By John Rabb
Thomas Young’s latest book called THE RENEGADES is the third book in his series that stars characters Lt. Colonel Michael Parson and Sgt. Major Sophia Gold. Thomas has served in Afghanistan and Iraq under the Air National Guard and used his experience to pen THE MULLAH’S STORM the first book in the series. His books have been critically acclaimed, putting Thomas as an up and coming author in the political / military thriller genre. Check out below the interview we conducted with Thomas to talk about his series and also what he does outside of the pages.
Your background is in the military and with your fourth book “The Renegades” you mention that you were able to branch out and experience life through the eyes of other military branches. How do you think you have grown as an author going through this experience?
Writing is like any other skill; the more you do it, the more proficient you become. I’d like to think my novels grow richer as I gain experience. My previous two novels, THE MULLAH’S STORM and SILENT ENEMY, took place on a single stage. In THE MULLAH’S STORM, that stage is a trek through the Afghan mountains. In SILENT ENEMY, the stage is the inside of a C-5 Galaxy. But readers will find THE RENEGADES a more complex novel, with more characters involved in more action in a wider variety of settings.
Because THE RENEGADES has a longer reach, I’ve had to learn to do more research and to rely less on my own experiences. I visited the Air Force Reserve’s 920th Rescue Wing at Patrick Air Force Base, Florida. There I met with pararescuemen and other service members whose backgrounds are quite different from mine. In an effort to write their world authentically, I asked a lot of very specific questions: What gear do you use for a free-fall parachute jump? How do you operate this piece of equipment? How does this radio work? In what pocket do you carry it?
When did you first realize that you wanted to write military / political thriller stories?
The idea came to me on my first deployment for the Afghanistan war. I remember flying over the mountains of the Hindu Kush and thinking “This would be a really bad place to get shot down”. That planted the seed for the plot of my first novel, THE MULLAH’S STORM.
How have your characters Sergeant Major Gold and Lieutenant Colonel Parson progressed into this their third book?
Both of them have matured as leaders. Their harrowing experiences together have given them more confidence in their abilities. Readers will find that in THE RENEGADES, Parson and Gold take long chances to get their jobs done. Gold, in fact, makes a decision that puts not only her life but her career and reputation on the line. And Parson has to deal with knowing she faces extreme danger because he has brought her back to Afghanistan to begin with.
Both of them have advanced professionally since the last novel. Gold has always been an airborne-qualified soldier. But now she has become one of very few women certified to make high-altitude free-fall parachute jumps. In THE RENEGADES, she free-falls right into the teeth of battle.
Parson has become an adviser to the Afghan Air Force. His responsibilities involve far more than just taking care of his own crew. Now he must help the Afghans create a modern, professional air force. That would be a Herculean task even in peacetime. But the Afghans must do it while fighting the Taliban. And as Parson’s adviser tour begins, they face an even greater threat.
You took a big risk having such a strong female character in a genre dominated by men, why did you decide to go that route?
I think both male and female readers can enjoy reading about a strong woman, as long as the story is believable. In my novels, you won’t see Sergeant Major Gold beating up five terrorists with her bare hands. But she has skills used by real women in the real military. And I think we all have a lot of sympathy for any character trying to use certain skills to accomplish a mission.
I created the character of Sophia Gold for two reasons. One is simple realism. Women play a critical role in the military today. You can’t take part in any operation without working with women. Even a male-only unit like a SEAL team might get intel briefings from a woman, or they might receive resupply from a helicopter piloted by a woman. The other reason is that I wanted to honor the women with whom I’ve served. In my two decades in the military, I’ve worked with many highly professional women, and Gold is a tribute to them.
What character in “The Renegades” surprised you by having more of a voice than you originally thought?
Gunnery Sergeant Blount began as a very minor character. So minor, in fact, that at first he didn’t even have a name. But as the story developed, Blount–a huge Marine–loomed larger and larger, no pun intended. He took on a life of his own, and early readers have commented on how much they like him.
Blount does not relish violence. In fact, the big man’s gentle nature becomes apparent even to a little Afghan girl who can’t understand a word he says. But Blount’s size and skill set make him quite capable of destruction. As a Marine fighting terrorists, he knows that some people just need to die.
If you could solve any mystery what would it be?
In 1951, an Air Force C-124 transport disappeared during a flight over the Atlantic. En route to Britain, the aircraft suffered a fire in its cargo compartment, and it ditched in the ocean. Its passengers included more than fifty top officers and technicians from the nuclear-armed 509th Bomb Group. Reports say the C-124 remained in one piece when it hit the water, and a B-29 flying over the site reported seeing flares and life rafts. But when weather and daylight permitted a rescue attempt, a search by dozens of planes and ships found nothing but some burned plywood and a briefcase. How did so many survivors disappear so quickly? Some people theorize that Soviet submarines and surface ships were active in the area and may have picked up these critical personnel from Strategic Air Command.
We called that era the Cold War. It might have been technically cold, but it was indeed a war. And we may never know all its stories.
When you started with THE MULLAH’S STORM did you know that you would be writing a series?
Not only did I not know it would begin a series; I didn’t even know it would become a novel. When I wrote the first sentence–on a yellow legal pad at Osan Air Base, South Korea while waiting for my airplane to get fixed–I wasn’t sure I had a book-length story. But the more I wrote, the more the story unfolded.
That’s how it works with me; I don’t know how a novel will develop until I begin writing. E.L. Doctorow said writing is like driving a car at night. You never see farther than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.
You might say the headlights got me to the end of THE MULLAH’S STORM, and then I just kept driving.
For fans new to your books, do you suggest they read your series in order of publication?
I write my novels in such a way that anyone can stand alone. But a reader who plans to read all of them would probably get more out of the novels by reading them in order.
What is your favorite word? Your least favorite?
I think my favorite word is “books.” I’ve led a very active life, but if age or infirmity confined me, I think I could still enjoy life as long as I could read.
My least favorite word is “war.” I write about it, and I have taken part in it, but I have never glorified it. I have seen its awful results, especially on aero medical flights to transport the wounded. I think I can speak for all military people when I say to our society and civilian leaders, “We’re here when you need us. But for God’s sake don’t send us out there until you have exhausted every other option.”
Parson and Gold are sitting in front of you, what would you like to ask them?
First, I’d probably have to apologize for putting them through so much. And then I’d ask, “All right, are you guys gonna get together or what?” If they wanted to change the subject, I’d probably talk airplanes with Parson and literature with Gold.
THE RENEGADES comes out July 19th, 2012. We would like to thank Thomas for taking the time to answer our questions about his work. For more information on Thomas and all his works, visit his website.
Tom Young has logged nearly 4,000 hours as a flight engineer with the Air National Guard in Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia, and elsewhere. His military honors include two Air Medals, three Aerial Achievement Medals, and the Air Force Combat Action Medal. The author of THE MULLAH’S STORM and SILENT ENEMY, Young has studied writing at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, among other places. He lives in Alexandria, Virginia.