David Bruns and J.R. Olson have been creating thrillers together for 6+ years. Their new series, Command and Control, launches January 11 with the explosive first book, Command and Control. In Command and Control we are introduced to Don Riley, head of the CIA’s Emerging Threats group as he and his team investigate unexplained attacks around the world. We spoke with Bruns and Olson about the inspiration for this new series, their author team writing process, and more.
SRP: Where did you come up with the idea for this new series?
We had already written four novels together, each one a standalone story with continuing characters. When Severn River Publishing asked us to develop a new series, we decided to expand our horizons.
We wanted to tell a BIG story, develop a series where each book was a self-contained chapter in a much larger narrative arc. The Command and Control series describes what a clash of great powers might look like in the 21st century.
We write what we call “national security thrillers,” which to us encompasses more than just military conflicts. Our novels delve into political intrigue, intelligence operations, and military operations to create a holistic look at the next generation of warfare.
SRP: What can you tell us about the plot of the first book in the series, Command and Control?
US President Rick Serrano has only recently taken office when a new crisis erupts in the Strait of Hormuz. As Don Riley, Director of the Emerging Threats Group at the CIA, works to unravel what is happening, more incidents crop up around the globe, each growing in severity.
The Russians are at it again and Serrano acts to protect American national security interests. Both sides refuse to back down. The stakes escalate. Russia and the United States are closer to all out war than at any time in modern history.
But something is not adding up for Riley. As the clock ticks down, Riley sifts through the layers of deception to discover who—or what—is behind these events…
SRP: How did you create Don Riley, head of the CIA’s Emerging Threats Group? Is he based off of anyone you know?
Our first novel together, Weapons of Mass Deception, which we wrote back in 2014, introduced Don Riley. He was the favorite Plebe (freshman) for a couple of senior midshipmen at Annapolis. Don was medically discharged from Annapolis, but he rebounded, earned a degree, and entered the US intelligence community as an analyst. He’s been in every book since.
Don is our “everyman” character, an amalgamation of the kind of people we met every day during our time in uniform. He’s apolitical, professional, and an expert in his field. He also could stand to lose a few pounds, has no social life, and has an awkward habit of saying the truth even if the people he’s talking to don’t want to hear it.
Don just wants to serve his country to the best of his ability. Unfortunately for him, that’s not how our stories work. We like to drop Don into some pretty challenging situations and ask him to do the right thing.
SRP: After a chance meeting at a USNA event in 2014, you decided to team up and started writing together. How does your writing process work?
So, what you really want to know is how do two Type ‘A’ personalities, who are both trained to lead and have extensive experience doing so under high pressure situations, put aside their egos long enough to co-write a novel together?
Very carefully. <insert laugh track here>
For us, it’s always a work in progress. With each book we change some aspect of our process to see if we can get more efficient. Some things work, most don’t.
At the beginning of each project, we talk through the concept of the book together until we have a story arc that we like. (That can take days, weeks, or months, depending on schedules, deadlines, or life.) J.R., the career intelligence officer, works out a rough draft and we go through it again and again until we have a chapter-by-chapter story.
At that point, J.R. works on in-depth research and detailed chapter outlines. David writes the first draft of every chapter and hands it off to J.R. for editing, addition of technical details, or plot punch-up work.
We follow that process though the entire book. (Our novels are typically 50-70 chapters, so this takes a few months.) At that point, David does another chapter review and consolidates the manuscript into a working draft. We review the full manuscript together for completeness and plot issues. If we have outside technical experts, we send them the manuscript at that time. We work very hard to get the technical details right, so this part is important to us.
Once we work through those final details, we send the completed manuscript to Severn River Publishing for copy editing.
SRP: What was the most difficult part of writing this book?
All of our books extrapolate from current events and Command and Control is no exception. Since J.R. is a retired naval intelligence officer, he sees endless potential hotspots around the world: Russia, China, North Korea, Iran—pick your poison, we could do this all day. There are as many national security challenges to the United States now as at any time in our history.
The biggest challenge in writing our near-future novels is developing the threat scenario. War is changing very rapidly, often before our eyes, which makes us address a lot of questions. For example, how will unmanned platforms be used in a future scenario? What about AI? How about economic warfare? Or cyber? We try to put together a this-could-happen scenario that is often eye-opening.
SRP: What are you reading now and/or what good books have you read lately?
Olson: I just recently purchased The Strategy of Denial by Elbridge Colby. I mostly read Foreign Policy, Foreign Affairs, and what is called the Early Bird, which is a news story aggregator that collects many of the impactful commentary on national security issues. Other excellent websites include War on the Rocks, Defense News, and the various service papers like Navy Times. All of those things keep me pretty busy and help to guide me in inviting guests to join me on my weekly radio show, National Security This Week, which is on KYMN Radio each Wednesday morning at 9AM Central time. The radio show is also available via podcast services.
Bruns: I read (and listen) widely. In the non-fiction space, I’d recommend This Is How They Tell Me the World Ends: The Cyberweapons Arms Race by Nicole Pelroth. It’s a first draft of the history of cyberwarfare and it’s fascinating/terrifying. I just re-read Dune by Frank Herbert in advance of the movie release. (It was just as fabulous the fifth time as it was the first time.) My favorite current authors are Don Winslow (his Power of the Dog series about Mexican drug cartels is stunning), Michael Connelly, and Bernard Cornwell (his Last Kingdom historical fiction series is brilliant). If readers want a different take than ours on World War Three, try 2034, by Admiral James Stavridis and Elliott Ackerman.
SRP: What would you include in your “Author’s Survival Pack”?
Bruns: The first thing I would include is my writing partner, J.R.. Without the two of us working together, these books don’t happen. Next, a laptop because I have horrendous handwriting. Copies of all the books I mentioned above, of course. Lastly, I’d take my dog, Lucy, because the best way to address a plot problem is to take a walk with a friend.
Olson: That’s pretty funny. I have no idea. Honestly, I’ve written so many intelligence reports, both as an analyst and as a case officer, not to mention policy documents, operational plans, et al, during my career that if I were thrust into a truly desperate situation and writing was only an option, I’d be fine with not writing another word.
However, I enjoy writing. I enjoy the creativity that comes with the process. And, most importantly, I thoroughly enjoy the shared creative process I’ve built with David. We’re a good team, and we plan to deliver our best work to Severn River Publishing as part of our partnership with their publishing house.
Command and Control by David Bruns and J.R. Olson launches January 11.