By Dan Levy
Write what you know. The adage is likely as old as writing itself. But when you read a J. T. Patten spy thriller, you can rest assured he’s writing what he knows. His credentials are too long to list here, but check them out at www.JTPattenBooks.com. In fact, Patten’s first series, Safe Havens, combined both what and who Patten knows.
According to Patten, “It was written for an audience of soldiers who were deployed at the time to the Middle East. Traditional publishing thought it could be too dark for readers, and I was asked to write a new series that was a little more commercial, which is how Task Force Orange (TFO) emerged.”
THE PRESENCE OF EVIL is the second in the TFO series, which released on August 20, 2019.
The Big Thrill recently caught up with Patten to talk about his writing and this new spy thriller.
It seems like the spy thriller genre is crowded. How do you position yourself and the TFO series?
Among all the Navy SEALs, Delta Force, and CIA characters, mine heralds from a highly secretive special mission unit, formerly named the Intelligence Support Activity—or Task Force Orange. This is a real Joint Special Operations Command military entity that leverages high technology into its counterterrorism and intelligence man-hunting capabilities. It hits on a lot of current issues of perpetual surveillance, domestic targeting, and cyber advances to the battlespace.
How has your real-life experience helped with character development? Does it ever hinder you?
The biggest hindrance is getting hung up by three agencies that are required to review my work before it‘s released: CIA, NSA, and DoD. Antagonists are viewed a little more sympathetically. Under different “life” circumstances or different leaders, they may not be our enemy. From the protagonist standpoint, I am fully aware of some horrific acts that have been conducted under the banner of righteousness. As a result, most of my characters are shades of gray.
Your website seems to have a tone where you take your writing and experience, but maybe not yourself, seriously. Will your readers find this reflected in your characters and writing?
In the intelligence and ops support world, I had a great job, but I wasn’t a door kicker, nor was I a high-profile resource with any legendary clout. I see myself as just a fringe player in most things, which allows me a more laissez-faire attitude. I’m just a regular guy. The same holds true for my characters. They are playing a key role in the occurring events; however, in the grand scheme of things, they know they’re just cannon fodder.
What do you like about Drake Woolf, and what keeps him human?
Drake Woolf came to me one night as I put my son to bed. He’s a real loving and intelligent boy, and yet I knew that war could completely change his character. Once I started to develop what this would look like, I also added some layers of undetected mental instability that could further spiral such innocence down the drain. Drake stays human because, like most damaged souls, he’s still got that inner child somewhere down deep. He wishes for simpler times, unrealized dreams, and for things to go back to how they were when his family was closest and at their best.
Is there a scene or chapter in THE PRESENCE OF EVIL that stands out for you?
There is an ad-hoc interrogation scene that occurs. Even though the individual being interrogated is a deplorable human, the flashback of feeling the drowning sensation takes him back to a life event that hopefully evokes some empathy. At the same time, the interrogator is demonstrating a breakdown of ethical behavior.
What do you hope your readers will think or feel after reading THE PRESENCE OF EVIL?
A pet peeve of mine in reading military thrillers is political preaching. Anything I sneak into the books is a lever for someone to question their own position but not to sway them by my own beliefs.
Can you give us a hint about what you’re exploring in your next novel, The Q?
I think the keyword is “exploring.” The Q was originally supposed to be another story in the series but with a different title. I’m not sure that I am going that route again. Lately, I’ve gone back to my reading roots with Stephen King and Thomas Harris. The Q would be my sixth published book. It may be time to shake things up. I’m thinking of turning the military thriller on its head again and blowing some minds with the plot concept.
Considering the importance of good character development in any story, what’s one thing about you that people would be surprised to learn?
It isn’t uncommon for me to have tears streaming down my cheeks while I’m writing. I hate the feelings of distress and hopelessness that many of our shadow warriors experience. Because of this, I mourn the activities in my books page by page but can’t stop the ride so the characters can get off. I’m not letting them escape, and I’m going to do very bad things in their world. I feel very bad about it.
What’s one piece of advice that has served you well since you started writing fiction, and would you give that advice to today’s aspiring authors?
The now-deceased author Dalton Fury said to me, “Screw the publishers, agents, editors, and even readers. What we are offering the world in our fiction is a truth that most can’t stomach. Write it and don’t apologize for it.” Writing is very personal. It seems like the best advice is to write from your soul.
“J. T. Patten” has worked for the intelligence and special operations community in support of national defense and policy. He has a degree in foreign language, a masters in strategic intelligence, graduate studies in counter terrorism from the University of St. Andrews, and numerous expertise certifications in forensics, fraud, and financial crime investigations.
To learn more about the author and his work, please visit his website.