By P. J. Bodnar
TRUE BELIEVER, the follow-up novel to Jack Carr’s award-nominated debut, Terminal List, begins with the protagonist, James Reece, at his lowest—he’s lost his family, his health, his county. Everything.
So how does one carry on and push forward after that kind of tragedy—and does this make Reece a hero or a fanatic?
“Those are exactly the questions I’m exploring through what I like to call a story of violent redemption in True Believer,” Carr says. “James Reece needs to learn to live again. He needs a mission. He needs purpose. Finding that purpose will determine whether he lives or dies. As far as being a hero or fanatic, that will be up to the reader to decide.”
Currently working on editing the third Jack Reece novel and planning his fourth, Carr took a moment to talk to The Big Thrill about his thrilling new release.
Your mother was, and still is, a librarian, so you grew up around books, and you became the real-life version of the heroes in those books. How did you make the transition to writing?
I always knew that after my time in service I would set my sights on becoming an author and write the kind of books I loved to read growing up. Some of my fondest memories include disappearing into the pages of books by Tom Clancy, David Morrell, Nelson DeMille, J. C. Pollock, Louis L’Amour, Mark Olden, and A. J. Quinnell. They became my first professors in the art of storytelling. That foundation as a reader and student of the genre, along with my professional study of warfare, terrorism, and insurgencies, and my personal experiences on the modern battlefield as a SEAL sniper after 9/11, have given me a depth and background I can now apply to my writing. I feel like I’ve been training for this next chapter in life since my earliest days.
You’ve said that you can trace your life by the novels you were reading at the various stages of your life. What are you reading now?
I’m in a sprint to finish the rough draft of book three but I have a stack of books waiting for me as soon as I send it off to my editor—No Beast So Fierce by Dane Huckelbridge, Writer, Sailor, Soldier, Spy by Nicholas Reynolds, Backlash by Brad Thor, The New Girl by Daniel Silva, and Red Metal by Mark Greaney and Rip Rawlings, are all patiently waiting on my bedside table.
Living a purposeful life, like those at the tip of the spear, you depended not only on yourself but on a team. Who is your team now?
My family, my friends, and the amazing people at Emily Bestler Books/Atria/Simon & Schuster.
It’s been quoted that there are “only two basic stories in the entire world: the hero’s journey, and a stranger walks into town.” What drew you to the hero’s journey?
In high school, my mother introduced me to Joseph Campbell though a series of interviews he did with Bill Moyers on PBS called The Power of Myth. This led me to a book of the same name based on the documentary and to his seminal work, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, which details similarities in the hero’s journey across cultures. I was fascinated with Campbell and his work and the themes he highlighted, which I recognized in my favorite books and films. He was such an early influence I think it’s safe to say that all of my writing will trace certain elements back to his scholarship.
What can you tell us about your book that we won’t find in the jacket copy or the PR material?
There is a minor character from The Terminal List who becomes very significant in TRUE BELIEVER. His son has a genetic disorder, the same genetic disorder that affects my son in real life. It was something I didn’t expect to explore in this novel, but it naturally fit into the storyline and because of my personal experience raising a special needs child, the emotions attached to that part of the plot come from my heart.
Reece talks about having a purpose after leaving the service. Have you found your purpose since leaving The Team?
That’s one of the hardest parts of leaving the close-knit world of special operations; finding purpose. I was fortunate in that I knew exactly what I wanted to do next—I wanted to write. Taking care of my family gives me purpose and writing thrillers is a calling in the same way that serving in the military was a calling. I feel extremely fortunate.
The book is divided into three sections—Escape, Transition, and Redemption. Are these the basic themes of a hero?
Not exactly. The hero’s journey is more layered but certainly shares similar characteristics across cultures. In writing these novels, I’m aware of these stages and consciously work them into the framework of the modern political thriller. The challenge becomes working on individual novels with their own themes and journeys into an overarching longer term journey that will span an entire series. It’s a construct I love to think about and explore.
Reece talks about perishable skills. Do you think writing is one of them?
On the battlefield if you stagnate and get complacent, you die. My goal with everything I pursue in life is to devote the time, energy, and effort toward the journey in a way that will allow for marked improvement. I have always loved reading and writing and will continue to hone my craft as I move forward. That’s what life is all about.
How was the process of writing your second novel compared to the first?
I started writing TRUE BELIEVER soon after I retired from the military in 2016, before I had even submitted The Terminal List to the publisher. I started writing it while I was still finishing up edits on the first novel prior to submission because I knew that I would always write at least two books. I went to Mozambique where I researched the first part of TRUE BELIEVER where James Reece learns to live. There are too many instances where authors’ first works don’t hit but they keep going. If John Grisham had stopped after writing A Time To Kill, we would never have had the pleasure of reading The Firm, The Pelican Brief, or The Client, and he’d still be practicing law.
Because I started writing TRUE BELIEVER so long ago, it’s really this third novel where I’m on the “one book a year” deadline for the first time. I started it while I was finishing up the edits on TRUE BELIEVER and now I’m about to start outlining book four while beginning to edit book three. Process-wise it means I need to get much more disciplined in scheduling my day. I love every second.
What happens when a true believer doesn’t see the difference between winning and dying?
You get an ideology of terror that will not be defeated on the battlefield.
Jack Carr is a former Navy SEAL who led special operations teams as a Team Leader, Platoon Commander, Troop Commander, and Task Unit Commander. Over his twenty years in Naval Special Warfare he transitioned from an enlisted SEAL sniper to a junior officer leading assault and sniper teams in Iraq and Afghanistan, to a platoon commander practicing counterinsurgency in the southern Philippines, to commanding a Special Operations Task Unit in the most Iranian influenced section of southern Iraq throughout the tumultuous drawdown of US Forces. Jack retired from active duty in 2016 and lives with his wife and three children in Park City, Utah. He is the author of The Terminal List and True Believer.
To learn more about Jack and his work, please visit his website and follow along on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook at @JackCarrUSA.