Jeff Struecker, Alton Gansky
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Six American men live behind a protective facade, their real work hidden from neighbors and friends. Different in countless ways, they are intimately the same in one: at any moment their lives can be altered with a phone call, and their actions may change the world.They are Special Ops. And one team's mission is about to hit certain jeopardy status when the discovery of an Al Qaeda base in Venezuela becomes secondary to thwarting the transport of a nuclear weapons expert from that training camp to Iran.
Informed by the true combat experience of Captain Jeff Struecker and finessed by award-winning novelist Alton Gansky, Certain Jeopardy is an immersing and pulsating fictional account of what really happens at every level of a stealth engagement: the physical enemy encounter, the spiritual war fought within a soldier, and the emotional battles in families back at home.
Capt. Jeff Struecker
Chaplain (Captain) Jeff Struecker is a decorated member of the United States Army’s most elite fighting corps whose personal experiences in Mogadishu, Somalia, were written about in the New York Times bestseller and major motion picture Black Hawk Down. In thirteen years of active duty, he also fought in Operation Just Cause in Panama and Operation Iris Gold in Kuwait. As a chaplain Jeff has done multiple tours in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and Operation Iraqi Freedom. He uses his personal story of survival on the battlefield to tell others how they, too, can be prepared for any circumstances life may bring. Struecker and his wife, Dawn, have five children, and live in Georgia.
Favorite Bible Verse: John 3:30 "He must become greater; I must become less."
Alton Gansky is a fulltime writer living in the High Desert area of southern California. He is the author of 20 novels and 6 nonfiction works. His work has been a Christy Award finalist and an Angel Award winner. His fast-paced thrillers include: Zero-G, Finder's Fee, Crime Scene Jerusalem, The Prodigy, and his series include the Madison Glenn Series, J.D. Stanton Mysteries Series and the Perry Sachs Series. Alton also served as senior pastor for three Baptist churches in California, serving over 20 years in pulpit ministry.
Favorite Verse: Proverbs 3:5-6 5 "Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; 6 in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. ' (NIV)
Our Interview with Capt. Jeff Struecker & Alton Gansky
Captain Jeff Struecker: What is your favorite Bible verse?
Because I want everything about my life to point people to Christ.
Captain Jeff Struecker: Are you still active in the military?
Yes, I have been on active duty for 21 years.
Captain Jeff Struecker: Are you concerned with compromising any government information with Certain Jeopardy?
Al and I were very deliberate about writing this book. I take great efforts to ensure that I never say or print anything that would give away national secrets or put the lives of our warriors serving around the world at risk.
Alton Gansky: What inspired the concept for the Certain Jeopardy?
The idea originated with Jeff. He had been thinking about the concept and much of the concept developed by the time I became involved. Part of my job was to take the storyline to the next level in a way that matched Jeff’s vision.
Captain Jeff Struecker: What inspired the concept for the Certain Jeopardy?
Al and I together came up with the concept. However, much of my inspiration for Certain Jeopardy came from reading news reports. I don’t just read the news to find out what happened, but as a career soldier, I read to consider what “could happen” in the future. Certain Jeopardy was one of those “could happen” scenarios.
Alton Gansky:: How did you both meet and decide to collaborate on Certain Jeopardy? (Did you email one another; meet somewhere and write together?)
We have only met over the phone. We live a few thousand miles apart so frequent face to face meetings is difficult. As I recall, Jeff’s agent approached me to help with the project. I have also done several books with Karen Ball at B&H Publishing.
Captain Jeff Struecker: How did you both meet and decide to collaborate on Certain Jeopardy?
Jonathan, a friend of mine, described what a great fiction writer Al was. He arranged for a phone conversation between the two of us and it seemed to me like we clicked right away.
Captain Jeff Struecker: Is any part of Certain Jeopardy factual?
No. Certain Jeopardy is purely a work of fiction. However, there are many people that I know who fit the characters of Certain Jeopardy and their families.
Captain Jeff Struecker: How closely is Certain Jeopardy based on your life experiences?
I spent several years in a small unit of senior Non Commissioned Officers over my military career much like the small unit of men in Certain Jeopardy. Much of the character’s personalities in this book come for those men that I once worked with and their families.
Alton Gansky: How did this writing collaboration enhance your understanding of the inner workings of the military?
I certainly know more about the Army and Spec Ops. I grew up in a Navy family, but Jeff agreed to work with me anyway. I did a series of books starring Capt. JD Stanton, a retired submarine commander, so I’ve done books with military backdrops before. Certain Jeopardy, however, is different in that it emphasizes the soldiers and the work they do. Rank, military address, etc is different in the Navy so I had to be taught the Army way of doing things. Thankfully, Jeff knows a little bit about such things.
Alton Gansky: How did you choose the location for the setting?
The location was dictated by Jeff’s vision of the plot. That was set by the time I got involved. I did research on the area, topography, streets, buildings, and the like. It’s amazing what you can learn by using Google maps.
Captain Jeff Struecker:
Venezuela fit because of how volatile their government is right now. And I spent about 10 days doing a short term mission trip their several years ago so I understood a little bit about the country.
Captain Jeff Struecker: How long did Certain Jeopardy take you to complete?
Al could better answer this than I.
Circumstances (the business behind books and publishing) required a quick turn around. As I recall, the book was written in eight weeks but there were several weeks of plotting and discussion before that. Most projects take much longer.
Alton Gansky: What is the symbolism for the title Certain Jeopardy?
Jeff is the best one to answer this. Jeff?
Captain Jeff Struecker:
This team is sent into Venezuela on a reconnaissance mission. However, there is a point where the reconnaissance mission uncovers something that is lethal to the U.S. way of life. The new discovery places our nation in “Certain Jeopardy” and turns the mission from gathering information to eliminating the threat at all costs. Hence the name…
Captain Jeff Struecker: How much research did Certain Jeopardy take?
Most of my research was on the current political and social situation in Venezuela.
Alton Gansky: How much research did Certain Jeopardy take?
I did a lot of research on Venezuela as well as tapping Jeff’s brain for experiences he has had. I also did research on technology that might be used, weaponry, and a host of other items. Of course, Jeff is the expert in military matters, weapons, mission ops, and soldier psychology. I asked a lot of questions and filled the first draft with footnotes that read, “Jeff, is this right? What would he say here? When a soldier use this term? And so on. I also had to read several scientific papers on the use of spent radioactive material.
Alton Gansky: What was the most interesting fact that you learned while writing Certain Jeopardy?
It was all interesting for me. I had to learn how to think like a soldier. Of course, there’s no such thing as a cookie cutter soldier. They all have homes, families, histories, concerns. The humanity of soldiers intrigued me.
Captain Jeff Struecker: What was the most interesting fact that you learned while writing Certain Jeopardy?
I learned how delicate a fiction plot can be. One small change to a character can affect the whole outcome of the book. Thus, I learned to be very careful with plot and character development.
Captain Jeff Struecker: What are some of the challenges you face as an author?
Writing fiction is very difficult for me to begin with. I was gently nudged to take on this project to begin with, but have been very pleased with the outcome.
Alton Gansky: What are some of the challenges you face as an author?
The greatest challenge is making ink and paper reflect the real world, engage the reader, and make the reader think and feel. A writer has to be able to step out of his or her reality and live in another. This kind of creativity is difficult and demanding. My goal as a writer is transport the reader to a place they’ve never been and leave them with something to think about.
Alton Gansky: What aspects of being a writer do you enjoy the most?
When I first became a writer, I read a book by a professional freelancer. He said the most difficult thing to do is start. Most writers will tell you that they will find a hundred different things to do to avoid starting that day’s writing. But once you start it is often just as difficult to stop. When the words are coming easily and the emotion flows smoothly there is a sense of creative euphoria. That’s what I enjoy.
Captain Jeff Struecker: What aspects of being a writer do you enjoy the most?
The finished product!
Captain Jeff Struecker: What is your writing style? (Do you outline? Write “by-the-seat-of-your-pants? Or somewhere in between?)
Al can answer this one better than I can. I am a more by-the-seat-of –your-pants person with regard to writing.
Alton Gansky: What is your writing style? (Do you outline? Write “by-the-seat-of-your-pants? Or somewhere in between?)
I’m on a crusade to expunge the phrase “seat-of-the-pants” writer. There’s no such thing. I prefer “intuitive writer.” An intuitive writer doesn’t outline, he jumps into the shadow of his characters and follows them around to see what they do. This sounds like writing by the seat of one’s pants but it is not. Intuitive writers (also called discovery writers) are adaptive creatures who let the story develop organically from the mind. There’s nothing wrong with outlining. When I teach writing, I tell my students they should try outlining. I have worked both ways and found I am more creative working intuitively. When asked which is the right way, I say, “The one that works for you.” Some new writers want to work intuitively because they think it saves the time and work. It doesn’t.
Editor: Duly noted. From here forward, it will be "intuitive writer."
Alton Gansky: Do your characters begin to take on a life of their own as you write?
Yes. They become very real. Psychologist have demonstrated that it is nearly impossible for individuals to separate reality from fiction. It is why we jump in a scary movie (or cry, or laugh). We sit in the theater and tell ourselves, this isn’t real, it is just a two dimensional projection of a story—then we scream when something bad happens. Writers come to love or hate characters.
Captain Jeff Struecker: Do your characters begin to take on a life of their own as you write?
I already had real people in mind when we were forming the characters. For me it is the other way around.
Captain Jeff Struecker: What other new projects do you have on the horizon?
We are working on the sequel to this book right now.
Alton Gansky: What other new projects do you have on the horizon?
Jeff and I are working on book two of the series.
Alton Gansky: Who was the person who influenced you the most with your writing?
For me it is Dean Koontz. He doesn’t know it, but he’s my mentor. I don’t always like the subject matter Mr. Koontz choose (some I love), but I respect his love of the craft and the excellence of his plotting, descriptions, dialog, and so much more. He is a master of popular novel. It takes me forever to read his books because I’m analyzing everything he’s done. (I let you in on a little secret. I learned the word macadam from one of his earlier books. I’ve used the word in every novel I’ve written as homage to his work. There, the secret is out.)
Captain Jeff Struecker: Who was the person who influenced you the most with your writing?
The short answer…Jesus.
Alton Gansky: What advice would you give to a person trying to become a fiction writer?
Be a child. When we were children we made up games that unleashed our creativity. As we grew older, we put those things aside for adulthood. Adulthood is death of creativity.
First let your mind create ideas. Not all of them will be good ideas, but that doesn’t matter. It doesn’t cost anything to dream up scenarios.
Once you have a story idea, start playing with it. Sit down and write a few pages. It doesn’t matter if their perfect. In fact, they won’t be. Just get started.
Study the craft. Pianists study the master musicians; writers study the best authors—and I don’t mean Dickens, Melville, or Hemmingway. It’s good to study them, but examine people writing in your genre.
Go to writer’s conferences. They allow you to study with and hang out with authors. You also may get a chance to pitch your idea.
* Long answer about advice to those who want to write fiction.
The path to publication is different for every writer but certain elements are common to all.
First, know that writing is a noble and worthwhile work. Those who say, “It’s only fiction,” don’t understand the impact novels have had on history or on the individual. So know you’re perusing a worthwhile goal.
Know that learning to write is a process.
Captain Jeff Struecker: What message would you like your readers to take from Certain Jeopardy?
I hope it will cause readers to give more honor to our military and their families because there are many military families in our nation just like those they will read about in Certain Jeopardy.
Alton Gansky: What message would you like your readers to take from Certain Jeopardy?
Life is complex and there are times when right and wrong are difficult to distinguish.
Alton Gansky: What is your greatest achievement?
My kids. They’ve turned into wonderful adults for which my wife deserves the greatest credit.
Captain Jeff Struecker : What is your greatest achievement?
In life, my greatest achievement is being a husband of 18 years and a father of 5 awesome children.
Captain Jeff Struecker: What is your goal or mission as a writer?
In everything I write I hope to introduce people, who are not interested in faith, to Jesus Christ through subtle but thought provoking means.
My greatest benefit is hearing someone say that my books caused them to start going to church, reading their Bibles or come to faith in Jesus Christ. I hope Certain Jeopardy will do the same.
Alton Gansky: What is your goal or mission as a writer?
First, to make the reader think about the story long after they’ve finished the last page. Entertainment isn’t enough. Second, to keep the reader up all night.
Alton Gansky: What do you do to get away from it all?
Movies is one form of escape. When I can, I head out to the workshop and torture some exotic hardwood into furniture.