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Thriller Novelist Jack Carr Talks Archery, Bioweapons, And ‘Savage Son’

Jack Carr

Author Jack Carr’s first two novels, “The Terminal List” and “True Believer,” introduced James Reece, a SEAL team commander who finds himself chasing and eliminating terrorists around the globe. Reece is not just the product of your typical thriller novelist, but based off Carr’s own experience as a Navy SEAL sniper, leading sniper teams in Iraq and Afghanistan, and commanding Special Operations Task Units for 20 years.

Carr sat down with The Federalist to discuss his most recent challenge: releasing his third book, “Savage Son,” in the midst of a global pandemic. Carr shares about traveling to Siberia to research for the third book, the upcoming movie based on his books featuring Chris Pratt, and how James Reece’s survival journey may resonate with readers now more than ever.

What has it been like trying to launch and market a book during a pandemic?

Jack Carr: The timing could not have been worse, but you know, so many other people are really hurting, so I try to keep it all in perspective.

When I came into this space, I looked at it kind of like I would study the enemy before going into Iraq or Afghanistan, because I had no idea about the social media space. I had no idea about podcasts. I mean, I listen to Joe Rogan, but I didn’t think I’d ever be on one. So I really took time with it and looked at what was appropriate, what was not, what I liked, what I didn’t. So I went in with a goal of being better than any other author in this space. Just like I would on the SEAL team. I want to go be the best leader I can possibly be, but also adapting and learning constantly.

I think that positioned me well to deal with the pandemic during a launch. You have to adapt very quickly and change everything to virtual. We had the whole book tour planned, and I was starting at the Reagan Library, doing a speech there, and all these other signings in one city and then onto the next.

I’m trying to send as many people as I can to local and independent bookstores because they’re hurting so bad. That’s the most important thing to me, because pushing a product during this time when so many people are suffering, it doesn’t feel right. So I’m trying to also give people something that they want and they’ve been asking for.

All the profits from the merchandise on my site are 100 percent going to the Center for Disaster Philanthropy’s COVID-19 Response Fund. Launching now is less than ideal, but you know, you got to adapt, you got to charge forward and try to do the right things.

You clearly did a ton of research on location for this book. Where all did you go and what was that experience like?

Jack Carr: Yeah, so I knew I had to go to Russia for this one. I knew I had to go to Kamchatka Peninsula, which is just south of Siberia. I’d been to Mozambique for researching the second book, “True Believer,” and then also went back to South Africa and some of that bled over into “Savage Son.” Everybody in those two African countries, it seemed, wanted to talk to me about their country, their history, their families, the Chinese influence in the area and mining operations, rhino poaching, etc. They were just so excited to talk to me about everything. I loved going over there and hearing their amazing histories.

So I thought it was going to be the same in Russia and I didn’t really stop and think about it until I landed and realized that people were very closed off over there. I realized that that’s probably because for most of Russian history, if someone was asking you questions, the kind of questions you’d ask if you’re writing a political thriller, that meant you weren’t long for this Earth. It was off to the Gulag or the firing squad.

So people were very reluctant to answer my questions, but they opened up eventually, and I got so much great local flavor to weave into the pages of the third novel. It was important for me to go over there and get into the backcountry, to see what they call the taiga, the tundra, to look at the vehicles they drove, look at the snow. I got to see their snow machines, how they got around in the backcountry, which is old military helicopters.

So you went to Siberia without any electronic devices except a satellite phone. What was that like? Was your wife freaking out?

Jack Carr: I knew that as soon as I crossed through customs, everything in my computer and phone would be sucked out. And with my background in the SEAL teams, who knows what people have sent me on email and text over the years? Who knows how that can all be pieced together or an intelligence agency could use that for nefarious purposes? So I left my computer and phone behind. I had a notepad to take notes, and I brought a satellite phone to stay in touch with my family and for emergencies. So yeah, it was interesting. Now that we’re so connected and dependent on our phones, they’re like our mobile offices in many cases. To leave that behind me, it was nice to take a breath and to just use the old pen and paper.

What was different or unexpected about writing this third book in the series compared to the first two?

Jack Carr: The timeline. This is the first one that I’ve been on that year timeline. So the first novel, like anyone’s first novel, you have as much time as you want to get it as good as you possibly can before you show it to someone. So this third book is the first one where I’ve been on the clock. That was different in that I wanted to even spend more time with it. But you gotta go, you gotta get it out there, you’re on the timeline, you’re on the deadline. Now I’m in the middle of the fourth one, and I’m on that one-a-year schedule.

This is a mild spoiler alert, but let’s talk about capsaicin, the component of chili peppers that makes them so hot. Did you think up that particular use yourself, or had you seen or read about it elsewhere? It’s downright terrifying.

Jack Carr: So that is one of the part of these novels that I want to have be kind of one of their hallmarks, not necessarily shock-value violence, but thoughtful violence. So the first book I used what I’ve read about from the Shining Path guerilla movement in South America, where they would gut people essentially, and have them walk around a tree and have their entrails fall out. So I wanted to get away from “shoot him in the knee cap.” So in this third book, there is a scene that gets very creative as far as extracting information from someone in the Russian mafia who’s a tough individual. I got it from an interview that I conducted with someone, but I think I’m going to have to leave it there.

So with all your novels, there is so much detailed description of all the weapons and the gear that your protagonist uses. In this novel, did you personally use all the weapons and the gear Reece uses? What was your favorite piece of the kit that he uses in this book?

Jack Carr: Most everything the protagonist James Reece uses are things that I have used in the past or use today. That’s not always the case with the antagonist or other characters but even with Russian rifles, I helped train on those in Uzbekistan in 2002. I was sent there to help train one of their special operations units on some sniper stuff, and I got to use the Dragunov sniper rifle. I’d never used it in the states, so I got online and downloaded whatever manuals were out there in 2002. So even some of the bad guys’ gear I used, but not all if it.

There are some new sniper weapons systems out there on the Russian front that I incorporated that I have not used. But anything else, anything the protagonist uses, are things I typically use. Including the car he drives, a 1988 land cruiser FJ62 — that’s my car. I love the holsters he uses — the Black Point Tactical Mini Wings — those are what I conceal carry. I used their Outback holster this time also. It’s like a shoulder holster, but it’s mounted more on the front for backcountry-type use.

My bow, a PSE NTN 33, that’s in there and that’s probably my favorite piece of kit. This book is so archery-centric, and I’ve always wanted to write one that had archery as part of the, of the storyline. It’s used as a therapy in the novel, and then it comes into play again at the end, not as therapy.

I was always a gear person before I went in the military. Then while I was in the military, of course, I wanted my guys to go down range with the best gear, equipment, and weapons we possibly could. So it’s very natural for me to incorporate that into the pages and the novels and then talk about it also on my blog. I’d do a gear guide for each book for people that want to go a little deeper into what’s used by the characters. They can click on items and find the companies and find my connection to them and what I think of it and all that sort of thing.

What do you view as the most important factor for an action thriller novel: character arc, overall plot, or surprise twists?

Jack Carr: I think it’s that the emotions have to ring true, and that the readers have to connect with the protagonist. You have to like him and be interested in what’s going to happen next and care about him. So the most important part, for me anyway, is that the reader has a relationship with that protagonist. It was important to humanize him, to not just make him a caricature of what most people think a SEAL should be or is. I wanted him to be someone that you’d want to sit down and have a beer with, but who also had the experience and the training to flip that switch and get the job done.

Is there a message in this book that resonates with what people are going through right now?

Jack Carr: So each book has a theme. For the first book, I had a little yellow sticky note that I put next to my computer that said “revenge,” because that first book is just focused on really revenge without constraint. The second one is about redemption. So for this third book, I had “dark side of man” written down, and that’s really what I wanted to explore through the dynamic of the hunter and the hunted.

The last line of my preface reads, “Will there come a day when our survival depends on those primordial abilities? I suspect so. It might not be tomorrow or the day after, but then again, it might. In either case, we would be wise to be ready, but right now it’s time to turn the page and hunt.”

That preface is talking about how from the earliest human, we are here today because we had ancestors that were good at hunting, to provide for the family, to provide for the tribe, and they were good warriors. That is why we’re here today, and this is just such a slim part of human history where you can survive without being good at those things. The preface is saying someday we might have to go back to that, and then of course for it to come out during this pandemic when people are worried about their food or their water. It’s kind of eerie that it does hearken back to some of the things that people are now getting back to. They’re taking a breath and realizing maybe they weren’t as prepared as they could have been. Maybe the government isn’t always going to be there to take care of them and they have to be a little more self-sufficient, self-reliant. So there is a tie-in there, which was kind of eerie.

Do you think we’re going to get any pandemic-related action novels in the future?

Jack Carr: It’s crazy because I was already researching infectious diseases and the weaponization of infectious diseases last fall as part of my fourth novel. So I was hypersensitive when this all hit because I had been so deep in research, both academic and doing interviews, but I concentrated mostly on the late ’30s up until today.

People have been trying to figure out the weaponization of infectious diseases since the beginning of time. The Japanese did a lot of research right before World War II; then they used their bioweapons against the Chinese primarily. Then after the war, the U.S. got all that data. The Soviet Union also had a program from the end of World War II, but then they collapsed. When I get asked about it, “Hey, do you think the Chinese did this on purpose?” my answer from my research is that one of the most important parts of a bioweapons system is that it does not turn into a pandemic. You want it to burn out. You want to be able to target a city or a country but not come back to you and turn it into a pandemic. So it needs to be able to be targeted. So that is woven into the storyline of book four. The theme of that one also explores the legality, ethics, and morals behind targeted assassinations.

Last time we talked, we knew there was going to be a movie, but we didn’t know who would be acting or directing in it. Is everything still on track with that? How has it been working with Chris Pratt?

Jack Carr: I’m sworn to secrecy on some things, but yes, Chris is playing the lead role, which is amazing because he’s who I thought of while I was writing the first novel. So it’s crazy that it’s come full circle and he’s starring in it. And then I thought of Antoine Fuqua directing it which is crazy. So to have both those guys together now as part of this project through one of the streaming services, yeah, that’s crazy. You never know how it’s going to go, so I’m keeping my expectations low, but as of this morning, everything was looking good and on track. So we’ll see.

Where can people follow you online?

Jack Carr: There are some cool things for people to explore on my website like the independent bookstores where they can get signed books with the limited-edition book plates to help local businesses. Under “Operation Savage Son,” I partnered up with some of the companies whose gear I’ve used over the years to help launch the book. You can win guns, ammo, and a ton of gear. I’m JackCarrUSA on Instagram and Twitter for people that want to follow along on the journey.