What's in a Page: How the pandemic changed the plot of Brad Taylor's latest novel American Traitor

·5 min read

William Morrow (2)

Brad Taylor writes novels that are not only ripped from the headlines, but inspired directly what is happening in the world at the exact moment he's writing. The author, who served in the U.S. Army Infantry for more than two decades and taught at the Citadel, has penned over a dozen installments of his Pike Logan series, which uses his own knowledge of the special forces to create thrilling tales.

His latest, American Traitor (on shelves this week) came across a literary speed bump that none of his training could have prepared him for: a pandemic. The novel, which follows Pike Logan as he investigates a potential war between China and Taiwan underwent some creative revisions as lockdowns swept the world. Below, Taylor tells all about creating his latest book, and all his secrets of the trade — the book trade, that is.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What is the first thing — ever — that you remember writing?

BRAD TAYLOR: The first thing EVER would be my name, over and over on a piece of paper. The first thing I remember writing where I feared rejection from a reader — which is what I think you mean — was a short story for English class in eighth grade. I realized then that anybody could write something and shove it in a drawer, but it took guts to write something and let others read it with a critical eye.

What is the last book that made you cry?

Watership Down by Richard Adams. Yeah, it's been a few years since I've cried over a book, but I did with that one.

Which book is at the top of your current To-Read list?

Rise and Kill First by Ronen Bergman. It's a history of Israel's targeted killing program from before the inception of the country to modern day. It's been on my nightstand for close to eight months — and it stares at me each night before I turn out the lights.

Where do you write?

Everywhere. I'm lucky in that I learned to write while still in the military, which meant I had to cram in bits and pieces whenever I had the time. Because of that, I've learned to blot out everything around me and focus on the story for what little time I have. I've written books in barracks, at gymnastic and volleyball meets for my daughters, in airport bars, on airplanes, and everything in between. To this day, after 15 books, I still have nothing that resembles a "writing desk," where I settle in on a schedule to write. I write when my thoughts have coalesced in my head, and if I happen to be on a train, then that's where it will come out.

Which book made you a forever reader?

I don't think it would be a book. It would be a library card in fifth grade. With that card, I was allowed to take any book I wanted and read it, with only the promise that I would bring the book back. I spent so much time in the library that my teachers thought I was skipping school.

What is a snack you couldn't write without?

None. As I said above, I learned to write in chaos, be that in the military or because of my family (which is, to say the least, chaos). I have no set schedule for writing, and by the same token, I have no "snack" that I have to have in order to write. I will say that Cheetos are the worst snack. While I love them, they really screw up a keyboard.

If you could change one thing about any of your books what would it be?

I wouldn't have killed Decoy in Ring of Fire. I spent an enormous amount of time building that character, and his demise worked for that specific book, but once he was dead, I regretted it. And it's not only me. I got a little bit of hate mail when he was killed. But combat is unforgiving, and sometimes bad things happen to good people. At the end of the day, though, I wish I'd let him live.

What is your favorite part of American Traitor?

Probably the chase and rescue of Dunkin from a group of Chinese assassins. There are a lot of competing interests in the chase scene, with Pike having to figure out where Dunkin is going before the Chinese get to him, and it's hard writing a scene like that. You want the reader seamlessly immersed in the action — as if he or she is in the driver's seat of a car about to wreck — not as a bystander trying to understand the competing threads, like a person on the street corner seeing the car-wreck from afar. After multiple re-writes, I think I created that.

What was the hardest plot point or character to write?

Actually, the hardest plot point came not from my writing, but from outside events. I'd already returned from doing research in Taiwan and Australia, and set about finishing the novel — and the pandemic struck, leaving me at a crossroads: How do I include that in the novel? I was in a little bit of a quandary, because I write current events in a real-world setting. How could Pike and the team go globetrotting across the world when nobody was allowed to fly? And how would they conduct such things as surveillance on crowded Taipei streets — when the streets were now deserted? In the end, I decided to set the novel during the elections in Taiwan, right before the pandemic struck, but there was a lot of wasted effort on the decision.

Write a movie poster tag line for American Traitor:

Betraying a country for money is easy. With Pike Logan, living long enough to enjoy it is hard.

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