In Wynne’s War, Aaron Gwyn blends modern warfare with a western theme, as horse-mounted U.S. Special Forces soldiers on a secret, unsanctioned mission battle the Taliban.
What inspired the novel’s plot?
I’ve always loved westerns and hoped to write one at some point. In the spring of 2010, I read Sebastian Junger’s stunning account of his time in the Korengal Valley, War, and it gradually dawned on me that it might be possible to create a modern-day western set in Afghanistan. Or, maybe even a blend of the war novel and western: a “Mideastern,” I suppose you could call it. I began to do research and soon came across Horse Soldiers, Doug Stanton’s nonfiction account of U.S. Special Forces’ entry into Afghanistan shortly after 9/11. Through further research, I discovered that not only did the Green Berets use horses to traverse the treacherous and unfamiliar country in 2001, but that they continue to do so to this day. So, at that point, I had my “Monument Valley,” I had my cowboys, and the Taliban immediately presented themselves as bandits. What I needed then was a hero, and a quest.
How did you manage to make the military details, such as tactics, weapons, and operations, so accurate?
I did a ton of research—more than I could ever use in a novel—starting with historical accounts of Afghanistan and the Afghanistan War, memoirs by veterans, field manuals like the Ranger Handbook. Then I began to interview and visit with soldiers, speak with friends who’d been in combat, and talk with Army Rangers and Special Forces operators who’d fought in the Middle East. They answered questions I had about close-quarters combat, room clearance, explosives and ordnance, artillery, and so forth. These men were all so generous and helpful. Then I took the next step, which, for me, meant familiarizing myself with the gear and weapons used by my characters in the novel. I’m a big believer in the idea of sense-memory, and of physically experiencing as much as possible in order to accurately portray a profession—in the case of this novel, soldiering.
Do you have a background handling horses?
Growing up on our ranch in Oklahoma, I was surrounded by cattle and horses. I hardly consider myself a top hand, and I was never in the rodeo, but I was definitely a cowboy as a kid. The horse training sections were written over the 2010 holidays. I remember being amazed at how those sections seemed to flow.
What’s your next writing project?
Right now I’m researching the life of an African-American cowboy named Robert Lemmons. He was born a slave in Texas and ended up becoming one of the most respected mustangers in American history, and a successful rancher with a 1,200-acre spread. He was an absolute artist with wild horses, a genius of his craft.