DA Kentner writes the column THE READERS' WRITERS for the (Freeport) Journal-Standard and GateHouse News Service. My alter ego KevaD lives under a stairway of dreams where he writes stories and grumbles about everything. Click the pic to visit KevaD's blog.
Drop me a line at dakentner@yahoo.com

I invite you to read my award-winning short story posted on Calliope Magazine's web site.

Friday, October 14, 2011

New York Times Bestselling Author, John Gilstrap

John Gilstrap: Fifteen-year volunteer fireman and EMT, explosives safety and hazardous waste expert, earned a Master of Science degree in safety engineering and a bachelor's degree in history, business consultant, director of safety for a Washington, D.C. trade association, screenplay writer, devoted husband and father, master of the thriller novel. Translated and published in twenty countries, Gilstrap's stories have seen more of the world than many of us ever will.

Still, in spite of, or because of that impressive resume, this amazing author remains down to earth and fiercely loyal to his fans and readers. So much so, he personally responds to each and every letter and email and commits himself to a weekly blog post, inviting anyone and everyone to weigh in on his thoughts. In other words, Gilstrap is who he has always been, a man passionate about life, writing, and the people he encounters.

Gilstrap wrote four novels before seeing one published. That book was "Nathan's Run," the internationally acclaimed story of a twelve-year-old accused of murder and his lonely flight to survive against an entire country convinced of his guilt. Then came the obvious question; how do you follow up "overnight success"? Gilstrap's answer came with the equally successful "At All Costs."

But a collaborative effort with Kurt Muse resulted in the nonfiction book "Six Minutes to Freedom," and a turn in Gilstrap's writing. Six Minutes is the true story of Muse's rescue by Delta Force from Panamanian thugs ordered to execute him. Gilstrap met and interviewed a number of the men directly involved in the rescue and learned how gentle and kind these professionals willing to risk their lives against unthinkable odds to save one man, truly are.

From those meetings and Gilstrap's imagination came the uniquely heroic Jonathon Grave, a freelance covert rescue specialist. First appearing in "No Mercy," Grave's popularity with thriller fans continues to grow and now finds the no-nonsense hero in his third novel, "Threat Warning," the tale of a secret society of killers and the power mongers issuing their orders.

John Gilstrap's prose is superb, his plots mesmerizing, and every character wonderfully crafted.
Mr. Gilstrap's Web Site

Q) You committed fifteen years of your life to being a volunteer firefighter. What was it about being a fireman that captivated you?

A) One word: Adrenaline. Imagine being 23 years old and walking into the worst moments of other people’s lives and bringing order to chaos. That’s pretty heady stuff. I’ve delivered babies, rescued people and animals from burning buildings, and talked a very angry woman out of using a very sharp knife on me—all in the company of my firehouse brothers and sisters. For a long time, the fire service doubled as my social outlet. I recommend a stint in public service for everyone—particularly when they’re young enough to bounce without breaking.

Q) The character Jonathan Grave was partly inspired by your meetings with the Delta Force members. However, you have an innate belief in justice and that good things should and will happen to good people. To what do you attribute this abiding faith that right will conquer wrong?

A) Right doesn’t conquer wrong on its own—it takes a lot of hard work, and the dedication of people who will accept nothing less. It’s a personal adage of mine that failure cannot be inflicted on a person; that it has to be declared by the individual. If you detect injustice, you must confront an important choice: do you accept it, or do you fight back? The bad guys win occasional battles, sometimes inflicting enormous damage in the process, but if the good guys are willing to do what it takes to prevail, I believe that in the end, they always will. It’s about not giving up.

Q) How did you and Kurt Muse come to collaborate on "Six Minutes to Freedom"?

A) This is a story of pure serendipity. If we’d met just a few weeks before we did, the collaboration would never have happened. My writing career had hit a pretty severe slump. After having been repeatedly orphaned by my editors at Atria Books, my novels Even Steven and Scott Free were pretty much ignored by my publisher, with the result being really awful sales numbers. I was on the brink of not being able to find an outlet for my next books.

Then a dear friend named Patrick Barney told me about a speech he’d just attended by a guy named Kurt Muse, who was the only civilian of record ever rescued by Delta Force. Kurt, he told me, had run an illegal radio station with some Rotarian friends in Panama who were committed to bringing down the murderous dictator Manuel Noriega. For nearly two years, using amateur radio equipment purchased from Radio Shack, they controlled the airwaves, running anti-Noriega propaganda at will. They rose to the status of public enemy number one, and in the process had a blast dispatching Noriega henchmen to nonexistent incidents one day, and interrupting drive time radio in the mornings and afternoons.

When he was betrayed and arrested, Kurt’s 15-year-old daughter had to flee the country alone with her 12-year-old brother. When he was ultimately liberated in the opening moments of Operation Just Cause, he was reunited with his family just in time for one of Washington, DC’s very few white Christmases. I was shocked that his story had not yet been written.

This was exactly the kind of thriller that I write as fiction, but it was entirely factual. He and his wife met with me and my wife, and we realized that we were a perfect team. We even have the same birthdays.

Q) What many people don't know is that you wrote the original script for the movie "Red Dragon," of Hannibal Lecter fame, but received none of the credit. We could fill pages with the obvious "what if" scenarios. Instead, what did you gain from that experience?

A) Okay, let’s be clear here: Film credit is awarded by an arbitration process, and through that process, the single screenwriter for the film Red Dragon is Ted Tally.

That said, I did write an earlier version of that film—the first version—and in my opinion much of what was in my script is in fact in the movie. Please read nothing into that beyond what it is. My version stuck very close to the book as did Ted Tally’s. I’ve been told that he maintains that he never saw my script, and because we both stuck so closely to the original material, I have no reason to disbelieve him.

As for what I learned through the experience, it’s that Hollywood is a tough town. You can’t take stuff personally in the entertainment business. Through my screen work, I met some extraordinarily talented people—among them the legendary Dino DeLaurentiis, who invited my family and me to his 80th birthday party on the Isle of Capri in Italy. Credit schmedit. That alone was worth it.

Q) As with a number of successful novelists, you frequently refer to yourself as a storyteller and not a writer. In your mind, what is the difference?

A) The difference for me is pivotal to whatever success I can claim. My first novel, Nathan’s Run, was in fact the fourth novel I’d written. Writing is a craft, after all, and like any craft, it continually improves with practice. When I started writing Nathan, however, I made a conscious decision to stop thinking in terms of writing a book and instead thought in terms of telling a story. I wrote that novel—and I continue to write my books today—as if I were telling the story verbally. I became less conscious of sentence construction and more conscious of creating a mood. I don’t know if I explain it well here, but it worked.

Let’s be honest: We learn to write in elementary school, in the sense that we learn to draw the letters and compose sentences that make sense. Thus, a fifth grader is a writer. The guy who writes the instructions for programming your remote control is a writer, as is the guy who writes proposals for government contracts. Are they story tellers? Maybe in their off-hours they are, but you can’t really tell that from their work product.

Q) Any parting thoughts for your readers?

A) Only to express undying gratitude to them for reading. Without you, none of the rest of this would matter a lick.

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