North Africa. A jihadist leader has seized a supply of sarin gas and is wreaking havoc: a nightclub in Sicily, a packed street in Gibraltar. Acting on information, Marine gunnery sergeant A. E. Blount, at six-foot-eight a formidable warrior, the grandson of one of the first black Marines, sets out with his strike force to kill or capture the terrorist.
Tom, welcome to The
Thanks for the chance to chat with you!
Tell my readers about
Sand and Fire.
Sand and Fire features my Marine Corps
character, Gunnery Sergeant A.E. Blount. In the opening chapter of Sand and Fire,
Blount has reached the twenty-year mark in his career, and he has applied for
retirement. He has promised his wife and daughters he’s coming home to stay.
But on what would have been his last night overseas, a terrorist attack strikes
a nightclub across from the base. The attack—using nerve gas—kills an old
friend of Blount’s. More nerve gas
attacks kill civilians in other locations.
When Blount gets home, he learns that his unit
plans to deploy to take on the terrorist group responsible for the nerve gas
attacks. Now he finds himself torn between loyalty to his family and loyalty to
his buddies in arms. The bonds of his military family are as strong as any
other family ties. He decides that he can’t let his friends go into harm’s way without
him—setting off a chain of events that puts his life on the line and leads him
to fear he’s seen his wife and kids for the last time.
Tom, I noticed that
these novels have some returning characters.
How are your books related?
With each book, I try to portray present-day
military personnel doing their jobs in a realistic way. No comic book
superheroes, just ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. I have
recurring characters, and their relationships develop over time. They learn
from each other’s strengths, and they compensate for each other’s weaknesses. But
though I have recurring characters, I try to write each novel so that it can
stand alone; you don’t have to read the series in order. I often hear from new
readers who have picked up the latest book in the series—and then they go back
to the first novel, The Mullah’s Storm, and read the rest of them
from there. Nobody seems to have any trouble reading them out of order.
Not only do your
series stars of Lieutenant Colonel Michael Parson and Sergeant Major Sophia
Gold return in this novel but you’ve also brought back Gunnery Sergeant Blount.
What was special about him that made you bring him back?
Blount made his first appearance as a minor
character in my third novel, The Renegades. Now he gets a story of his own.
After The Renegades came out, I got such a
positive response about Gunny Blount—and I enjoyed writing him so much—that I
decided to give him a star turn in his own novel. I think people like Blount
because he’s a gentle giant—who can turn into an unholy terror in combat.
He’s a six-foot-eight African-American Marine, a family man with a soft spot
for kids. He also displays great loyalty to his friends and colleagues. But his
strength and his martial arts prowess make him a fearsome warrior, even by the
standards of his fellow Marines. Blount embodies that old Marine Corps saying: “No better friend, no
I share one trait with Blount: We both grew up
on a Carolina tobacco farm. His memories of working the fields are my own.
Would you say that
your novels not only entertain but also educate the general public about
conditions in the places written about?
I hope they do. For example, my first three
novels—The Mullah’s Storm, Silent Enemy, and The Renegades—were set in the
Afghanistan war. I described the landscape and wrote some of the military
details from my own experience, but as a flier, I did not have a lot of contact
with Afghan people. However, I knew other service members who had a lot of
experience training Afghan military personnel and providing medical services
and other aid to Afghans. I did extensive interviews with folks who had worked
closely with people in Afghanistan, and that helped me draw a more richly
detailed picture of life in that country.
Those interviews provided terrific anecdotes,
like the one about an Afghan commander who rewarded his air force unit with a
gift of chickens—live chickens, flown in on a helicopter. The guys kept the
chickens in a pen near the flight line, and the unit members supplemented their
rations with fresh eggs.
In my novel The Warriors—set in Bosnia and
Serbia—I included a fair amount of detail about the Balkan wars and their
aftermath. For a lot of Americans, the 1990s wars in Bosnia and Kosovo were
forgotten conflicts even when they were happening. Part of my reason for
writing that novel was to illustrate what can happen when the world turns a
blind eye to atrocities.
I also hope my novels educate people about the
American military. Less than one percent of the American population has served
in Iraq or Afghanistan. The all-volunteer military gives us a highly
professional fighting force, but it also creates a wide gap between the
military and the civilian population it serves. By writing these novels, I hope
I can use this entertainment medium to help bridge that gap, if only just a
little. I try to let the reader see what it’s like to do certain types of jobs
in the military, and to help the reader understand the motivations and mindset
of those who willingly go into harm’s way.
First I must say
thank you for your service.
It’s pretty unimaginable for me and I would assume most of the US to relate to
what our servicemen and women face everyday fighting on foreign soil.
Is writing cathartic for you?
I do find writing cathartic, but I should hasten
to add that during my deployments for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, I did not
experience anything personally traumatic enough to cause delayed stress. As a
flier, I was spared the things that can happen to ground troops. But I was
around many people who sacrificed a lot. For example, I helped transport the
wounded. Sadly, I also helped bring home the fallen, in flag-draped transfer
cases. I write these stories not so much to process my own experiences but to
honor the service of my fellow veterans.
You’ve only recently
retired from duty in the Air National Guard.
What do you miss the most about it?
I miss the flying, and I miss working with my
squadron mates. In military service you find camaraderie unlike anything in
civilian life. I also miss some things about the aircrew lifestyle: Nice hotel
in Spain on one night, a tent in Afghanistan the next. But I don’t miss 24-hour crew
duty days, which sometimes translated into 36 hours without sleep. And I
certainly don’t miss getting shot at—though that didn’t happen too often.
Do you have a lot of
I’d like to think so, and it’s quite gratifying to
hear from fellow service members and veterans. I often get e-mail from people
who tell me about their bases and their units, and when and where they’ve deployed. We
compare notes about places we’ve been, planes we have flown, etc.
I hear from people who have only recently enlisted, and I hear from people who
served as long ago as World War II.
I also hear from relatives of service members
who say the novels help them understand what their father, brother, sister, or
son has gone through.
Do you know where
your next novel adventure will be about yet?
Yes; I’ve set the next novel in
Somalia. Sophia Gold talks Colonel Parson into volunteering some of his leave
time to fly an old DC-3 on a mission of mercy. Al-Shabaab terrorists threaten
their efforts to help Somalia’s most needy.
Tom thanks so much
for taking the time to answer a few questions.
Thank you again for your service and good luck with the new novel!
Thanks so much for these good questions!
MEET THE AUTHOR:
At the time of his retirement as a senior master sergeant in 2013, Tom Young had logged nearly five thousand hours as a flight engineer for the Air National Guard in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kosovo, Bosnia, and elsewhere. The author of five novels, most recently The Warriors, he lives in Alexandria, Virginia.