Today I'm sharing a Q&A with fellow action-adventure author Jack Murphy. In my last blog post I reviewed his debut novel, which follows our hero Deckard as he commands a Private Military Company in Asia and, ultimately, takes on a sinister power structure that makes Ian Fleming's SPECTRE seem like...well, a fictional conspiracy.
2FB: So tell us about Deckard: What would his resume read like? More importantly, how would you describe his personality, motivations, etc.? Assuming he has time off in between jobs, how does he like to spend it and where does he go?
JACK MURPHY: As far as his professional and personal background, I leave that fairly murky. This was done intentionally in order to reveal a little more about him with each book. I hope it doesn't tick readers off but I think it is interesting to develop a character over the course of several books, revealing more about him within the plot of each novel. However, even in Reflexive Fire we learn a little bit more about him as we get deeper into the book.
Deckard comes from a military background and at some point was recruited into the world of covert operations, but somewhere along the way he had a falling out with certain governmental agencies and now plies his trade as a freelance operative, working mostly singleton operations in the far corners of the world. In terms of personality he is a little odd, you'd have to be in order to do his job, and somewhat obsessive. He is the type of soldier who went far too deep to ever return to "normal" life, I don't think there is any turning back for him. Despite this, Deckard is a reasonable human being; he lives by a certain code and has lines that he won't cross. What does he do in his down time? I don't think he even knows what to do with himself during those moments and probably indulges himself until he can't take the boredom anymore.
In terms of motivation, well, if there is any doubt in the reader's mind by the end of the book, Deckard's final words in the novel will leave no doubt as to why he does what he does.
2FB: How long have you been carrying this guy around in your imagination? Where did he come from? By that I mean, is he based on a real person, completely fabricated or somewhere in between?
JACK MURPHY: I've been writing this character off and on since I was in High School, so well over a decade now. Deckard has evolved and changed somewhat as I have, but the core of the character remains the same. Deckard isn't completely fabricated, he encompasses the experiences of a number of real soldiers but he is also fictionalized as someone like him could never actually exist within any military command structure. Maybe that's why he is a freelancer now...
2FB: I have a pretty good idea what your influences are/were; but you might as well share them here.
JACK MURPHY: I grew up reading Mack Bolan and similar novels, so from the standpoint of action-adventure writing I would say the Don Pendleton and Robert E. Howard are two authors I've always wanted to emulate. I don't think I'm even close to touching those two men in terms of talent but I'm going to keep trying!
Many readers will scoff at this but I'm also influenced by certain video games. I found that many of these games have plot lines that are far more innovative and edgy than what is to be found on book shelves, more sophisticated as well. Games like Deus Ex, Assassin's Creed, and even the Call of Duty games ratchet up the intensity in the action genre and set the bar quite a bit higher for any aspiring writer.
Besides that, my own experiences are probably the biggest influence on my writing. Deckard is a fictional character but of course much of my personality is in there as well. Some of my experiences and observations are expressed through many of my characters. Eight years in Army Special Operations units did have an impact on me, larger than I thought when looking at it in retrospect.
2FB: I think I remember you saying you had a sequel or 2 in mind. Would you like to see this become a long-running series like the Executioner, or something with a limited run?
JACK MURPHY: It really depends on what readers want. I've already been working deeply on my other series, PROMIS, which is about Deckard's father. He was a 'Nam vet turned mercenary who fought in Rhodesia and elsewhere so I get to cover all those nasty forgotten conflicts that happened in the final years of the cold war. That said I do plan on writing more Deckard novels, at least a trilogy.
2FB: I communicate with an SADF veteran who pulls security gigs around Africa. He suggested I write a novel dealing with piracy. With recent developments around Somalia, I've certainly been considering it. In fact, Mack Maloney's current series is about pirate hunters, as discussed in Hatchet Force. Will Deckard be going in that direction soon? Do I need to keyboard-race you to see who does it first? ("First" being relative to us.)
JACK MURPHY: I've already written the first five chapters of the sequel to Reflexive Fire, it takes place in Mexico so you are safe for now. However, I recently bought the Maritime Sniper Manual for research purposes so watch your back! I definitely see Deckard tackling piracy sometime in the future. There are so many overlooked aspects of that issue that I think it can make for a great story.
2FB: You were deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan. If my math is correct, you served for about 8 years--some of it in a Ranger battalion, some of it in Special Forces. As you were doing your job over there, did you know you were going to try to get published when you were done? Did you consciously store ideas, scenes you'd like to put in a story, little tidbits that would be good for a novel in some compartment of your mind?
JACK MURPHY: I wrote very little when I was in the military, just a couple short stories. I kept some stuff in the back of my head for sure but didn't have any elaborate plan for getting published. It wasn't until I got out of the Army last year and started to discover the world of e-readers and self publishing that I really resolved to sit down and write a full blown Deckard novel. Now that I’m writing, albeit in a fictional manner, I do strive to include the details that make the story more authentic, especially the randomness that happens in the chaos of combat. It is somewhat hard to incorporate that into a novel because fiction has to make sense while reality doesn’t.
2FB: Did you read when you had downtime--between missions; in base camp; on pass; etc.? If so, what kinds of books did you try to get your hands on? Also, did your comrades give you hell for doing that instead of getting plastered and chasing whatever tail was rumored to be accessible?
JACK MURPHY: I probably read a small library while I was in the military. You know the saying, "Hurry up and wait." Even when working overseas with a high op-tempo there is a decent amount of time to screw off. Wander around the PX, hit the gym, and then you have to find something to do. I read both fiction and non-fiction. I think reading non-fiction, about geo-politics and how America fights (or doesn't fight) modern wars, was partially what led to me leaving the military, actually.
I recall my Squad Leader being pretty blown away with how many books I'd tear through but no one ever gave me a hard time about it. Sometimes you can even pass books on to other soldiers. In Special Forces selection you are given lots of downtime, it is part of the selection process to see who cracks up by internalizing their doubts while sitting in the barracks. I read a great book called In Secret Mongolia, a travel memoir written by a Dane in the 1920s and passed it off to another candidate who ended up really enjoying it.
As far as the latter activities, don't worry, I imbued more than enough times to make up for my reading.
2FB: What are some of your pet peeves as a reader? IOW, what do authors do that turn you off?
JACK MURPHY: In no particular order:
-Authors who have their female protagonist raped repeatedly throughout their novel in a pornographic manner. Strangely, it seems that it is always female writers who do this
-False advertising. Novels that are made out to be about adventure but turn out to be about shopping and nail care.
-Overly cynical or nihilistic protagonists. This seems prevalent in our genre, the mentality that the ends justifies any means. Among men in our culture that sort of attitude is seen as being "tough". I disagree.
2FB: Shopping and nail care? You don't find that adventurous? Thankfully I have not read any purported A/A with that specific flaw. Haven't read the pornographic rape scenes, either (that sounds pretty disturbing). But then I all but gave up on mainstream fiction years ago.
The sister question is, what do you like or love to find in a work of fiction? What wins you over, and what do you look for in a book?
JACK MURPHY: More than anything, for me, I look for the atmosphere of a novel. A sense of something that is hard to put your finger on, you just know that you are reading some really edgy material due to a number of factors that work together to create or evoke a feeling in the reader.
As a jaded action junkie, I want to see something new and exciting. Show me edgy characters, a sophisticated plotline, and avoid the cliches and you've probably got me hooked.
2FB: Any books in the To Be Written list you'd like to mention?
JACK MURPHY: I'm currently working on the second issue of PROMIS which has blown up into a novella rather than a short story that takes the protagonist through the final years of the Rhodesian bush war. Somewhere in between issues I'd like to continue working on the sequel to Reflexive Fire. As I said, it really depends on which project I get stronger feedback on.
2FB: Finally, here's your chance to plug your published work and tell us how to find it.
JACK MURPHY: Reflexive Fire is hot off the electronic printing press, you can get it on Amazon’s Kindle store with the paperback coming available in July. I really tried hard to smash some of the norms or stereotypes of the genre and write something that hard core action-adventure fans have never seen before.
My short story, PROMIS: Vietnam is a short story that is the first in a series of shorts and novellas that I am writing. Each will take place in a different country as the trajectory of Sean Deckard (the father of the protagonist in Reflexive Fire) is followed from one war zone to the next. The conflicts he partakes in are not yet consigned to history, so in a way I’m writing contemporary historical fiction with this series. The research is in depth to the point I feel like I should be writing non-fiction but it is worth the effort. I really hope that PROMIS takes off once it finds its audience. Issue One is available now for the Kindle.
I also have a short, non-fiction article available for the kindle. It is a Special Forces Weapons Report Card. I wrote it in response to a rather dubious weapons report card circulating the internet that is allegedly written by a soldier serving in Afghanistan. Unfortunately it is full of inaccurate and misleading information so I decided to rectify this issue by writing my own.
2FB: Thanks, Jack, for taking the time to share these details. As stated elsewhere, I am happy to have the competition. There are good things happening in the genre, and you are one of them.