James Hannibal’s latest novel—CHASING THE WHITE LION—involves a clever premise that encourages the reader to pay close attention lest they miss a crucial piece of the story. But it isn’t difficult to keep up—the dialogue and plot are fast-paced and logical, while at the same time take on current events in a unique way.
When Talia, a CIA operative, decides to work outside the confines of her day job, she does so for altruistic reasons. To accomplish her goal, she joins a talented band of “commando-thieves” who are not cliché, but do seem a bit familiar, like people you’ve spent time with before and want to get to know better.
Hannibal’s apparent knowledge of cutting-edge technology is plausible—the spy tradecraft seems authentic and his knowledge of aeronautics is realistic. Though none of this should be a surprise given what he did for a living prior to becoming a novelist.
Hannibal graduated from the US Air Force Academy and has flown the A-10 Warthog, the MQ-1 Predator drone, and the top-secret B-2 Stealth Bomber. As a former tactical deception officer and pilot, he has been shot at, locked up with surface-to-air missiles, and chased down a winding German road by an armed terrorist.
His experiences as an author are also impressive. He is a two-time Silver Falchion Award winner for his Section 13 mysteries for kids and a Thriller Award nominee for his Nick Baron covert ops series for adults.
The exclusive interview with The Big Thrill gives us a deeper understanding of an American hero, who served his country and now enlightens and entertains us with his words.
During my research I discovered that you claim your writing has been influenced by Tom Clancy and C. S. Lewis (to name a couple). Could you please tell us how their writing has influenced you?
To me, the works of C. S. Lewis have a vibrancy rarely found anywhere else. His writing taught me the potential for beauty within an adventure tale. His works also taught me the value of communicating a message—a truth—through story, and that is what I hope to do through Talia Inger’s adventures with The Gryphon Heist and CHASING THE WHITE LION. I began reading Tom Clancy at the age of 12. Through his stories, I discovered my love for technology and spy stories. Tom’s work also helped me understand the art of weaving multiple plot threads together into a single, seamless tapestry.
Do your books have to be reviewed by the government to confirm you didn’t leak any secrets?
My first three books had to pass through a review process with Stealth Program Security. In fact, on the third book, there was a bit of a kerfuffle when the reviewing authority at Whiteman Air Force Base failed to coordinate with the office at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. The office at Wright-Patterson came after me, but we cleared it up. And we cleared it up quietly, because I have great respect for the process. That is a respect that runs both ways, which is part of the reason why they’ve now given me carte blanche for follow-on projects. I’m a free man. I no longer have to submit my work. However, if I screw up, I’m sure that will all change.
You’ve written for young people and adults. Which do you prefer? Is one more difficult to write for and if so, why?
I don’t have a preference between writing for kids or adults, and I’m still writing for both, working on two series at once. I do prefer school visits to doing speaking engagements with adults. Kids treat a visiting author like a movie star. Each age group has their nuances and challenges. I don’t believe an author should set out to write books “for all ages” or even “for men and women from 18 to 80.” One voice does not necessarily speak to all, and the attempt to do so may dilute the message. In the case of CHASING THE WHITE LION, I’m trying to communicate in my own way with the generation coming up behind mine—the generation taking over the world right now. I’m gratified to find fans in my own generation and in my parents’ generation, but part of the challenge of writing for adults is meeting specific groups where they’re at.
What made you decide to become an author?
I’ve always been a writer and storyteller. At age four I told my parents I wanted to write books. I had my first short story read over the radio at age 12. So becoming an author was never in question. But I needed to experience life first. At 17, I joined the Air Force through the Air Force Academy, and the military left little time for writing. But it built up my reserve of experiences. It built up my understanding of people, leadership, technology, and the good and evil in the world. All these things prepared me for the day I set out to write a book and find a publisher.
Why did you choose to write fiction instead of doing an autobiography about your own adventures?
For this question, I’ll refer you back to the question about my books having to be reviewed by the government. I can’t write my own adventures, because most of my own adventures are classified, and will still be classified after I die.
What do you think is the most important attribute for an author?
Resilience is by far the most important trait for an author. To survive and succeed in this industry you have to be able to take a beating. Every day, you have to get out of bed and keep pushing, keep trying. Every failure has to become a motivator rather than a setback.
As a man, do you find it difficult to write in the voice of a female protagonist?
Being a man writing a female protagonist is one of the topics that keeps me up at night. I’m extremely grateful for the response to The Gryphon Heist in this area. I’m grateful for my readers being open to a man writing the inner thoughts of a woman, and I’m grateful for their overwhelmingly positive feedback. That is not to say that I don’t have a ton of help. My wife reads every chapter I write the moment it’s finished, and she is not the least bit shy about executing her veto power. “Nope. That’s totally wrong. What were you thinking?” She keeps me straight. After her, the book goes to my amazing editorial staff at Revell, who are all women. I like being part of this team, and their guidance is the reason for Talia’s success.
James R. Hannibal is no stranger to secrets and adventure. A former stealth pilot from Houston, Texas, he has been shot at, locked up with surface-to-air missiles, and chased down a winding German road by an armed terrorist. He is a two-time Silver Falchion Award winner for his Section 13 mysteries for kids and a Thriller Award nominee for his Nick Baron covert ops series for adults. The author of The Gryphon Heist, James is a rare multisense synesthete, meaning all of his senses intersect. He sees and feels sounds and smells, and hears flashes of light. If he tells you the chocolate cake you offered smells blue and sticky, take it as a compliment.
To learn more about the author and his work, please visit his website.