I recently got an opportunity to sit down with Mark Greaney and U.S. Marine -Lieutenant Colonel Hunter Ripley “Rip” Rawlings IV to talk about their upcoming novel, Red Metal. What I expected to be a quick discussion, not wanting to waste too much of their time turned into an hour plus talk about the Marine Corps, how Red Metal came to be, their research, writing process, and LtCol Rawling’s upcoming solo work. I think we got a little excited and talked in depth about some particular scenes that I liked. They broke down their writing process for those scenes and really painted a nice picture of how each one of those scenes came together. To keep it spoiler free, I had to cut majority of that talk out of this interview, but nonetheless I very much enjoyed doing this interview and as a thriller fan, I look forward to more reading material from this experienced battlefield commander and newly published author as well as more Gray Man from Mark Greaney.
My interview with Mark Greaney
My Interview with Lieutenant Colonel Rawlings
Lima Charlie: Thank you for your service sir, can you describe yourself and introduce yourself to the fans?
Lieutenant Colonel Rawlings: I was Born in Boulder, Colorado, my family is from Virginia. The Marine Corps became a big deal to me after college, throughout college, first at the Virginia Military institute, then transferred to another school in the North East, (New York) where girls and beer where more of a concern at the time. There I ended up going overboard with the school schedule and ended up with two and a half degrees. After that I was a banker for almost two years. From there I got the bug to join the service, I visited my local recruiter with the intention to enlist and no real desire to be an officer, but the recruiters needing to meet their officer quota hooked me, and the rest is history, here we are almost 22 years later. I had many opportunities, serving as a Platoon Commander with Marine Corps Security Force Battalion, in Norfolk Virginia. Then operations officer and Executive officer for 3d LAR
(Light Armored Reconnaissance) in 29 Palms California. Future Operations Officer for the Counter-IED (Improvised Explosive Device) Operations Intelligence Center. Strategic Plans Officer at the Pentagon. Rifle battalion commander for 3d Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment,
aka Darkhorse. And, most recently, a military instructor and now dean for command staff college at the Marine Corps University where I am still serving on active duty. As a parting gift from the Marine Corps, I had to have back surgery and along with wanting to spend more time with my family I took this billet as an instructor. But with my back giving me issues and having to go under the knife, I found myself thinking back on the numerous situations where I did something that made me think, “I’m going to regret this later.” For example, I remember yelling at my mortar man, he wasn’t moving fast enough so I grabbed the mortar tube
from him and started racing up over hills. Also, another instance while under sniper fire and IED threats in Fallujah, my gunner was knocked unconscious and I grabbed the M242 bushmaster cannon-gun receiver
which was heavy as shit, maybe a 120 lbs. and literally manhandled it. That’s just a few examples, I can think of maybe 30 more instances where I thought, “man, I’m going to pay for this later.” About 22 years later, I did pay for it with that back surgery. This put me in a position to reflect on what I want to do, one important thing was to spend a little more time with my family.
Lima Charlie: Can we expect any solo work from you?
Lieutenant Colonel Rawlings: Yes, I have a book contract with Kensington for two books. The first of those should be out sometime in the next year to a year and a half. it’s more military fiction, currently working with my editor to make it more Kensington style, they do really good action.
Lima Charlie: I had an opportunity to meet Mark Greaney on his Mission Critical Book tour, while he was doing his public speaking portion of the event, he briefly mentioned Red Metal as another novel coming out later this year with you, he mentioned a bit about how you two met at the Pentagon, how you emailed back and forth quite a bit pitching ideas, and after a while he said that he emailed you and said this is really turning into something, why don’t I get us a book contract? How did you respond to that? How did that relationship come to be?
Lieutenant Colonel Rawlings: I initially emailed his agent wanting to get in touch because of a book idea I had. He replied back saying Mark isn’t interested in collaborating but you’re welcome to send him fan mail. So, I did, and Mark sent me back a very nice NO. Saying, he’s not interested. I replied with no problem, but if you’re ever in the D.C. area and you want to get a tour of the pentagon, let me know. So about two months later, I got an email from him that said is that tour still valid? So we met, I gave him a sort of unclassified briefing and from there we hit it off, became buddies. He gave me some discussions about writing, I was keen on getting his advice, but I left it at that, I didn’t want to strain our friendship or what I saw at the time as the beginning of a friendship. We went out for beers during that trip, then maybe four or five months later he was back in D.C. and we went out for drinks a couple of nights in a row. After that we attended a couple of writing conferences and we would hang out as friends every time he was in the area. Then about three years later, I invited him to one of my Marine Corps birthday balls, and that day we started talking about a new book idea I had, it was supposed to be a 15-minute quick discussion about an idea and we ended up sitting there for about two and a half hours. After that we conversed back and forth, mainly through email. After a while we were sending back full paragraphs and saying wouldn’t this be cool. Then I got this email from Mark, saying I really want to write this with you. And obviously I was floored. He said this idea is just too good to pass up, would I be interested in a 50/50 partnership? I said absolutely. The rest is history, we were already buddies, so we had a good foundation for communication and sitting down to fine tune the details was exciting. The collaborative process was fantastic, I learned a lot from Mark.
Writing with Mark was unbelievable, he is a fantastic author. Has a real great eye for details and his builds on characters are fantastic, he has strong political factors and fantastic ideas on global security issues. He has a natural instinct on what makes a great story, what makes something exciting. He has sort of taken me under his wing for several years now and kind of taught me the ropes and showed me how things operate. For example, there was an idea I had early on in the book and I wrote it and gave it to Mark, I said I think we need more of this. And he loved it, and I was thrilled. Anytime you have a great writer like Mark who thinks you’re doing something good kind of like the master apprentice relationship. As the apprentice when the master says this is pretty good, it makes you feel good about writing. He also invited me to a couple of writing conferences which I now attend, mainly thriller fest in New York and Bouchercon in Dallas, from there I’ve been able to establish more relationships with military fiction authors, such as Mike Maden and Marc Cameron who have taken over the Jack Ryan series with whom I’ve became buddies with and mentors in this field. I kind of found myself as a military advisor to authors, being able to answer questions and often they’re surprised I’m giving up such information, considering I could be using this information, but I always tell them have at it, I’m just happy to talk about the military and make sure the stories being told have accuracy in them that I think is important.
Lima Charlie: What research did you guys do for Red Metal?
Lieutenant Colonel Rawlings: We had a neat tour, we flew around to different places and met with different people. We went to Germany, I had a contact through one of my students. We met with one of the last one-star tank generals before Germany gave up their tanks, they went from 2500 or so tanks in the 90’s to 250 is what they have right now. This general was really great and showed us some unclassified German tank aspects of the battlefield. One thing he asked is if we saw all he explosives on bridges? I said no, we weren’t even looking. He said that’s good, because they aren’t there anymore. So, if the Russians were to invade, none of the bridges are rigged. I said surely this is classified information? He said no, it’s public knowledge because the public was the one that demanded we take it off. So, what I gathered from this commander is that they went from what once was a very mighty tank force to a very kind of humble force. Another trip we did was visit the USS John Warner
(a nuclear-powered Virginia-class submarine of the US Navy). We went to Nellis Air Force base and visited the A-10 squadron out there and had an opportunity to interview and talk to those pilots and get their take on what it’s like inside the cockpit and they gave us a real nice 360-degree tour. We got to sit inside the aircraft, we went to their debriefings, to their ready room. After that we went out for some late-night whiskey with these guys and they told us some fantastic stories. We asked them, if you could attack anything with an A-10 warthog,
what would it be? They all kind of looked at each other and said a (SPOILER). And we said that’s great because we got that in the book already. So, we got some more details and they helped us make it even better.
Lima Charlie: Is Red Metal a one book deal or are there plans for more? The ending kind of implied a direction left open.
Lieutenant Colonel Rawlings: (Laughing) Smart of you to figure that out. It all depends on sales; how successful the book is. But we’ve had discussion with our editor and if the book is a success we have a book two kind of mapped out with a great plot. I really loved writing with Mark and it’s really up to the publisher and fans more than anything else.
Lima Charlie: Every character has their purpose in Red Metal, one however stood out to me a bit and I wanted to know how Paulina’s character was born?
Lieutenant Colonel Rawlings: What’s interesting is when we went to Europe, Mark went to Poland first and I couldn’t meet up with him there, so I met with him in Germany. Mark contrived Paulina on that trip. She was mostly Marks, I wrote a few of her scenes, but he conceived this character. We had a phone conversation prior to this trip and Mark said I think we need a partisan, somebody who is an average Joe, someone detached from the battle but ends up knee deep in it because it all shows up in his or her backyard. So while he was in Poland he came up with this character someone that’s initially average. But you bringing her up brings up a really good topic, we wrote very strong female characters. Mark and I had a lot of debates on who was strong and how they would be portrayed, Paulina is one of them, we also have a female submarine captain, and a really tough female apache pilot. So we made a really determined decision that the battlefield of tomorrow will have a lot of women serving in different positions and leadership roles.
Lima Charlie: Will you and Mark be doing a book tour?
Lieutenant Colonel Rawlings: Yes, we’re doing a book tour in July, we’re hitting seven cities. Off the top of my head, I can’t remember all of them, Washington D.C., St Luis, Memphis, Arizona, Colorado. (Lima Charlie will be posting exact locations, dates & times for their book tour as soon as it is available.)
Review for Red Metal coming soon!