Brad Thor, bestselling author of 13 military thrillers and an unabashed conservative, is currently touring the country to promote his latest: Act of War. I caught up with him to discuss the inspiration for the book — in promotional material, he mentioned his desire to explore the Marcus Luttrell tragedy — and to have him share his thoughts from the tip of the spear of the culture war.
Steinberg: You’re not overtly political in the book, you don’t refer to liberals or conservatives, the words “Democrat” and “Republican” don’t appear in the book, but you certainly come away with a strong message about which orientation has their facts right in terms of national security. Do you have a prime motivation of shaping the culture, or are you focused on writing excellent military thrillers?
Thor: Yes, it’s important that we start from the beginning, which is first and foremost that I am an entertainer, David. I would never open a deli that says no blacks, no Jews, no gays, no libertarians, no Republicans. I would never hang a sign on my business — I’m a small-business owner — that says this group is not invited. That’s number one.
Number two, do I have a particular view of the world, of what I think is successful and what history has proven successful? Yes, I do. I write political thrillers, so politics are part of the thrillers, and it just so happens that certain political parties have certain ideals. I’m not going to hide it — I’m a conservative through and through.
I’m in the business of making money, not necessarily statements, with the books. Can you find a particular point of view in certain characters in the books? Absolutely. Now those particular opinions matter in D.C., and those opinions are prevalent in the military and other spots in the intelligence world. The same problems we have battling liberal ideology in social media and the popular culture, that battle exists in the intelligence world, it exists in the military world. That is the great clash of ideas — what ideas are going to advance our republic. Is it liberalism, is it conservatism, is it something else?
I would be derelict in my duty of writing authentic political thrillers if I didn’t put those ideas on the field of battle, and allow everyone to sit back with me and watch how they play out.
Steinberg: The big reveals, the big plot turns in the book, you are pulling them precisely from present day news. Now, it’s not the Law and Order example, where they draw from some event that occured that isn’t necessarily political, and just go from there. What I see in Act of War is, you’re taking the news of the day, the policies of the current administration, and then you try to nail exactly how those policies are affecting national security personnel.
Thor: My job as a thriller writer is to beat the headlines.
I want you to read one of my books, and first and foremost be entertained, say “wow, that was a great thriller.” But I want you to close the book a little bit better informed, maybe with some questions of your own.
One of the nicest emails I get from readers is when someone says “wow, I read your thrillers with my laptop open” — I like to call my style “faction,” David — the nicest emails are when people say “I like to read your thrillers with my laptop open because I don’t know where the facts end and the fiction begins.”
Yes, it’s not Law and Order. I’m not taking a case that already happened. What I’m doing is looking at the state of affairs. I wrote this book over the last year, so I was sitting at my laptop back then, thinking: “Where are we going to be a year from now? How do I make this book as current as possible when it comes out? How do I write a book 12 months before it comes out and make sure that its current?”
So there’s a lot of trying to peer over the horizon and read the tea leaves. You know, I nailed the whole NSA thing before Snowden in my book Blacklist.
In my book The First Commandment, on page one, it’s not four high-value Guantanamo detainees we swapped, its not six, it’s five, exactly five, on page one of the First Commandment. (Ed. note: I checked up on this. Whoa.)
So I pride myself on being able to beat the headlines, and I do that by just being a voracious consumer of the culture, the news, I watch Washington. I’m saying to myself “history doesn’t repeat, but it rhymes,” and history is a good guide of where we’re headed because people ignore it.
Steinberg: If PJM readers aren’t familiar with your background: you’ve done precisely this in a more clandestine manner before, correct? You’ve worked with the Department of Homeland Security.