Friday, September 9, 2016

Interview with military thriller/suspense author Dale A. Daye

Author Dale A. Daye is helping me wrap up the week. We’re talking about his military thriller/suspense novel, Havana File: Book Six of the Shake Davis Series.

Dale A. Dye, USMC (Ret.), rose through the ranks to retire as a captain. He served in Vietnam in 1965 and 1967 through 1970, surviving 31 major combat operations. Appointed a warrant officer in 1976, he later converted his commission and deployed to Beirut, Lebanon. He served in a variety of assignments around the world and attained a degree in English literature from the University of Maryland. Following retirement from active duty in 1984, he spent time in Central America, reporting and training troops for guerrilla warfare in El Salvador, Honduras, and Costa Rica. Upset with Hollywood’s treatment of the American military, he went to Hollywood and established Warriors, Inc., the preeminent military training and advisory service to the entertainment industry.

Dye has worked on more than 50 productions, including several Oscar- and Emmy-winning shows. He is a novelist, actor, director, and show business innovator.

Welcome, Dale. Please tell us about your current release.
Havana File is the sixth book in what’s come to be called the Shake Davis series of action-adventure novels. Like all the books in the series, it follows retired Marine Gunner Shake Davis through a series of dangerous, often deadly situations. And like all the previous books in the series, the plot involves something that has caught my attention from news headlines around the world.

In Havana File, the action involves Shake and friends attempting to rescue an American intelligence agent who was kidnapped while on assignment in Castro’s Cuba. The action is set during the negotiations to normalize U.S. relations with communist Cuba which is a significant current event. And like all the other books, Havana File contains a flashback to Shake’s past when he was on active duty in one or another war-torn area. Most of the details in the flashback chapter – as usual – are based on my own experiences while on active duty in the U.S. Marine Corps. I did a significant amount of research and study during the writing of this book and discovered some very interesting things about Castro’s Cuba which I included as color in the story-telling. I think that’s one of the things that make this book so popular. There’s a lot the average American doesn’t know about Cuba today.

What inspired you to write this book?
I try to wrap the Shake Davis stories about current world events. When I was thinking about what’s next for Shake and his team of family and friends, the U.S. was planning to normalize relations with Cuba and that seemed to be a good launching point for a File series story. I was also thinking about moving Shake and his family from suburban Virginia to Texas to open up more interesting story lines, and that was an opportunity to launch the storyline as part of Shake’s move. It just all seemed to come together and personalized the characters a bit more.

Excerpt from Havana File: Shake Davis #6:
“No one knows more about ground war and warriors than Dale Dye, and no one writes it better.” —Stephen Coonts, New York Times bestselling author of The Art of War: A Novel

Washington, D.C. — Memorial Day

He inhaled a warm, wet breeze that swept up from the Tidal Basin in a northerly direction across West Potomac Park carrying the attar of dying cherry blossoms. It was pleasant here just a few hours after dawn and before the high tide of exhaust fumes crested over the National Mall. He paused on his route, squinting toward the east where rays from a rising sun caused the recently renovated Washington Monument to sparkle and shimmer. The big blond dog at his side pawed at something buried under a carpet of fading pink petals and then lifted his leg to mark the spot as previously explored terrain. To his left front along the curb of Henry Bacon Drive, a short radial that connects the Lincoln Memorial with Constitution Avenue, he saw crowds beginning to form as he knew they would in larger and larger numbers throughout the day.

There were some early rising bikers wearing leather vests festooned with military pins and patches, straddling Harleys spiked with so many American flags they looked more like porcupines than motorcycles. Some pop-up tents were being erected to accommodate various veterans’ groups that had pledged to gather on this day for ceremonies at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Unit banners and the ever-present black POW-MIA flag moved sluggishly in the early morning air. He offered his dog a Milk Bone from the pocket of his jeans and squatted, watching little clusters of early arrivals, most in one form or another of ancient camouflage or olive-drab jungle uniforms. They hugged, pos- tured, and popped high-fives. Many of them, he knew, were strangers to each other, but gatherings like this always goosed them beyond human territorial imperatives. Just having been in Vietnam at one point or another was enough to make them act like prodigal sons returning to the family fold.

And it was enough to make him decide that this, likely his last visit to the black chevron-shaped memorial nearby, would be quick, just a murmur with the spirits of a few really close friends that he’d long ago determined were somehow present behind the sterile names etched in various places along the 250-foot length of ebony stone. He’d always felt such moments were best savored or suffered in private. Crowds of somber veterans, searching for succor or surcease from the survivor guilt that drove them here to stand teary-eyed touching the wall bothered him. At gatherings for special occasions like Memorial Day the place took on the trappings of a noisy Irish wake and the little mementos visitors often left somehow seemed to trivialize the experience.

He tarried for a while near a wrought-iron fence that was designed to keep visitors to this patch of green south of Foggy Bottom moving in an orderly fashion past memorials that marked American sacrifice in modern military conflicts from World War I to Vietnam. Somewhere in here and fairly soon, he thought as he secured the dog’s leash to a stanchion, they would have to find space for a memorial to those killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. He rose, wincing at the stiffness in a right knee that still housed a dime-sized hunk of shrapnel from an enemy landmine, and motioned for his dog to stay. The big animal settled into his sphinx posture and worried the treat between his paws. Bear would be fine during the short spell his human companion needed to commune with buddies who had gambled and lost during the Greater South- east Asia War Games.

The memorial was deserted when he arrived at the cobblestone walkway fronting the wall except for a night-shift Park Service Ranger who gave him a quick eyeball followed by a weary nod and then turned to check the growing crowds near the Lincoln Memorial. As he turned right to begin his visit, he felt the strange power of the place. As it had on every other occasion when he visited, the wall seemed to exude an eerie miasma, an aura that wrapped him like an invisible cloak settling heavily on his shoulders and squeezing at his chest. His heart thumped a little more strongly as he began to walk along the ascending panels, and there was a catch in his throat as he breathed in the fragrant air. His destination on this visit was ahead of him, at the intersection where the two arms of the memorial joined at an obtuse angle. The 10-foot-tall sections in that area listed the dead from 1968–69, the bloodiest years of the long war. It was midway up on one of those panels that he found the man he’d come to see.

“Won’t be visiting much anymore, Emmet.” He whispered, focusing on images of a ruddy little beer-barrel Marine who stumbled, fumbled, and laughed through the tough times calling himself a “combat tourist,” just visiting Vietnam on a little cultural exchange. “I sold the condo in Ar- lington. We’re moving to Texas — a little town called Lockhart just south of Austin.” He reached up and touched the cold surface of the stone, letting his fingertips glide lightly over the etched letters in the name of a man who died walking behind him on a shitty little meaningless patrol along the banks of the Cua Viet River. “You’d like it there, dude. They got ice-cold beer and the best barbecue in the Lone Star State.”

The roar of motorcycle engines interrupted him and he turned to see a phalanx of veteran bikers pulling into the parking lot. “I gotta hit the road before it gets crazy around here, Emmet, but I wanted you to know that I’m really sorry I missed that mine. I was walking point and I should have seen it. I’ll never know why I didn’t. I know you’d tell me it wasn’t my fault if you were here, but that’s the point, Emmet. You’re not here and I am. I’m sorry, that’s all. I’m just really sorry — and I wanted to come by and let you know.”

What exciting story are you working on next?
I try to wrap the Shake Davis stories about current world events. When I was thinking about what’s next for Shake and his team of family and friends, the U.S. was planning to normalize relations with Cuba and that seemed to be a good launching point for a File series story. I was also thinking about moving Shake and his family from suburban Virginia to Texas to open up more interesting story lines, and that was an opportunity to launch the storyline as part of Shake’s move. It just all seemed to come together and personalized the characters a bit more.

With Shake and his wife Chan moved to a little town in the Texas Hill Country, I’ve about half-decided that the next story will involve ISIS-affiliated groups training south of the border in northern Mexico. Leaky borders and the danger that presents to the U.S. in this age of terrorism events on U.S. soil will be a big part of the story but Shake may well get involved in the issue farther afield than just Mexico. Lots of plot points are swimming around in my brain-housing group right now. I’ll have a better feel for it when I finally start writing. I don’t know how long the Shake Davis/File Series stories will continue but audience reception has been really great, I’m thinking I’ll just keep writing them. The books are fun to write and I’m always thinking about something new and interesting in story terms but my publisher keeps a tight rein on me to keep from flooding the market and give the previous books a chance to grab new readers.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
In my opinion a good writer is first and foremost a good story-teller and I’ve always been that. My father was a gregarious story-teller and I always admired that about him as I watched him fascinate listeners. I’d guess that’s where it started but I continued to mold and cultivate story-telling into effective writing throughout my higher education and my service in the Marine Corps. Telling – or writing – stories that grab and hold audiences is actually a relatively rare talent and having it has given me lots of wonderful opportunities in life that I might not have otherwise had.

Do you write full-time? If so, what's your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
It seems like I’m always writing something. Take my responses to your questions as an example. I don’t know what the motivation is but it seems that the more you write effectively, the more you are asked to write. There’s an element of ego involved, I guess. It’s nice when what you write prompts positive audience reactions. See my bio for some of the other things I do, but everything is a creative pursuit in one form or another. When I’m not doing films or TV or writing books, I fool around with woodworking and enjoy creating things with my hands using materials found in nature. I don’t actually look for time to write. Time is always there if you are willing to commit to it. Given how much I enjoy the process of writing I always find ways to make time. The good thing about writing novels is that you rarely are strapped by tight deadlines.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I love writing dialogue for my characters and to make sure it sounds like conversation rather than speechifying to advance a plot point, I like to say the dialogue aloud as I’m writing. It’s a good way to insure the dialogue sounds natural. If it doesn’t fit in my mouth, it’s probably wrong. I’m also very physical in my writing and have worn the letters off a number of keyboards. I just beat the things to death which is likely a result of my having learned to type on old manual machines. Yelling at myself and pounding on keyboards is part of the excitement and pleasure of the creative process for me.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I always wanted to be a professional soldier. I went away to military schools starting in fifth grade and continued a military-oriented education up until the time I failed to pass the exams for the U.S. Naval Academy. At that point I joined the Marine Corps and stayed in uniform for two decades. When I finally retired, I discovered that I wanted to get involved in films and television for a variety of reasons and I did that. I’ve been very lucky in realizing dreams.

Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
Well, I’d like for your readers to call up a new page right now, order the Shake Davis books and come along with me on his adventures.


Thanks for being here today, Dale.

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