An Interview with Brad Taylor

The prolific novelist talks process, Putin, and why it’s vital to get the book done first.

An Interview with Brad Taylor

Bestselling author Brad Taylor, who served as a U.S. Army Special Forces officer for more than 20 years, including eight as a commander in 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment — Delta (commonly known as Delta Force), is back with his 18th thriller, Dead Man’s Hand. We spoke earlier this winter. 

After 17 prior bestsellers, and now this new one, how has your writing process changed from book to book?

It hasn’t changed but it’s gotten a lot tighter. I’ve gotten a lot better at it as opposed to, like, your first book: You get your entire life to write your first book, so it really wasn’t a process. It was just me writing when I had time. The second book was the first time I was like, “Okay, now you’re on deadline. Let’s figure something out here.” And I didn’t really know what I was doing. I’ve never had any instruction on being a writer. I didn’t take any classes on being a writer. My instructors were just authors that I read. I was always a voracious reader, and so the mechanics of writing I had to kind of figure out. The only thing that’s changed really is I’ve just gotten better at managing what I need to do. 

Which writers influenced you? 

I was a voracious reader as a kid, and so I went through a Robert Heinlein phase. I went through a Ray Bradbury phase. I went through a Stephen King phase. I read every genre there is, except for, I guess, romance. Actually, I’ve read romance novels. Those were the only books that were available in the airport book rack because nobody wanted to buy them, so I even read that. 

If you could go back, what advice would you give to yourself when you were just starting out? 

Looking back on it now, I’d say that the good thing for me was I wasn’t writing a book to get published. I was writing a book just because it was a bucket-list thing. So, I had no aspirations about anything. I didn’t [research] the publishing industry or anything like that. The biggest piece of advice that I did and I would give myself or anybody else is write the book. I mean, a lot of times, I get questions on how’d you find an agent or how do you get a publisher or what do you do for social media. And I always email back and say, “Well, do you have a book?” “Well, I’ve got an outline.” And I always say, “Okay, write the book first. Don’t worry about any other stuff until you make this book the best possible book you can possibly write.” That’s what matters.

You said your process has gotten a little bit tighter but hasn’t fundamentally changed. Do you stick to outlines pretty closely, or do your characters sometimes surprise you?

Yeah, they definitely do. I mean, I don’t look at it as in my characters are surprising me. I don’t actually do an outline. I do what I call a framework. I’ll know the threat, I’ll know the threat vector, I’ll know the setting itself. I would say 80 percent of the time — up until No Fortunate Son, I would’ve said 100 percent of the time — I know how it’s going to end, but I don’t know a whole lot in between. I’m going to go from here to here to here, but how to get there? I don’t outline all that, I just start writing. 

In a way, that kind of reflects your military experience. 

Yeah, definitely. I mean, I take the blows as they come and I do on-the-ground research. I wish I could just look at Google Maps and figure out how a country functions, but I can’t…If I can get my boots on the ground, I will. I’m writing book 19 right now. We just got back from India — we used to call it “sight, sound, smells” of the battlefield. You can’t judge the culture until you get on the ground. I mean, being in Bangkok is just a sensory overload. And until I get on the ground, [I can’t know] how does a metro work, how do taxis work? How do you get food? Things like that. How does the culture work?

Let’s shift to Dead Man’s Hand. Part of the premise is that Putin is threatening a scary, “Dr. Strangelove” kind of move. How did you come up with that? 

I still do a lot of security consulting, so I keep my hand on the pulse of what’s going around in the world. I spend about two hours each morning just reading newsfeeds from all over the world. And Russia invaded Ukraine, and I was keeping up on it…What’s going on with this? How’s this working? I like to be right on the front of current events. I don’t like writing about current events because they could destroy the whole book. You don’t know how it’s going to end. But in this case, I was doing the research, and the Soviet Union had this thing.

[America] came up with…SDI. It was Reagan’s Star Wars thing, the Strategic Defense Initiative. Theoretically, we could knock out any missile that came in, and of course it never came anywhere close to doing that, but it scared the hell out of the Soviet Union. They said, “Well, if they can knock out every one of our missiles, that’s going to encourage them to do a first strike. There’s no reason why they wouldn’t do a first strike because mutually assured destruction is now out the window.” And so [the Soviets] came up with a system called Perimeter, which was called the Dead Hand in the West…Basically, it was the first prehistoric artificial intelligence. 

They developed a system that would take seismic activity, communications nodes…all these different feeds would go in and if [they indicated] a first strike, the system said, “We just had a first strike and nobody’s talking. It’s wiped out the Kremlin.” Then the perimeter system [would be] activated, and when it was activated, any second lieutenant out in the tundra who had a missile silo could launch every missile that was remaining [at] the United States…And the thing still exists…I’d never heard of that. I served in the military during the Cold War and I was like, “Man, that is crazy. That’s enough for a story.” So, I started writing it, and then I just changed it…to Putin saying, “I am going to call it the Dead Man’s Hand, and instead of it being a first strike, it’s just going to be me. If I get killed, launch the missiles.”

[Photo by Claudio Marinesco.]

Michael Causey hosts the “A Good Hour” radio program on WOWD 94.3 FM and

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