Hannibal’s newest, Shadow Catcher, is a psychologically driven thriller that centers on Air Force Major Nick Baron who, after a botched mission in the Persian Gulf, is sent on a mission to rescue a U.S. Air Force officer secretly imprisoned in China.
Your Protagonist, Nick Baron, is terrorized by his failure to save a fallen teammate in the line of duty. Is this what compelled you to write Shadow Catcher—the idea of a strong, but afflicted hero?
Real humans are affected by combat both physically and mentally—even men like Nick who refuse to acknowledge it. Still, fallen comrades have haunted many an action hero and I wanted Nick’s ghosts to go deeper than that. I also wanted to give a more accurate portrayal of PTSD. Like many real Americans suffering from the disorder, there is another, deeper source of Nick’s anguish.
Nick is not the only character suffering from guilt and perhaps even PTSD. Can you discuss the various levels of PTSD?
The old standby hero who gets the shakes whenever he hears a loud noise or sees a camera flash is no longer adequate. I wrote Shadow Catcher as a case study in PTSD, interweaving two other character journeys with Nick’s. Quinn is a young upstart operator who must rapidly come to grips with the life-altering consequences of his own arrogance. The question of Quinn’s journey is whether he will let guilt and tragedy push him toward healing or toward even more wanton self-destruction. Several levels deeper into the dark we find David Novak. He has suffered 25 years of torture and imprisonment in China. He may escape his physical prison, but the greater challenge will be breaking out of the defensive prison created by his subconscious.
General Zheng Ju-long is a powerful member of Chinese military, but he also seems to operate on the fringe, almost covertly, unaccountable to his own superiors. Is this what the Chinese military is really like—splintered factions scheming for power?
There is definitely a battle raging within the upper echelons of China’s political and military leadership. General Zheng and Defense Minister Liang represent the extremes of this battle, but Zheng is not entirely fictional. General Zheng bears a striking resemblance to General Zhang Haiyang, a top commander in China’s nuclear corps. Last year, Zhang Haiyang was caught at the top of a scandal involving extortion and torture to remove political rivals. China is by far the biggest threat facing America today. It is also the most insidious. The People’s Liberation Army is expanding into the Pacific with area denial weapons while the Central Committee is pushing its claims over islands, reefs, and waters much closer to the Philippines and Japan. They are buying up our debt, manipulating the dollar, stealing our corporate technology, and attacking our networks. The PLA generals and party leadership are utterly Machiavellian in their methods. They do not care about human rights, the environment, or even the welfare of their own people.
There is the Shadow Catcher, the stealth aircraft at the center of the book, but there are also plenty of other gadgets in your work, including a small communication device implanted under the skin. How does technology inform your work?
I work hard to stay on the forefront of military technology, without falling over the edge into science fiction. I am guided in this effort by my experience in stealth and in Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance, and I think that experience gives me a leg up in knowing where to look for the next great thing. The tech that I give my combatants both enables and restricts their efforts, and that definitely shapes the plot.
You were a former stealth pilot for US Air Force and currently serving in the National Guard. It has to be asked: how close is your fiction to home?
For the sake of my non-disclosure agreements, I must say that Shadow Catcher is entirely fiction. However, I cannot deny that I drew aspects of the plot, setting, and characters from my own experiences. Let’s leave it at this: I have had some great adventures that remain classified, but I am definitely no Nick Baron.