SRP: Where did you come up with the idea for Warshot, the sixth book in The Hunter Killer Series, and what can you tell us about the plot?
George: Our regular readers know that real life has had an uncanny way of actually following the plot lines of most of our stories. This is not really accidental. Don and I look at the trends, twists, and turns in current events and then use our imagination to look five to ten years into the future, or at least what we think will be five to ten years in the future. Real life has a way of catching up faster than we anticipate. Since we are both students of history, we look carefully to see what the past tells us, too. Warshot happened just that way. We looked to where the action would be in the next five years. Not surprisingly, we ended up in the South China Sea general area and a confrontation with the PRC. The rest you can either read from Warshot or wait and read in the newspaper in a couple of years.
Don: Our goal in each of the books is to tell a good, believable story, so we necessarily try to anticipate real-world events. Note that with his background and current activities, George has a good perspective on technology and where things are going. The hardware you read about in The Hunter Killer books is just as real as the potential action about which we write. We are already seeing some of those things we put into Warshot playing out.
SRP: You’ve been writing novels together for many years. How did you two decide to start this partnership?
George: I guess that it has been over twenty years now. Doesn’t seem that long. Way back in the Dark Ages, Don and I shared an agent. Robbie Robison, a real character who deserves a story of his own, suggested that the two of us see if we could work together, that he saw potential in that team. (I think that Robbie envisioned Don teaching me how to write a novel.) Don is down in Alabama and at that time I was living in Western Colorado. We exchanged a few phone calls and some emails and decided to give it a try. We write our stories by exchanging emails, phone calls, and files over the internet. When we finally actually met in person, Final Bearing was already a National Best Seller. And the rest is, as they say, history.
Don: Robbie was a former submariner and had recruited me to write a book on a boat on which he had served in the US Navy, the ARCHERFISH. I had only written fiction to that point, ten novels published by then, but the story was so good—during WWII, ARCHERFISH sank the largest vessel ever sunk by a submarine, an aircraft carrier they first mistook for an island—that I had to do the book. Now I’ve been honored to do a long list of submarine and World War II non-fiction books with more on the way. When he told me he had another former submariner who wanted to write thrillers, I agreed to talk with George, admittedly just as a favor to Robbie. But after a few conversations and a look at some of the stories and ideas George had, I was all in.
SRP: What is one interesting or unexpected challenge in partnership writing that you haven’t encountered in your individual writing?
George: The biggest challenge that I have had is in satisfying Don’s inordinate delight in expending ordnance. He is always wanting something to blow up. ?
Don: And I think our readers want just that! You can only describe docking a submarine so many ways. Seriously, though, I come at the books from a place of ignorance. If there is a system or tactic or action that I don’t understand, I can get George to explain it to me and then I try to write it from the perspective of someone who has not skippered a nuclear-powered submarine. Which I haven’t. And George has.
SRP: What do you do when you disagree on a plot line or character arc?
George: This has been a rare occurrence. Normally we are very much in sync on the story line and the characters. If not, I just pout until I get my way. Except for the beautiful Chinese spy that Don managed to slip in to Warshot. ?
Don: George rarely pulls rank on me! We seldom disagree on plot or characters. Sometimes I’ll ask George, “Are you sure that could happen?” And he’ll reply, “Sure. It did.” Our biggest conflict occurs outside the realm of writing. George is a proud alumnus of Ohio State University. I graduated from the University of Alabama. They occasionally meet on the gridiron, as happened in the national championship game this year. We have had bets riding on the last two meetings and are currently tied at one win apiece. We’re hoping for a tie-breaker this season.
SRP: Can you speak on your military experience and how it influences your writing?
George: Well, I spent twenty-two years serving in submarines. I served on four different subs, including commanding the USS HOUSTON, SSN713. All of my boats are gone now, replaced by newer, more capable boats. The genesis of my writing was to try to tell the story of what submarining is like, what the dangers are, what the crews and their families sacrifice. After retiring, I quickly found that only a very small percentage of the population had any concept of submarines and submarining. Because of the classified nature of what we did, there was no way to write a factual account. Hence, the novels. The submarine experience is still accurate and the technology, again within the limits of classification, is accurate, too.
Don: And my only military experience was two years of Air Force ROTC in college. But as noted, I have written extensively about military history, with most of the books dealing with submarines. I, too, find so few people know what it was (and is) like to serve aboard a ship deliberately designed to sink. Or what a powerful deterrent to all-out war the “Silent Service” is. Submarines are a mystery to most people, yet so many are fascinated by them and the men and women who serve there. But I maintain that I don’t write about submarines. I write about the people who serve in those vessels. And they are a unique breed. Thank goodness for them!
SRP: We like to force our authors to play favorites, so, if you had to pick, which is your favorite character from The Hunter Killer Series and why?
George: I’m probably going to surprise you. The character that I identified with the most, and thus is probably my favorite character, only appeared in Final Bearing. He never appeared in another story. We have watched many of the characters develop as they progressed from story to story, some we have literally watched grow up. But Dave Kuhn, the Engineer on the SPADEFISH, had a tour on that old boat very similar to my Engineer tour on the old WOODROW WILSON. She was a real challenge to keep running and going to sea. My CO from those days and I have often reminisced about those tales.
Don: I am an unabashed Jon Ward fan. Here’s a guy who followed his father’s example and became a submariner. And has a son who becomes a Navy SEAL. Even his wife gets involved in a story or two. Ward is a stickler for doing things the right way, but he allows and relies on his crew to show their initiative and skills in hairy situations. Situations that might seem mundane to us at first, but that could have a major effect on the success of a mission. Or even the difference between life or death. I never knew some of those flanges and bearings were so crucial! Ward’s leadership skills carry over even when—and this may be a minor spoiler if you have not read the last couple of books—he gets kicked upstairs to head Naval Intelligence.
SRP: What’s next for The Hunter Killer Series? Your stories consistently predict the future, so we’ll be cross-referencing this information with news headlines!
George: We are working on that. To get an idea of where we are going, all you need to do is look at the newspaper headlines for 2030.
Don: There is no lack of bad guys! Or trouble spots. It is a frightening world out there and thank goodness for the men and women who keep an eye on it all and stand ready to defend us. Their stories are the kind we love to tell in the series. And that we hope our readers want to continue to see. Note, too, that we continue to introduce new and (we hope) interesting characters. Some of them may even deserve their own series of books at some point. Just saying.
SRP: What are you working on now? (if different from above)
Don: I have just completed Only the Brave, which tells the true story of the two Battles of Guam in World War II. This is one of those stories that tends to get lost in history yet ranks right up there with Iwo Jima and Okinawa. And, as usual, I try to tell the human side of the story, including its effect on the proud Chamorro people of Guam. Only the Brave releases in June 2021. I am now working on a book about one of the great personalities in the submarine war in WWII, Admiral Eugene B. Fluckey, who is one of only eight submariners to receive the Medal of Honor. His boat, the BARB, also sank a train. Torpedo Run will be published early in 2022.
SRP: What are you reading now and/or what good books have you read lately?
George: Actually, I’m going back and reading the complete works of Mark Twain. Looking at how the old masters wrote.
Don: With the recent death of Larry McMurtry, I just went back and re-read both Lonesome Dove and Streets of Laredo.
SRP: What would you include in your “Author’s Survival Pack”?
George: Ibuprofen and beer. And access to a good search engine.
Don: Definitely the search engine! Just remember that not everything you see on the web is true and that 68% of all statistics there are made up. And when I speak at writers’ conferences, I urge would-be authors to become very familiar with the “Synonyms” menu item in Microsoft Word.
Warshot by Wallace and Keith is out May 25. Get your copy here.