Brad Taylor is the author of the new thriller Ring of Fire, the latest in his Pike Logan series, which also includes Ghosts of War and The Forgotten Soldier, among other titles. He served for more than two decades in the U.S. Army, including eight years in 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, and he lives in Charleston, South Carolina.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for Ring of Fire?
A: Actually, it's hard to pin Ring of Fire down to one single idea. The leak of the Panama Papers intrigued me on a strategic level, as well as the redacted pages from the official congressional inquiry into 9/11 about Saudi Arabian complicity.
Beyond that, I'd seen a few intel alerts about ISIS using "toy" drones for attacks, and then that the 15th anniversary for 9/11 had serious threats in play. Luckily, none of them came to pass, but the book itself had many, many different attack points that coalesced.
I wanted to do a traditional intelligence hunt, showing how hard it is to separate the wheat from the chaff when trying to prevent such attacks, and had a myriad of different points to provide inspiration. I always try to weave current, real-world problems into my writing, and Ring of Fire is no exception.
Q: Did you know when you started the Pike Logan series that you'd end up writing so many of them, and how do you feel your characters have changed since the beginning?
A: For the first question - HA! No way. I didn't think I'd have a single book, much less 11.
That poses a problem for me because I hadn’t planned anything out, with any long-term vision for the series. I throw everything on the page at maximum effort for each one, and find that I'll kick myself later for writing a certain fact.
When you begin writing, the entire universe is open. The minute you type a word, you’ve shrunk it. Your character has blue eyes? Well, he'll have blue eyes forever. That’s a small point, but you get the idea.
You’d never guess how many times I’ve said to myself, “Man, I really wish I hadn’t said XX was from XXX, because I really need to go the other way here."
Every time I write a book, the universe gets tighter, and I've learned to now judge a problem set not in the context of the current book - but what it might mean for future books.
Unfortunately, while I've learned that, I still ignore it, because I'm usually under the gun for a deadline and simply decide to deal with that problem in the future.
The characters are the heart of the story, so yes, they most definitely need to grow and change - and they have. Not in ways I would have imagined if I’d have had the foresight to arc the whole series out, but more like what happens in real life.
You can plan how your life will go, and then life will tell you what's going to happen. Pretty much what I do with my writing.
Q: Do you plot out your books before writing them, or do you make many changes along the way?
A: I do what I call a "framework," where I know the threat, the arc, and the primary theme, but I don't outline chapter by chapter.
Plenty of times the story has shifted wildly from what I originally intended - and Ring of Fire is no exception. I had no plans to use Gibraltar in the book, but after running around the area on a research trip, it was too good to pass up.
I also planned on ending the book at the inauguration for the new president, but decided that it was a bridge too far with Ring of Fire’s timeline. The theme definitely remained, but some characters took on more prominent roles than I imagined, and others faded to the background.
Q: How does your own military background inform your writing?
A: It informs my writing like it would for any author. I use my experiences to realistically describe scenarios.
If you were going to write a scene about a grocery store, you'd think about the last grocery store you'd been in. Writing about learning to ride a bike? You'd fall back on what it's like to ride a bike. The balance challenges, the gears, etc. It's no different with me and the military.
I don’t write about anything I’ve actually done, because most of that is classified, but I can’t help but use the experiences to inform the plot and action scenes.
Q: What are you working on next?
A: Currently plugging away on Operator Down (January 2018), which brings back fan favorites Aaron and Shoshana, two Israeli assassins. They get into a bit of trouble in Africa, and get some needed help from Pike and Jennifer.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb