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As Real As It Gets

By Steve P. Vincent

U.S. Navy veterans and thriller authors Brian Andrews and Jeffrey Wilson followed the success of last year’s Tier One with WAR SHADOWS, the second thriller in the series. As a member of Ember, the most covert counter-terrorism entity in the United States, John Dempsey finds himself in a race against time to stop an attack from an old enemy.

Tell me a bit about the Tier One series, and what readers can expect to find in John Dempsey as a character?

BRIAN: To tell you who John Dempsey is, we first need to tell you who he is not. John Dempsey is not “the everyman” hero, but he’s not Superman either. He doesn’t have superpowers, use magic spells, or possess a supernatural mutation. John Dempsey is just a man, but a man of the highest possible caliber. He is a Tier One Navy SEAL—an operator, a patriot, and a member of an elite brotherhood. In his world, heroism is expected. In his world, country is always put ahead of self. And in his world, tragedy is unavoidable. To do his job requires a level of self-sacrifice—as well as mental & spiritual toughness—that few people will ever know. To understand him, you have to walk in his shoes, which is why we write his character using an intimate, and intimidatingly close, third person POV. After you’ve read the opening chapter of WAR SHADOWS, you will have felt like you’ve been on a mission with Dempsey. That’s as real as it gets.

JEFF: Like Brian said, we are always striving to make all our characters—but most especially John Dempsey—as real as possible. It’s our goal that readers leave each book feeling like they know him, and all the characters both protagonists and antagonists, even beyond what is written on the page. And as always, we hope that our friends from the communities we left in the Navy can read our work and say “yep, that’s exactly what I would have done.” All of the characters in the Tier One Series have become real to us, and we hope we do a good job of bringing them to life for everyone else.

What will readers love about WAR SHADOWS and what will keep them reading long after bedtime? 

JEFF: Well, the team at Ember is facing a new, and much more terrifying battle. This time, there are many innocent lives a stake, and if Dempsey can’t find a way to defeat an enemy who has eluded him for a decade, many Americans will die. Look for the team to come together, and for Dempsey to continue his evolution from a Tier One SEAL to a spy and so much more.

BRIAN: The goal with WAR SHADOWS was to write a military thriller with a level of action unlike anything else on the market—a novel with seven distinct counter-terrorism operations detailed in 200 pages of adrenaline-charged field operations. Dempsey and his team will be battling and pursuing their adversaries in the deserts of Iraq, the jungles of Guatemala, underground tunnels on the US-Mexico border, through suburban neighborhoods, and across multiple US cities. The climax pits Dempsey against a hated nemesis and concludes with Dempsey being forced to do the unimaginable… sorry, no spoilers. I’m biased of course, but I think this is one book readers will have trouble putting down at bedtime because the pace simply never lets up.

This novel is fascinating because it explores the interplay between white, gray and black operations aimed at stopping terrorism. How did you approach this unique perspective?

BRIAN: My co-author, who also happens to be a vascular surgeon, once asked, “What does stopping terrorism have in common with performing vascular surgery?” The answer: They both require you to get your hands bloody if you want to fix the problem. Appeasement didn’t stop Nazi aggression in World War II, and appeasement won’t contain terrorism. On the flip side, using barbaric tactics to combat a barbaric enemy is not a morally acceptable solution either. The answer lies somewhere in the middle, and the path to victory is grey and muddy and rife with pitfalls. The difference between a hero and a villain is that a hero resists the temptation to do what is expedient and self-serving regardless of the external pressure to do so. And a hero never assumes that the ends justify the means. With this approach, Dempsey is never a passive agent. Before every move he makes, he must consider both the moral and tactical implications. WAR SHADOWS is four hundred pages of grey… we’re looking forward to the reader reaction.

You’re both veterans of the U.S. Navy with a significant amount of experience to draw upon. How does this benefit your writing? Is there anything you need to watch out for?

JEFF: There is no question we draw very heavily on our personal experiences and on our ongoing relationships with men and women in the community. The benefit is obvious; we can write compelling characters that resonate as real people. The SEALs we have known and worked beside are just such people. They are ordinary people with extraordinary drive to do impossible tasks. They are fathers and husbands and friends and sons. We want our characters to be real in that way. But the down side is we must, and always do, protect at all costs and sensitive information our past lives have made us privy to. Our novels are pure fiction. While we strive to bring Dempsey and his team to life, we would never betray OPSEC in any way, because we take seriously our promise to protect that information and we have a commitment to our brothers and sisters still living on the pointy tip of the spear. Finding that balance can sometime be a challenge, but OPSEC always wins.

Many readers of The Big Thrill are interested in the craft of writing. Any reflections on the pros and cons of working with another writer? How do you make it work?

BRIAN: In my opinion, the pros of co-authoring far outweigh the cons. In fact, I can’t think of any negatives writing with Jeff. As Navy veterans, we both come from a professional background where teams are assigned to tackle incredibly complicated, difficult tasks—tasks that no single person could ever hope to accomplish alone. As co-authors, we pool our knowledge, we elevate our craft, we divide and conquer the work load, and we encourage and support each other when the mission gets difficult. The key to our method is frequent and regular dialogue and adhering to the philosophy that every novel is “our” novel. We don’t treat scenes as private fiefdoms, we don’t claim custody of characters, and we don’t claim credit for ideas. I couldn’t have written WAR SHADOWS without Jeff, and I reckon he couldn’t have written it without me. The story is uniquely an Andrews & Wilson creation… nuff said!

WAR SHADOWS is published by Thomas and Mercer and will be released on 21 February 2017. 


Brian Andrews is a US Navy veteran who served as an officer on a 688-class fast-attack submarine in the Pacific. He is a Park Leadership Fellow and holds a master’s degree in business from Cornell University. He is the author of the Think Tank series of thrillers (The Infiltration Game, The Calypso Directive). Born and raised in the Midwest, Andrews lives in Tornado Alley with his wife and three daughters.

Jeffrey Wilson has worked as an actor, firefighter, paramedic, jet pilot, and diving instructor, as well as a vascular and trauma surgeon. He served in the US Navy for fourteen years and made multiple deployments as a combat surgeon. He is the author of three award-winning supernatural thrillers: The Traiteur’s Ring, The Donors, and Fade to Black. He and his wife, Wendy, live in Southwest Florida with their four children.

Andrews and Wilson also co-author the Nick Foley Thriller series (Beijing Red, Hong Kong Black) under the pen name Alex Ryan.

Learn more about Brian and Jeff on their website.

Steve Vincent
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