James Rollins – The WAR HAWK Interview

WAR HAWK creates a realistic relationship and brings back the beloved characters of working dog Kane and his handler Tucker Wayne. The plot begins when a former flame and army colleague, Jane Sabatello, asks Tucker for his help in finding those who want to kill her and have murdered her former co-workers. Through his investigation he finds that an evil corporate CEO, Pruitt, is behind these killings and global conspiracy. He is using the knowledge of Alan Turing, the English code-breaker of the Nazis, to change the way modern warfare is fought.

Elise Cooper: What was it like to co-write with Grant Blackwood?

JR: We outlined in great detail, about twenty pages long, as we went chapter by chapter. I took the first whack of Kane’s mindset while Grant having been in the Navy was able to write how a warrior would react. I wrote the final edit to make one consistent voice.

EC: How much of the backstory should be written in each book?

JR: It is a challenge. I do not want to slow down the plot. There is a lot of juggling. When I do my editing I cut out a lot of the backstory. My goal is to give a flavor and information for a new reader while not boring those who read my previous books.

EC: One of the characters, Sandy, a mathematician and computer science expert seemed to admire Alan Turing. Is that how you felt?

JR: Yes, the quote is a reflection of how I feel, “She always felt a deep bond with Alan Turing, an affinity that transcended worship. Maybe she felt a kinship with the man-not only for their common love of math and codes…” I do think of him as a hero, the father of modern computers. He was brilliant but because he was gay was shunned and banned. I compare this to those who were in the military that were war heroes, received medals; yet when it came out they were gay got kicked out of the service. They received a dishonorable discharge despite the fact they had exemplary service and risked their lives for our country.

EC: Did you get the idea for the story from the movie about Turing, THE IMITATION GAME?

JR: No. When I first pitched this to my editor the movie had not come out.

EC: The book has Tucker and Jane with a new form of PTSD, “moral injury.” Please explain.

JR: I first learned about it when I was associated with USA Cares. It relates to the shattering of moral and ethical expectations. Unfortunately, medication has no benefit and currently only therapy seems to work. It can manifest as shame, guilt, anxiety, and anger along with behavioral changes such as alienation, withdrawing, and possibly suicide. I wanted the reader to have a better understanding of the causes and consequences of someone afflicted with this aspect of PTSD.

EC: What betrayal did Tucker feel?

JR: Tucker received “moral injury” from his guilt about the war dog Abel. He could have jumped off the helicopter and tried to rescue him, but did not. He felt like he betrayed Able. He has been running away from these problems and has chosen not to face it. Tucker has an old wound from losing his partner with the feeling that he had an arm cut off. Both Jane and Tucker have been traumatized and these similar injuries help them find a way back to each other. I put more of this backstory in the book but cut it out. I will probably put it in the next Tucker book.

EC: You are very descriptive with the settings. Please explain.

JR: I like to ground the story in reality through having settings as real places. I knew about Redstone Arsenal after going to a book signing in Huntsville, Alabama. Another setting I am considering for a future book is a base I saw on my way from New Orleans to Mobile. I asked my driver about it. It turns out that it was so secretive and information was blacked out that not even the locals know about it.

EC: Can you discuss the point you wanted to make about drones?

JR: There is currently an arms race underway to develop new and improved robotic warriors, even those that can operate autonomously. Basically, drones can be sent out to kill with little or no human involvement. Will this mean that they make us more likely to go to war? In the book Rex represents a drone that learns and can be beneficial. But, what happens if it is able to go beyond our ability to control?

EC: Going along with that, do you see the modern battlefield changing?

JR: Yes. We are now seeing the lines blurring between military forces and those armies being controlled by corporations. To save money and balance budgets, governments, are handing more and more military powers over to corporate boardrooms. I think this year as we see with Presidential candidates, we are seeing some push back against that, which will hopefully continue. If we shift our military responsibility to corporations there could be no interest to protect human life and their only concern is the bottom line of profitability.

EC: You discuss in the book a three-pronged attack. Please explain.

JR: It is called information warfare. This has been used by ISIS in the Middle East, Russia in Ukraine, and by China with the US. It intertwines everything digitally: electronics mess with transmissions; cyber attacks disrupt a nation’s infrastructure; and psychological operations that spread misinformation. ISIS uses social media while Russia and China are ahead of us, leaving us scrambling to catch up. They have much more of an arsenal of hackers.

EC: Can you give heads up about your next projects?

JR: Lionsgate is doing a featured movie version of MAP OF BONES with screenwriter Joe Robert Cole. Hopefully, Sigma will come to the big screen with a film fans will enjoy because once I signed I understand I signed my life away.

The next Sigma book will come out later this year, entitled, THE 7th PLAGUE. It is a modern version of the ten deadly plagues that Moses inflicted on the Egyptians.

The next Tucker/Kane book will have Jane back in a prominent role because she has a skill set that is very useful. I am considering a number of different scenarios. I am probably going to write the details of the backstory regarding Tucker and his dog Abel. I am not sure when the book will come out.