Thursday, July 10, 2014

Interview with author Tom Young - Sand and Fire

Please welcome seasoned author and veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, Tom Young to the blog. He is here to tell us about his new military novel Sand and Fire.
Tom the floor's yours!



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 Reading Frenzy.
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 hes 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 Blounts.  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 cant let his friends go into harms way without him—setting off a chain of events that puts his life on the line and leads him to fear hes 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 others strengths, and they compensate for each others weaknesses. But though I have recurring characters, I try to write each novel so that it can stand alone; you dont 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 Mullahs 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 hes a gentle giant—who can turn into an unholy terror in combat. Hes 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 worse enemy.
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 Mullahs 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 its 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 harms 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 dont miss 24-hour crew duty days, which sometimes translated into 36 hours without sleep. And I certainly dont miss getting shot at—though that didnt happen too often.

Do you have a lot of military fans?
Id like to think so, and its 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 theyve deployed. We compare notes about places weve 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; Ive 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 Somalias 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!

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.

CONNECT WITH TOM - Website - Facebook- Twitter


  1. Great interview, thanks for sharing!

  2. Fantastic interview. I love that these work as standalone, but fans can still see old characters and get updates.

  3. This definitely isn't my typical reading grab but Debbie I think I'm going to have to hunt down book one. I've never served so no real idea what it's like but I liked he mentioned hearing from people who said it helped them understand what their friends/family had experienced. That's a pretty powerful thing.

    1. I know what you mean Anna, and thanks for the comment. Your support means the world to me, as you do too!