THE BUFFALO PILOT: Five Questions with Larry Colby

If you’re a fan of Larry Colby’s high-flying series starring Air Force Reserve Major Ford Stevens, hold on tight . . . because this book is going to rock you to your core.

If you not already ready Colby’s stuff, start. Somewhere between Dale Brown and early Ward Larsen books, Colby’s series is fresh, original, and plotted in such a way that each book is impossible to set down.

This time around, Ford (first introduced in The Devil Dragon Pilot), has some brotherly competition when Charlie, his younger brother—a Lieutenant fresh out of pilot training—joins the family ranks and finds himself serving under Ford’s command. As Charlie tries to get acclimated, though, other more sinister things begin to play out behind the scenes . . . and it’s up to the brothers to figure out what’s going on and how to stop it. That is, of course, if the conspiracy lurking in the shadows doesn’t first cause them to turn on one another.

Just ahead of his exciting new release, Colby agreed to go on the record for our Five Questions segment, and I asked him about everything from how he came up with the story idea for this one to what’s next for his series moving forward. Check out the full Q&A below, then make sure to order your copy of The Buffalo Pilot, now available in paperback and e-book.

 

THE Buffalo Pilot

 

TRBS: Without giving anything away, I have a feeling fans of your series are in for a number of huge surprises with this book. How on earth did you come up with the story idea for this one? 

Colby: Thanks for asking, Ryan!  I’m pumped to release this third book in the military-thriller series…a year in the making, plus approval from the Pentagon. 

When I was a C-130 Hercules pilot, one of my positions was to work as part of a team to support the Base Realignment and Closure Commission.  Our group of men and women set out to accumulate data about the Air Base, collect performance about the military units assigned there, and help our national-level decision-makers make the best, informed decision they could. 

It’s a rigorous process, but the process produced fictional ‘what-if’ stories.  The political shenanigans and backroom deal that I write about are fictional but can be found in every newspaper on a daily basis. The things I write about with these themes are plucked right out of current events, and if I combine my experiences with current events, I thought I might have something.

If you mix in a little organized crime, how dangerous military flying can be, with a touch of blackmail and excitement, a story is born.

TRBS: What research, if any, did you have to do before actually sitting down to write? 

Colby: I always start with a rough outline first that gives me a good steer with a potential story. Never a hard and fast outline, but something to keep my thoughts straight in the beginning.  From that, which ironically enough is similar to a cockpit checklist, I can plan out my research.  My research starts out on the web, usually leads to magazines and books on the subject, and ends with government and think tank reports and websites. 

I have found that interviews with subject matter experts are, hands down, the best way to gain perspective on a subject.  Sometimes the chats are with friends, but many times they are referrals. Sometimes I cold call a restaurant, bar, or location that I am planning to use for a scene.

As an example, I needed background for this latest book “The Buffalo Pilot” on the Robert Moses Niagara Power Project, which is a large hydro-electric power plant in Niagara Falls, New York.  The research was needed because it is the location of a pivotal point in the story, so I cold-called them. Terrific group of folks there provided me with the background and context on the massive facility with just the right detail needed to help you visualize the location. If you’ve not been there, it’s worth checking out.

I visit all my locations in person so that I can gain perspective on what I am writing about.  Worldwide. From Buffalo, New York to Bangalore India, I go to understand the sights, sounds, culture, and accents, just to understand the lay of the land. Can’t imagine not doing that.

TRBS: Before you were an author, what were doing . . . and when did you realize you wanted to become a writer? 

Colby: I was very lucky in life by having the opportunity to fly as a military pilot for two different military services. I started out my career with the Marine Corps, graduating from Navy Flight Training and flying the AH-1W Super Cobra attack helicopter. Years later, I completed an interservice transfer to the Air Force Reserve and trained to pilot the C-130 Hercules.

I had written some magazine articles but had not tried a book.  After reading “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron and “On Writing” by Stephen King, I was eager to start.  In 2014, I put forward my plan for how to write and work at the same time and was successful.  The veteran community has been very kind to me regarding Kindle and paperback sales, and that is the number one reason my books have done so well.  I’m grateful for them.

What’s helpful is being curious in life, which acts as a catalyst for a number of things. While flying as a military pilot, I was an astute observer of the human condition. Observing how people reacted to certain situations, dressed, acted under pressure, and conducted business. If you combine that curiousness with creativity, any one of us has the ability to generate stories based upon personal experiences. All of us can do it. The difference is asking yourself if you have the hunger and discipline to accomplish the goal? All authors have a different process; mine is getting up at 4 AM and writing one page a day, every day, for a year…and after a year, you get an unedited novel.

TRBS: Who are some of your all-time favorite authors, and what’s the last great book that you read? 

Colby: I read about 60 books a year, spending half of that time in the non-fiction lane. I can devour “how-to” books on Kindle at an alarming rate because it helps me see things differently. Reading how an expert conducts their business increases my efficiency and provides perspective for how they view the world.  My point of view on a lot of different subjects is founded in non-fiction, which allows me to carry it over to fiction.

It’s also important to me to write with a sense of true authenticity. What I mean is that I give special weight and credibility to authors who have “been there, done that” and worn the cloth…the uniform. Authors who have actually been on a mission, or risked their lives in some capacity, sweating it out with uneasiness and nervousness, not knowing if you would ever make it home.  When you have that real-world perspective in your writing, you think and write differently. 

With that being said, my all-time favorite novel is “Matterhorn” by Karl Marlantes. He is a former Marine Corps Officer who fought in the Vietnam War, allowing him to write with that special insight and allowing his characters to be perceived as real.  His writing is based upon personal experience. That is important to me. 

My last fiction book: Backlash by Brad Thor. Last non-fiction book: User Friendly: How the Hidden Rules of Design Are Changing the Way We Live, Work and Play by Cliff Kuang with Robert Fabricant.

TRBS: Lastly, what’s next for you moving forward? 

Colby: I’ve been working with a screenplay writer in Los Angeles and bringing my first book The Devil Dragon Pilot to the screen. We’ll see what happens. Currently writing my fourth book, “Below the Zone,” which is part of a new series titled “The Pentagon Military-Thriller Series.”  Readers will recognize a few of their favorite characters! 

I’d like to close with how grateful I am for my fans. Readers have so many books to choose from, and I’m thankful that they are selecting mine.


 

Praised as “One of the hardest working, most thoughtful, and fairest reviewers out there” by #1 New York Times bestselling author Lisa Scottoline, Ryan Steck has “quickly established himself as the authority on mysteries and thrillers” (Author A.J. Tata). Steck also works full-time as a freelance editor and pens a monthly thriller column for CrimeReads. For more information, be sure to follow him on Twitter and Facebook. He currently lives in Southwest Michigan with his wife and their six children.

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