Former Army Ranger Parnell, an Afghanistan War veteran, makes his fiction debut with a military thriller, Man of War (Morrow, Sept.).
Why did you create Eric Steele?
I wanted to make an action hero who embodies what makes the American warrior so special. Our nation’s warfighters are lethal but also compassionate. And even though those two things seem diametrically opposed to one another, they make up the core of why the U.S. military is the greatest the world has ever known. Those two traits make Eric Steele who he is. Yes, he destroys America’s enemies with extreme prejudice, but he will deviate from the mission if he thinks he can save even one innocent life, and to me the thriller genre desperately needed a hero like that.
What do you feel you can best convey through fiction?
Every battle can be a little bigger, every operation larger than life. On the surface, stories are about entertainment. But what I enjoy the most is creating something that speaks to the world we live in today. When this is done effectively, it can make a story more meaningful and emotionally resonant. There’s a moral argument in Man of War, and you’ll see hints of it in every choice Steele makes, but I’ll leave it up to readers to decide what it means to them.
Was writing Man of War easier or harder than writing your nonfiction account of your experiences in Afghanistan, Outlaw Platoon?
Writing Man of War was so much harder. Looking back, writing Outlaw Platoon was cathartic for me. It was as if I was taking the war out of my mind and putting it somewhere else outside of me. It seemed to flow easily for me. Fiction, on the other hand, is a whole new ballgame and style. It’s not just about strength of writing. It’s about learning how to tell a great story. And the learning curve on my first novel was steep.
What do you believe America’s Afghanistan policy should be?
There needs to be a drastic shift in strategy from counterinsurgency to counterterror. This would mean fewer troops, less nation-building, lower cost, and most importantly more surgical direct action strikes against High Value Targets. When I was in Afghanistan, this was the policy, and we implemented it to great effect. We built schools, district centers, government buildings. In essence, we were winning. And that’s what the mission needs to be focused on today—killing the enemy so their government can function properly.