Welcome to our August First Friday Breakfast with author John Gobbell. John is the author of Edge of Valor, the most recent work in the stand-alone Todd Ingram series of World War II, Pacific Theater. It was released by the U.S. Naval Institute Press in July, 2014.
Previously, he published six novels: The Brutus Lie was published by Charles Scribner’s Sons in 1991. That was followed by the World War II Todd Ingram series published by St. Martin’s Press: The Last Lieutenant (1995), A Code For Tomorrow (1999), When Duty Whispers Low (2002) and The Neptune Strategy (2004). These novels are all available on Kindle and Nook.
After that he wrote A Call To Colors which was published by Random House / Ballantine in 2006, the Military Book Club, 2006, and Fusosha Publishers (Japan), 2007. It is also available on Kindle and Nook.
In early days, John served as a deck officer aboard the USS Tingey (DD 539), a revered Fletcher-class destroyer and battle of Leyte Gulf veteran. With John as anti-submarine warfare officer sailed with the Seventh Fleet in the South China Sea. There, the Tingey joined other destroyers forming a protective screen around aircraft carriers at Yankee Station.
Elsewhere, John crewed and skippered in many yacht racing regattas. For three years in a row, he won the Long Beach Yacht Club’s Ficker Cup. This gave him a berth in the Long Beach Yacht Club’s Congressional Cup for 1984, 1985, 1986, one of the most prestigious match-racing regattas featuring America’s cup skippers from around the world.
John and his wife, Janine live in Orange County, California.
This morning I’m enjoying a high protein breakfast of an egg and grilled kippers with an arugula salad topped with peach, banana, blueberries, pecans, and lemon-infused olive oil. After cruising the seas myself, a stout mug of decaf is my beverage of choice. What are you having for your virtual breakfast, Jack?
Are you kidding? I’m so fat that whenever I even glance at toast or a glass of orange juice I gain ten pounds. But I’ve learned my lesson.
Have a good breakfast; but not gargantuan proportions. I do that without slopping up the bacon and hash browns, which I really love. Secret is to get in exercise which I try to do four/five times a week. I walk around Balboa Island which does a couple of things. First, it is really good for your CV system with low impact and no bad stressing. Everything seems to work better. Second, I get a lot of work done. By this I mean it’s a great mind release and many times, I think about stuff and then wait for the answers to come. I image it’s the same as with other repetitive functions from shinning silver to pulling weeds to washing the car. All of a sudden, answers/solutions start popping into your mind. It’s great. But I have learned one thing in this game. Don’t expect answers to come in big chunks. That only happens when you start out. After your first book or two, your answers come in little chunks. Build on them. It works pretty good. So I walk and talk to myself and the guys with the butterfly nets follow close behind. I must be careful.
I love my morning walks, too. Just for the record, Jack is fit as a fiddle. Tell us about your writing process from concept to draft to revision.
Robert McKee tells us in Story that our inspiration comes from three sources. In no particular order they are: 1. Your experience, 2. Your research, 3 Your inspiration. I think these are heavily weighted in one direction or another for most writers. And that’s one of the things that makes fiction so great. At one end of the spectrum you have a Stephen King dreaming up these wildly insane and scary plots with no precedence. He just dreams them up! Amazing. Then you have a John Grisham who cranks out his novels flawlessly like a machine and with solid grounding from his previous legal experience mixed in with a tantalizing disdain for lawyers. In a way, you feel as if you’ve met one or two of his characters, they seem so real, yet so pathetic. From yet another direction is Tom Clancy, God rest his soul, who re-invented the techno-thriller ( I still say Jules Verne was the first techno writer of modern times ) and glues his characters to the events. That’s why at times Clancy’s characters seem so wooden and two dimensional. But that’s okay, the technical-political stuff is so compelling that one can’t help but be drawn in.
I like to do historical thrillers and try to glue my POV characters to actual events. Without distorting the history, the camera is on your character’s shoulder and he sees these amazing events unfold. It’s a great learning process. Hopefully the reader gains knowledge while learning and watching your character stumble along, getting into trouble.
A Call to Colors is an example of this. A-Day, 20 October 1944, is the code-name for when General Douglas MacArthur fulfills his promise of “I Shall Return” to the Filipinos. With over 400 amphibious ships, he lands 165,000 troops in Leyte Gulf to begin throwing the Japanese Army out of the Philippines. Protecting MacArthur is Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr.’s Third Fleet concentrated around sixteen attack carriers. Also, the scrappy Halsey looks for the first opportunity to deliver the killing blow to the Imperial Japanese Navy.
But Admiral Soemu Toyoda, CinC of the Imperial Japanese Navy’s combined fleet, and Vice Admiral Takeo Kurita have a general idea of what MacArthur and Halsey intend. They form a brilliant plan to divert Halsey’s aircraft carriers so they can send in a battle force to wipe out MacArthur’s troop and supply ships. Both sides commit more than 800 ships with the battle for Leyte Gulf becoming the largest naval battle in history.
Caught in the middle is Commander Mike Donovan, skipper of the destroyer USS Matthew.
Once I understand all this and have a compelling historical and have sketched a halfway decent character, then I try to outline the story. This is the toughest part for me in writing. Putting it down, from beginning to end, in present tense. I try to get enough interesting stuff in there that fills about ten single spaced pages.
Tell us about EDGE OF VALOR and how this works in your writing process.
I take my pencil and arbitrarily divide that ten page synopsis into 50 sections. Zzzzzzt! That’s it! That becomes the beginning, middle and end of the new novel with all the dry, boring, stuff filled in the middle. Now you have 50 chapters. Of course this will change, sometimes radically, as you write the work. More in the beginning than later in the work. But it’s dynamic and kind of fun as you run along and change and adjust things. Keeping a story board is important. Keep it up to date as you move along. Therefore you can work back and forth, watching the novel come to life. EDGE OF VALOR was no different. I maintained the storyboard for this 51 chapter (plus Epilogue) work. Around chapter 27, I saw an opportunity to bring in a character, a bad guy, from an earlier novel in the Todd Ingram series. I did this and it made a major difference. Everything seemed to go smoother. Plus I got to beat up on this guy which was a lot of fun.
Also, I try to take it a step further. I’ve developed a habit of partitioning all my novels into three acts (Parts). Before this is a prologue and the novel is finished with an epilogue. Each of these sections is preceded by an epigram. It all seems so organized.
TODD INGRAM SERIES : These works are stand-alone novels of the U.S. Navy in World War II in the Pacific. As mentioned above, they are historically accurate with Ingram being the main POV character experiencing these actual events as they occur.
THE LAST LIEUTENANT – In May,1942, Todd Ingram and his crew escape Corregidor Island, at the mouth of Manila Bay, the night it falls to the Japanese. This was the inspiration for the whole Todd Ingram series. And I got it from a 1943 book, South from Corregidor, by (then Lieutenant Commander) John Morrill. He actually did escape from Corregidor the night it fell to the Japanese in a 36 foot launch and made it all the way to Darwin, Australia; an amazing voyage of 1900 hair-raising miles through the Philippine archipelago, all under the control of the Japanese. From there, it was easy to write about Ingram, especially since he was forced to leave his girlfriend Helen Duran, an Army nurse on Mindanao. This left it open for a sequel.
A CODE FOR TOMORROW – It’s August, 1942 – February, 1943 and Navy Cross winner Ingram is now and executive officer of a destroyer in the naval battles of Guadalcanal. At the same time, he must find a way to rescue Helen, now with the Philippine resistance on Mindanao.
WHEN DUTY WHISPERS LOW – In 1943, Ingram, still a destroyer exec in the battles of the Upper Solomons, is drawn into the shoot-down of Japanese CinC Isoroku Yamamoto. At the same time a super-secret anti-aircraft fuse, the proximity fuse, is being introduced to the fleet.
THE NEPTUNE STRATEGY In 1944, Ingram becomes the commanding officer of the destroyer U.S.S. Matthew. But a Japanese air attack blows him over the side one evening and he’s captured by a Japanese submarine en-route to the U-Boat pens of L ’Orient, France.
EDGE OF VALOR This is the fifth in the Todd Ingram series. It’s August 1945 and finally, a cease-fire is declared shortly after the second atomic bomb is dropped. With many others, Ingram believes he can relax and take his ship and crew, home on operation Magic Carpet. Instead, he’s pulled into a dark chain of events that nobody wants. First, he’s part of the negotiation team working out the terms of surrender with a Japanese delegation in Manila just days after the cessation of hostilities. Next, he’s rushed to Tokyo Bay to clear mines so allied 250 ships can safely enter to sign the Surrender agreement. But worst of all, he’s then sent to Sakhalin Island, just north of Hokkaido, to help keep Generalissimo Josef Stalin’s massive Army of 1,600,000 men from attacking Japan and securing a Communist foothold. Worst of all, he discovers a secret on Sakhalin, that Japan, the Soviet Union, and the United States won’t even discuss.
Clever! I’m trying that on my next book. Let me top off your orange juice, Jack. What did you find fun about writing this story and what was difficult?
No matter how much they gripe about it, all writers enjoy the writing. There’s something that keeps them glued to the keyboard rather than slamming down beers at the Goat Hill Tavern. Some elements are more entertaining than others. For me, the re-writing is the best. It’s great sport getting that chapter down and spitting out basically what you wanted to say. But then rub your hands together and stand back Because the next day or the next few days, you get to go back, and carefully reword what you did. Tune this up, throw that out. “…Oh yeah, this validates something I did in chapter 17.” So I get to go back and tune that up as well. All this helps the novel sing, especially as your draw near to the end. Everything is pretty well in sight by then and you’re blasting for the finish. It’s a great time.
The worst thing about writing is the self-promotion. To please your publisher, you must act like a mechanical monkey and present yourself to the world, only to be scoffed at by review editors at major newspapers and magazines. Lightly attended bookstore signings are equally frustrating. It is such a black hole for time yet it must be done. Publisher expect no less.
Tell us about your next project and when it may be published.
I’m now about halfway through the next Todd Ingram novel, DEAD MAN LAUNCH, Ingram is nearly retired in 1968 but his son, Jerry, has just entered the U.S. Navy as a P-3 pilot. It’s a very dangerous time with the world powers. The war in Viet Nam is going full blast with the American body count rising and the war-weary home-front calling for an end. Amongst all this, the Soviet Union under Leonid Brezhnev (He makes Vladimir Putin look like a school-yard thug), flexes her muscles, seeking new territories to snap up. The KGB controls the Soviet nuclear submarine fleet and sends the K-129, a ballistic missile submarine, on a mission of deadly intent. A mission that could make a destructive blow to the U.S, Fleet making it look like a strike from the Chinese Communists. Certain sections of this work have gone all right but for the most part, I’m swimming in indecisiveness as far as plot goes. I’ve been here before and it’s driving me nuts. But that’s the best part of fiction. Things occur. You can glue parts together as you go along. Avoiding coincidences and happenstance, it should turn out all right.
Thank you for sharing your breakfast and writing life, Jack. So fun hearing about your writing process. I have all your books and enjoy gifting them to my friends who love historical-thrillers and/or military history. Keep us posted about Dead Man Launch. Great title and story!
Here are a few links if you want to read more about John Gobbell and his terrific novels.
Before you rush to Amazon to buy Edge of Valor or click http://www.amazon.com/Edge-Valor-Todd-Ingram-Novel-ebook/dp/B00KV1SL18/, who would like to join us for another glass of orange juice?