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Friday, January 25, 2013

Interview with men's adventure author Hank Brown

Today we're chatting with action author Hank Brown, who is doing a blog tour for his most recent release, Tier Zero. Hank has come out with several novels and short stories in the men's adventure genre, a genre that was in the doldrums before the current publishing revolution. So with no further ado. . .

Checking out your list of publications, one that jumped to my attention was Radical Times, a Civil War story. Actually it's a Reconstruction story set in Arkansas right after the war. What made you pick a setting well away from the epic drama of the major battles?

Mostly it was because of history and my exposure to it. In school I had only learned the superficial facts about the Civil War...North, South, slaves, Abraham Lincoln...that was about it. Public school taught us even less about Reconstruction, which is to say: nothing.

Then about a year or two before I wrote Radical Times, I checked out a book from the library about that historic period. It blew me away how much I didn't know about it. And when that happens I'm compelled to set off on a researching spree. It annoys me how the truth of this tumultuous period are ignored, at best; or censored, at worst. Our present political dynamic depends on that ignorance (or censorship). Anyway, as all this information was floating around in my mind I began conceiving characters (as often happens). The story grew out of all that.

You served in the Armed Forces. Beyond the obvious, what are the main differences between warfare in the 1860s and the modern day? How is the soldier's experience different? Are there any similarities?

Beyond the obvious, I'd say it's the officers and men themselves that are most different, followed by the command doctrine. The US armed forces have become extremely top-heavy organizations, with a cumbersome bureaucracy only slightly less inept than the non-uniformed government institutions. The technology which enables unprecedented micromanaging runs the risk of turning fighting men into robots. The technological advantages and overwhelming air support our troops have enjoyed since WWII glosses over the chinks in our armor, of which I believe this is an example.

When Von Steuben was drilling Washington's troops to fight the British he remarked on what made the American soldier unique: You couldn't just institute a policy and expect Americans to follow it, without first explaining its purpose. That does not seem to be the case any longer. Once when training with some soldiers from the Mother Country, after Desert Storm, I remember the ironic moment when one of the Brits cried out in frustration about all the suffocating regulations he had to abide by while attached to the US Army. Holy historic role-reversal, Uncle Sam!

The command structure in our military expect blind obedience to the most ridiculous, counterproductive SOPs, and the soldiers give it to them. Don't get me wrong. I'm not suggesting that good soldiers are in the habit of questioning every order. Troops like that are worthless in war. The difference is, our forefathers were thinking men. They knew how to reason.

In the 1860s American soldiers were still that way, for the most part. I believe such men, unless themselves morally bankrupt, would have mutinied against Lieutenant Calley, preventing the massacre at Mai Lai. There's a question of increasing gravity on people's minds today, and that is: will US servicemen, who take an oath to defend the Constitution, blindly obey their commanders when ordered to violate that oath by attempting to disarm the people? It's a question that may, unfortunately, be answered soon.

I'm of the opinion that discipline is not synonymous with blind obedience. A fighting force in which "individual" is a dirty name, and where rational thought is crushed, is also a fighting force in which soldiers are afraid to take initiative. I believe that's part of the difference between then and now, and we're the worse off, for it.

You are one of a number of rising authors in the men's adventure genre. How do you think electronic publishing is affecting genre writing, especially those genres that have been in the doldrums for the past couple of decades (Westerns also come to mind)?

There's no doubt that many of the forgotten genres owe their revival to the digital publishing revolution. E-books and POD have democratized publishing, so now people can read what they want, rather than what traditional publishers think they should read. The downside to this is there's more crap out there than ever before, and all indie authors are stigmatized because of it. That's part of why I blog, and why I created Virtual Pulp Press--to point out the good stuff and say, "Hey, check this one out! It's worth a couple bucks and a few hours of your time."

Obviously both my blog and my affiliate store are geared toward those with tastes similar to mine, because without me and my blogger buddies, it's downright difficult to find men's adventure amongst all the chick-lit, paranormal and political thrillers out there. From what I can tell, westerns have benefited the least from the digital revolution. Seems like western fans still prefer paperbacks. Maybe James Reasoner or Wayne Dundee or someone can chime in on this subject and correct me if I'm wrong. Just seems like western fans are most resistant to these newfangled e-readers.

Hey, when I first heard of them I dismissed them as another fad gadget/excuse to waste electricity. I was wrong, but I can kind of understand why some aren't jumping on the bandwagon. (BTW, you can win an e-reader in this tour--just check back on my Two-Fisted Blog for ways to enter.)

What's next from you?

I'm not quite sure, yet. I have a bunch of books I want to write. A sequel or two to Tier Zero is possible. There's an alternative history series I've wanted to do for some time. I've got some shorter pulpesque fiction series I may add to... I have a regular job, and a family, so I can't pursue everything I want. I'll have to narrow it down to one project and concentrate on that as I find time.


  1. Public schools teach what our government wants the public to know. I'm sure history books have been rewritten so many times that the truth is buried in some instances.
    Good luck, Henry!

  2. I think anyone who knows about York during the War of 1812 or Sherman's march during the Civil War will refute that soldiers committing what could be considered atrocities is not unique to the Vietnam War, not even to mention the firebombing of Dresden or the two atomic bombs during WWII. Certainly not excusing it, but this is also to say that our perceptions of history can sometimes be a little out of focus.

  3. Great to meet Hank. Congrats on your books! Isn't amazing what we aren't taught? History is so distorted, especially in K-12.

  4. I really enjoyed the interview. It's a bit worrying that US soldiers are being "programmed" to accept any order rather than having it explained. Maybe the good old days during Washington's time were better.

  5. Very interesting interview. It's frightening to think members of our armed forces might be ordered one day to disarm civilians.
    Congratulations on your book.

  6. Thanks everyone!

    And good point, Tony. I must concede, though I never meant to imply atrocities haven't always occurred.


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