Brad Thor: Bestselling author brings back his alter ego Scot Harvath in “Black Ice” (“1on1 with Jon Evans” podcast)
WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Not long after he graduated from the University of Southern California in 1992, and well before he became a #1 bestselling thriller writer, Brad Thor decided to chase his dream. The Chicago native had started on the business administration track in college, but later transitioned to creative writing, film and television production. He saved his money and planned a move to Paris to write his first book. Two chapters in, he walked away.
“I got two chapters into that book and I had this weird voice in the back of my head that I think many of us do,” Thor said. “‘Don’t risk the embarrassment. What if it’s no good? What if you can’t get a publisher?’”
With his dream apparently over, Thor continued to travel overseas and created the concept that turned into a successful PBS television series Traveling Lite. The show ran from 1995-99, with Thor taking viewers around the world, providing money-saving tips on how to enjoy glamourous destinations on a budget. But the itch to write never really went away. While on his honeymoon in 1998, Thor’s wife Trish asked him a question, and the first piece of a new puzzle slid into place.
“She said, ‘On your deathbed, what would you regret never having done?’”, Thor remembered. “Before I could grab the words out of the air and stuff them back in my mouth I said, ‘Writing a book and getting it published’. She said, ‘Okay, when we get home you need to start carving out two hours of protected time every day and make that happen’.”
The second puzzle piece showed up on that same trip, in the form of a couple Thor and his wife shared a compartment with on a train. The brother and sister from Atlanta knew of the Traveling Lite show, and asked Thor if he planned to make more episodes. He told them plans had changed, and he was setting out to write a book.
“When we went to exchange business cards the next morning at the train station, lo and behold, she was a sales rep for Simon and Schuster,” Thor said. “She said, “If you write that book and if I can help you, I would love to’. It’s because of Cindy Jackson and that overnight train ride having come after my wife encouraging me to write a novel, it all started falling into place.”
He began work on what would become Lions of Lucerne, his debut thriller published in January 2002 featuring ex-Navy SEAL and Secret Service Agent Scot Harvath. Nineteen years and millions of sold books later, Thor has just released Black Ice, #20 in the Harvath series which just reached #1 on the New York Times bestseller list. It centers around a power struggle between the United States, China and Russia playing out above the Arctic Circle, where rising temperatures present new opportunities and new threats.
“This is not a book about global warming,” Thor stressed during our interview. “It is warmer up there which means the sea ice is turning to slush for longer periods each year. That is exposing natural gas, mineral and oil deposits. The Chinese have been jockeying and the Russians have been jockeying to actually take control over the entire Arctic and box the US out. We’ve been late to the game in real life. Former Secretary (of State) Mike Pompeo said we were really asleep at the switch, we needed to get caught up and I thought this is such an interesting area, there’s so much happening, it’s a great place to set a spy thriller.”
Thor has taken his protagonist around the world in his missions to foil terrorist attacks and hunt down enemies of his government. Harvath is a Secret Service Agent when we fist meet him in Lions of Lucerne, and through the series of thrillers he moves into the world of counter-intelligence. Thor says the fictional Harvath is a collection of real individuals, starting with the author’s brother.
“My mother did not want to see S-C-O-T-T-T-H-O-R,” he says, spelling out his brother’s name. “When I wrote Scot Horvath with one ‘T’, so many readers asked ‘Why only one ‘T’?’ So, I had to weave in my mom’s story and make (Harvath’s) middle name Thomas. His mom did not want to see S-C-O-T-T-T-H-O-M-A-S. His last name comes from somebody I know who works at the Department of Justice going after very very bad terrorists. There’s components of men and women I know and the intelligence community and special operations community, so he’s formed in that way. But I also tell people that Harvath is also my alter ego. The same way I’m sure (James) Bond was for Ian Fleming and Jack Ryan was for Tom Clancy. The only difference is Harvath gets to do the things my wife won’t let me do.”
Without playing spoiler to those who have not yet enjoyed Black Ice, longtime readers of Thor’s thrillers will see a mixture of new and returning characters. The Troll, Gary Lawlor and Solvi among them. Thor says his readers’ reaction to Harvath’s new love interest could spawn a book centering on her background and development into an intelligence operative. What is likely to happen sooner, though, is a major announcement years in the making: a big screen version of Lions of Lucerne. Rumors of a movie project surfaced more than a decade ago, but nothing materialized. Thor seems convinced it is now about to become a reality.
“A wonderful executive producer who is super famous came to me and said, ‘Hey, we want to do this with you’,” Thor says, his excitement level beginning to increase. “I said okay. He said, ‘I want to start with, who would you want to direct it?’ I should ‘What’s the list?’ He said, ‘No list. You tell me who you want, I’m gonna get the person’. So, I shot for the biggest, best action director I could think of. He goes, ‘Sit by your phone.’ He got the guy on the phone! We got the director, we got the writer, we got the studio. So now we’ve all negotiated our deals, now the contracts are coming. As soon as every contract is signed, the studio is going to make an announcement. They want this thing to be bigger than James Bond! The budgets are going to be massive. I’m so excited and it’s worth it. If it took two decades to get to this point, I wouldn’t do anything differently.”
Years after receiving the gesture of kindness on that honeymoon train ride, Thor has paid it forward by helping other aspiring writers launch their careers in the thriller genre. Ex-Navy Seal Jack Carr and Retired Brigadier General A.J. Tata have talked in previous episodes of my podcast about Thor taking time to speak with them, offering advice or to get eyes on their manuscripts.
“I’ve always seen this business as a rising tide lifts all boats,” Thor said. “I want as many people reading as possible. So, if I could help good authors, and Tony and Jack are fantastic authors, if I can crack open the door here or do something there, I’m thrilled to do it. Not only to thank them for their service, but it’s more books for me to read! I was a big reader before I was an author and I’ll be a big reader long after I stop writing books.”
Although Thor says he “missed his window” to join the SEALS like Harvath and Carr, the author did have the opportunity to serve in a different way. He received an invitation to become part of the Department of Homeland Security’s Analytic Red Cell Unit, formed in the years immediately following the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, DC. He considers it one of the highest honors of his career.
“They realized that the 9/11 attacks were successful because of a failure of imagination on the part of the United States, and they were determined never to have that happen again,” Thor says about the unit’s mission to anticipate and prevent future attacks. “So, they invited people into the Washington, DC beltway from outside. Creative people like me, Michael Bay, who did the Benghazi movie and the Transformers movies, my dear friend and novelist Brad Meltzer. They invited us in to help them think about what attack scenarios might look like, what targets could they possibly go after here and abroad. So, as the son of a United States Marine, it was an incredible honor to be asked to serve my country in this capacity. It wasn’t ‘Hey pick up a rifle we need you to go help retake Fallujah’. It was ‘Hey will you come in and use the gray matter between your ears and help keep us four to five steps ahead of the bad guys?’.”
My conversation with Brad Thor covered a lot of ground. I asked him about deciding to kill off familiar characters in the Harvath universe, how he reacted to receiving death threats following his outstanding 2018 offering Spymaster, even the reference to 8-track tapes on his website (younger readers may need to research that one). It provided great insight into how one of the best writers in the world approaches his craft, wanting to ensure every reader is happy after investing time in a Thor thriller. I hope you enjoy the conversation as much as I did. By the way, Black Ice is a great read!
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