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The Atlas Society Asks Jack Carr Transcript

The Atlas Society Asks Jack Carr Transcript

March 6, 2024

Jack Carr is a #1 New York Times bestselling author and a former Navy SEAL sniper, with his The Terminal List series having been adapted as an Amazon video series starring Chris Pratt. Carr is also the host of the Danger Close Podcast, where he interviews former soldiers, tactical experts, and fellow authors about books, real-world conflicts, and more. He joined CEO Jennifer Grossman, on July 12, 2022 to discuss his journey as a writer, the inspiration behind his books, and his appreciation for Ayn Rand’s literature. Watch the entire interview HERE or check the transcript below.

JAG: Jennifer Anju Grossman

JC: Jack Carr

JAG: Hello everyone. And welcome to the 112th episode of The Atlas Society Asks…So my guest Jack Carr is, of course, the number one New York Times bestselling author of The Terminal List series. The hero of the series, James Reece, is a former Navy SEAL battling corrupt forces within the military-industrial complex.  The title book of the series was optioned, I believe pre-publication, by actor Chris Pratt, who stars in the recent release on Amazon Prime, where the series is now number one on their chart. The fifth book in the series, In The Blood, is a high-octane thriller of targeted assassinations and revenge killings. Or as the author describes it, a novel of violent resolutions. 

JAG: Jack Carr spent two decades in Naval Special Warfare serving as an enlisted SEAL sniper, leading assault and sniper teams in Iraq and Afghanistan, commanding counterinsurgency operations in the Philippines. And as a Special Operations Task Unit commander against Iranian infiltration of Southern Iraq, that experience is part of what makes his fiction so believable and so immersive. It also inspired his Danger Close podcast where he interviews former soldiers, tactical experts, and fellow authors about books, real world conflicts and more. Jack Carr, thanks again for joining us.  

JC: Oh, thank you so much. I’ve been so looking forward to this.  Any excuse to talk about Ayn Rand or think about her influence on me or the world is always fun.  

JAG: So yes, you know people sometimes ask for the motivation of what I do at The Atlas Society. In part I feel like it's the justice of repaying a debt, that reading her gave so much to me personally, helped me get through tough times and really kind of gave me a certain immunity from so many of the viruses that are going around, you know, the envy, the resentment, the relativiSM. So, I want to try to continue on that service by helping other people gain access to her ideas. So, first, congratulations on your phenomenal success. I became hooked on your novels long before I learned that we shared an admiration for the works of Ayn Rand, but now it all begins to make sense. And on her birthday last year, you wrote : “Her work continues to influence how I live and write today.”  

JAG: Thinking about you and thinking about her, I also think the two of you share some similarities. She decided that she wanted to become a writer at nine years old. You decided you wanted to become a SEAL at seven. Both of your fictional works have been wildly popular with audiences while sometimes getting some pretty withering reviews from the critics. So, I'd like to look at these two similarities in turn. First, how you came to choose your path at such a young age, and then turn to this dichotomy between how popular audiences and critics have responded to your work and what you might think could be behind that.  

I can't really imagine a life without having read Ayn Rand's work, thought about it, and internalized it. It would be a much darker place had I not discovered her early on and not just for the way that I try to live my life or think things through or apply logic to certain scenarios or issues or whatever it might be.

JC: Oh, absolutely. And like you said, I can't really imagine a life without having read Ayn Rand's work, thought about it, and internalized it. It would be a much darker place had I not discovered her early on and not just for the way that I try to live my life or think things through or apply logic to certain scenarios or issues or whatever it might be, but from a leadership perspective as well in the SEAL teams and being able to lead in a way that, well, every day you're trying to be a better leader, a better operator, but part of that is thinking logically for your guys because you're focused on a very specific skill set in the SEAL teams and you make up this team together and there's some crossover there, you're adapting as you go down range, and the enemy is doing that.  

JC: It's very fast paced. But, sometimes you have to take a step back, take that breath, look around, make a call, but also be able to apply logic, whether it's to a targeting type of a scenario, a mission planning type of a scenario, or you're out there actually on the ground and bullets are flying. And I really do think that Ayn Rand and her work helped form a foundation for me for most of life. But, I was lucky. I knew what I wanted to do from a very early age. And a lot of that was just innate in that I felt this draw to serve. My grandfather was killed in World War II. So, I grew up with the silk maps they used to give aviators back then. Because if you got a paper map and you hit the water, it would disintegrate, but a silk map just got wet. You could still use it. 

I remember going down to the library to do some research with my mom. She was a librarian, still is a librarian. We grew up with this love of reading and books everywhere, and she'd take every opportunity she could to get us to the library and teach us how to research.  

JC: You could still use it. I saw pictures of him and his squadron (he was a Corsair pilot, which was the plane that had the gold wings that would fold up to fit them on aircraft carriers), his medals, his wings, those sorts of things. So, I knew that I was going to follow in his footsteps linto the military but I didn't know exactly what I was going to do until I was at the ripe old age of seven. And that's when I found out about SEALs. I remember going down to the library to do some research with my mom. She was a librarian, still is a librarian. We grew up with this love of reading and books everywhere, and she'd take every opportunity she could to get us to the library and teach us how to research.  

JC: Before the internet,  that was the internet of the day, I guess. And going down to the library, looking up what SEALs were, finding out about the underwater demolition teams, Scouts and Raiders, and you could pretty much read everything written about Naval Special Warfare back in the early eighties in about an hour, maybe an hour and a half, if you're a slow reader, because there wasn't that much written back then. But, I remember the takeaways being hey, these guys are some of the most elite special operators in the world and the training is some of the toughest ever devised by the modern military. So, at age seven I was in. But, like I said, you could exhaust everything written about special operations fairly quickly back in the early eighties.  

JC: When I hit about 10, then I started reading the books that my parents were reading. That's when Hunt for Red October came out. Certainly by age 11, by sixth grade, I was reading the same types of books my parents were reading, and then finding other similar authors in that genre that I was drawn to. So, I was reading books by David Morrell who created Rambo back in 1972 with First Blood, a book that's never been out of print over the last 50 years, reading Nelson DeMille, A.J. Cornell, J.C. Pollock, Marc Olden, Stephen Hunter, all these guys who typically in the eighties, early nineties had protagonists with backgrounds that I wanted in real life one day. So, it was like a Marine sniper with Vietnam experience, Navy SEAL and Vietnam Army Special forces, CIA paramilitary in Vietnam. But, that was for those who remember the quintessential eighties action hero, whether it was on TV, movies or in a book that was kind of the background.  

JC: So, I thought, you know, guys like David Morell and Nelson DeMille and A.J. Quinnell, these guys, they must have done some research into the backgrounds of these characters. For me, it was a bit of research into what I was going to do later in life. But, at the same time I was enjoying this reading experience, this magic in these pages. And I didn't realize it, but I was really giving myself an early education in the art of storytelling. I was building this foundation upon which I continue to build today. And there was magic in those pages. There was that intangible that you can't really put your finger on, regardless of how many books on how to do something or how to write that you read, and that's heart. And that's really what differentiates just a book or a good book from a great book.  

JC: And you can't know, who knows what that is, but it's this and it's heart. Then also, my mom introduced me to Joseph Campbell through The Hero with a Thousand Faces. It was in 1988, because  that's when Bill Moyers did his interviews with Joseph Campbell called The Power of Myth. I think three books came out of those interviews. I was enthralled because, of course, Joseph Campbell influenced George Lucas for Star Wars. And as a little kid, I was like, oh, this is amazing. And then even though I didn't realize it, I read the book I've read a few times now, but, looking at things, stories that I would read, movies that I would watch, television shows through that lens of the hero's journey. So, that was influential as well because I didn't wake up one day as I was leaving the SEAL teams in my early forties and say, what should I have been reading for the last 30-plus years?  

JC: If I want to be a novelist, if I want to write these kinds of thrillers, oh, let me write now, let me go and read those because there's so many distractions today. We have responsibilities obviously.  But, then also I would've been reading those books through this lens with all sorts of filters that have built up over these years. And it wouldn't have been that magic that an 11-year-old, 12-year-old, 13-year-old, 14-year-old gets from reading these books, and the times that they're written, there was just something special about that. So, I always knew that after my time in the military, specifically as a SEAL, that I would write. So, I had this foundation now of reading. I had this Joseph Campbell influence early on. I'm studying warfare terrorism, insurgencies, counterinsurgencies, even as a young kid. I continued to do that, and then joined the military, became a SEAL, and September 11th happened.  

JC: And now, I have this real world experience in Iraq and Afghanistan. So, all those things came together at the right time and place during my last year in the military, as I'm getting out, and I decide to start writing this book and going after this next dream.  But, all those things came together at the right time and place to inform the novel. And when I started, I thought, oh, I'll get things like sniper rifles and calibers right. And that sort of thing. I didn't realize how much of a personal writing experience it was going to be, not even when I came up with the idea or the title or the one-page executive summary, not even the outline, but when I started to turn that outline into the actual narrative and started to type that's when I realized, hey, this is going to be very personal.  

So if James Reece, my main character, gets ambushed in Los Angeles, California.  Well, I think back to what it was like to be ambushed in Baghdad, Iraq in 2006, and then I apply those feelings and emotions directly to the novel.

JC: And I think that's what made it resonate with Simon and Schuster and with readers, that even though it's a fictional narrative, the feelings and emotions that the protagonist feels are things that I felt at some point in real life. So if James Reece, my main character, gets ambushed in Los Angeles, California.  Well, I think back to what it was like to be ambushed in Baghdad, Iraq in 2006, and then I apply those feelings and emotions directly to the novel. I don't have to go out and find someone in the military who was in an ambush, interview them, put that through these different filters of maybe other interviews I've conducted, other interviews I've read, books I've read, movies I've seen, preconceived notions I may have, and then put it into a novel. No, it all comes directly right from my heart and soul directly onto that page. So, I think that really made it stand out, but that was a very long way of answering it.  

JAG: Well, and you've talked about the writing process of The Terminal List as being a therapeutic experience for you. Perhaps you can speak to that personally in terms of your own experience (were there things that were building up that were frustrating?), and do you think it may also explain why it could be a therapeutic experience for the reader as well, because again, as you've got this wild popularity, it's just on every single bestseller list, and then you've got kind of the critical response, again, that Ayn Rand experienced, that same thing. Do you think that there's a feeling among people today, whether it's just frustration or powerlessness or that there's a lack of accountability, and that your hero is, of course, bringing radical accountability  to those abusing their power.  

JC: Yes, I think that's something that always stood out to me growing up and reading these novels, the conspiracy side of the house, of course, the underdog that has powerful forces aligned against him and having to adapt and figure things out on the fly, unravel a conspiracy, and then go hold people accountable. I loved that growing up. So, I always knew I'd write something along those lines and that my first novel would be about revenge without constraint. I also remember, growing up in the eighties, since we're talking about it, and you have the voiceovers before movies, and you're sitting there in the previews, and there was a movie about revenge or something like that. The voiceover guy in that voice that we remember from the eighties would always say he had nothing left to lose. And I always remember thinking, well, he could lose his life, <laugh>, you know, he could, there were things that he could lose. He could go to jail forever.  

JAG: Oh, right.  

How do I really make somebody have something left to lose? And I thought back to the Samurai in Japan and the code of Bushido, and how they would go into battle thinking they were already dead because that made them more effective and efficient warriors. And I thought, well, how do I apply that to a modern-day warrior?

JC: Right. Things. So, when I sat down to write, I said, well, how do I take that away? That thing that always stood out to me as not being really true to what I was going to watch. I had watched the whole movie, how do I remove that? How do I really make somebody have something left to lose? And I thought back to the Samurai in Japan and the code of Bushido, and how they would go into battle thinking they were already dead because that made them more effective and efficient warriors. And I thought, well, how do I apply that to a modern-day warrior? And I was reading about the Church hearings in the seventies and these different abuses by certain institutions of the federal government, particularly the CIA. Things they'd done in the fifties and sixties and seventies that came to light through the Church hearings.  Frank Church of Idaho, chaired.

JC: And there were some medical experiments that had gone on against or unbeknownst to these college students, prisoners, mental institution patients, members of the military. So, I thought, okay, well, this is how I get him to really have nothing left to lose. He has the skill set, he's been studying warfare his entire life. He's been to Iraq and Afghanistan, and now I really need to make him have nothing left to lose. That's where this testing of drugs on our nation's most elite soldiers comes into play that gives them brain tumors. So, he thinks he's dying, and that frees him up to hold these people accountable, and at a little deeper level, it's really about somebody who becomes the insurgent that he's been fighting for at that time, the last 16 years at war now, it would be 20, and brings that war home to the front doors of people who have been sending young women to their deaths for 20 years now, so you can read it on a few different levels, but holding people accountable at these higher levels definitely plays into most of my novels.  

JC: And because of this experience, I think it's not that I liked that theme—and I did, but also I got to experience it as did most of the country as we watched senior-level military officers fail upwards over the last 20 years. There's a great book called The Afghanistan Papers by Craig Whitlock, where he juxtaposes these conversations and recordings of interviews that these military leaders had when they came back from, in this case particularly, Afghanistan that they thought was going to remain classified. Then he juxtaposed that there were a couple of Freedom of Information Act lawsuits by The Washington Post. You can access them now, but what he does is he juxtaposes those with what they were saying to Congress, and by default, to the American people and their troops, and they're 180 out from one another and all of these senior-level military leaders, these generals and admirals, they all failed upward. And then what did they do after they got out?  Well, they sat on boards of companies connected to the military in the defense industry. So, you see that happening. The military-industrial complex is a real thing. So, my character, James Reece, gets to go in and hold them accountable in a fictional sense, which is wonderful because it also keeps me out of prison.  

JAG: <laugh> All right, well, we are going to be taking some audience questions soon. I haven't even peeked at them, but I understand there are going to be quite a few. But, I still have quite a few questions of my own. And again, going back to those similarities between your work and Rand's work, one thing I observed is that you have real heroes, and you have real villains, right? That you're writing about fantastic things that are happening, people doing extraordinary feats. And so, I wonder, if that kind of contrasts, or if that was conscious, sort of a pushback against the antihero, that's become very popular in some literary fiction.  

JC: Yes. The antihero is interesting because if any hero is dark, they just get labeled as an antihero. That's the easy default. People don't really think about what it actually means. There is a shift that you can see, particularly in film, when you're talking about an actual antihero, but in this case, and some people have labeled James Reece that, I think that's not quite right. And it's just, they just do it because, yes, there's darkness in the story and he essentially goes dark to do these things that he needs to do. So, I get that people have labeled him an antihero, but I've never seen him like that. I definitely don't see him like that. I definitely see him, if you have to have a hero on a hero's journey, as someone who was on that journey, but he's a reluctant hero.  

JC: He didn't ask to do this. In fact, he was serving his country and then got thrown into this conspiracy that killed his troop, his SEAL troop down range. In the book it's in Afghanistan and the series on Amazon Prime puts it in Syria to make it a little more relevant today since we're out of Afghanistan. He happens to have this skill set that allows him to go do these things. So, sometimes when I read books or see movies, just because of my experience over the last 20 years doing what I did, and they try to make the everyman hero, I'm kind of like, eh, but he didn't really train for any of this. You're going to fall to the level of your training under stress. And yes, this guy has that skill set and he can flip that switch.  

JC: But I also wanted to make him relatable. I wanted to make him somebody who you'd want to have a beer with, want to have a coffee with, but who could flip that switch and get the job done. So, I've never seen him as an antihero, it's always been as a hero. He's going to avenge the deaths of his troop and his family, and he's freed up to do so from normal societal constraints that may be in place, even if those things happened. But, if you don't think you're already dying and you're not on the clock and every second doesn't count, well maybe you're going to think, what if I live another 30 years or 40 years, and that I'm going to live in prison, or I'm going to be put in some gas chamber, whatever it is, the electric chair, or whatever. Well, he's freed from all of that. He doesn't have to spend one second thinking about that. All he needs to do is unravel this conspiracy, put that list together, and start crossing people off the list in very creative ways. So, yes indeed, it's very therapeutic on a few different levels.  

JAG: Yes, and I highly recommend people that are currently watching the series go back and read the books. I highly recommend the Audible version. and I'd love to learn a little bit about your narrator. How did you find him? He’s fantastic. 

JC: Yes, he is amazing, but also I want to mention my favorite chapter before I get to Ray. My favorite chapter that I've written thus far, as in my last book, and there's no tomahawks flying or knife fights or sniper shots, or things blowing up. It's a conversation between my character, James Reece, and the matriarch of the Hastings family and it's his friend's family. So, they're different generations. And she comes down to this cabin that Reece is living in, and they have a conversation. It’s my favorite chapter that I've ever written because it really introduces this theme of forgiveness and the power of forgiveness, and what that really illustrates is that Reece is on this journey. Like we all are, and hopefully he's learning from his successes and more importantly failures.  

JC: As he moves along this path, he's asking questions and hopefully applying lessons learned from past experiences towards the future, in the form of wisdom. And I think other than the feelings and emotions we talked about earlier, what has also made this series stand out is that he's on this journey. It's not the same person that you just pick up, and okay, now he's going to save the world from a nuclear explosion. Okay. Now he's going to save the world from a bioweapon. Now he's going to . . ., and then . . ., and he's not the same person in each book. He is evolving. And I think people recognize that he's on a journey as we are. So, every single person that picks up this book or listens to it is on that journey with James Reece, but they recognize that they're on a journey as well.  

JC: So, they have that in common with him because we all have that in common, regardless of party affiliation or politics or whatever, we're all on this journey going forward. So, I think that really makes him stand out, differentiates him a little bit from maybe some other characters that are out there in the genre. But, on to your question about Ray Porter. I'm not an Audible person. I have to have a physical book. I grew up that way. I love a physical book. Simon and Schuster, before the novel came out back in 2018, emailed me and said “Hey, how does this person sound for your narrator?”  I clicked on it and I listened. And I was like, oh, he sounds way too old. Sounds kind of like Santa Claus is what I remember thinking.  

JC: And I wrote back, because I'm a new guy. I have not sold one book. I'm not coming from politics or sports. I have zero following. I just created a social media account two weeks before.  And I said, well yes, it's okay, but can I choose somebody else? And they said, yes, just let us know by the end of the day. And for those in New York publishing circles, you know that weekends and the end of the day are taken very seriously. So, I looked at my watch. I'm like, oh, geez, I better get on this. So, I started listening to samples on Audible and I came across Ray Porter, and I think I came across him first in a nonfiction book that he was narrating. But then, I started listening to other things by Ray Porter and I thought, oh, wow, this is the guy.  

JC: He can pull this off. And I had no idea that he was at the top of the pyramid as far as narrators go and that he had a whole fan base; I had no idea. I just liked the voice. I wrote back and said, how about Ray Porter? And they said, well, we can ask him. And, of course, what they're thinking is, yes, he's at the top, you're totally unknown. He's not going to say yes to this. We'll ask him. And he said, yes. Then it ended up being up for the Audible audiobook of the year, it was up there with Steven King and Ruth Ware. We went to New York and put on the tux and got to hang out together. And now we're dear friends. So, he's just amazing. And he brought a whole fan base to the book that I didn't really know existed. People follow the narrator around to different projects. I had no idea, but now I do. So, that was where I chose wisely, but just based on the sound of his voice.  

JAG: Yes. We've got a ton of questions. So I’m going to get started with some of those from our audiences. Robert Bidinotto says: first priority, thank you, sir, for everything you've done for your country, we are grateful. And then, he has a writer's question as he is also a writer.  He says, you clearly are a methodical thinker. Are you a methodical writer, too? Are you a plotter or pantser?  

JC: I am a plotter and I like to know where I'm going. So my book is a process, and it's been this way for all the books thus far including the sixth book that I'm working on right now. First, I write this one-page executive summary, and then I ask myself two questions. I read it. And I say, is this worth one year of my life? And if the answer is, yes, I read it again like it would be on a jacket or on the inside flat of the book. And I read it again and I say, is this worth someone else's time? Is it going to add value to their life? Knowing that they're never going to get the time back that they spend in these pages or spend listening to it, if it's an audiobook. Is it going to add value to their life?  

JC: Will they pick up this book and read it and will they listen to it? If the answer to that is yes or, at least, I think so, then that's my project for the next year. So, I take that one-page executive summary, and pretty much by that point, I have a theme, but I'll make sure that that is broken out into a one-sentence theme, maybe a two-sentence theme these days. Then I have a title, even if it's a working title, because I don't want to have any bandwidth wasted on worrying about coming up with a good title. I just want all my energy and effort to go into making it the best book it can possibly be and not have this lingering little thing here. It's like, you better come up with a good title.  

JC: They've all been good so far. So, I have a title, I have about a one-sentence theme. Let's keep me on track. I have this one-page executive summary, and then I turn that one-page executive summary into an outline. The key to the outline for me anyway, and everybody has a different process, is that if I come to a point where I can't figure something out or I'm like, oh, geez, how is he ever going to get out of this? Or, oh boy, I don't know if I set this up well enough or if people are going to go along with it, or I go around it. I put a bunch of Xs right there and I just keep going because I know I have a year to do this. So, over the course of that year, I am confident that whatever question I had, whatever problem I needed to solve, I can solve because it's not the battlefield, there's not bullets flying, but I'm going to do similar things.  

Not the same stakes as being down range with the guys and having to make a decision under fire.  But, it is similar because you're problem-solving, and I'm aggressively problem-solving down range and I'm aggressively problem-solving on the page.

JC: I'm going to capitalize on momentum. I'm going to look for gaps in the enemy's defenses. I'm going to adapt. And I'm going to apply all that to this problem set, which is now on the written page. So, if I mess it up, I can fix it tomorrow.  Not the same stakes as being down range with the guys and having to make a decision under fire.  But, it is similar because you're problem-solving, and I'm aggressively problem-solving down range and I'm aggressively problem-solving on the page. But you know what, I can sleep on it and I can come back to it and I can edit it. So, that's typically how I go through the outline. I don't let it trip me up. Same thing as I turn that into the narrative, if I still haven't figured out when I get to that part, well it's Deus Ex and I'll come back to it because I know as I continue working, I will figure it out. So, that's been the process thus far, and yes, including this one that I'm working on right now.  

JAG: Fascinating. All right. We're getting some questions about current events.  Jacob Patfield on Zoom asks, do you think wokeness in the military is an actual problem? Yes. Is it? I mean there are some people who will say it's demoralizing and it's distracting and say it's contributing to the difficulty in meeting recruitment quotas, but those people aren't you.  

JC: Yes, I would say anything that is not focused on preparing the troops for war is wasted time. That's kind of what I think of the wokeness. Of course, you get senior-level military people who I know come to it from a little bit of an elitist standpoint, perhaps, and maybe a little more of a political standpoint because as I talk about in my novels, not all the time, but sometimes when you hit certain ranks you're thinking about making that next one. And then when you get even higher up, you're thinking about where you're going to go after that and what boards you're going to sit on and actions you can take today to set you up for the future. That's a real thing, and in the military, as horrible as it is to say, as long as you don't pop positive on a drug test or get a DUI or too many DUIs, maybe.  

Anything that is not directly preparing us or indirectly preparing us for war and making us a more effective and efficient fighting force doesn't belong in the military. It is definitely a distraction.

JC: And don't go to jail for some sort of spousal abuse or something like that. If you don't do those three things, you can stay in the military for a long time just being very, very average. A lot of the people that notice that, they get out along the way and go do other things more entrepreneurial in nature a lot of times, so I think that anything that is not directly preparing us or indirectly preparing us for war and making us a more effective and efficient fighting force doesn't belong in the military. It is definitely a distraction.  

JAG: Okay. Back to writing. Guardian Gamer on YouTube asks, do you ever run into writer's block and how do you overcome that?  

JC: I don't, and I don't have time for writer's block. Maybe someday I will, but not right now, there is too much going on and, you know, you can almost read about how to do something too much, because  there's so much information out there these days, particularly online, but  there's some books I read On Writing by Stephen King, of course, which is essentially an autobiography of Stephen King. A Successful Novelist by David Morell on the first five pages. So there's a couple things that I read, but then I read a series of books on creativity by Steven Pressfield and the first one is called The War of Art. and the others are The Authentic Swing, Turning Pro, Do The Work.  They're fantastic. They're very quick reads and  actually, yes, he's out there.  

JC: He lives out there in California. So, even Pressfield, now we're friends. He's an amazing guy, but in one of those books, he talks about that. He talks about how you've never heard about a truck driver having trucker’s block or a dentist having dentist’s block. You're a professional, you're a writer, you sit down and write. And for whatever reason, that was very freeing for me to read that from somebody like him. So, that along with doing the work, just sitting down and doing it, those two things were probably some of the best pieces of advice that I had going into this. But, yes, I don't have writer's block. And I always think about those words from Steven Pressfield, and it's so true, you're a professional.  

JC: If you're a professional, you think of yourself as a professional, which I did, as soon as I left the military. I was a professional special operator one day. And then the next day I thought of myself as a professional writer, even though I had had nothing published, I had not sent my first book to Simon and Schuster yet. And I was already on my way to Africa to research my second novel, True Believer. I hadn't been to Mozambique and I knew I needed to go there. I'd been to Ukraine and I'd been to Morocco, which are two important places in my second novel. I'd been there in the past, but I hadn't been to Mozambique. So, I went over there for a couple of weeks, put boots on the ground, learned so much about what was going on over there, and put that local flavor into the novel.  

JC: I mentioned that because on the way in, on that customs form, it says occupation and I wrote down writer or author. I have to go back to the cloud and find the picture because I took a picture of it. But, the point was that I already thought of myself as a professional writer, even though I had nothing published yet. And I wouldn't send the book to Simon and Schuster until I got back from that trip. So, I think it's a lot of that mindset, and just don't let that writer's block creep in.  

JAG: Fascinating. So, you mentioned having read Stephenen King's book On Writing, which, of course, was a kind of a memoir. Did you happen to read Ayn Rand on fiction?  

JC: No, I haven't, so I need to read it, and I got it not too long ago, maybe a year or two ago. But, I have not read it yet.   

JAG: Well, it's very interesting because it's also a fun way to experience some of the novels that she chooses as sort of case studies, if you will. There’s Gone With The Wind and Thornbirds. So, yes, it would be interesting.  

JC: You've inspired me to go back to it. Yes. These days I'm just going a thousand miles an hour. I know time.  

JAG: That's why I was like, oh my God. he's actually said, yes, we're going to have him as a guest. 

JC: Oh, absolutely. Yes. Any chance to get to talk to you about these things, I love it.  I need to go read that, but I heard Lee Child who recently retired from writing, (he wrote the Jack Reacher series and his brother has taken over the series now), and he was in an interview and somebody asked him what he's looking forward to most about retirement. He said, “I'm looking forward to reading for fun.” And I thought about that; yes, that's true. Because everything that I do now really is focused on research for the novels. I don't sit down anymore and just put my feet up in a lawn chair or a hammock and just read for fun. I have a few years to go until I can do that, I think, but that's what he is talking about. Same thing with this book here, it's been sitting on my shelf. So, I actually need to read it.  

JAG: Anything that surprised you in working on the series with Chris Pratt, maybe tell a little bit about how that came about, because I remember you're being asked once for advice that you'd give to a recent college graduate and you said read, read, read, but you also said, never miss an opportunity to make somebody's day. And I thought of that because the story of how this novel actually got launched on its way started with you actually trying to make somebody's day. So, yes. I enjoy that story.  

JC: Absolutely. Absolutely. I passed that along to the kids. You never miss an opportunity to make somebody's day. And that doesn't mean go running around like a chicken with your head cut off, just trying to do good deeds.  

JAG: You're not altruistically self-sacrificing because as your story shows it really came around to be a very wise investment.  

JC: It did. I obviously didn't think of it that way at the time, but you know, what it really means is you go through your day and if you have an opportunity to make somebody else's, don't pass up that opportunity. And it's not because it might come around. It's just because it's the right thing to do as a human, as a citizen. In this case, yes, the novel was coming out in March of 2018 and I got a call in November 2017 from a SEAL buddy and I hadn't talked to him in five years, so I picked up and first he asked me if I remembered him and I said, yes. And then he asked me if I remember what I did for him in the SEAL teams and I did not.  

JC: And he said, well, you're the only person who sat me down in your office, talked about the transition process out of the military. After you found out I was getting out, you introduced me to people in the private sector, and then you followed up with me afterward and I've never forgotten it, and I always wanted to thank you. I said, no problem, how's it going? And he said, well, it's going great. But, I heard you have a book coming out. And I said, yes, it's coming out in a few months. I have this galley copy, which is like a rough draft, that I can send you if you'd like to read it. And he said, I'd like that, but I'd also like to share it with a friend of mine. And I said, yes, no problem. Who's that? And he said, Chris Pratt.  

JC: I said, oh, interesting. That's convenient because that's exactly who I pictured starring in the series as I was writing it. So yes, he gave it to Chris and Chris read it at the end of December, the last week in December of 2017, then called the first week in January 2018 and said, I want to option it. So, now Jared Shaw, the person who called me and gave the book to Chris, he's an actor in the show. He plays Boozer and he is also a producer and a technical advisor. So yes, it's helped.  But, once again, I didn't think, hey, if I help this person out, it's going to come around one day. It was just the right thing to do. I always tried to help people who were good guys who were staying in or getting out, and in this case, yes, it did happen to pay off. And we got to make a really cool show.  

JAG: So, tell us a little bit about your time on set.  What was that like? Was there a process of saying, hey, listen, I'm going to be giving my baby over to these very creative, talented people, and I'm going to have to let go to an extent?  

JC: Yep. I knew that was going to happen, and I expected it. I remember reading First Blood, the novel written by David Morrell, and then watching the movie with Sylvester Stallone. That came out in 1983. So there was an 11-year difference between those, and both fantastic, but very different. Also, there's a book by A.J. Quinnell called Man on Fire. They did a movie in the eighties about it and then they did another remake in the early two thousands with Denzel Washington. That movie with Denzel Washington—amazing, very different from the book. But, I knew that if now you're going to tell a story visually, there will be changes. So my goal was always, and the goal of Antoine Fuqua, the director, Chris Pratt, and the showrunner, David DiGilio, (for those listening and watching the showrunner is what a feature-film director is, but to series television. So, they're the singular point of contact for essentially everything that happens over all these eight-part series) And what was important to them were the same things that were important to me, which is keeping the story grounded in the foundation of the novel, knowing that we're going to change it because we're telling the story visually. And for me, I was a student. I'm always a student. I'm a student of this craft. I'm a student of warfare. So, I was a student of, now, telling a story through this process, starting with a pilot episode and writing that pilot episode with the showrunner meaning that I was just advising on it and just learning, just soaking it all in. And he was fantastic. Mentored me along. We talked for the first time in December of 2019, and we've talked every day since.  

JC: Usually they get rid of the author right away. They don't want the author on set saying “you ruined my vision,” which is typically what happens. So for them to include me in every part of this process, to include the writer's room on set, to include editing, and to be included at the premiere, going up there on stage with the actors has been just beyond belief, but there's a lot of trust there. You hand something over to someone in Hollywood, you're trusting them because now you're turning it over and essentially they can do whatever they want with it.  But in this case, we had such trust built up amongst us and we were such a solid team. Then being on set, it really reminded me of a military operation. Just like in the military, you have to feed everybody; on set, there's craft food services. In a SEAL platoon, you have the explosives expert; you have explosions going off on set, so they have an explosives guy there.

JC: There's an armorer in a SEAL team.  Same thing on set. They're passing the weapons back and forth between the actors, inventorying them at the end of the day. There's a mobility person on set, same thing in a SEAL team. There's a mobility person making sure all the vehicles are all ready to go, gassed up before an operation or after an operation, so they're ready to go in case you have to go quickly. Same thing. There's a mobility person on set, making sure all the vehicles are there, building the vehicles, finding the right ones, sourcing them. Then you have your commanding officer and that's Antoine Fuqua. He's the director up there at the top setting the tone strategically for everybody. And then you have Chris Pratt down here. He's at the tactical level setting the tone down here.  

I had so many people come up to me on set and they didn't need to, but they tracked me down on set and they said something very similar. They said, I've been involved in hundreds of these productions in Hollywood. And none of them have felt like this.

JC: I had so many people come up to me on set and they didn't need to, but they tracked me down on set and they said something very similar. They said, I've been involved in hundreds of these productions in Hollywood. And none of them have felt like this. There's something special about this set. Everyone is so encouraging and positive. And you know, I put that right back on Antoine and on Chris for setting that tone, being so encouraging, inspiring, Chris being so funny, bringing that humor to set every day and being so approachable, normal— someone you want to sit down and have a beer with. And that's really what I wanted out of the character. It just so happens that in real life, Chris is the same way. He's a fantastic human being. Then everybody on set has a specific job and they're all so good at it.  

JC: That was another takeaway. When you hear stories about Hollywood, about somebody not being able to do something because it's not part of their union contract, it's not because they don't want to work. It's because this thing is like a Lamborghini speeding down the track over 200 miles an hour. And if you're not doing what you've been hired to do, the thing that you're the best in the world at, and you go over here to do something else, well, that's when a Lamborghini is not like a Ford truck or something that you're thinking, I can make it to the next gas station. No, that thing's going off the track and it's not going to work unless that person is doing their specific job at the top of their game, the best they can possibly do. So, now I understand why those rules are in place. All those were takeaways from the set and it was an amazing experience.  

JAG: Do you know if they're going to make another one?  

JC: We shall see. That is the question. 

JAG: I could tell you do know.  

JC: Well, no, we'll see. I've worked on the outline. I have an eight-part series ready to go for season two and if Amazon wants it, then we'll see. But, they have to figure that out with Chris and  see if he wants to do it, which I think he does. And then to his schedule that is kind of booked up well in advance. So, there's a lot of things they need to work out. Hopefully, it happens, but you never know.  

JAG: All right. Another question here. And, folks, we've got about 15 more minutes, so we could take a couple of more questions; go ahead and type them in. We'll try to get to them on YouTube, Sarah Simmons asks about the emergency use authorization in The Terminal List. Is it current practice for the military to experiment, use experimental drugs using emergency use authorization?  

JC: You're going to have to go back in the memory banks. Because I started writing that in December of 2014. I wrote through 2015 into early 2016 when I finished up that first draft and then started the editing process before I sent it to New York. So, I'm sure that came from either an interview I did with a doctor or probably that and research. In this case, since it was medical, probably online, I have a lot of books, but just not a lot of medical books. So, I think it came from there and I think we saw something similar with COVID. Right? Emergency use authorizations for COVID tests.  

JAG: Yes. And I wanted to ask you about that, as well. You know, we knew very, very early on that the elderly and people with certain underlying conditions were the most vulnerable. And, you think about people like Navy SEALs as being incredible, in top physical form. So, I just wonder about the wisdom overall of having spent the past couple of years treating everybody as if they had a 90-year-old immune system, but from what you hear, how are the vaccine mandates in the military? Is it a big deal or are people saying, they made me take so many other vaccines and shots and whatever. I signed up for it, it doesn't matter.  

JC: Right? Yes, they do give you a lot of shots. That's for sure. Most of them are tried and true, and ones that you get at bootcamp and it's just like, if you're going to travel overseas and you get a recommendation from your doctor that if you're going to go take a safari in Africa, get this. If they were to recommend that 20-years ago, 30-years ago, you'd probably have said, oh, okay. Or most people would probably say that, okay, it's been around for a long time. I'm going to Africa. I should probably get this thing. All right. The mistrust, the distrust of government these days is that, I don’t know if it's at an all-time high or not, but it is certainly near being at an all-time high. Social media does not help it.  

JC: Having that distrust, even though we are looking at our elected officials, and I don't call them leaders because they’re our elected representatives, they benefit because they get to keep us divided and put us in camps,  and by camps, I don't mean actual camps, not yet anyway. But, camps that help them get reelected. And then we have these tech monopolies obviously, and it benefits them right out of the gate. It did 20-years ago because of advertising, but then they were gathering data, and now, okay, we can influence people, not just make them want to click something because now they've seen it for the third time over the course of a certain period. And they're going to take that action. Well, now we can influence not only those behaviors, but thoughts because they have so much data.  

JC: So, you have all that, it's fairly common knowledge, and that leads to this distrust, which is interesting because the distrust then fuels us going into these different camps that benefit those same people that I just talked about, the tech monopolies and these these elected representatives that need to get reelected. So, I guess that's a long way of saying that it's different because of the era that we're in, and it's so hard to figure out who to trust. When you're in the military, yes you must salute and kind of do what they say-ish. But it seems in this case, in particular, when you're rushing something out there that's not tried and true, remember the people that got the vaccines, and I was one of them, that got a couple. I think I got one anthrax shot. We're supposed to get six. My memory might be a little foggy, but after I got that first one, I was like, oh man, what? I did some research on it. And I decided I really don't want to get the rest of these. And I was definitely not supposed to do it, but they just put it in your felt gun decking and they just put it in your record, as though you got them.   

JC: But, it wasn’t quite the same. It wasn't like, I don't think I'm intentionally being infected with something or I don't think this doesn't work. I remember doing the research on anthrax, and I think it worked only against a very specific strain that was delivered in a specific way, and the odds of it actually getting delivered that way were so minuscule. And I was kind of like, eh; but most of us, I don't think after we did that research, I don't think most of us got that. But this seems like it's tough because they're just shoving it down your throat and you don't know who to trust. So, it's a tough one. It is definitely a tough one and it continues to divide and good people are leaving the military because of it.  

JAG: Well, I think that some people would say that if there was any justification at all, it was when there was this belief that you would get this shot, you'd get these shots, and then you wouldn't get it. You wouldn't spread it. Right. We now know that's not true. So the justification for mandating that people in the military or other people get it because then they won't be a danger to other people, that kind of seemed to fall apart.  

If we make the bad tactical-level decisions down at this level we’ll be held accountable, yet you can make mistake after mistake at these higher levels, and nothing happens to you. In fact, you fail forward.

JC: There's that. And once again, it's that trust factor. So, now we trust the government even less, because it's, see, you guys are supposed to be making the good strategic-level decisions up there. If we make the bad tactical-level decisions down at this level we’ll be held accountable, yet you can make mistake after mistake at these higher levels, and nothing happens to you. In fact, you fail forward. Then you have more distrust between those more junior-level people who are actually going to war and those senior-level people who are not, or if they go to war they're in an air-conditioned tactical center allocating assets from the rear; that's just how it is these days. So yes, it's tough and I'm so glad that I am not in the military because you can't really go back and say, oh, what I would do is this, because  you're removed from it and it's not fair to do that to the guys that are still in. But, it has to be tough on them. It has to be.  

JAG: And you know, given the difficulty in meeting these recruitment quotas right now, it, it just seems suicidal.You mentioned going to these different countries, doing your research, you spent some time in Ukraine. Assuming you hadn't been there before, did your time there and what you learned, your research about the country, did it give you any kind of unique perspective on what's happening now?  

JC: Not really what's happening now, so I went there when I was quite young, and I remember going into the CaTECH homes, and I remember going down there and seeing these tunnels and seeing where they had hospitals set up , these whole cities essentially underground. So that came into play at the end of my second novel. I thought geographically, it works for the way things are flowing here, and I needed something that was going to because the first one was very personal. The first story, the one that's on Amazon Prime is very personal. It's very primal, it's very visceral. And for the second one, I needed to take some risks. So, the safe thing to have done for the second book would've been to take what I did in the first one, and instead of having it be in the United States, drop it in Europe, drop it in Africa, drop it in South America, whatever -- but have a very similar type of storyline 

JC: And I didn't want to do that. I wanted to make sure that I took a risk to differentiate myself from what would be the safe choice and test myself a little bit. And I thought it would be disingenuous to the reader, too, after the events of the first novel, to just have James Reece all of a sudden be recovered and doing another mission somewhere else. So he had to go on a journey. He had to go on a journey of violent redemption to learn to live again. I went back to thinking about what it's like to transition out of the military, but really anything in life, and start something new, learn to live again, find that next mission, find that next passion. And I take James Reece there, and then I take it away from him and  pull him back into the fold.  

JC: Geographically it works to have his journey continue up through Morocco, and then essentially end up in Ukraine. But I loved being in those catacombs. It was so interesting. I thought about all the kids that had to live down there and just how they had to essentially survive. So, it wasn't really the geopolitical site there, but it happened to coincide with the characters that I had developed, and with this Russian character. I needed him to have a reason to go back into Russia to take the lead again. He'd been kind of ostracized and  excommunicated essentially, and needed to figure out a way to have Russia invade Ukraine. So, I did that. Of course, now that's happened.  

JC: For the second season of the show, I have to figure out now how to come up with some other geopolitical type of event that things are rushing towards because in the book, (spoiler alert) yes, it's James Reece saves the day and that doesn't happen well. Now it has happened. That book came out in 2019. So, now I have to figure out another situation like that. But yes, being there in person and putting boots on the ground, spending some time there, I remember it fondly; same thing with Morocco. I spent time in Morocco when I was very young as well. And I remember the sights and the smells. I remember the Atlas mountains, I remember the orange juice on the streets that you could get fresh squeezed. I remember the colors of the marketplace. So, I put up a CIA black site there and interestingly enough, for my first three novels, I submitted them to the military because I was kind of so close to have been redacted.  

JAG: Yes, I wanted to ask about all of the redacted, what's that about?  

JC: Yes. I did that, and in the first book they took out nine things, the Department of Prepublication and Security review, and they're all things that were publicly available from the government, not from other books or Wikipedia or something. At the time I thought, okay, let's leave those in there and I'll just keep them blacked out: people can guess as to what they are. It's not difficult. I did the same thing with my second book and they got back to me in 45 days. They're supposed to get back to you in 30, and I thought 45, that's pretty good for a gigantic government bureaucracy. So, I submitted the second book, True Believer and one month goes by, two months, three months, four months, five months, six months creeping up on seven months, we have to push the publication date.  

The redactions are still in the paperback. I unredacted it for the hardcover. So you can open the paperback, look at the hardcover, and see what the government thought was so sensitive.

JC: It comes back with 54 redactions. I have lawyers at this point. So I said, all right, well, we're going to publish it with these redactions, but let's put together an appeal, which you're allowed to do within a certain amount of time. We did that, and tied each and every one of those 54 redactions to a publicly available government document: something anyone in the world can download from our own government. So, they let me win on 37 of those 54.  The other ones were still tied to those publicly available government documents, but they didn't let me win on them. So, the redactions are still in the paperback. I unredacted it for the hardcover. So you can open the paperback, look at the hardcover, and see what the government thought was so sensitive.  

JC: One of those was a CIA black site in Morocco. They took out Morocco. Obviously they took out any reference to the Atlas mountains, Moorish architecture. So what that does though, when I unredacted it, what does that tell us? It tells us that there's probably a CIA black site in Morocco. And I had no idea that there was, I just made it up. It made sense geographically. Then for the third one, submit, it takes a long time. They get back, publish it with the redactions that my lawyers tied to publicly available government documents again, but this time they wouldn't let me appeal. I think that's their way of telling me that, hey kid, quit taking up our time with this fiction stuff. We have important work to do here at the United States government.  So, I don't submit them anymore, which is a good thing because I wouldn't want them taking out things that I learned after my time in the military.  

JC: In my fourth novel, The Devil's Hand, I go deep into bioweapons research. I had no touchpoint with that in the military, but I have a feeling they would've taken out a few things. And then, In The Blood, I really go deep into artificial intelligence and quantum computing. And that was a scary, scary military application. I think it was scary doing the research. It was scarier than the bioweapons research that I'd done for the previous novel. I think they probably would've redacted some things. And for those who have read it, there's a facility that I write about that I would be shocked if that facility wasn't very close to exactly how I describe it in the book.  

JAG: Well, we are putting links to all of the series on the various platforms. So everyone, it is Jack Carr, it's The Terminal List series. The title book is The Terminal List. The latest is In The Blood. So where are you in the process of the next book? I mean, because you're basically pumping one out a year.  

JC: Yep. It's one a year.  

JAG: How long did it take you to write it? 

JC: It should take six months. It has to take a year. There's a little overlap though, between editing and starting the next one. My goal this year is to get a little more organized. Up to this point, I felt like what I'm doing is like a startup in a garage, and you have a product, let's say it's a computer in 1978, and you're building it in your garage and you're letting people know about what it is, and you're doing demonstrations on how it works.  You're just running and you're just in a full-on sprint and it's just you, and  then you slowly start adding people as you start to grow a little bit. So, that's the kind of the phase that I'm in right now, the one where it's time to get organized so that I can, instead of having taken a year to write these books because I'm doing so many other things, get organized enough where it's just taking six months and allows me to do some other projects, and have some other Hollywood projects in the works as well.  

JC: And if they don't work, that's fine. It's just fun that people are interested and I can turn them into books later on, but allows me to do some of these other projects as well, and create and write into those things that I love to do. So yes, this is the year of getting organized, but right now it's still taking a year and it's always down to the wire sprinting across that finish line.  

JAG: Which is all the more reason why we're so grateful that you took this time. He shows up on time, he shows up early, and we're going to get him out of here on time. And, again, the latest book in the series is In The Blood. and  definitely go on Amazon, check out The Terminal List series with Chris Pratt. Definitely read the book, and we'll keep talking. I want to hear what you think of Ayn Rand’s Art of Fiction, and also maybe get you out here for one of our galas, so stay tuned. Thank you again so much. Thank you for your service. Thank you for your art. Thank you for your spirit. And, we will be watching and we will be eagerly waiting for the next in the series.  

JC: Thank you so much for having me. It's been a true pleasure. Thank you. 

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