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Interview with Jeffrey Wilson

Jeff Wilson’s bio sounds like a thriller, so it’s no wonder he gravitated toward that genre when he started writing novels. Read on to find out how he met his co-author, what process they use to craft a story, and why Jeff thinks it’s important to offer Christian readers the kinds of thrilling stories that appear on the big screen.

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Your bio includes some pretty amazing-sounding experiences! I'm sure they all had their positives and negatives, but is there one role you've had that stands out from the others? If so, why?
I have been blessed to do so very many different things in my life, as you obviously noticed. That diverse experience has shaped the person, and most certainly the writer, that I am today. But, serving in the military, especially beside such elite warriors in Naval Special Warfare, shaped me—and my faith—in ways that would take hours to describe.

When you serve in combat at that level, the ethos of team and mission before self, become so much more than just buzz words. If you’re not able to put ego aside and function as a part of a team for a greater good, you won’t make it, but also, people can die and missions can fail. I struggled with my faith after the horrors of war—not my belief in God, but more my belief about what his role in the universe and my individual life is. This is common, I think, when we see first hand the true evil that exists in the world.

And the questions are natural. God is up to the task of answering them, when we can surrender those questions to Him. For me, the lessons learned in military service helped me on that path to find answers, despite the paradox of war time service having created many of them. It also impacted the military ministry I would later lead, the one I still lead today.

As a writer, Brian and I vowed from the very beginning to put the ethos of team and mission before self in our story telling as well. That shared experience and mindset is truly the key to our success in building the Andrews and Wilson storytelling brand into what it is today. Those who read The Shepherds series, and this book, Dark Angel, the second in the series, will see those themes of good and evil and crisis faith throughout the story.

After all that, how did you turn to writing as a career?
I definitely get that question a lot, but what’s funny is that for me it’s kind of the other way around. I have had so many amazing experiences and careers—from firefighter to actor to surgeon to naval officer to pilot, etc.—but actually writing is the thread that connects them all. I started writing at a very young age and, in fact, published my first short story at age 14. Writing has been the one constant, other than faith, in my life.

I will say that there are many, many examples of successful writers, especially in the thriller genre, who find their voice not through formal education in creative writing but through love of reading and vast life experience. That’s how it was for me, to be sure. I didn’t really imagine I could write full-length novels until more recently, having been a short-story writer my whole life. But interestingly, after my first novel I found it so much easier than short, where you have to contain your story and character arcs to such few words. But I do love it, more than any job I’ve ever had, and God certainly gave me a life that prepared me for it.

How did you meet your co-writer?
Brian and I met at Thrillerfest, the annual meeting in New York every summer for the International Thriller Writers organization. We were both members, and the year we met, we were both members of the “debut authors” class. This is a special thing ITW does to celebrate new authors with debut novels each year. To be honest, I’m not a big fan of those big social events, so I remember the first night. As my wife Wendy and I were getting ready to go to the first cocktail party event, I was flipping through the program, looking for other military members I could maybe seek out. I figured those would be people I could be comfortable with, you know? I was surprised to find there were a ton of active and former military, and I set about the task of committing their names and faces to memory.

So, shortly after we arrived I spotted this guy, also a Navy veteran, named Brian Andrews. I like to tell people that, since he was a submariner he was predictably sitting by himself looking awkward and uncomfortable, but the truth is I felt excited to have someone to talk to. It turned out we had more in common than I could have imagined. Both former Naval officers, both very focused on family, our kids were the same age, we both shared a faith. We became fast friends, and later—I guess about two years later—the idea to co-author emerged, and like they say, the rest is history. I have to tell you the only thing better than getting paid well to do something you truly love, is when you also get to do it with your best friend.

What is the co-writing process like for the two of you? Do you plot together and each write certain sections of the book, or is the process different than that?
We’ve served on a number of writing panels now with other co-author teams- Preston and Child, Cathy Coulter and JT Ellison, etc.—and the first thing to know is everyone we’ve met does it completely differently. For us, the process is a lot like a couple of nine-year-olds playing army in the woods behind the house—we start with a “What if” question and then spend a couple of weeks brainstorming the story, and that is literally the most fun part.

That brainstorming continues throughout the process, though, because the stories change a lot from the "What If" question all the way to typing THE END. Once we have the basic plot, we divide and conquer—literally. Because we write third person multiple POV format, we begin with act 1 and write simultaneously, usually dividing chapters by POV. I should note, though, that we shift those POVs around throughout the book, so each of us has plenty of time in each, allowing us to spend time and get intimate with every characters. So, I might be writing chapters 1,2,5,6, and 9 at first while he writes, 3,4, 7,8, and 10.

The other important thing is, once we get a few chapters each, we swap them and each rewrite the other's work. This is where the "team and mission before self" is so important. No edits or changes are off the table, and we have to completely trust one another with the story. Each of us has had hands and eyes on every word, and by the end, the book is truly an Andrews and Wilson creation.

Is your new book the first in a series? What do you enjoy about writing series? What are the challenges?
Dark Angel is actually the second book in The Shepherds series after the release of Dark Intercept last September. We absolutely love how this series allows us to put the gritty, realistic, military, and covert operations thrillers we’re famous for together with powerful elements of our faith—crisis in faith, the truth about good and evil, spiritual warfare. Questions about these things are a universal part of the human experience, no matter where an individual lands with their answers, so it’s quite natural to have characters facing real and terrifying challenges struggle with these same issues, right?

We work hard to keep the supernatural, spiritual warfare elements, and that can be work. What I mean is that for every element like this in the books, we want to be sure that there is clear scripture support for at least the possibility of these gifts. It was exciting to be able to work with pastors like Chris Bonham, Mike Moore, and Craig Altman as well as Father Kevin Yarnell, to make sure we didn’t get to far outside the lines.

How did you decide on the genre of thriller for your writing? What authors from a similar genre do you take inspiration from?
We both gravitated to the thriller genre mostly because that was the genre we both loved reading. For me, working with Brian has been amazing, because it allowed us to pool our combined strengths, but also learn from one another to grow in our areas of weakness. It also allows us to grow our interests beyond the military and covert ops thrillers that got us started.

In The Shepherds, we get to explore faith and spiritual warfare, but we also now have the opportunity to explore other thriller sub genres. In addition to this series and our Tier One and Sons of Valor military thrillers, we have a new line of Techno-thrillers launching next year, starting with our novel The Sandbox followed by Aria the following year. We are always looking for ways to grow out storytelling beyond where we started.

What is a benefit of reading "thriller" for Christian readers? Why is it an important genre for the Christian market?
I really think this is a hugely important question, because we see Christian fiction changing recently, and for the most part I believe it’s changing for the better. There has been a tendency in the past for Christian publishing to take an almost maternalistic approach, sort of “protecting” the Christian reader from things that are uncomfortable. Now, don’t get me wrong, I think there is a real obligation for Christian publishers to properly vet content as appropriate messaging, but in the past this went so far as to sanitize the experience to the point where it was not only less exciting, but less realistic. By doing so, I feel we make the writing less entertaining, but also far less impactful.

Powerful imagery and emotionally charged scenes draw us into the story, where the messages become far more meaningful. As an example, I wrote a novel called War Torn a few years ago. Today, I could find a home for it easily, but then it became my first and only foray into indie publishing. The book was not written for entertainment alone, but was part of the men’s military ministry I lead in Tampa. It dealt with important themes of guilt, loss, and the crisis of faith so common in war. It shows a powerful message of redemption and restoration through Christ. But, at the time, no Christian publisher would touch it because the war chapters were found to be “too graphic and violent” for a Christian audience. Obviously, secular publishers found it too “religious”. But here’s the thing: there was graphic violence in the book, but none gratuitous, all of it the same violence Christian soldiers see in real life every day. So how does one write a powerful book if you have to dilute the most powerful elements?

I don’t mean to go on a rant here, but it is so refreshing to see a publisher like Tyndale House changing these ideas. I am a Christian, and my faith is the most important part of my life, followed by family. But guess what? I saw the last Bourne movie, and I love the Mission Impossible series. So there should be a place for captivating and thrilling novels, with faith elements and Christian characters, that are allowed to both challenge and entertain us in thrilling ways. Tyndale House is doing that, and now others are following suit.

This is a good thing. Men and women will read thrillers either way, why not give them thrillers with faith elements that can uplift them while they’re entertained?

Any parting words?
Thanks for the time for this interview, and to my fellow writers: know that organizations like ACFW exist for all of us—not just as a resource but as a community. God calls us to be in community with our fellow believers, to stand up for one another, lift each other up, stand in the gap for one another when times are tough and celebrate our victories together. Being an active part of an organization like ACFW not only allows you to grow your career, it can be an intimate part of growing your faith—so get involved!

Lisa Bartelt is a child of the flatlands fulfilling her dream of living near mountains in Pennsylvania. She loves reading, writing, and listening to stories—true ones, made-up ones, and the ones in between—preferably with a cup of coffee in hand. Wife, mom of two, writer, ordinary girl, Lisa blogs about books, faith, family, and the unexpected turns of life at

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