J.T. Brannan - Secret Agents, Politics and Lots of Action
When J.T. Brannan started writing a book about a "secret agent" doing a job for the US government, he had no idea that this was going to be the start of a bestselling series. Today, his Mark Cole books are extremely popular and Brannan a full-time writer (when he isn't teaching martial arts). As our Author of the Day, Brannan reveals how James Bond inspired his work, talks about his years in the Army and gives us a sneak peek in what he is working on right now.
Please give us an introduction to what Stop at Nothing is about
Mark Cole is a deniable operative who does work for the US government, ‘off the books’. But when he’s turned on by the powers that control him, he realizes that it’s not just him that’s in danger, but his entire family. And with the possibility of a new Cold War right around the corner, he’s faced with the choice of saving his country, or his family; and the novel is concerned with how he handles that choice.
Tell us about Mark Cole. How was his character conceived?
I’ve always loved James Bond, but I wondered how being married with children would affect a man like that, and it was these thoughts that led to me creating the character of Mark Cole.
Why did you pick a guy who is no longer in active service to be your main character?
When I was looking at things from the perspective of government intelligence and direct action missions, I realized that sometimes it would make sense for very sensitive jobs to be handled by people that couldn’t be connected to the government in any way. I wanted the character to be of the ‘secret agent’ types. I decided what better than a person who has left the military, been given a new identity, and no longer has anything to do with his country (at least as far as everyone else thinks)?
How much of your own experiences in the Army ended up in the book?
Not really anything directly, it is more the feelings and reactions associated with violent encounters that I’ve used from my own experience. I was a doorman (bouncer) for several years too, and again, I’ve drawn on that knowledge of how stress affects people and how they act.
Did you know right from the start that your Mark Cole books were going to be a series?
Not at first, but as the storyline unfolded and evolved, I started to think that maybe there was a lot more to Mark Cole than met the eye, and realized that he would be a great character to base a series around.
Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have?
I’ve been doing karate for twenty-eight years and am currently a fifth dan black belt.
Politics, greed and hunger for power are prominent themes in this book – why?
Well, I think that these are things that people like reading about; and I think people like reading about them because we can all see what a major factor these things are in the world, how they affect and shape the world we live in. Take the recent US election, and anti-globalization movements all around us, these are clearly issues that we are concerned with – the all-powerful, corrupt ‘establishment’, the inequity of the system, I think it all makes for an interesting and relevant background for fiction writing.
Say this book gets a movie adaptation, which actor would you like to see as Mark Cole?
I think Hugh Jackman would do a great job as Mark Cole.
Your book features a lot of high-tech equipment and weaponry. Why?
It’s an expected part of the genre in a way, people like reading about that sort of thing and it adds another element to the novel. And the military and intelligence services are always at the forefront of technological developments of course, so it makes sense to feature these elements in a novel like this.
Stop at Nothing also includes some incredible events, which readers find a bit hard to believe. Why did you take this approach?
When I read ‘action’ novels, I always think that the actual ‘action’ in them is a lot less exciting than how it is presented in movies; and I don’t think this should always be the case. It seems that we accept certain scenes in movies, which would never be written down on the page, and I wanted to change things a little in this respect. The action scenes in Stop At Nothing – and in most of my books, in fact – are therefore definitely more ‘James Bond movie’ than ‘John Le Carré novel’; I try and put a movie on the page, so readers can get the same sort of thrill.
How did you manage to keep readers at the edge of their seats throughout the book?
As well as what I hope are extremely exciting action scenes, I have structured the novel so that there is always something more to find out, something waiting to revealed, just around the corner, to encourage the reader to keep on turning those pages. A lot of it comes in the pre-writing phase, from the structure and planning of the story, deciding what to reveal, and when. Structuring a thriller is really important, and is often what everything else hangs on.
Do you have any interesting writing habits? What time of the day do you prefer? Do you work from notes? Do you have a favorite writing spot?
I tend to plan a great deal over the course of weeks and months, which is mostly done during the day. This consists of pages and pages of handwritten notes, scrawled throughout multiple notebooks. And then, when I am faced with a relatively short period of time to actually write, I will work late at night, when the words seem to flow much easier. Towards the end, I might work until 3 or 4 in the morning. I write anywhere, and have even written in the car while waiting to pick my kids up from one of their activities, but I prefer writing at home generally, where I sit at the dining table. Although sometimes it’s the sofa!
What are you working on right now?
I’m in the process of doing the final edit of my new psychological crime thriller, RED MOON RISING, before its release on April 6th. This is a new genre for me, so it will be interesting to see how it is received!
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
There’s my website, www.jtbrannan.com, and I also have a Facebook page (www.facebook.com/jtbrannanbooks) and Twitter feed (@JTBrannan_). There’s also my author page on Amazon. I’m always delighted to hear from readers!