We are so excited to have Leah Nash back on our bookshelves this month! In Dangerous Waters, Leah finds herself dealing with a murder that’s much more complicated than it looks. How did you come up with this mystery?
Susan: I’ve had the idea for the story for a long time, but I couldn’t figure out how to make it come together, so I always put it on the backburner. Then one day while I was chasing dust bunnies, it hit me. I stopped what I was doing—it doesn’t take much for me to stop cleaning house—and sketched it out.
Leah is loyal, smart, and a touch impatient. We’re curious, do you see yourself in Leah?
Susan: Leah isn’t a fictional version of me. However, I’m told that, like Leah, I can be a bit bossy—though I don’t see it myself. We also share the same sense of humor and a tendency toward procrastination when the writing isn’t going well.
For those of us invested in Leah’s love life, when are Leah and Coop going to get together!?
Susan: That’s the most frequent question I get from readers. I’ve tried unsuccessfully to nudge her along, one way or the other, but she doesn’t take direction very well. However, she does make an important decision about her future in Dangerous Waters.
What was the most difficult part of writing this book?
Susan: It’s a fairly complicated plot and keeping track of everyone was a challenge. The wall I face when I’m writing became filled with sticky notes reminding me of who was doing what, when, why, and with whom. When I finished writing, I used them to make a checklist of key plot points and clues to compare to the manuscript to make sure I didn’t leave any threads hanging.
What’s next for Leah?
Susan: In Dangerous Deception, the book I’m working on now, Leah tries to save a woman who doesn’t want to be saved. As she starts tugging at a few loose threads, she finds that the murder victim is at the center of a tangled web of deception, delusion, and obsession. When the identity of the killer becomes clear, Leah once again is faced with the knowledge that finding the truth isn’t always the same as finding the answer.
You worked at a small daily paper, then at a university in publications. What made you decide to leave steady employment behind and try your hand at writing mysteries full time?
Susan: I thought about writing a mystery for years, but I always put it off to that distant “someday.” Then I lost both my parents and my oldest friend in a very short time. There’s nothing like three sudden, devastating losses to make you realize that someday might never come. I started work on my first book, Dangerous Habits, partly to manage the grief I felt, and partly to beat the clock on someday.
What are you reading now and/or what good books have you read lately?
Susan: Right now, I’m halfway through The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman, which is a really fun read. My book club chose The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah, last month, and that was a good one, too.
What’s your favorite word?
Susan: Warmth. There’s almost no way to say it out loud without having your voice produce a low, soft, soothing tone that matches what the word connotes—kindness, compassion, empathy. Warmth is what makes life livable.
Dangerous Waters launches October 19. Pre-order your copy today.
Unsympathetic Victims is the first in the Ashley Montgomery Legal Thriller Series by Laura Snider. Fans of relatable female protagonists and plot twists that keep you guessing will love Snider’s gripping debut novel. SRP sat down with the lawyer/author to find out more about how she uses her professional experience to shape her books and what simlarities she’s found between the two.
SRP: Ashley Montgomery, the protagonist in your debut thriller Unsympathetic Victims, is a public defender, and, when you’re not writing, you’re a prosecutor. How did it feel to write from the opposition’s perspective?
Laura: I spent seven years as a public defender working in rural communities in Iowa. Yes, I’m a prosecutor now, but I wasn’t when I originally started writing the manuscript. I loved my work as a public defender, but it can be a grind. The case load is overwhelming. The only way to properly represent that number of clients is for public defenders to end up working extremely long hours for little compensation.
Prosecutors are better funded positions. They generally don’t have to work the late hours. Yes, law enforcement sometimes needs guidance in the form of a late-night call, but that work can be done from home. I made the switch because I got married and had children. I no longer had all the time in the world to work, and I felt like I had to decide between my family and criminal defense. I also started my writing career around the same time, and that requires a good chunk of time. Working part-time as a prosecutor has allowed me to be present for my family, work in criminal law, and write.
SRP: What was the most difficult part of writing this book?
Laura: I think the most difficult part of writing any book is the revision process. I don’t outline before writing, so that makes for a lot of cutting and letting go. There are characters I’ve created and lost through revisions. I’ve had to trash entire scenes. Sometimes it is necessary to scrap 50,000 words and start over. It’s not fun to let go of a single word, but 50,000 can be pretty gut wrenching. But the truth is that revisions are the only way that a manuscript gets any better. I have come to terms with the fact that the first draft of anything I write is junk compared to the final product.
SRP: What’s your favorite characteristic of your protagonist, Ashley Montgomery? Do you see any of yourself in her?
Laura: I love Ashley’s snarkiness. She’s different from most people and she owns it. I would say I have many of the same thought patterns as Ashley, but I’ve never been strong enough to brazenly say what I think like she does.
Ashley’s character is modeled off the many excellent attorneys that I worked with in the public defender system. I worked with some pretty fantastic attorneys. They fight for their clients in a way that is unapologetic and bold, and I’ve always admired that about them.
SRP: What’s next for Ashley Montgomery?
Laura: Like any other public defender, Ashley’s office is a revolving door of new clients. In each new book, she’ll receive new cases, and with them clients and circumstances that continue to challenge her understanding of true justice.
SRP: Where do you see parallels between working in law and writing fiction novels?
Laura: Deadlines and preparation are both necessary parts of practicing law and fiction writing.
In law, deadlines are constantly present, forcing each case to move along at a fairly expedient pace. There are speedy trial deadlines, indictment deadlines, and motion deadlines. In writing, deadlines are necessary to keep the publication process moving along. There are people who cannot even start working on their job until I finish the writing portion. Blowing deadlines in both writing and the legal profession can cause serious issues for other people.
Preparation is key in both writing and law as well. They each require a different kind of preparation, but in both professions it is time consuming and it shows if you don’t do your due diligence.
SRP: What are you reading now and/or what good books have you read lately?
Laura: I’m always reading three books – a physical book, e-book, and listening to an audiobook.
At this moment, my physical book is Skinny Dip by Carl Hiaasen, my audiobook is A Witch in Time by Constance Sayers, and my ebook is A Killer’s Wife by Victor Methos.
Some of my favorite books that I’ve read this year have been, The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson and All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood.
SRP: Are you a pantser or a plotter, meaning do you dive head first into writing and see where the story takes you or do you like to create an outline and work from it?
Laura: I’m a pantser. I write and see where the story takes me. I do this mostly because my books are character driven and I have a hard time deciding what a character will do until after I’ve created him or her. So, I sit down and start writing and as the characters form, so does the story line. It makes for some pretty extensive editing, which can be painful at times, but also much more adventurous. My characters are constantly doing things that surprise me, and I love that about them.
Unsympathetic Victims launches July 27. You can pre-order your copy for just $0.99!
When successful public defender Ashley Montgomery helps acquit yet another client, people in small-town Brine, Iowa are enraged. Following the verdict, a protest breaks out — and the hated defense attorney quickly finds her life in danger.
But little does Ashley know, things are about to get worse — much worse. One of her clients turns up dead, and Ashley is arrested for his murder. As local investigators Katie Mickey and George Thomanson dive into the case, they start to suspect that Ashely is being framed — but by whom?
With Ashley’s freedom at stake, Katie and George are desperate to find out the truth. And soon, they uncover a sinister plot born of corruption, greed, and misplaced loyalty that will leave the whole town reeling — and questioning their faith in the people they trusted most.
19 Souls by J.D. Allen is now available in all formats. Buy your copy here.
Severn River Publishing is pleased to announce the arrival of Holly Sharp as Marketing Director. Holly will lead all marketing strategy and execution for the company. Holly comes with over 15 years of marketing experience in a variety of roles, including innovation, brand management, and digital marketing. Among other accomplishments, Holly has an MBA from the University of Michigan, and has published her own children’s book. In this role, she will report to the CEO, Andrew Watts.
SRP: What can you tell us about Dead Point?
LaVonne: Dead Point is a novel about a smart, tough female sergeant in the Oregon State Police who is more of a justice warrior than a law and order buff. By some measure, the story is based on my own experience growing up in the rural American West where poverty and the baggage that often comes with it are woven into the fabric of local culture. The one constant is the beauty of place, at least for those who love Grant County, Oregon’s vast landscape, which includes high desert country, ranges of blue mountains, profoundly strange fossil formations, forests of Ponderosa pine, fir, and spruce, rangeland juniper and sagebrush, and the sprawling John Day River valley.
SRP: How did you come up with the main character, Maggie Blackthorne?
LaVonne: As I’ve noted before, I didn’t come up with Maggie Blackthorne, she came knocking at the door of my imagination, fully formed, a bit mad at the world, and looking for truth and justice. Well, and with a good heart and some of her own personal baggage.
SRP: Do you see yourself in Maggie?
LaVonne: Absolutely. She is me in many ways, although I would never have the courage or tenacity to chase down a killer.
SRP: What drew you to set Dead Point in Oregon?
LaVonne: I wanted to set the novel in Oregon, in part because that’s what I know best. But largely I knew I wanted the setting to be the eastern Oregon high desert. It’s a relatively unique fictional setting. Plus, most stories set in Oregon take place in or near the lush, green Willamette Valley of western Oregon or in towns and cities on the rugged coast, so I wanted to show a side of Oregon not often written about.
SRP: What’s next for Maggie Blackthorne?
LaVonne: The second Maggie Blackthorne novel is titled Murderers Creek, and I believe it is set for release this Fall. In addition to Maggie Blackthorne, Murderers Creek brings back these reader favorites: Trooper Hollis Jones, his wife Lillian Two Moons, Maggie’s love interest, Duncan McKay, and her surrogate mother and landlord, Dorie Phillips. Crotchety gas station owner, Cecil Burney, shows up again too. No spoilers, but Chapter One of Murderers Creek ends with the brutal slaying of another character from Dead Point and takes off from there.
SRP: What are you reading now and/or what good books have you read lately?
LaVonne: I’m currently reading Douglas Stuart’s Shuggie Bain—the poverty and hardship in that book are heartbreaking, and the characters, particularly Shuggie and his mother, are living, breathing beings. It’s a wonderful novel in so many ways.
I like all kinds of novels, and one of my favorite recent reads was Richard Prowers’s The Overstory. Four great mysteries I loved and recommend often are Percival Everett’s Assumption, Lawrence Osborne’s Only to Sleep (a Philip Marlowe update), Julia Phillips’s Disappearing Earth, Evie Wyld’s All the Birds, Singing.
SRP: Do you believe in writer’s block? How do you push through it?
LaVonne: I definitely believe in writer’s block. I like to think of it as a necessary pause, a means of my mind and body suggesting, or often demanding, I take a break. I push through it by taking that break—reading, hanging out with family, going for a walk, or going outside and taking in a bit of sun (yes, the sun does come out in Portland, OR). And when I come back from a break, more often than not, my imagination fires on all cylinders.
Dead Point by LaVonne Griffin-Valade launches June 15.
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.
LynDee Walker is an Amazon Charts best-selling author of eleven books in two riveting thriller series. Her protagonists are strong, smart, and confident women who run headfirst at a problem. We talked with LynDee about her writing inspiration, how COVID-19 changed her writing process, and what she simply cannot write without.
SRP: You have published 11 books and 2 novellas throughout your two series, The Nichelle Clarke Crime Thrillers and The Faith McClellan Series. Do you have a favorite? (We know this is like asking a parent to pick a favorite child, but we promise we won’t judge.)
LynDee: Haha! Truth. They’re all special in their own way, for sure. In the Nichelle series I’d probably pick Small Town Spin as my favorite by a hair, because I have a lot of fond memories of exploring Gwynn’s Island doing research for the setting, and I think that was the book that made me realize I could really make a career of writing fiction.
For Faith, I think again it’s SUCH a close race, but Leave No Stone probably wins in a photo finish, because I really stretched so many of my abilities with that book, writing things in a way I’d never tried before, and I was so pleased with how it all finally came together.
SRP: Readers are loving your latest release, No Sin Unpunished. Can you tell us a bit about the plot?
LynDee Walker: The hunt for a serial murderer whose preferred weapon is fire turns deeply personal for Faith when former members of her father’s staff begin to die horrifying deaths. In digging up old secrets that could be motive for the attacks, Faith learns some things about her family, while questioning her role in trying to save people she doesn’t necessarily think deserve saving.
SRP: You wrote No Sin Unpunished during the COVID-19 pandemic. Did you notice any differences in your writing style or process as a result?
LynDee: Yes—all of them. I started this book in January of 2020, I got COVID in March and took a seven week sickness break from writing it, and by the time I was back on my feet, my quiet writing days were gone because my three children were learning from home. It took a few reinventions of routine and a family effort to get this one across the finish line, but it makes me feel deeply connected to—and especially proud of—this book.
SRP: You write strong female characters who can handle themselves in some pretty dangerous situations. Do you see yourself in Nichelle and Faith? Were they modeled after women in your life?
LynDee: There’s a little of me in them both, but probably moreso in Nichelle. One of the things I love about her is that she begins the series just as naive as I was as a young journalist, but through the dangerous situations she gets into, she learns and grows. She’s more savvy and jaded and definitely tougher by the later books. It makes those books harder to write, because someone who’s had her experiences wouldn’t walk into danger trusting people so easily, which means I need craftier ways to get her in trouble, but I love a challenge and I’m so proud of the way she’s grown.
Faith is fun to write because she reminds me of my mom and my granny: they were both pretty badass in their own ways. If you’ve ever watched Designing Women (and if you haven’t, it’s on Hulu), I swear they modeled Julia Sugarbaker after my mother. From the 80s business suits to the quick wit and sharp tongue when it was needed, my mom was a pretty extraordinary woman. She was brilliant and kind, never afraid to call out injustice where she saw it, and quick to help folks in need. A lot like Faith. My granny was 5’2 with waist length black hair that never went gray, raised mostly out in the country during the depression, and to my knowledge never met a human she was afraid of. Family legend holds a great story my mom and aunts all swore was gospel truth, about my tiny little grandmother standing alone on her front steps in California in the early 60s successfully ordering an angry contingent of the Hell’s Angels off her lawn.
SRP: You started your writing career as a journalist. Do you ever miss the hustle of “getting the story” and making a print deadline?
LynDee: Only when there are big things happening in the news, and less even than in recent years. I have a specific memory from a few years ago: at the time, our congressman was the House Majority Leader, and it was primary day. I’m a political junkie, so I was at home watching the returns come in, and it became apparent that he was going to lose his race. I turned immediately to my husband and said “Cantor’s going to lose. Wow, what I wouldn’t give to be in a newsroom tonight.” The adrenaline rush of those kinds of nights, when something you thought was a lay-up goes crazy, or a big story breaks, make the long hours and sad stories worth it.
SRP: What’s up next for Nichelle and Faith?
LynDee: I am finishing up the final touches on Faith #4, Nowhere to Hide, this week, and next month I’ll start writing number 5. And it just so happens that I have a contract in my inbox for Nichelle #9, a project I am super excited to begin, brought about largely by letters and messages from loyal readers—I can’t wait to share details with everyone about that soon!
SRP: What are you reading now and/or what good books have you read lately?
LynDee: Lori Rader-Day’s The Lucky One knocked my socks off, as is normal for her books. And I have a brand new Kindle waiting on my desk and an advance copy of a favorite author’s latest teed up for Spring Break: I have loved everything Laura McHugh has ever written and cannot wait to read What’s Done in Darkness.
SRP: What’s the one thing you couldn’t write without?
LynDee: Coffee. Hands down.
No Sin Unpunished by LynDee Walker is out now in all formats. Buy your copy here.
By John J. Gobbell
U.S.S. Tingey (DD 539)
Closing the east coast of Honshu, Japan
Tingey, a 2,100 ton Fletcher class destroyer rolled easily in the calm Pacific under a moonless night. Yesterday, she had emerged from a series of bone-jarring storms that had left us sleepless and walking like zombies. But tonight, the sky was clear and sparkled with stars which gleamed with the blue-white brilliance only seen at sea. We were in station six of a circular formation with the destroyers of DESRON FIFTEEN. At the formation’s center was the carrier USS Bennington (CVS 20) steaming in regal splendor at twenty knots. Without EMCON, our formation’s lights looked rather festive as we closed Japan’s coast.
Mix and Match
It was 2000 and we stood for officer’s call on the 01 level before the mast. This gave us the superstructure’s protection, and yet little zephyrs still curled around bulkheads, ruffling our khakis as we swayed with the ship’s motion. Twelve of us stood in two ranks: Department heads in front, junior officers in back. Four other officers were on watch; the captain was in his sea cabin immersed in paper work.
“What is going on?” the Exec demanded.
We looked back dumbly.
“Come on,” the Exec’s Zippo clanked as he lit a Pall Mall. “Anybody? The skipper is worried. And quite frankly, I am too.”
We exchanged glances and shrugs. We’d felt it, too. The crew had been too quiet. For the past few days, they’d silently gone about their jobs with lips pressed, eyes avoiding us as we neared Japan’s coast. Since leaving Pearl Harbor, we’d been at sea for ten storm-tossed days. One would have thought the ship would be rife with channel fever in anticipation of reaching Yokosuka. But even the redoubtable chiefs were unapproachable as they strut about our decks or sat in the goat locker, their arms folded in regal silence.
What is going on? we wondered.
The exec’s eyes narrowed. “Come on. Better to find out now then after we tie up.”
The exec took a drag off his Pall Mall then looked up, “Let’s try again tomorrow. Now. There’s been a change tomorrow for entering port. Sagami Wan entrance 0800. Yokosuka 0930. Special sea detail, 0845. Any questions?”
With another drag, the exec turned to the engineering officer. “No smoke going into Tokyo Bay.” He puffed his chest, the unspoken command that he didn’t want our beloved Tingey, a seventeen year old veteran of the Battle of Leyte Gulf, to embarrass us before our squadron flag, the U.S.S. Mahan (DLG 11). For sure, there was animosity between the DLG/DDG crowd and the DDs. Maybe they were jealous of the campaign ribbons on our bridge from World War II and Korea. The Mahan sure didn’t have any.
It began the previous summer when we’d been fleeted up from a reserve destroyer to become a once-again full-time greyhound of the sea. An international crisis was on in Berlin. Something about the East Germans building a wall through the center of the City. Another crisis was brewing in the Gulf of Siam, so we’d been ordered to re-join the big boys in WESPAC to screen our carriers from the bad guys. They stuffed us into Destroyer Squadron Fifteen that sported twelve destroyers: four were of the fleet’s newest guided missile frigates (DLG); another four were new guided missile destroyers (DDG). The final four was taken up by us and three other Fletcher class destroyers. Compared to the DLGs and DDGs, we were sort of “out there” and treated accordingly. Mix and match.
For sure, juxtaposing a Fletcher class alongside a Coontz class guided missile frigate was like parking a model T Ford alongside a Ferrari. The champions of the U.S. Navy were festooned with the latest mods of Tartar and Terrier guided missiles. Also, they had high-tech things like NTDS, ASROC and super-sensitive mark 44 tube-launched homing torpedoes all designed to handle Ivan’s growing submarine threat. This was capped off with new modular CICs, where on-watch sailors defended the fleet in air-conditioned comfort. Even their wardrooms were air conditioned. And we were en-route to the humidity soaked South China Sea. But on a calm day and with a good tail wind, the mighty Tingey did have a thirty knot capability and could maintain fleet speed with the carriers and other brand new destroyers sporting air-conditioned modular CICs.
The corners of the engineering officer’s mouth turned up. “We enter Tokyo Bay in a column, sir?”
The exec raised a clipboard and thumbed aside flimsies. He found a message. “Affirmative. We enter Tokyo Bay in a column.” He smiled back. “We’ll be in last place, again.”
Groans. This meant we’d be the last to tie up and be outboard ship again in a nest of Godzilla-sized guided missile frigates ranging up to 5,800 tons. And we knew they derived a sadistic pleasure out of sticking us outboard in the nest. Getting to the pier meant navigating brass-festooned quarterdecks of these brand-new goliaths, their dress khaki-clad OODs strutting about in officious silence. Worse, it meant that our working parties bringing food and other consumables from the pier had to lug their boxes and crates across three, four, and sometimes five incompatible and oftentimes hostile quarterdecks.
We’d left San Diego about four weeks before making Pearl Harbor in ten days. Fights had broken out the first night ashore in Pearl. Brightwork and canvaswork was stolen off our fo’s’cle. During the next week’s exercises around Oahu, the captain and exec both looked the other way when, relegated as outboard ship, our boatswain’s mates rigged rat-guards after we tied up. This, of course, was the ultimate insult a ship could deliver to another. And it captured the immediate attention of the squadron commodore who ordered our rat-guards stricken. Strangely, it was after that that our brightwork and canvaswork was mysteriously returned. But still, things were tense.
“Yes, sir. Last place in the column. No smoke, Sir,” replied the engineering officer. His tone implied, “what does it matter? If we do make smoke, we’ll be so far back in the column that people on the Mahan’s bridge will never see us anyway.” But he didn’t have to worry. The Tingey, for all her seventeen years and thousands of miles of steaming, still had a tight, well-maintained plant.
With a slight shake of his head, the exec said, “Just make sure, okay?” He flipped more flimsies. “Right. All initialed.” The exec made sure we read and initialed all the messages. With an uncanny expertise, he flicked his cigarette butt over the side — a shot of about seventeen feet. “Dismissed. Movie tonight is Guns of Navaronne.”
Now this is more like it. With an alacrity not often seen, we scampered from the 01 level down to our non-air conditioned wardroom on the main-deck. We were anxious for another showing of Alistair McLean’s best-selling adaptation. It had a great cast: Gregory Peck, David Niven, Anthony Quinn, and Irene Pappas who plays Maria Pappadimos. We’d traded it among the ships of DESRON FIFTEEN on our way from San Diego and had seen this action-packed thriller five times.
We stood as our Captain entered. He seated us with a smile and small talk. Coffee cups rattled in their saucers. The overhead lights were snapped off; the space darkened as Zippo lighters clicked. Immediately, the Bell & Howell sixteen millimeter projector ground into life. Once again, our disbelief was suspended as credits rolled and blue cigar and cigarette smoke swirled before the screen.
We knew most of the lines and after two hours of action-packed nail-biting drama, we are ready for the pay off. At last, thunderous explosion after ear-splitting explosion rack Navarrone as Peck and Niven get the guns blown up. The mountain spews fiery, black detritus for miles around that collapses into the Aegean, the twin German cannons tumbling right behind.
Now for the best part. Gregory Peck and Irene Pappas commandeer a gleaming mahogany Riva speedboat and race offshore to rescue a drowning Anthony Quinn, a victim of a Nazi stab wound. The irony is that Quinn has vowed to kill Gregory Peck after their mission is completed. Now, this is plainly evident as Navaorrone’s massive crater spews fire and smoke.
Pappas skillfully maneuvers the Riva alongside a bleeding, sputtering Quinn. He’s going down for the third time.
Here comes the best part: Irene Pappas jazzes the Riva’s throttle making it sound like a well-oiled, V-16 supercharged engine. With a throaty roar, it goes, “Vroom vroom.” The Riva reminds us of our high school days when we chased girls and did our utmost to buy Smitty glass-pak 26 inch mufflers for whatever cars we could afford.
Peck thrusts out a boat hook to a blubbering Quinn and commands in his signature deep timbre, “Come on, Man. Grab it!”
“… I…I can’t,” Quinn sputters.
“… Vroooom, vroom,” goes Pappas.
“Vroom, vroom, ” we shout back in unison.
“Grab, it!” Demands Peck.
“Grab it,” we shout.
“Vroom, vroom,” goes Pappas.
“Vroom, vroom,” we yell.
An exhausted Quinn barely snags the boathook with a forefinger. Peck drags Quinn aboard. Quinn tumbles into Irene Pappas’ eager arms. British destroyers joyfully hoot their whistles while a choir sings “Maria’s Song” in the background.
We give a last, “Vroom, vroom.”
The projector stops, then is threaded for a re-wind. Eyes blink as bright stygian lights flash on in a smoky wardroom, snapping us back to reality. Time for the sack; some of us are up at 2330 for the midwatch.
We stand respectfully, letting the captain exit. He heads down the passage way and ducks into our un-air conditioned non-modular CIC where he’ll study the radars and take in the picture. From there, he’ll climb to the bridge for a last look around before he retires to his sea-cabin.
The exec blocks the exit, lights up another Pall Mall and delivers a withering glance, “Figure out what they’re up to, Okay? And no foul-ups tomorrow. We have to look good for our grand entrance.” He turns and heads for his stateroom below.
The next morning found us under clear blue skies and a calm rolling sea. The wind wasn’t up yet leaving the surface glassy with the consistency of thirty-weight oil. We’d already formed into the dreaded column and once again, Tingey took up the rear as tail-end Charlie. Even so, one could see Fujiyama’s snow capped peak from the bridge. It stood in white misty splendor beckoning right off our bow. Amazing, we’d really made it.
Everyone shook hands with the Exec at officer’s call on the quarterdeck. He doubled as our navigator and guffawed with, ‘Aw shucks,’ tongue in cheek, knowing that he didn’t have any choice but to follow eleven destroyers and a great big fat carrier. But we knew he’d been out there taking his morning stars and sun lines, verifying our position.
Thus, with a smattering of pride, he raised the plan of the day and began to read. “Now lissen up. We’ll man the rail at 0900 and I want everyone-“
A palm went to his forehead. “What the–?” He looked from side to side and then called to the Operations officer. “Get the yeoman up here on the double.”
“Sir, anything wrong?” asked the operations officer. The yeomen were in his department.
“You better believe it.” He shoved the plan of the day under the Ops officer’s nose.”
“…, Sir, I don’t… holy smokes!”
“What’s going on?” The Exec jabbed a finger at the top of the page.
We yanked copies from our pockets and discovered what we hadn’t noticed during a hurried breakfast. The masthead clearly read: U.S.S. Tingey (DDG 539).
“Whose joke is this? I’ll have that yeoman busted to seaman deuce,” roared the Exec.
The chief engineer, wearing signature oil spattered overalls and garrison cap, popped up from the aft fireroom hatch, about thirty feet aft from where we stood. Deliberately ignoring officer’s call, he turned aft and sauntered toward the fantail, flashlight in hand. The Exec was still muttering about the DDG flap when our chief engineer quickly walked forward and joined our ranks, an enormous grin glowing like the fires in his Babcock and Wilcox boilers.
The Exec demanded, “What’s so funny?”
“Sir, I just discovered why we’re a DDG.” He nodded aft.
“If you’d be so nice as to let me in on your little secret,” The Exec said with evident sarcasm.
“I think you should take a look, Sir.” The Chief Engineer again nodded aft.
“Stand fast.” With doubled fists, the Exec walked aft. Sixty seconds later, he was back, his grin as big as the Chief Engineer’s. “You had all better take a look.”
So we did.
The shipfitters had made a guided missile from plain sheet metal and fitted it over the entire length of mount 55, our after five-inch gun mount. It was replete with fins and nose cone. Like the fleet’s Terrier and Tartar missiles, the body was painted a deep blue, the fins white. A black toilet plunger was fixed to the tip.
“For sure this beats rat-guards,” the Exec growled. “We’ll enter port just as she is and watch ‘em get apoplexy.”
We entered port and our guided missile lasted just two days. The squadron commodore ordered it stricken, saying something about an affront to Japanese sensitivity. Like a first class boatswain’s mate busted to seaman second, we were stripped of our hard-earned DDG status and relegated back to being a common DD.
But there’s a happy ending. Two weeks after that, we were transferred into the welcoming arms of DESRON ONE. We thought this was pretty cool since DESRON ONE’s stack insignia was the first-place rosette logo of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer and our skipper was Commander J. R. Pabst.
We were sent to the South China Sea where we endured the humidity in our un-air conditioned CIC and wardroom to say nothing of the mess decks and sonar shack. We really didn’t have time to think about it, as we were at twenty-five to thirty knots day and night plane-guarding for the U.S.S. Hancock (CVA 19) around Yankee station. And we looked for Communist submarines We actually found a live one and held him down for three days — all without the benefit of a modular air conditioned CIC, to say nothing of our stuffy, oftentimes claustrophobic sonar shack.
We came of age while chasing Hancock around Yankee Station. Even without air-conditioning, our World War II battle-hardened Tingey took good care of us and brought us home to our families. We pulled it off. Amazing.
That was nearly sixty years ago. The Tingey is gone now; long ago expended as a target off San Clemente Island. But I think fondly of her and my shipmates as Turner Classic Movies once again rolls The Guns of Navaronne It still takes two hours but finally, the end is near and I get to go, “vroom, vroom,” while my wife sits there with folded arms, shaking her head and rolling her eyes.
This article was originally published in Tin Can Sailor. Re-printed here with permission.
John J. Gobbell is the author of the bestselling Todd Ingram Series. You can browse the entire 6 book series here.
“Powerful and engaging. Truly an inspiring and emotional story of bravery and sacrifice … a must read.” —Nelson DeMille, #1 NYT Bestselling Author
Severn River Publishing was founded by military veterans and family members who share a love of story. This love of story extends to sharing stories with others.
Operation Paperback is a national, non-profit organization, whose volunteers collect new and gently-used books to send to American troops overseas, as well as veterans and military families here at home.
This year through Operation Paperback, we have sent over 50 books to US Troops and their families serving our country. We are acutely aware of the hardships and struggles our troops and their family members face. Being separated from family and isolated, stories can bring joy, hope, and connection that was otherwise missing.
You can read more about Operation Paperback here.
SRP: Where did you come up with the idea for The Enemies of My Country?
Jason: Many heroes of military thrillers have no family—a fact inconveniently pointed out to me by a reader of my first book, shortly after I’d committed to writing about a military thriller hero with no family. At the time I was fresh out of the Army, and didn’t think much of it.
But since then I’ve become a father myself, and my adorable daughter has succeeded in making me very, very soft and weak. I just couldn’t write about a lone mercenary killer anymore; at the same time, I was far too ruined for a normal job to pursue any other line of work.
So for this book, I decided to flip the normal convention on its head. This time, my hero would have a family—and he was going to find them in grave danger.
SRP: What can you tell us about the plot?
Jason: David Rivers is an elite-level assassin. He’s an expert in the art of violence. Honing his skill first as a Ranger, then as a mercenary, and now as a CIA contractor conducting covert action around the world.
But in his secluded mountain home in Virginia, David Rivers lives a double life. There, Rivers is known as a caring husband to his new wife, and the doting father to his young daughter.
Soft targets to his enemies.
Half a world away, on a mission to assassinate a foreign operative, Rivers uncovers his worst fear.
An imminent attack on US soil will occur in four days.
The target is in his hometown.
And his wife and daughter are mentioned by name.
SRP: What were the easiest and most difficult parts of writing The Enemies of My Country?
Jason: The easiest part was the premise—a man finds his family in danger, and has four days to uncover and stop an imminent terrorist attack. Simple, right?
The catch was figuring out how to turn that promising foundation into a full storyline, and packing all the events and characters into one cohesive and fast-paced book. THAT was the hard part, and I quickly wondered if I’d bit off more than I could chew.
Several months, many hours of weeping at a keyboard, and untold bottles of bourbon later, the result is this book.
SRP: The hero of this book is former Army Ranger David Rivers. What would he say if he met you in person?
Jason: First and foremost, he’d probably shame me for being a cat owner—rightfully so. Then he’d slap me for all the trouble I’ve put him through in this book—once again, fully justified.
After that, we’d probably sit down and enjoy our shared favorite pastime: drinking bourbon.
And I’d try not to make him angry.
SRP: What’s next for David?
Jason: The Enemies of My Country kicks off a ten-book series outline that will take David to the world’s most dangerous corners, as he uncovers a sinister conspiracy with global implications. The second book will be released later this year.
SRP: You’re known for engaging with your readers, from answering emails to chatting on your Facebook reader group. What’s it like interacting with them on a daily basis?
Jason: There’s an Eastern saying that “the teacher and the taught together create the teaching.” I think this applies equally well as “the author and the readers together create the books.”
If no one read my work, I’d still write every day—but my stories wouldn’t be nearly as good.
Feedback from readers helps me improve with each book, and their support keeps me going no matter how difficult a manuscript gets. As any author can tell you, the writing process is filled with dizzying highs and crushing lows. It helps a lot to know the readers have my back, and no matter how many books I write in this lifetime, I owe them a lot more than they owe me.
Also, I vividly remember starting out and having no readers at all. The world is a cold and lonely place for a struggling writer, so it’s hard for me not to be deliriously grateful today.
SRP: What good books have you read lately?
Jason: Confession time—I’ve never been big into zombie movies.
When a friend of mine recommended World War Z, I reluctantly agreed to check out the first few chapters.
Three days later I’d not only finished the book, but was ready to wrap a baseball bat in barbed wire and go battle the undead hordes. If you haven’t read that book, check it out!
SRP: You’re stranded on a desert island with all of your basic needs taken care of (food, shelter, clothes). What three items would you bring?
Jason: All the bourbon I could take with me, obviously. Then a baseball bat. And finally, some barbed wire to wrap around the bat, just in case the zombies come.
The Enemies of My Country launches January 15. Pre-order here.