Australian author, James Phelan, gives us another dose of heart-pounding, ripped-from-the-headlines action in BLOOD OIL featuring the investigative journalist and ex-special operations navy diver, Lachlan Fox.
Oil prices are rocketing. Terror attacks have destabilized the global economy. The White House believes the Nigerian oil fields are the key to safeguarding America’s future…but someone else sees them as an opportunity to increase their own power.
Traveling from New York to Nigeria, investigative journalist and ex-navy operative Lachlan Fox is hunting the story. He’s seen combat action before but this time it’s personal. Wrestling with demons that push him right to the edge and leave him exposed like never before, will Fox uncover the truth in time? Or will his quest for revenge see him go too far?
“James Phelan is one of the hottest thriller writers to arrive on the scene in years. His hero, Lachlan Fox, is just the kind of gritty man the world needs in a time of crisis.” –Vince Flynn
Mario Acevedo interviews Phelan:
What’s your inspiration for Lachlan Fox? You showed him to be flawed, wounded, and cynical about his service and that made him a more empathetic character.
Well, I’d heard that you gotta write what your know, and since I’m so flawed and cynical… Fox was created as a new, fresh take on the type of character populating these thrillers. I worked at a broadsheet newspaper for five years, a major metropolitan daily. While I was never a news reporter–more the hack writer and interviewer type for features and supplements–most my good friends there were that dying breed of investigative reporters. I thought a character who had that job, traveling the world and covering geo-political hot-spots, would be a cool take on the espionage-type genre. Also, Fox’s early background was service in the Navy, in a special forces role, which he got discharged from after an illegal op, while morally right, went very wrong. So he’s a capable character, while having some insecurities and cynicism about the world and authority. I love him because he’s driven by uncovering the truth at all costs. Well, at least in the first few books…
You did a great job is this story delving into the moral ambiguities and political expediencies in the name of combating terror. You also show the human costs of high-tech warfare and the consequences of rapacious corporate development. Here’s a chance to get your soapbox and expand a bit more on your worldviews.
BLOOD OIL was very much my reaction to where were got as a society post-9/11. The first book, FOX HUNT, was a bit of a bridging novel between all the Cold War thrillers I loved to read as a teen and the world after the wall came down. Book 2, PATRIOT ACT, was very much about our initial responses post-9/11. BLOOD OIL was the logical continuation of that, and we see a world where the bad guys are driven by economics and ideology as much as those who oppose them. In enters Lachlan Fox, the righter of wrongs, to crack a few heads and set things right. Oh, and a few things get broke in the process 🙂
You love your gun porn. Considering that Australia has some extremely restrictive gun laws, how do you manage your research? Do you ever get to shoot some of the weapons you describe in your books? What weapon would you like to fire?
Fox’s world is fun to write in terms of thrills and spills; it’s pure carnage, as Fox is left angry and hurt after his previous exploits. In the name of research, I’ve raced cars, blown stuff up, drunk a lot of booze (although my accountant disputes those receipts as excessive work expense), and sent a lot of lead downrange. Each Fox novel works as a standalone story, and each is informed by where his headspace was when we last saw him – and in the case of BLOOD OIL, that was a dark place. In terms of the tech and gun porn, while Australia does have very strict gun laws (you can’t own a pistol unless you are in a gun-club, and to have a rifle or shotgun you need to be a farmer–and even then getting a license is a very long and rigorous process), I have a lot of friends in the military and police forces. I talk regularly at military bases and afterwards we usually get to play with things that go boom. Usually, I try to choose the biggest weapon, and more often than not I’ll get lumped with an assault rifle or pistol. Australia’s standard military rifle is a modified Steyr AUG, chambered for the 62-grain NATO-standard SS109/M855 round. Basically, it’s our version of an M4, and they’re fun to play with. I’ve yet to fire an MP5.
You have a convincing mastery of American military jargon. Who’s your source?
Stallone and Schwarzenegger movies I watched as a kid. Joking. It helps that I have a few fans in the US in the military and police that have helped out, along with some avid readers who are lovers of all things techno-thriller. I grew up reading Tom Clancy, so that was a good starting point for me–his first several books are a master-class on how to write the US military.
Another of your skills was to smoothly portray fast-action choreography without making it clunky. What’s your secret?
I think it’s practice, and with BLOOD OIL being my third thriller I started to hit my stride. I plan and research for a month or two before I put pen to paper, so I usually know where my big action set pieces will fall. If there’s a “secret”, it’s probably in my economy of prose; these days I read more film and TV scripts than novels, and when they’re good, they’re good–because they’re so lean and fast.
You’re obviously a fan of high-action thrillers. Who are some of your favorite authors?
In my teens I got hooked on high-octane thrillers, espionage, and suspense, and read every book by Clancy, Crichton, Cussler, Ludlum, Flemming, le Carré, Deaver, Follett, MacLean, and Higgins. These days I think Vince Flynn took over the Clancy mantle, James Rollins does what Cussler used to do, and Lee Child is kicking everyone’s butt in terms of creating suspense. And I think John le Carré is writing as well as everyone; what a writer, what a career.
You’re a very prolific writer. What’s your writing schedule like?
The boring reality is that I write every day. The first 3 years I did a thriller per year. Then I did a thriller and a YA thriller per year (the ALONE trilogy for teens, published by the good folk at Kensington). These days, I divide my time between writing thrillers for adults and for younger readers. I start my days at a local cafe, writing a couple thousand words over a couple good strong coffees. Then I’ll head home, do some emails and a bit of research, then get into another chunk of writing. Then, depending on how close I am to a deadline will depend on whether I do some more writing after dinner or not. Repeat this process 365 days per year. As for leap years, well, that’s just another work day. Somewhere in there I manage to have fun with friends and family, and squeeze in the odd occasion to blow something up.
Do you teach creative writing? If so, what do you stress to your students?
I did a bit of part-time teaching at university, where I did my MFA and PhD in Lit, but that got boring after a couple years. These days I do a lot of school talks and workshops, mainly about my 16 novels for younger readers. My main couple points to get across are to read and write. That’s it–it’s not rocket science. If you want to get good, you gotta practice and know your craft, so if you read and write fiction every day, you’ll get there.
On a sad note, you have a fantastic blurb from Vince Flynn. Did you ever get a chance to meet him?
I spent a bit of time with Vince and consider him a good mate. We’d often email about military and political news, and as a fellow Irishman at heart we had a fair bit in common. Very sad we’ve lost him, he was a good writer and a great guy.
What would be your dream writing project?
What I love most about being a novelist is that I get to do what I want, every day (…I started out at university studying architecture, and a few years in realized that I didn’t like constraints like “clients” and “briefs” and “budgets”). So whether it’s my five book “Fox” series, my “Alone” YA trilogy, my new espionage/suspense character in the “Walker” series (THE SPY, out soon!), and a new 13-book YA series for Scholastic titled “The Last Thirteen”, each project has been what I wanted to do at that time. I guess I’ve been lucky enough, and worked hard enough, that I write what I want to write every day. Outside my own creations, I’d like to have a crack at a James Bond novel and take it closer to the original but set in a contemporary world, which is what they’ve done with the recent movies.
Final chance to pimp yourself. What’s next?
I’ve got two new series coming out over the next couple years: a whole new series of thrillers starting with THE SPY (Hachette Australia) that my NY agent is currently doing the rounds to find a US publisher, and this little series for teens: www.thelast13.com
James Phelan is a Melbourne-based writer. He has studied and taught writing at a post-graduate level, and has been a full-time novelist since the age of 25. His first book was the author interview collection LITERATI: Australian Contemporary Literary Figures Discuss Fear, Frustrations and Fame. His thriller novels feature investigative journalist Lachlan Fox. He has also written the ALONE trilogy of Young Adult post-apocalyptic novels. His latest novels are a thriller series introducing a new character Jed Walker, a 13-book Young Adult series THE LAST THIRTEEN, and several other projects.
To learn more about James, please visit his website.