Lt. CDR Jack Carr (USN-Ret.) is a Northern California native, a former SEAL Operator, and now for the first time, a published author. His novel “The Terminal List,” featuring his character James Reece, is now on sale. The book contains action in quantity and quality, and a large dose of government intrigue for good measure. Without giving too much away, if you are one of the dozen names on Reece’s terminal list, your future isn’t bright.
Carr discussed his primary literary influence, his mother, who is still a librarian. “She read to me from a very early age and instilled a love of reading in all her children. I read young adult fiction to military thrillers including authors Nelson DeMille, JC Pollock, Tom Clancy and David Morrell. Then when I was in college, I read Stephen Hunter and his Bob Lee Swagger books. I await the arrival of those novels to this day. Daniel Silva and a little later I read Vince Flynn and Brad Thor. As a reader, and when I was writing the book, a friend connected us. Thor couldn’t have been more generous with his time. He told me he would get the book to Simon & Shuster, but he couldn’t guarantee anything after that. Thor sent the book to New York as a ‘thank you’ for my service. I will always be in his debt, that’s for sure.”
After a high school career that included earning awards in history and creative writing, along with a competitive background in lacrosse and martial arts, Carr earned a college degree. He also had two career goals, which he outlined. “The first was to become a SEAL and serve my country in uniform. And the second was to write fiction. I wanted to enlist in the military and the research I had done prior to that point indicated that it was better to go enlisted before becoming an officer. In the movies I watched in the 1980’s, the new officer showing up from Officer Candidate School got everybody killed. He had the shiny bars on his uniform, a haircut and a shave, so that influenced me. I wanted to be a sniper, learn the trade and do the job. I was with two platoons and then I went over to the officer ranks.”
Carr provided his background, which led him to becoming a sniper. “I grew up shooting and with a respect for the place of firearms in our history. I was familiar and comfortable with firearms from an early age. I went to Sniper School and became an officer. Not too many officers have a sniper background. I became a Sniper Team Leader and got to exercise that skill set. I was fortunate to do that.”
Carr served in Naval Special Warfare from 1997-2016 and during that period, had seven overseas deployments including stops in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Philippines. When asked about his greatest accomplishment during his career, Carr replied, “It was having the honor of leading guys into combat. That’s what I came in to do and I was honored and humbled to have done it.”
Carr kept his twin goals of being a SEAL Operator and a fiction writer distinctly separate during his military career. “When you are in the military, you have to be focused on the mission. You owe that to the guys in your command, the men, their families and the country. There is no time to write when you are taking guys down range. I read a thriller now and again, but most of my reading was about the enemy. You have to be as informed as possible, to make the best decisions under fire. I read about the politics, religion, culture and the economy of the countries to gain a better understanding of the conflict while we were engaged. As a Lt. Commander, that is the last time you tactically lead guys into battle from the front. It was very clear to me that it was time to get out, move on and take care of my family. We have three kids, one of whom has special needs and requires 24/7 care. It was time to follow that next passion, which was writing.”
Our interview turned to the specifics of writing and what Carr enjoyed about the process. We started with his main character James Reece. “His career is fairly similar to mine,” Carr said. “He was an enlisted SEAL who joined the officer ranks. There is a lot of literary license, as he is better looking and more skilled than I could ever be. From beginning to end, the book took about a year and a half. When you think you are done, that’s when the real work starts. Reading, re-reading, questioning and then there is feedback from friends. More plot development was added and there were more chapters written to drop hints.”
When asked about the creative process, Carr replied, “I enjoyed every single part of the process. What was challenging was finding and making the time to write in Coronado. To find a time when it was kind of quiet. There were deliveries, lawn mowers, sirens going by, the phone ringing. I wrote mostly late at night, but I also disappeared for a week to go to a farmhouse and write. When I did that, I wrote from 7 am to 1 pm. And I hope to do it more often. I enjoyed coming up with the title, writing the outline, filling in the outline, finding out that you need an agent and then going through the publishing process. Every part of the process was just pure joy.”
Carr, who prefers to write on his laptop, also picked up some valuable advice along the way. “Author Steven Pressfield said that when you do the work, have a yellow sticky note with the main theme of the book written on it, and put that on your computer. Revenge was the theme of ‘The Terminal List.’ If I wrote a paragraph or a sentence that didn’t have a connection to the revenge theme, I discarded it. Brad Thor told me he wasn’t going to help, not give advice or read chapters. But he did say, give yourself permission to write a bad chapter. That was very invigorating, which also tied into something I had read earlier. You have never heard of a truck driver having truckers block. I turned pro and became a professional writer. Thor said, ‘The difference between a published author and an unpublished author is the published author never quit.’ That’s a theme of life in general.”
Since Carr has a military background, “The Terminal List” was subject to clearance by the Department of Defense’s Office of Prepublication and Security Review. Carr left the few parts that were redacted in place but blacked out. Humorously, though clearly not intentionally so, in the Glossary of Terms in the back of the book, there is an entry for Delta Force, the 1986 Chuck Norris movie and book of the same name about the Army’s Special – and the rest of the sentence is blacked out. Since the movie is now 32 years old, it’s hard to imagine what secrets might remain from that opus that are worthy of redaction.
Carr took the changes in stride and said, “There were just a couple of things here and there they wanted left out. I read the regulation and you have to submit everything due to my former security clearances. All of it is easily found on Google or found on the cover of most newspapers. I took them out but left them redacted in the novel. By the way, Chuck Norris read ‘The Terminal List’ and loved it.”
Carr discussed how his middle child, a son, was diagnosed with an extremely rare affliction, due to the mutation of the NR2F1 gene. “He was just the 13th person in the world with the genetic mutation, which manifests itself as global, mental and physical issues where he will need help with everything, forever. He is a sweet little guy, with a great sense of humor. The story of how we found out about the mutation, is I told Ross Perot about our story and I got a call out of the blue while we were living in Coronado. He linked us up with a team of genetic specialists and sent his Gulfstream G550 jet and a nurse for our son and put him through testing to identify the condition. It doesn’t change how we take care of him. That is something I can never repay Ross Perot for, what he did for us. He does a lot of that kind of thing for military families and doesn’t publicize it. The Navy couldn’t figure out the problem, neither could other specialists. Then out of the blue comes Ross Perot.”
The Carr family moved to Park City, Utah to live near the Ability Center, in an effort to help their son reach his full potential. Carr added, “It’s an amazing organization and Park City feels like home now. Don’t get me wrong, Coronado was great to us. We’re an outdoor family and we go biking, skiing, rock climbing, fly fishing and trail running. Everyone here is in incredible shape. Coronado played an important role in our lives. With BUD/S, my first SEAL Team, and the end of my military career. There are dear friends there. Coronado holds a very, very special place in our hearts.”
One minor spoiler about “The Terminal List,” a book that you will enjoy if you like a fast-moving plot with lots of action. When asked if there was going to be another James Reece novel, Carr replied, “There are characters from ‘The Terminal List’ moving on to Book Two. Which ones? That’s the secret.”