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Jason Kasper is a former Army Special Forces officer and a USA Today bestselling author. His new book, THE ENEMIES OF MY COUNTRY, releases on January 15, 2021.
Interview conducted by Andrew Watts, former Navy helicopter pilot and author. We spoke about Jason's time in the military and how that has shaped his writing. We also discussed bourbon, weapons, cats, and BASE jumping.
AW: You deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq as an Army Ranger when you were 19 years old. Then you were accepted to West Point. What was it like going to the US Military Academy after that experience?
Jason Kasper: Not a great ride, if I’m being honest. I went into “war withdrawal,” became an adrenaline junkie, and started skydiving and BASE jumping pretty heavily.
[editors note: "BASE" is an acronym that stands for four categories of fixed objects from which one can jump: building, antenna, span, and earth (cliff).]
But I also started writing, which proved useful in my post-military career. And I met a fellow student’s sister, who I quickly went to work trapping into a long-term relationship and then marriage. With a second kid on the way, it’s getting pretty serious...so I guess West Point wasn’t all bad.
AW: You’ve told me before that you weren’t the fastest runner or the best athlete in high school. But the rigors of Special Forces training are well known. What do you think it is about the ones who make it through? What separates them from the pack?
Jason Kasper: The ones who make it through special operations training aren’t necessarily the strongest or fastest, but rather the ones who won’t give up on their teammates or themselves. I’ve been fortunate to serve in the Rangers and Green Berets, but have worked with Marine Raiders, Navy SEALs, Air Force Pararescue and Combat Controllers...and they’re all the same type of “good dude” you’d want at your side when things get tough.
AW: What’s the craziest thing that ever happened to you on deployment?
Jason Kasper: A combat parachute jump during the invasion of Iraq. The entire flight was as close to the ground as the pilots could fly, and the windows were lit up by anti-aircraft fire. A few minutes before exit, they opened the jump doors and the entire cabin filled with clouds of sand. Then the pilots climbed to 500 feet, we struggled to shuffle out of the aircraft under the weight of all our combat gear, and our parachutes barely had time to open before we slammed into concrete-like desert with so much force that any of us who weren’t knocked unconscious, wished we had been.
AW: Your new book, THE ENEMIES OF MY COUNTRY, is about an ex-Ranger, West Point grad turned CIA assassin. Are you, actually, a CIA assassin? Blink twice if yes.
Follow-up question, seeing that you are also an ex-Ranger and West Point grad...what do you think makes you so incredibly creative?
Jason Kasper: (Blinks once)...but that’s not to say there wasn’t inspiration from actual events.
In 2009, the media reported that the CIA Director had been briefed on a targeted killing program that bypassed Congressional oversight committees. The proposal was for Agency paramilitary officers to assassinate terrorist operatives worldwide in order to minimize collateral damage from drone strikes- and while the Director immediately cancelled the program concept and reported its existence to the President and Congress, that news report bounced around my head for the next decade and served as a large part of the inspiration for this book.
How would a modern-day targeted killing program work, and what kind of men would the CIA employ? What would the impact be on the shooters and their families, the Agency command and control, and the Congressional oversight? Those “what ifs,” combined with some research on international terrorist and criminal organizations, spawned not just this story but the 10-book outline that will follow this team around the world.
And as for creativity...I can only credit a healthy supply of bourbon, which seems to keep the wheels turning.
AW: You are both a bourbon and watch aficionado. Name two of your favorite bourbons, and two of your favorite watches.
Jason Kasper: My favorite bourbon is Woodford Reserve, followed closely by Barrell, Blanton’s, Bib & Tucker...wait, you said two. I’ll stop at the B’s.
My favorite watch I own is my trusty Omega Seamaster. My wife bought it for me a few months after our wedding because we couldn’t afford one beforehand, and since then it’s been on three deployments, parachute jumps, gunfights, patrolling across lion tracks in Africa, and survived a particularly harrowing infiltration with Afghan helicopters and pilots.
My favorite watch I DON’T own is a Patek Philippe 5208P, which costs close to a million dollars and is worth every penny. I got to hold one- once- when the president of Patek Philippe wore it to a watch event. Upon meeting him, I was so star-struck by the watch I asked him if I could see it. Instead of pulling back his cuff to show me, he took the watch off and handed it to me like we were old friends. Then he decided the venue was too loud to appreciate the watch’s minute repeater function that chimes the time, escorted me and my wife to an empty room so we could hear it in all its glory, and hosted a private listening.
Thinking of that day makes me realize I need to start selling a lot more books...
AW: What makes your books different from others in your genre?
Jason Kasper: My books are different in that I pair tactical authenticity and the sensory experience of combat with a fast-paced storyline and twists that aren’t typical of the genre. I’ve never been able to write the hero-meets-love-interest, solves conspiracy, then saves-love-interest’s-life in the final faceoff with the villain…there’s nothing wrong with that storyline when it’s done well, but I’ve always wanted to put a fresh spin on thriller genre conventions. One of the comments I hear most often from new fans is that they’ve never read anything like this before…and that’s about the biggest compliment I can get.
AW: Before you were a father, you used to BASE jump...for fun. What was the most interesting location you jumped from?
Jason Kasper: The “UFO tower” at the New York State Pavilion, which was featured in the movie Men In Black.
It was my second jump of the night- the first was off an apartment building in the Bronx, where I almost bounced after a pilot-chute-in-tow malfunction. Two of my buddies were watching me from the top, and told me that one said to the other, “Jason’s going in” and had time to say it before my parachute opened.
So naturally, we all packed our parachutes at my buddy’s apartment and headed out to the UFO tower immediately afterward.
Climbing the tower was almost as interesting as the jump- there’s a huge spiral staircase that’s rusted out and missing a lot of steps, so you have to straddle the staircase framework and try not to slip. The landing area is a wide open parking lot visible from the street, so we had a getaway driver waiting right next to our touchdown point to speed us away afterward- just like a bank heist, only not as lucrative.
AW: Name three thriller authors that you enjoy reading.
Jason Kasper: I really enjoy reading Brad Taylor, Mark Greaney, and Steven Konkoly.
Brad Taylor is great at conveying the military teamwork aspect in his fiction, while Mark Greaney is the master of 007-style action. As for Steven Konkoly…I literally stayed up all night reading THE RESCUE.
AW: After you graduated from West Point, you eventually became a Green Beret team leader. How was your experience in the Green Berets different from being a Ranger?
Jason Kasper: The cultures in both organizations are very different. Rangers are an elite light infantry strike force that, aside from airfield seizure, specialize in direct action raids. If you need to break things and hurt feelings, they will get the job done 10 times out of 10 and have a great time doing it.
Green Berets differ in that they work in small teams, and are organized, trained, and equipped to partner with foreign military forces. In Afghanistan, my ten-man team trained a battalion of Afghan Commandos and led them on combat missions in some pretty dicey areas. As a Green Beret, you’re speaking their language, eating their food, and fighting alongside them on missions.
A Ranger will have a military haircut. A Green Beret will have a beard and, as likely as not, salon-quality hair. But at their heart, they both love shooting people just as much as the other.
AW: You have to take two weapons into a fight. That’s all of the information you have. What two would they be?
Jason Kasper: An M4 carbine with EOTech optic, Surefire taclight, and VTAC sling, and a Glock 26 pistol. There’s a lot of fancier weapons out there, but I’ve got the most experience with those two and muscle memory works for a reason. And neither has ever failed me.
AW: You are a student of writing craft. What is your favorite book on the craft of writing? What’s your writing process, and how has that changed over the years?
Jason Kasper: Up until publishing my first book, I hadn’t studied the craft or even read very much fiction. But the panicked rush to rewrite my debut novel before it was due to my editor taught me that I couldn’t make a career out of “winging it” with every book. After that I began learning about story structure, and since then have read a dozen or so books on writing. The best by far is STORY by Robert McKee, a book I recommend to every new author that contacts me for advice.
As for my process, I plot every book. What’s changed with experience is how much plotting I do. Starting out, I planned out…Every. Single. Scene. But after ten books, I decide on the major story events and then freestyle everything in between. That gives me enough flexibility to let new characters and scenes emerge as I write, while keeping the story on track and making sure every aspect of the book drives toward an explosive and satisfying conclusion that the reader won’t see coming.
AW: You have two cats that hover over you when you write. Please show us a picture of them. Based on this picture...when do you expect them to turn against you?
Jason Kasper: After Halloween this year, my days are definitely numbered.
AW: You are giving away a novella (a 60 page book) that precedes your upcoming novel. Care to tell us about that?
Jason Kasper: It’s called THE NIGHT STALKER RESCUE, and tells the story of the CIA paramilitary team’s first operation on a terrorist-infested island in the Philippines. They’re planning to conduct an assassination, but when a US Army helicopter gets shot down, it turns into a rescue mission…and the rest is about how far these four men will go to save a surviving pilot against overwhelming odds.
You can get it free here:
AW: Your books are also in audio. How is working with voice actors similar to dealing with prima-donna military helicopter pilots?
Jason Kasper: Voice actors are much easier to deal with, mainly because there’s a lot less ego involved. How do military helicopter pilots screw in a light bulb? They put it in the socket and stand still, because the world revolves around them.
AW: Can you give a quick pitch for the new book, and tell us how we can get it?
Jason Kasper: David Rivers leads a double life. At work, he’s a CIA contractor conducting covert action around the globe. At home, he’s a caring husband and loving father to his young daughter. During an assassination mission in Syria, he uncovers his worst fear. An imminent attack on US soil will occur in four days. The target is in his hometown. And his wife and daughter are mentioned by name.
THE ENEMIES OF MY COUNTRY launches on January 15th on ebook, paperback, hardcover, and audiobook. A portion of all royalties and an additional dollar per preorder will benefit the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, and you can get your copy here.
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