When it comes to underrated authors, David Poyer’s name is high on the list of top-notch writers who don’t always receive the credit they deserve.
While Tom Clancy and Larry Bond are often credited for helping to create and shape the technothriller genre, Poyer’s influence has also helped pave the way for other writers to thrive, and he’s not done yet.
Poyer kicked off his naval series in 1988 withThe Med. Now, seventeen books later Poyer’s hero, Dan Lenson, is an Admiral and — after a war breaks out with China and North Korea — he’s also America’s best hope at claiming victory after the United States’ entire Allied military and defense network is compromised.
Just ahead of the release of his latest thriller, Deep War, Poyer agreed to go on the record for our Five Questions segment and I asked him about everything from how he came up with the plot details for this book to what readers should expect from Lenson moving forward. Read the full Q&A below, then click here to order your copy of Deep War, now available in bookstores everywhere.
TRBS: Deep War is really good, maybe even my favorite Dan Lenson novel yet. How did you come up with the plot details for this book?
Poyer: Thanks! There are actually five subplots, or what I call strakes, to DEEP WAR, following five varied characters from the previous War with China books. This seemed necessary as it would be geographically impossible to cover something as big as a hemispheric war, a world war really, from the point of view of only one character. Dan, our main continuing character from the beginning of the series; Cheryl Staurulakis, CO of the cruiser Savo Island; Hector Ramos, US Marine M240 gunner; Teddy Oberg, SEAL master chief, now a behind-the-lines leader of a Uighur rebel army; and finally Blair Titus, Dan’s wife, who’s rather unwillingly working in the administration in DoD. Some of the plot events will seem faintly familiar to students of the Civil War, World War Two, and the Opium Wars, as I believe there are patterns in history that repeat themselves. (Mainly since human beings don’t seem to learn much.) Others are derived from consultations with active duty folks and friends in high positions. And some, of course, are purely products of the imagination . . . including the personal struggles and desires, which are what really make the work a character-driven novel, rather than some kind of tactical manual or pure technothriller.
TRBS: How much research to do you have to do before actually sitting down to write your novels, and how much does your Naval background help?
Poyer: My early Modern Navy books were derived mainly from personal experience at sea. That’s still very useful, of course, but the challenge is to keep what Saul Bellow calls a writer’s “Arcanum” updated. I do a lot of interviews. I read Proceedings, Shipmate, Naval History, Defense News, ASNE Journal, Early Bird, The Economist, Armed Forces Journal, and other relevant publications. I read recent open-source tactical publications. And then do a lot of fun brainstorming with friends and sources.
Thus, my books are by no means an individual effort, though as the captain I still take responsibility for the result! Once again, though, I have to guard against having the research overwhelm the story. That can be a particular temptation while writing in a genre that at points overlaps with the technothriller. Nine-tenths of the research should not show above the water. I strongly believe that, above all else, the reader has to be entertained for a novel to be judged a success.
TRBS: What is your writing process like? Do you outline your stories, have a target word court you try to hit each day?
Poyer: I teach creative writing part-time at Wilkes University, where I’m notorious as a deep planner. I do matrices and outlines and character analyses. I spend months just outlining. But that means when it comes time to start writing, a thousand words a day come pretty easily. Once I have a first draft finished, I begin the revision process. My wife, Lenore Hart, who’s also an author and writing teacher, gets to edit the second draft. Drafts 3-5 go out to various folks for comment, including active duty Navy and Marine types and a few others I trust to provide honest feedback. My editor at St. Martin’s, George Witte, gets the sixth draft, and together we do one or two more. I have a roomy office with big stormproof windows overlooking a branch of the Chesapeake. I’m surrounded by books, magazines, a collection of vintage typewriters, a ship’s figurehead, two cats, and the usual memorabilia old sailors tend to accumulate.
TRBS: Who are some of your very favorite authors, and what was the last great book you read?
Poyer: I read a LOT and always have, across a wide range of genres. So there are literally scores, but off the top of my head, I could mention Mary Renault, Colleen McCullough, Alan Furst, Philip Dick, some Norman Mailer, and Philip Kerr. John Connolly, an underrated stylist. Heinlein, John Gardner, Oates, Rutherfurd, Proulx. Uris, Cornwell, CS Lewis, Boyle. Faulkner and Steinbeck and Sinclair Lewis and Dreiser, for my Hemlock County books. And of course the greats in the sea tradition, Cooper, Melville, Conrad, London, Goodrich, de Hartog, Monserrat, Wouk, et al. Those are just what comes to mind here at the keyboard and I am sure I have left many of my favorites out I will think of as soon as I hit SEND on this interview!
The last great (and terrifying) book I’ve read was Vincent & Vladic’s Indianapolis, and I’m halfway through Descartes’ Meditations though I am having to read each sentence five times. I should note that I hardly ever read fiction while I’m doing the first draft. If I like something, the style tends to bleed over into my work!
TRBS: Lastly, what’s next for Commander Dan Lenson, and when might readers see him again?
Poyer: I’m finishing up the first draft of the December 2019 book, tentatively titled Overthrow. This should bring the war with China to an end, and set readers up for what follows. But I still have six drafts to do on that before it’s anywhere near ready to read! And in January I’ll start on a new book for 2020.
The war against China turns dire, as the United States struggles to survive in this gripping thriller featuring Navy commander Dan Lenson
After the United States suffers a devastating nuclear attack, and facing food shortages, power outages, cyber and AI assaults, and a wrecked economy, Admiral Dan Lenson leads an allied force assigned to turn the tide of war in the Pacific, using precisely targeted missiles and high-tech weapons systems.
But as the campaign begins, the entire Allied military and defense network is compromised―even controlled―by Jade Emperor, a powerful Chinese artificial intelligence system that seems to anticipate and counter every move. While Dan strives to salvage the battle plan, his wife Blair helps coordinate strategy in Washington, DC, Marine sergeant Hector Ramos fights in an invasion of Taiwan, and Navy SEAL master chief Teddy Oberg begins a desperate journey into central China on a mission that may be the only way to save the United States from destruction and defeat.
Thrilling, filled with near-future technology, and deeply grounded in the human cost of war, David Poyer’s Deep War is a brilliant novel by an acknowledged master of military fiction.
Praised as “one of today’s finest book reviewers” by New York Times bestselling author Gayle Lynds, Ryan Steck (“The Godfather of the thriller genre” — Ben Coes) has “quickly established himself as the authority on mysteries and thrillers” (Author A.J. Tata). He currently lives in Southwest Michigan with his wife and their six children.