Veteran Collaboration: Brian Andrews & Jeff Wilson on ‘Tier One’ (Q&A)

Today, I’m honored to be in the virtual presence of a dynamic writing duo: Brian Andrews and Jeff Wilson, co-authors of Tier One (Thomas & Mercer), out 9/1/16.

Brian Andrews is a US Navy veteran who served as an officer on a 688-class fast attack submarine in the Pacific. He is a Park Leadership Fellow and holds a master’s degree from Cornell University. He is the author of The Calypso Directive, the first book in the Think Tank series of thrillers. Born and raised in the Midwest, Andrews lives in Tornado Alley with his wife and three daughters.

Jeffrey Wilson has worked as an actor, firefighter, paramedic, jet pilot, and diving instructor, as well as a vascular and trauma surgeon. He served in the US Navy for fourteen years and made multiple deployments as a combat surgeon. He is the author of three award-winning supernatural thrillers: The Traiteur’s RingThe Donors, and Fade to Black. He and his wife, Wendy, live in Southwest Florida with their four children.

Andrews and Wilson are also the coauthors of the Nick Foley Thriller series.

Brian Andrews_Jeffrey Wilson
Authors Brian Andrews (L) and Jeffrey Wilson (R).

Praise for Tier One:

“Page turner! Adrenaline rush! In Tier One, Andrews and Wilson have captured exactly what life in the SEAL Teams and on the front lines in the War on Terror is like. So vivid, I could smell the gunpowder. If you want to know what the world of the SEAL Teams is like, all you have to do is read this book. Bravo Zulu, Jeffrey Wilson and Brian Andrews.” —Commander M. M., USN, former SEAL operator

“In Tier One, authors and Navy veterans Jeffrey Wilson and Brian Andrews achieve the impossible goal of showing what it is really like in the dark world of covert operations. The characters are so real that I thought I might even know a few of them. The story is an amazing and exciting plot of terrorism and false flag international politics that is right from today’s headlines. If you want to know what it is like to be down range on a covert operation, read this book. This is the best military thriller ever.” —SEAL Master Chief J. S., former Tier One operator

Tier One is one of those rare thrillers that combine blood-curdling action sequences with the steep emotional price paid by modern-day warriors behind all the gunfire. Brian Andrews and Jeffrey Wilson have pulled from their own special operations experiences in crafting a terrific tale that’s as riveting as it is wrenching, and, in John Dempsey, have created a lasting hero reminiscent of Mitch Rapp, Pike Logan, and Scott Harvath. Like the best from Flynn, Taylor, and Thor, Tier One serves up a relentless ride across uneven ground laden with pitfalls both mental and physical. The launch of the next major military-themed franchise.” —Jon Land, USA Today bestselling author

From the publisher:

In a world violated by terror, the old lines have blurred. Meet the next generation of covert ops.

John Dempsey’s life—as an elite Tier One Navy SEAL named Jack Kemper—is over. A devastating terrorist action catapults him from a world of moral certainty and decisive orders into the shadowy realm of espionage, where ambiguity is the only rule. His new mission: hunt down those responsible for the greatest tragedy in the history of the US Special Ops and bring them to justice.

But how does a man torn between duty and revenge walk the line and preserve his soul?

As Dempsey struggles with the games of spies, the case propels him across the globe in a desperate effort to prevent a new, horrifying attack on American soil.

Once, John Dempsey followed orders blindly. Now he sees behind the curtain, and the security of the civilized world rests on one question: Can a Tier One Navy SEAL adapt and become the world’s most lethal spy?

Tier One_BookCover

Now, Andrews and Wilson take readers behind the lines of Tier One

John Valeri: What first inspired you to write Tier One – and how do you feel that this book differs from your previous collaborations?

Brian Andrews: Jeff and I met and became friends at ThrillerFest in New York as ITW debut authors in 2012, but the idea of collaborating didn’t come until several years later. Our Naval service, life experiences, and interest in military characters made the idea of collaboration intriguing, but it wasn’t until we actually started the process of co-authoring did we learn how well-suited we were to team writing. Although Tier One is not the first co-authored novel we’ve published, it is the first one we wrote together. The journey our characters take in Tier One was borne a journey of exploration and trial and error, and so what you’re reading is our process REV 1. You tell me, how’d we do?

Jeff Wilson: Like Brian said, it really began with a germ of an idea. Once we decided to write—and to write it together—it really took on a life of its own. The more we discussed the premise, the more real it became and the more we fell in love with it. I think the book became for us what it seems to be for most people—a hope that something like out fictitious EMBER really does exist. The world had become a crazy place—no matter what your political leanings. We are learning to live with not feeling safe. From San Bernadino, to Paris and Brussels, to Orlando and Fort Hood—terrorism is now real to us all. There is a place in all of us that quietly hopes that outside the political rhetoric there is some group, somewhere, working in the shadows to keep us safe.

JV: Speaking of collaborating, tell us: how does your co-authorship work, and what do you each bring to the proverbial table that enhances the overall story?

JW: (laughs) Well, we were on a writer’s panel not long ago with other writing teams—Cathy Coulter and JT Ellison, Preston and Child—and when it came out turn to explain our process we were met in stares and comments that what we did could never work. But that’s the cool thing—what they all did would never work for us, or others, either. You have to find a system that works for you and go for it. For sure we each have different strengths and weaknesses and you have to be honest with yourself and each other about those, so that you work in a way that maximizes strengths and minimized weaknesses.

BA: Our process is 100% collaboration in the truest sense of the word. We brainstorm the novel together. We outline the novel together. We divvy up the chapters for first draft based on POV, then swap those chapters and edit the other guy’s work. Once the chapters are stitched together, each of us takes a complete pass on the draft. We use a “no pulled punches” technique, meaning we don’t ascribe ownership to prose. Words, sentences, even entire chapters can be deleted and reworked as needed—whatever it takes to tell a better, more thrilling story. The humbling thing about co-authoring is when you realize as an author that the end product is one that neither of us could have written alone.

JV: Terrorism is obviously a timely topic. What do you hope that your narrative conveys about the realities versus the myths of these acts – and how can the lens of fiction enhance our understanding of those realities?

BA: Acts of terror are not committed by mindless, soulless, automatons; they are committed by people. It’s always remarkable to me how candid photographs of terrorists in their “real life” always migrate into the news after an atrocity. Photographs of suicide bombers smiling and laughing with friends and family. For me, this is a powerful reminder that terrorists are not born into this world as terrorists. Terrorists are socialized. Terrorists are indoctrinated. Terrorists are made by other terrorists. No suicide bomber is a suicide bomber 24/7… obviously. Before a committing an act of heinous malevolence, a terrorist is a person with fears, desires, and beliefs. These fears, desires, and beliefs are what provide motive for the villainous actions they take. In Tier One, our villains are not cardboard cutouts; we write them with the same attention to detail and emotional richness as the heroes.

JW: I couldn’t agree more. Characters tell the story for us, and two dimensional villains won’t do. We have to see terrorism from their perspective and from ours. In that way fiction can definitely shape perception about the real world. And just as important, we have to show realistic motivations for our protagonists too. We don’t want superheroes in our books. We want real life people, shaped by their motivations and experiences as well as their biases and weaknesses.

JV: Your protagonist, Jack Kemper, is a Navy SEAL and covert war specialist. What of yourselves helped to inform his character – and how do you see the supporting cast as representative of the complexities that define humanity?

JW: There is no question that my experiences with the real life heroes of Naval Special Warfare were heavily leveraged to create the character of Jack Kemper/John Dempsey. Serving on Active Duty as a surgeon with Naval Special Warfare and deploying downrange with my East Coast based SEAL Team is the major honor of my life—and the source of my greatest joys outside of my family as well as my greatest loss and pain. Knowing these men and serving with them—and more importantly, laughing with them, grabbing lunch with them, having cookouts together—these are the moments that shaped the characters in this series. We tried very hard to honor the men I served with by showing our characters as I remember those men. Not superheroes, but average men with extraordinary drive to do impossible things. They were men who were the absolute pinnacle of covert warfare and at the same time men who took the trash to the curb, picked up milk for the kids on the way home from work, and sat and watched a kids’ soccer game. I hope we captured that.

As for the supporting cast representing the complexities of humanity, my Ivy League educated partner with the degree in Psychology is better qualified to field that.

BA: I think we take a different approach with the supporting cast than other storytellers. In Tier One, our goal was never to build cast around Dempsey. Instead, we set out to create a group of characters that are as powerful and intriguing as Dempsey in their own right, but then give them less page time. What I mean by this is that no one thinks of him or herself as supporting character in someone else’s life… the same is true for Kelso Jarvis, Elizabeth Grimes, and Masoud Modiri. In their minds, the stakes and sacrifices they are facing are every bit as important and emotional as Dempsey’s. What we choose to show you from the “supporting” character’s perspective is designed to maximize this effect without detracting from Dempsey’s journey.

JV: How do you endeavor to balance authenticity with readability – and in what ways is creative license taken in this particular book?

BA: We strive to write authentic characters and portray action and strategies realistically so that the reader feels like a fly on the wall during a real operation. But when it comes to giving away confidential information on how operations are conducted, we are committed to keeping our fiction fictional. How do we accomplish this? We focus on individual and global stakes. Ultimately, it’s not the tactical specifics that matter, it is whether the protagonist’s strategy and actions prevail over those being employed by the antagonist. The reader should be more concerned with “if” the hero prevails, than “how” the hero prevails.

JW: I agree with that completely. And a final thought about OPSEC. As Navy Veterans with brothers and sisters still serving and putting their lives on the line for all of us, you should know that we take Operational Security very seriously. Our books are fiction. We want them to resonate with reality and we would love our friends still serving to say, “Man that is exactly what I would do in that situation,” but we will never give away secrets about real tactics or any other information that would jeopardize the ongoing mission of our shipmates.

JV: Leave us with a teaser: what comes next?

JW: Suffice it to say, John Dempsey and his team at Ember are just getting started. Book two, War Shadows, comes out in February and we think we have more fun surprises for you.

BA: Dempsey is back, and this time he must stop an old nemesis who has resurfaced after ten years in the shadows. From the deserts of Iraq, through the jungles of Guatemala, to the streets of suburbia, Dempsey must risk everything to stop a series of horrific and devious attacks planned against the homeland. In book two, the action is as gut-wrenching as ever, but the climax has a twist that we promise you’ve never seen before!


With thanks to Brian Andrews and Jeff Wilson for their generosity of time and thought and to Sarah Burningham of Little Bird Publicity for this interview opportunity.


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