Friday, October 27, 2023

Q&A with James Stejskal




James Stejskal is the author of the new novel Dead Hand. It's the latest in his Snake Eater Chronicles series. A former Green Beret and CIA officer, he lives in Alexandria, Virginia.


Q: What inspired you to write Dead Hand?


A: When Russia invaded Ukraine, I saw what many have feared — a rogue nation — a nation that has only known dictatorships — led by a man I call Vlodya, who wants to re-establish an Imperial Russia.


Then I thought: What if there was a man who opposed Vlodya? A clever man high in the government who knows what Vlodya intends to do and knows he must stop him. He can’t openly oppose the leader because he would be killed or imprisoned. So he seeks help from his nation’s “main enemy” — the United States.


Q: Did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?


A: It was a maze of my own creation, one that unfolded as I wrote the story. Sometimes my characters take on a life of their own and speak to me. They say things like, “I want to do this, not what you’ve written.” Or they suggest a course of action and we debate on it through writing out the idea to see where it goes.

Q: How did your own background in the CIA and the military factor into this novel, and did you need to do any additional research to write the book?


A: I sometimes need to research a particular spot in a city (especially, if it’s been a long time since I was last there or have never visited), sometimes a piece of equipment, sometimes a timeline of events if I’m writing historical fiction (which is often).


All the places I’ve visited, the people I’ve met, things I’ve seen have informed my writing. It’s what I write about, but I often change things to match my story line.


There’s an element of truth — actually a very large element of truth mixed with the fiction in my writing. I want my readers to experience what I have seen and felt through the personal stories of my characters as well as to live the excitement and tension of a thriller.


Q: What do you hope readers take away from the story?


A: Nightmares about what might soon happen in the world. But also hope for how and why some rough men (and women) are willing do what is necessary to prevent that from happening.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: Three things:


— a true military history of a unique Special Forces unit in Operation Eagle Claw,


— the next Snake Eater Chronicle, which will take us back to the Special Forces Berlin’s origin, its first members, and a confrontation during the Cold War in 1957,


— and a new novel about a defector, spies, assassins, and food espionage.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: We’re living not in interesting times, but dangerous times. What’s happening right now in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and the Pacific are a warning to us. Things are becoming unglued and the United States must come together to solve these problems, not fight about which books to read.


Writers and books exist to enlighten, entertain, and teach about the world. I just hope people are reading the right things and know that more than words will be necessary to prevent a catastrophe — it will take actions.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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