10 Questions with J. W. Stone
1. Mr. Stone, thank you for this opportunity to be interviewed for my blog. Your military thriller, DUTY TO INVESTIGATE, came out today. Tell us a bit more about this book.
Fundamentally, Duty to Investigate is a war story. But it is different, because it is overlain with a compelling plot and complex characters, including not only the combat soldiers, but also a beautiful news reporter, Iraqi civilians, and senior officers.
The protagonist, Mike Beck, is a lawyer and reservist. He is unexpectedly recalled for duty in Iraq and placed in charge of a critical investigation—a lance corporal is charged with massacring Iraqi women and children. Beck is willing to do whatever it takes to get the facts. Not having any combat experience, Beck disregards orders and assembles a rag-tag outfit of NCIS agents and legal clerks and heads into the middle of the Battle of Fallujah. He is forced to take the news reporter with him.
What follows is some heavy combat action—along with a battle of the heart, mind, and body as the members of the team unite and end the conflicts among themselves.
2. Who is Mike Beck, and how did you go about creating his character?
Mike is a famously successful trial lawyer from Chicago. He has the extraordinary good looks and intelligence to convince jurors and is totally devoted to his practice. Except for drinking and womanizing on Saturday nights, Mike spends all of his time at work.
Part of Mike’s success is the result of his experience as a Marine Corps judge advocate. He maintains high ethical standards and loves representing the underdog. He still values honor, courage, and commitment.
Mike was created as a super-sized version of trial lawyers I have known, combined with the character of the best Marines. He succeeds in combat not as a result of experience or technical knowledge, but because he is dedicated to the mission and his fellow Marines.
He is also a romantic, as I believe the most important thing in life is finding ones soul mate.
3. DUTY TO INVESTIGATE drips with realism and is full of technical and military details. What kind of research did you do for this novel, and how much is it based on your own personal experience in Iraq?
This novel is based entirely upon my personal experiences. I served in Iraq in 2004-2005, and was all over the place with the grunts, news reporters, and senior officers. I also had a chance to get to know many Iraqis.
As a young man, I was greatly influenced by Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms and For Whom the Bell Tolls. My goal was to produce direct, personal writing, full of imagery and with an authentic feel. In short, I wanted to share my Iraqi experiences through my writing.
4. What are your writing habits? How long does it take you to research and write a novel?
I jog in the mornings and imagine the next section or chapter while running. Later, I sit down for 3 or 4 hours and put those thoughts to paper. I start with an outline for the entire book, but invariably the story changes. It takes me a long time to complete a novel, depending on interruptions from my day job and family matters. I am also an obsessive reviser and the re-writes can take months. It is a very slow process, but I like writing two or three novels at the same time.
5. A word of advice for new writers?
It is difficult to make a career in the creative arts. At least in the beginning, combine your writing with another profession. If you can do that, then write what you want, not what will get published.
6. Why do you write?
My friends would say that I love to tell stories and know that I embellish a lot. When I write a novel, I can embellish as much as I want and that is a lot of fun.
7. What are your favorite pastimes?
I enjoy most outdoor sports, including back packing, fishing, boating and hunting.
8. What do you like to read and what are you reading at the moment?
I continuously read military history books. For fiction, my favorite authors are W.E.B. Griffin, Tom Clancy and John Grisham.
9. What other book(s) are you working on?
Mike Beck is a great character and I am writing two prequels. In the first one, Duty to Defend, Lieutenant Beck is assigned to defend a corporal charged with the murder of a prostitute. It takes place during the ending months of the Vietnam War. It is more of a legal thriller and follows the investigation and trial.
In the second, Duty to Prosecute, Major Beck is recalled to active duty during Desert Storm and assigned the responsibility of prosecuting several Marines charged with desertion. The story opened up some great characters, both civilian and military, and each defendant has a special story.
10. What can readers expect to find in DUTY TO INVESTIGATE?
I hope they find an entertaining and fast-paced story about war, honor, love, and commitment. I know they will get an accurate sense of what it was like to live and fight in Iraq.