Alton, what was it like as a writer to work with a soldier and capture the stories for the new book Hide and Seek?
AG: It was enlightening. At first, I thought my biggest challenge would be learning the terms and tools of the contemporary soldier. As it turns out, the great challenge came in understanding the soldier’s mind and heart. A novelist must be able to see through the eyes of others, to feel their joy and their pains, and then put it on paper. In writing this book and the others that came before it, I had to imagine what it was like to leap out of an airplane in the middle of the night, to be hunkered down under live fire, to see a comrade wounded and killed and to stand on a foreign field when my mind was home with my family. Doing so gave me the new insight into the work and the sacrifices made by the dedicated soldier.
Jeff exemplifies the qualities of the 21st-century soldier: intelligent, brave, sacrificial, but very human. In my discussions with him I came to understand the split loyalties that every soldier faces: duty, country, family.
I tried to take some of the admirable qualities I saw in Jeff and put them into the fictional soldiers who risk their lives and transfer all that to the printed page. I could come up with the plot and the twists and turns, but Jeff had to provide the realism. The series of books has been a real education. I am blessed for having been a part of them.
Jeff, now that you are retired from active service, do you reflect on some of the stories that developed differently than what you thought they would?
JS: I don’t think that being retired from active duty in the US Army has changed the way that I reflect on these stories, but it has given me a greater appreciation for the quality of men and women in the military. Now that I am a private citizen (so to speak), I have the chance to compare the work ethic, the sense of duty and the patriotism of the men and women in the military with the rest of the US population. I never realized how different many warriors are from the citizens that they protect and serve. I am also seeing the selflessness and sacrifice of the military family compared to that of the average family in our country and am surprised by these differences.
Alton, did the process or the relationship change the way you view those in the military and what their families go through?
AG: Absolutely. I always knew there was great sacrifice involved in being a soldier. Coming from a Navy family I even knew the families of military made their share of sacrifices. Writing about them, however, made it real for me. One thing every novelist does is to insert himself or herself into their characters–good or bad. It can be an emotional roller coaster. Writing these books has tattooed the image of their sacrifice on my mind and heart. From the beginning, Jeff insisted that we show the heroism of those who remain home while their husbands and fathers face death in some foreign territory. In the case of our heroes, they did not even have the satisfaction of knowing where their loved ones served. In many ways, they waited in the dark.
I’ve always admired those who serve in the military, but now I admire their families just as much.
Jeff, what are your thoughts on this?
JS: Writing with Al has been eye opening for me personally. He really gets it. I have never known someone to be able to pick up the dedication and motivation of a warrior and their family as quickly as Al. On a couple of occasions, I commented to Al that he writes like someone who has been in the Army all his life. He has a great grasp on what a warrior’s family goes through when the phone rings in the middle of the night and they have to say goodbye to a loved-one, knowing that they may never see them again. It takes a special kind of person to be a military family and Al depicts that as well as anyone I know.
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