop loving the plot and characters halfway through, keep plowing on until you get to the end. Far too many frustrated writers have drawers filled with half-written works. There’s great comfort to be found in the simple act of completing the task you start.
KRL: Anything you would like to add?
John: I have a YouTube channel called A Writer’s View of Writing and Publishing, where I post videos about the writing and storytelling business. It’s geared toward fans and writers alike. You can find it at www.youtube.com/c/authorjohngilstrap.
KRL: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
John: I was a part of John Wayne’s last filmed performance. I was in college at The College of William and Mary in Virginia, and Perry Como’s Early American Christmas was shot there. John Wayne was the special guest, and I was a part of a bawdy tavern scene where we all sang Christmas Carols. It aired December 12, 1978. There’s a screenshot below. I’m the bearded guy on the left. The guy on the right is my good friend, Jim Shaffran, and neither of us has aged a day!
KRL: Website? Twitter? Facebook?
John: Website: www.johngilstrap.com
To enter to win a copy of Scorpion Strike, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “strike,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen August 11, 2018. U.S. residents only. If entering via email please include your mailing address (so if you win we can get the book sent right out to you), and if via comment please include your email address. You can read our privacy statement here if you like.
Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & mystery short stories in our mystery section. And join our mystery Facebook group to keep up with everything mystery we post, and have a chance at some extra giveaways. Check out our new mystery podcast that launched on June 5.
Use this link to purchase the book & a portion goes to help support KRL & indie bookstore Mysterious Galaxy:
You can also use this link to purchase the book on Amazon. If you have ad blocker on you may not see the link:
Disclosure: This post contains links to an affiliate program, for which we receive a few cents if you make purchases using those links. KRL also receives free copies of most of the books that it reviews, that are provided in exchange for an honest review of the book.
Not sure how I’ve missed the previous 16 books, but I have. I’d like to jump right in, thanks!
You are the winner! Please contact me with your mailing address
I love john gilstraps books! This is the only one I haven’t read yet.
I have never read anthing by this author, but I love finding a new series!
This sounds really good–I’d love to read it! firstname.lastname@example.org
Sounds like an interesting book. Would like to read. Thanks for the chance.
We have a winner!