By Jeff Ayers
John Gilstrap knows how to grip the reader from the opening page, and his fifth thriller featuring security specialist Jonathan Grave will only grow his fans. Gilstrap talked to The BIG THRILL about HIGH TREASON, and his other works.
How was the path to publication with your first novel, Nathan’s Run?
My first novel, NATHAN’S RUN, was in fact my fourth novel, and it was rejected 27 times. (In fact, I got my final agent rejection about three months after the book had been published–18 month after I had sent the letter!) I chronicle that journey to find an agent here on my website, in a section called “Essays on Writing.” When the book sold, it sold big. At a time in my life when things were going well—I was president of my own consulting firm—things were suddenly going very well. Warner Bros. bought the movie rights to NATHAN’S RUN two days after the first book rights were sold, and as of this date, the novel has been translated and published in one form or another in over 20 countries. I was an overnight success after a 38-year day.
Could you discuss the origin of Jonathan Grave?
I’ve only published one nonfiction book. It’s called SIX MINUTES TO FREEDOM (2006), and it chronicles the actions of an American expat in Panama during the final days of the Noriega regime. Kurt Muse was arrested as a political prisoner, his family had to flee the country, and he was rescued by Delta Force in the opening moments of Operation Just Cause, the US invasion of Panama in 1989. The research for that book gave me four years of extraordinary access to the Special Forces community. What I found was a cadre of gentlemen who were fundamentally gentle men–smart, funny family guys who happened collectively to be one of Uncle Sam’s deadliest weapons.
The rules of hostage rescue overseas are significantly different than they are here in the US. They involve swifter action that is less burdened with due process. Jonathan Grave, a former Delta operator, applies those rules here. The bottom line: it sucks to be a bad guy.
What sparked the idea for your fifth in the series, HIGH TREASON?
Like most of my ideas for stories, this one started as a what-if. Specifically, what if a member of the First Family was not all that she purported to be? In this case, Anna Darmond, First Lady of the United States, has a past that was deeply buried years ago by the Marshal’s Service, and replaced by a fictional past that everyone came to know during her husband’s election. Now that the truth is exposed, the stakes are huge. I thought that was a pretty cool premise.
You wrote a non-fiction book (SIX MINUTES TO FREEDOM). How did that come about, and how different was your writing process since you are considered a fiction writer?
I met Kurt Muse accidentally through a mutual friend, and instantly fell in love with his story. In fact, I was shocked that it hadn’t already been written. I found the process of writing the book very difficult. I am not a journalist, and I am not used to documenting my research and interviews in a form that is easy to reference. Consequently, I was horribly inefficient. It was not uncommon for me to have to interview people two or three times. Add to that the context that many of the interviews were given on the one condition that I not use the real identities of the people I was talking with, and it was kind of a nightmare. Ultimately, I’m very proud of the book, which is in reality a true-life thriller. On the downside, I think my lack of journalistic credits kept the book from being taken as seriously as it might have been.
Do you have any film or television news?
Yes. Well, maybe. But I can’t talk about it yet . . .
On October 1st, Kensington is publishing my first ever e-novella. It’s called SOFT TARGETS and the protagonist is Irene Rivers, who in the Grave novels is the director of the FBI. This is the story of how she and Jonathan Grave first came to work with each other. The project is interesting from several angles. First of all, I love the story, but secondly, this will be the first time I’ve ever published two books in the same year. Last but not least, I’m very intrigued by the possibility of using e-novellas as a way to reveal important facets of backstory for all of the players in Jonathan Grave’s universe.
HIGH TREASON is John Gilstrap’s tenth thriller. His previous books include Damage Control, Threat Warning, Hostage Zero, No Mercy, Six Minutes to Freedom, Scott Free, Even Steven, At All Costs, and Nathan’s Run. A safety and environmental expert and former firefighter, he is widely acknowledged as an expert on weapons and explosives— in fact, other thriller writers often turn to him for accuracy in such details. He teaches writing seminars at the Smithsonian, presents workshops at writers’ conferences, and has written screenplays for Hollywood’s top producers. His books have been translated into more than twenty languages. He lives in Fairfax, VA.
To learn more about John, please visit his website.