Today, we have the pleasure of interviewing two prolific and highly successful authors, Jeffery Wilson & Brian Andrews. Both Jeff and Brian are navy veterans (thank you to both gentlemen for their service). Among many great works they’ve teamed up to write, they have coauthored a #1 bestselling series, Tier One.
Brian Andrews is a nuclear engineer who served as an officer on a fast-attack submarine in the Pacific. He is a Park Leadership Fellow, has a master’s degree in business from Cornell, and holds a psychology degree from Vanderbilt. In addition to his works with Jeff he is the author of The Think Tank series and the explosive, bestselling Sci-fi thriller, Reset. Brian lives in Tornado Alley with his wife and three beautiful daughters
Jeff Wilson has worked as an actor, a firefighter, a paramedic, a jet pilot, a diving instructor, a Naval Officer, and a Vascular and Trauma Surgeon. He served in the Navy as a combat surgeon, deploying with the Marines and later with an East Coast based SEAL Team as part of a Joint Special Operations Task Force. He is the award-winning author of three supernatural thrillers, Fade to Black, The Donors, and The Traiteur’s Ring as well as the recent faith based, inspirational war time novel War Torn, which he wrote as part of his work with a men’s military ministry. Jeff and his wife, Wendy, are Virginia natives who, with their four children now live in Southwest Florida.
Thriller Magazine: Your Tier Ones series has been wildly successful, and it’s exciting to see that the 5th novel will soon be releasing! What is some of the inspiration for the series, and how did you guys go about creating it?
JEFF: The inspiration for the Tier One series, like for all of our books, was real life. Brian and I have both had the honor to serve our country in the United States Navy, and we have served beside some amazing men and women who were the real life inspiration for many of the characters in the Tier One series. For sure, there are close friends who we know see some of themselves and their stories in our pages. From the start, Brian and I have been committed to telling the story of the Ember Team in a way that shows the real world personalities, and the strengths and weaknesses and the sacrifices, of the real Heroes that guard our nation. Our work is fiction, and we work tirelessly to protect the OPSEC of those we still know out there on the pointy tip of the spear, but in the characters and relationships we find the opportunity to show what the world is really like. Our goal is always that when our friends in the community read our work they’ll say, “Yeah, that’s what I would have done.”
As for how our co-author partnership got started, well Brian begged and begged to work together and I finally relented. Is that how you remember it, Brian?
BRIAN: I remember that day like it was yesterday. We were both debut authors and attending ITW’s Thrillerfest conference in NYC. It was the opening night cocktail party, and I saw Jeff huddled in a corner weeping, because he is pathologically shy, you see. I approached him and tried to offer him comfort and support, which clearly he needed because of his condition. He rebuffed my outreach, but like Jeff mentioned, I was persistent, not taking no for an answer. I considered it my philanthropic duty at the time. I mean, yes, authors are known introverts, but c’mon man…
In all seriousness, the partnership was something we slid into quite naturally because as military veterans, collaboration and teamwork are not just buzzwords. They are an ethos. Lone wolf action heroes dominate the big screen, but in real-life operations, teams rule the day. As co-authors we combine our subject matter expertise, leverage each other’s strengths, and augment each other’s weaknesses. Once we co-authored the first five chapters of Tier One, we never looked back.
TM: Working with a co-author can either be the biggest blessing or hardest obstacle for an author. Obviously, you have a great working relationship. What are some tips you could give authors as far as how to work well with a coauthor without stepping on each other’s toes?
BRIAN: First tip is communication. Jeff and I dialogue a minimum of five days a week. Writing a novel, especially a book in a series as complex as TIER ONE, is like climbing Everest. It is not something you “wing,” and it is not something that can be executed by working in silos. Regular and frequent communication is our secret sauce, because we are always brainstorming, plotting, problem solving and energizing each other. The second tip I alluded to in the previous question, which is to recognize and leverage each other’s strengths and weaknesses. In any team project, there is division of labor. If you can take your ego out of the equation and divide the work based on skills and preferences, things really get moving.
JEFF: All joking around aside, Brian and I were friends when we started working together and the experience of being partners in the Andrews and Wilson brand has only made us even better friends. For that, I consider myself truly blessed. I agree with everything Brian said and would just add that the most important thing of all is the ability to set aside pride and ownership and focus on what is best for the book, the series, and the brand. We truly treat every book and every character as our creation.
TM: How do you approach writing the first novel of a series versus writing the third or fourth novel in the series? Is it harder to writer one or the other?
BRIAN: I think the first novel is the most challenging because you’re laying the foundation for all future novels to come. Just like in construction, if the foundation is flawed the building you erect atop that foundation will not be structurally sound and risks collapse. If you don’t think about your character’s longitudinal development, map out their relationships, think about personal and professional challenges they will face, then you will either run out of material prematurely, or find yourself writing in loops, forced to rehash elements from previous books.
JEFF: I agree completely, and Brian and I are very intentional about building arcs for both plot and character beyond the work in progress. That requires a lot of longitudinal thinking, but as we’ve said more than once now, it most importantly requires communication so we’re on the same page. The first book in a series is really the most challenging, because while in our genre you absolutely must deliver action and excitement, the first book by necessity requires attention and time to world building and character backstory development. Done badly, this can be an absolute drag on the reader and a pace killer, but done well with just the right touch, it can make the stakes even larger and more personal—and so more exciting. With subsequent books, both the writers and the readers know the characters and the worlds and you can focus more on just giving them and killer story.
TM: With the fifth novel’s release coming up soon (titled Red Specter), what can readers expect for John Dempsey? How are you keeping the series fresh for loyal fans and new readers?
BRIAN: Dempsey has reached a place in his career and personal life where he feels like he’s finally achieved some stability. He’s come to grips with Jack Kemper’s “death” and his new life as John Dempsey. While the angst from losing his Tier One brothers in Book 1 will never truly go away, he’s finally done grieving and accepted the loss. Now he’s embraced his Ember family and leveling up his skills as he transitions from operator to spy. So now that things are going pretty well for him…
JEFF: No spoilers here, but be prepared for a pretty bumpy ride. Things are going to shake up for the men and women of Ember as Dempsey and his team face the most challenging threat of their careers.
TM: Lastly, with the wild success of your series, it’s not too far-fetched of an idea that we could see John Dempsey on the big screen one day soon! Which actor do you think could do the character justice?
JEFF: Dempsey is a tough cast, but I would totally have Brian play either Elizabeth Grimes or Amanda Allen… He just needs to get in better shape.
BRIAN: *Cough, grumble, knee-slap…* Time to go back to your corner, Jeff. We’ve talked about this. As for Dempsey, definitely not Adam Sandler. Needs to be somebody big and believable. Maybe a bearded up Joe Manganiello, Scott Adkins, or better yet somebody new to break out the role!
Thank you gentlemen for the great interview! For our readers, don’t forget to check out the amazing Tier One series. You won’t be disappointed!