Jack Carr: Bestselling author & former Navy Seal on making the transition from military to civilian life (“1on1 with Jon Evans” podcast)
WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Jack Carr spends his days crafting the universe where James Reece roams. Carr’s fourth thriller featuring the former Navy Seal sniper is The Devil’s Hand, which debuted at #3 on the New York Times Bestseller List in May. Carr is busy doing interviews and events surrounding the novel’s release, while also working on the next book in the series, due in 2022. Carr and Reece share similar military histories, along with other traits, which gives readers an authentic feel for the pressure-filled circumstances of top-secret missions.
“What’s helpful to me is, I get to tap into some of the emotions and feelings behind certain events,” Carr said about applying his real world knowledge to Reece’s situations. “Not necessarily the exact tactics or exactly what happened in Mosul or Baghdad or Ramadi or Kabul or wherever it was. But the emotions behind those experiences. Rather than interviewing someone and asking them questions about what it was like to be a Seal sniper in Ramadi at the height of the war and then taking those answers and they would filter their way through whatever biases I had, whatever preconceived notions that I had, what other research I had done, then I’d take that and apply it to a fictional narrative. In this case, I just remember what it was like to be a sniper in Ramadi in ’06, I take those feelings and emotions and apply them directly into the narrative. So, when the reader is at that point in the story, the feelings and emotions in whatever that paragraph is, they feel authentic. They feel real, and that’s because the emotions come from a real place.”
Carr laid the groundwork for his military career at an early age. His mother worked as a librarian, and she surrounded her son with books. Carr’s grandfather served in the military and died in World War II, and the young boy’s interest in warfare grew while reading historical books on that war and Vietnam.
“I was drawn towards guerilla warfare, towards terrorism, especially my earliest memories are of the 1979 Iran Hostage Crisis,” Carr said. “I remember those pictures vividly. I remember Walter Cronkite counting down the days we had Americans in captivity. I remember Time magazine coming to our house, Newsweek coming to our house. I remember the newspaper coming to our house with those pictures and then the evolving face of terrorism throughout the 80s. That time was particularly impactful to me. I was a serious kid growing up, because I knew that was going to be my war. That was going to be my enemy for my generation, and I studied it.”
Carr delved into thrillers from authors like Tom Clancy, Nelson DeMille, Stephen Hunter and others. Their stories of intelligence operations solidified Carr’s deep desire to follow his grandfather’s path and join the military, which he did in 1996.
Clancy’s 1984 bestseller The Hunt for Red October, and David Morrell’s First Blood that introduced the Rambo character, also served as some of Carr’s textbooks as he learned the art of storytelling. His life’s storyline became clear. He would write his own novels once he finished military service. After 20 years of Naval Special Warfare, leading teams around the world, Carr transitioned out to embark on the second career.
“Last couple years in, I wasn’t taking guys downrange anymore,” Carr said. “So, my sole focus wasn’t on being the best combat leader I could possibly be, wasn’t on the area of operations where we were going to be deployed so I would make the best decisions possible under fire for my team. I got to see people transitioning out ahead of me. I saw a lot of people have that problem in that they tried to recreate on the outside what they’d had in the military.”
Carr has made the transition to civilian life that many men and women could not. He supports several organizations that help veterans dealing with post traumatic stress disorder, depression or other invisible wounds that contribute to the increasing rate of veteran suicides in the United States. They include:
· Special Forces Charitable Trust
· SOC-F (Special Operations Care Fund)
· Big Hearts under the Big Sky
“I think realizing this is one part of your life, and it’s a foundation upon which to build,” Carr says about the transition to civilian life. “It doesn’t have to be just the military. It’s anything. Nothing is exactly the same as you move forward in life. So just realizing that, taking a breath, and not trying to recreate what you had in the Seal Team, realizing this is a foundation from which to build. Let me take the failures, the successes, the lessons learned, and I’ll apply them wherever I’m going to go next. But what is really key, I think, is identifying that passion, and then identifying that mission, and then molding those two together as you move forward. For me, that passion as writing. My mission is taking care of my family. I brought those two together as I turned the page and moved forward and left the military side of my life behind.”
Carr has spoken often about a mutual friend setting him up for a phone call with bestselling author Brad Thor, who opened the door to get The Terminal List in front of executives at Simon & Schuster. The book’s content took over from there. Released in 2018, it earned positive reviews and put Carr in the public eye. His realistic stories of military operations have brought many messages from current and former service members.
“One of the ones that really stands out was from the first novel,” Carr says. “Someone said they read a passage that I wrote about killing. They wrote me an email and said it really helped them come to terms with what they’d done downrange, and it allowed them to move forward. It was two paragraphs where I go into the psychology behind my character’s perspective on doing that job. Someone reached out and said that really changed their life, their perspective, and allowed them to move forward. It was incredible.”
Carr is also learning the nuances involved with adapting his work into a new medium. The Terminal List is currently being made into an eight-part series for Amazon Prime. Actor Chris Pratt optioned the work, and is starring as James Reece, with Anton Fuqua directing the first episode. It is tentatively set for release in 2022.
I could not let the interview end without asking Carr the advice he would give to aspiring writers. He’s not that far removed from asking authors for similar words of wisdom. His response: it’s important not to get bogged down in studying how to do something.
“There’s a reason we all remember the Nike ad, ‘Just Do It!’”, Carr said. “Everyone knows that because it’s so simple. It’s so true. You have to sit down to do the work. Even if you sit down and do the work, there’s no guarantee you’re going to get where you want to go. But what IS a guarantee, if you don’t sit down and do the work, you’re for sure not going to get where you want to go.”
Carr and his wife have three children, and their middle child has severe special needs. They moved to Park City, Utah to be near the National Ability Center, where experts work with individuals of all abilities and disabilities to help them reach their full potential. I hope you enjoy the conversation with Jack Carr as much as I did, and I recommend catching up with James Reece in The Devil’s Hand.
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