SEALing the Deal: Author Jack Carr visits the Savannah Book Festival

By Mike Broderick

Almost 100 years ago, former-Pinkerton man, Dashiell Hammett, turned his experiences as a private investigator into fascinating tales that captured the imaginations of readers everywhere. Today, former-Navy SEAL, Jack Carr, follows the same tradition, bringing his military experience to the printed page.

Carr spent 20 years in Naval Special Warfare, from an enlisted SEAL sniper specializing in communications and intelligence, to leading special operations teams in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Philippines. Last spring, he released his debut novel, The Terminal List, a fast-paced, action-packed thriller. Carr will be among the featured authors at this year’s Savannah Book Festival.

The Terminal List features Lt Cmdr. James Reece, one of two servicemen who survived a catastrophic ambush in Afghanistan. Returning home, the other survivor is found dead under mysterious circumstances, and soon after, Reece’s wife and child are killed in a home invasion. Reece is convinced these events are no coincidence, and begins to unravel a conspiracy that stretches from his chain of command to higher levels in the federal government. With nothing to lose, the former Navy SEAL applies the lessons of warfare to his personal mission of vengeance.

Carr grew up in Northern California, and wanted to become a published author for as long as he can remember. His mother is a librarian, so a love of books and of reading was instilled in him from a very early age. “My early influences were the authors on my parent’s bookshelves: Fredrick Forsyth, Ken Follett, Robert Ludlum, John le Carré and Ian Fleming,” he says.

The future author had a second goal for himself – to serve his country. “My grandfather was killed in World War II, so I grew up surrounded by his medals, the silk escape and evasion maps issued to aviators during the war, and old black-and-white photos of his plane and squadron.”

But it was the Navy SEALS that captured his imagination, and Carr set his sights on joining their ranks and becoming a sniper. Following his first two deployments, he spent three months at Officer Candidate School, then returned to the SEAL teams as an officer. “I always knew that after my military service I would shift my focus to writing novels,” he says.

It was David Morrell’s The Brotherhood of the Rose where he saw SEALs written about in a fictional context for the first time. “Reading about SEALs the way David Morrell described them in his novel cemented my resolve to join the SEAL teams and write thrillers, just like the authors I loved to read growing up,” he explains.

Carr’s early education in storytelling came through the works of Nelson DeMille, J.C. Pollock, Tom Clancy, Louis L’Amour, Marc Olden, A.J. Quinnell, and the aforementioned Morrell. Later, he found another important influence on his literary development. Says Carr, “I discovered the great Stephen Hunter, who continues to inspire me today.”

While in the service, Carr followed writers like Daniel Silva, Vince Flynn and Brad Thor, all of whom are personal heroes. “I try to have my own voice,” he says, “but I readily acknowledge the influence these masters of the craft have had on me and my writing.”

The impact of those authors, coupled with his academic study of warfare and his experiences in combat, combine to make Carr’s book a visceral read. “I took my feelings from combat and applied them to a fictional narrative,” he says. “That was never part of a grand strategy, rather it was something that happened naturally as I wrote. It actually ended up being a very therapeutic process for me, which is not what I expected at the outset.”

Initially, Carr just wanted to write a good story. As it progressed, it became a way for him to explore some of the emotions he had experienced “behind the scope.” He believes one reason why it has resonated with readers is that, although a work of fiction, the emotions Reece feels in the novel are emotions Carr – and many others in the military – have experienced. “If the emotions associated with the characters in the novel feel authentic,” he says, “that’s because they are.

This includes not only the psychological trauma of combat, but also the emotional shift that occurs upon returning home. “Exploring the emotions surrounding my military experience and transferring that experience into a fictional narrative became a journey that helped me as a human being and as an author.”

He describes his book as a novel of revenge without constraint, but with multiple levels. Reece’s campaign is also a war on a system removed from the consequences of its political decisions. “It’s about frustration with strategic level leaders who send tactical level operators to their deaths from the comfort of their offices in Washington D.C. and Northern Virginia,” he says.

As a serviceman, Carr was obliged to submit his manuscript to the Department of Defense for review, but that didn’t influence the final narrative. “They advertised a 30-day review period and I got The Terminal List back in 45 days, which I thought was reasonable,” he says.

Six or seven lines were redacted, but Carr chose to keep those lines blacked out in the novel so that he wouldn’t have to resubmit. It also allowed readers the opportunity to try to figure out what was blacked out. “To be honest,” he adds, “they blacked out a couple things you can find on official government websites.”

The book has been extremely well received by critics and other political/military-thriller authors – as well as Carr’s most demanding audience. He was uncertain how his former SEAL teammates would react. “I have been humbled and a bit relieved to have received nothing but positive feedback from those I fought beside in Iraq and Afghanistan,” the author says. “Those that run to the sound of the guns are constant companions as I write, so their approval and support mean more than I can possibly express.”

A sequel is scheduled for publication this summer. True Believer will be the second in what Carr sees as an ongoing series. “As long as readers want to hear about the next adventure and the evolution of James Reece, I’ll be writing stories with him as the protagonist.”

TheSkinnie VOL. 17 ISSUE 03