Some readers may remember Jon and his post about the Wounded Warrior Project which featured here a few weeks ago. Now Jon is back participating in an interview with yours truly. Please enjoy the following interview:
DERELICTION OF DUTY QUESTIONS
Agent Fox is the main character in “Dereliction of Duty”. What do you see are the similarities between yourself and Agent Fox?
When I finally got serious about writing Dereliction of Duty, I wanted to write a story that broke from the stereotypical soldier stories you see on TV and in the theatres. I wanted to write a story about a real soldier, not a superhero so I went with what I knew best. I tried to use my own personality and feelings when I created my main character and all of the other characters.
We read how Agent Fox being in the army has affected his family life, how it has taken a toll on his marriage and relationship with his son. Why did you decide to include this in the story?
Although sad, being a soldier is probably the toughest profession on marriages and families. After 20 years in the Army, I only know a handful of friends who still remain married to this day. A story about soldiers, military life or war that does not touch on that aspect of military life is not believable. I thought it was an important aspect to include to add a little more realism to the story.
Are the characters and events in “Dereliction of Duty” based on real people?
Yes! I based every character in the story off of a real person that I met or somehow came in contact with during my career. A lot of the events are based on real events but may not have happened the way they did in the story. I took a group of unrelated yet real events and people and brought them all together into what I believe is a fun and exciting story. On that question, I have received repeated questions from reporters asking if it was a true story, so I guess I was able to make it believable enough to convince the people who reported on the stories I touched on.
Who is your favourite character, and who was your favourite character to write, and why?
My favourite character to write was Scott Cumming because he so closely matched the real person I created him after. I was surprised at how easy it was to write his parts of the story. Since the release, all of our mutual friends have contacted me and commented on how they were easily able to see who that character was. I will not mention his name here but he also likes cheap vodka.
The army’s motto is “Do what has to be done”. We learn how this motto is put into play whilst reading the book. Do you think some of the characters might have taken this motto a little too far morally?
Actually the Army motto is “Army Strong” but the Army Criminal Investigation Command’s motto is “Do what has to be done.” But yes, that was the underlying story that I was trying to get to. In my career I had seen it over and over again, that too many people come to believe that the ends justify the means but that just can’t be so in a society of laws. The one take away I hoped readers would get from this story is that even if you believe you have done everything right and followed every order you were given, you can still be wrong. This is true in what we see going on in both Iraq and Afghanistan today still.
I think there is a strong message in “Dereliction of Duty” of how army personnel follow orders somewhat blindly, they don’t have all information available to them, they don’t know all of the facts, but yet they carry out their duties because they have been ordered to. I think most personnel believe they are doing the right thing when in fact sometimes they are doing wrong without knowing it. Is this a message you wanted to get across by writing this book; that these are people following orders, believing they are doing good and unfortunately sometimes get blamed and criticised for their actions by the public?
Like my answer above, you have hit on exactly what I was trying to get across to the readers in a fun and entertaining way and not preaching to them. We have seen it over and over in the news over the last several years with soldiers getting in trouble and the first response is always “I was ordered by my commander.” As a criminal investigator for the Army I saw it far too often and wanted to base my books on it.
Cummings was one character that followed orders, even though he perhaps didn’t feel what he was doing was the right thing. I liked his character. What do you like about Cummings?
I really like Cummings a lot (despite what happens to him in Return to Duty:)) but readers were split on him. They either liked him or hated him. I think what the readers who did not like him missed was that he was exactly like Fox. He followed orders because he believed it was his duty to do so. Again, I tried to base all of my characters on real people that I have known and tried to write the story around how I think they would have acted or responded during the fictional events. I wasn’t trying to write a story about superheroes, I was trying to tell a fictional story as if it could have happened.
Deception, politics, cover ups and power all play a part in “Dereliction of Duty”. It is incredible to read what actually goes on. I know this book is a work of fiction but I believe it would be quite an accurate description of how things are run. Agent Fox seeks to overcome some of these aspects. Was Agent Fox used as a way of making the public aware of what happens behind the scenes?
I will say that Dereliction of Duty is closer to real life than most people would want to admit, but for the record, it is complete fiction. All of the events and situations I used to base the story on happened to some degree but I twisted them to make them more exciting and entertaining. You and I both know that real life is much scarier than fiction and the situations I used in Dereliction of Duty are mild compared to what actually goes on with governments.
Adel is one of my favourite characters in “Dereliction of Duty”. Why do you think it was important to include him in the story?
I think Adel was one of the most important characters in my story. During my time working in Iraq, I had the privilege of meeting and working with some wonderful Iraqi citizens that wanted nothing more than to have a safe place to call home and raise their children. Adel is also based on a real person who I remain in contact with to this day. I don’t believe any other story so far has depicted the citizens of Iraq in a fair way. They are some wonderful people that have hopes and dreams of a better life just like you and I. They did not ask for the war, it was thrust upon them just like 9/11 came to our door. I included him in the story to show that a war is not just the good guys against the bad guys, there are always innocents stuck in the middle.
Have any of your previous army associates read “Dereliction of Duty”? What were their reactions?
Several of my former co-workers have read Dereliction of Duty and the responses have been mixed. Almost all of them positive but some, especially those still working in the organization were a little reserved. I think I might have touched a nerve with some who have found themselves in similar situations and try to deny they might have been wrong. But the responses from civilians who have read it have been overwhelmingly positive. I think the response that stands out most in my mind was a reader who went to my website and left a message saying how much he enjoyed the lack of profanity commonly seen or read in military stories. He appreciated the fact that Dereliction of Duty had none and felt it was more realistic simply for that reason.
Was it a scary process to get “Dereliction of Duty”, your first book, published?
It was not scary at all. I think maybe because I don’t think I really ever imaged I would publish it. I wrote it along with the sequel just before I retired as a fun project. After letting some friends read it, they convinced me to get it published and they helped me every step of the way. Of course, I am still stumbling and fumbling through this whole book promotion thing but it is actually fun. Maybe it would have been a different experience if I was trying to get published to pay my rent, but since the financial part was no concern, I could more fully enjoy the experience.
I understand “Dereliction of Duty” is the first of a three part series. Will the following two books follow the same sort of course or are you thinking of changing things up a little?
Depends on what readers consider changing things up. Return to Duty is already finished and I think it is even better than Dereliction of Duty. The first one had to start off a little slow to introduce the readers to the characters and CID, as most probably never heard of it. Return to Duty will follow the same course in that it mirrors events you might have heard about in the news, but there is much more action and drama. In Dereliction of Duty, my goal was to make the reader scratch his head and wonder if it was true or not. In Return to Duty, I am going to keep you on the edge of your seat much longer and throw a twist in the end that will make you cry, I guarantee it. So all you tough guys out there, make sure your women are not around when you read it 🙂
You are donating the proceeds of “Dereliction of Duty” to the Wounded Warrior Project and I believe you will be choosing a different charity for each of the following books. I think this is a truly wonderful thing you are doing. Can you explain why it is you are doing this and the response you have received from WWP for doing so?
By the grace of god, I returned from two tours in Iraq without serious injury but some of my fellow service members were not so lucky. After visiting Walter Reed Army Hospital I decided I wanted to do something to help these injured heroes return to a normal and productive life. The WWP is one of the best charities that does just that.
The second reason was when my friends and I decided to get the book published, I joked that no one would read a fiction novel from “some guy” they never heard of. So we decided that maybe if it was a new novel from an Army veteran that was helping other Army veterans that maybe people might give it a chance and if they liked it, could raise a lot of money for veterans. Since I already had a wonderful job to provide for my family, I thought it was an outstanding idea.
I read that “Dereliction of Duty is the culmination of 20 years of tough military service and 3 years of even tougher writing…” I would have thought the military service would be tough enough. How tough has it been to write “Dereliction of Duty” compared to military service?
It was incredibly demanding to write this story. I must have started and stopped 100 times. Trying to think back over 20 years of experiences and pick out ones that might fit into the story and then change them enough to still call it fiction was a daunting task. However, I discovered that writing the last chapter was more rewarding than anything I had experienced in the military.
Whilst writing “Dereliction of Duty” how many hours would you spend a day planning, drafting and writing?
Planning and Drafting, what is that? I sat down and wrote straight through from start to finish. I had the idea in my head of the beginning, middle, and end and just set to it. There were some days I would sit and write for 9 or 10 hours and others where I would just fiddle with it for an hour or two. Of course there were a lot of changes at the end. For Return to Duty I was much more organized and did have an outline and lots of notes to work with. And believe me, it was much easier the second time around and my editor was much happier!
Was it hard to keep characters and events as fiction given that you must have drawn on your military experience to come up with both?
When I wrote the first draft I used real names and the events were much closer to real life. I found it easier to keep everything straight in my head that way. After I had the complete story down on paper, I came up with the name list and started going back over it and making the changes needed to turn it from semi-real to exciting fiction.
Where is your favourite place to write?
I did most of my writing stretched out on my couch with a laptop. I wrote Dereliction of Duty shortly after my divorce so I had a lot of free time and a quiet house. Now, most of my writing is done at the desk in my office or on the plane during my many overseas flights to and from work.
Have you always dabbled in writing or only after the army?
While in the Army I was a Special Agent and criminal investigator which required mounds of paperwork. Every case I worked required a detailed written report so I guess you can say I was writing True Crime for 20 years before becoming a fiction writer.
Although looking back, I believe I failed my creative writing classes in both high school and college so becoming a writer was never really in my plans. I would send my professors of copy of Dereliction of Duty, but I’m afraid they would red pen it and mail it back.
What are you doing these days work-wise?
Immediately upon retiring from the Army I was offered and accepted a position as a Labor/Employee Relations Specials. It is a wonderful opportunity to use the investigative skills I developed as a criminal investigator to help employees that are having problems with their job. I work in the middle-east but get to travel home to Colorado (USA) frequently to see my son and new wife.
What do you do in your spare time when you aren’t working/writing?
Unfortunately spare time is rare but when I do manage to get some, I try to spend it with my beautiful new wife and my terrific 12 year old son Bryan. I love golf and have gotten both of them into it so that is something we can do as a family. I also enjoy taking the motorcycle out for a spin when the weather permits. But mostly, just being home and hanging out with the family is good enough. As we discussed, after 20 years of excitement in the Army, I am ready to slow things down a little.
You have a pretty impressive past in the army. After being there for 20 years can you explain how things changed after September 11?
That is a tough question Mandy! It is impossible to narrow it down. I think everything changed after 9/11 and none for the better. We have become a world living in fear and I’m tired of it. 9/11 was a terrible thing but it is time we got past it and stopped using it as an excuse for everything we do. Like the story I wrote, the U.S. Government uses 9/11 as an excuse to do whatever they want and it is time we finally put a stop to it. A lot of people entered the military because of 9/11, but it was the things I witnessed after 9/11 that made me want to get out of the military and government service.
What did you enjoy most about being in the army? Do you miss it now?
Without question the people I met along the way. I met some of the most wonderful people in the world and fortunately remain in contact with them still. Sometimes I think I miss some of the excitement or adrenaline rush that comes with being a Special Agent but all in all, I will have to say I do not miss it.
Who would you most like to meet (dead or alive) and why?
If I was not already married again I would love to meet Sandra Bullock. It is just my luck that she and Jessie James split after I’m off the market 🙂
Who/What is your favourite:
Author? Vince Flynn
Book? Whoever Fights Monsters by Robert Ressler
Character in a book? Thomas Fox 🙂
Genre to read? Action/Fiction
Quote? When you look into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you. (Friedrich Nietzsche)
Movie? Young Guns (1980s)
Film star? Angelina Jolie
TV show? Are you smarter than a 5th grader.
Holiday destination? Paradise Island, Bahamas
Band? Brooks and Dunn
Song? Believe (Brooks and Dunn)
Meal to cook? Stuffed Shells
Drink? Vodka (top shelf, not the cheap stuff that Cummings drinks)
And last but not least, what one question would you ask yourself in an interview and what would the answer be?
After learning all about you and this great series you have written, where can my readers find a copy?
I’m glad you ask, and thanks for your time and support. I would like all of your readers to visit www.jonrenaud.com and click on the Special Tab. Use the password “friend” and get a copy for 50% off. And don’t forget, books make great gifts so buy one for everyone on your Christmas list this year!!!!!
Many thanks, Jon, for participating in this interview and giving readers an insight to you as an author and as a person. I think you have touched on quite a number of issues the readers will recognise and/or connect with. All the best for your future endeavours.
Click here to go to Jon’s profile on my website where you will find links to the blurb of Dereliction of Duty, Jon’s website, where to purchase Dereliction of Duty and a link to Jon’s guest post about writing for a cause, a commitment to Wounded Warriors.