Official Interview: J P Ronald

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Official Interview: J P Ronald

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Today's chat with Sarah features J P Ronald author of SSN Seadragon.

To view the official review, click here.

To view the book on the bookshelves, click here.

To view the book on Amazon, click here.

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1. When did you write your first book?

I became fascinated with writing submarine fiction as far back as my freshman year in H.S. I had read pieces of Hunt for Red October and Red Storm Rising at the time and became fascinated with modern nuclear submarines. Next thing I know, I’m reading my father’s copy of Norman Polmar’s “Rickover: Controversy and Genius” – Admiral Rickover being the father of nuclear propulsion in the US Navy.

At the same time, I saw a movie The Final Countdown which centered around a modern day (1980’s) nuclear supercarrier, the USS Nimitz, suddenly sent though a time vortex to 24 hours just before December 7, 1941. Upon confirming the truth of their predicament, the command staff of the Nimitz are faced with the conundrum of knowing the attack on Pearl Harbor is only hours from happening. Do they use Nimitz’s superior firepower to intervene on America’s behalf (even if 40 years in the past) by sinking the Japanese strike fleet and knowing they would be changing history, or stay out of the situation and let the history they know run its course? A very fascinating subject that sparked a curiosity in me; if instead of an aircraft carrier, what if it had been a nuclear-powered submarine placed in a similar situation? Something about ultra-modern naval technology in a by-gone era fascinated me. So I was compelled to write a short story (never published) of a US nuclear submarine suddenly transported back to 1940 facing off against Nazi U-boats, knowing that one modern SSN could have slaughtered the entire German submarine fleet and changed the course of World War II in Europe far sooner than when it did end.

For a High School kid, several adults I was willing to let read my material felt was good enough to encourage me to continue writing stories. I soon developed a multi-book story plot-line line with related characters, and I quietly continued to develop through college and into my adult years more as a hobby then working to be an actual author. Though this was not the SSN SEADRAGON story line, many of my characters form this little endeavor made it into SSN SEADRAGON.

As for SSN SEADRAGON, I laid the foundations for the story during of all things a local Lenten church fish fry in 2013. By this point in my life, I had given myself to my Christian faith, and as my wife always pointed out, I had a “head full of useless knowledge” being a history buff, and technology geek. So while contemplating several Eschatological events from Scripture particularly Ezekiel 38 & 39, I could not help but notice similarities to these Bible passages and actual events that occurred during Six Days War of 1967 and the 1973 Yom Kippur War. It was as if these two wars were almost like “trial runs” for the end-of-days scenarios written in Scripture, and in a flash while eating my fish sandwich, I began to compose the first paragraphs on my IPad.

2. Who has influenced you the most as an author?

Without a doubt my father foremost, his brother --my close uncle, and both grandfathers. My father and uncle were both mechanical engineers who once worked for Westinghouse’s Bettis Atomic Laboratories. Bettis Labs was, and is, where US Navy nuclear reactor technology is developed, so long before Tom Clancy was writing books, I was made aware of the world of the nuclear navy, through what my uncle and dad could mention without violating their security clearances (which wasn’t much of course). But, I learned who Admiral Rickover was, heard the tales of the Admiral’s legendary temper, and gained some insight into the different classes of US nuclear submarines through them. My father and uncle had enough of an influence in my life that I too graduated with a degree in engineering (Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering), and while attending college joined the Navy ROTC program, hoping I could become what I was quietly writing about. Unfortunately commissioning into the Navy never happened—a casualty of the “peace dividend” that came in the immediate post-Cold War years, as cut back in military spending meant the option to become a nuclear submariner dried up for me.

My mother’s father was a reservist naval officer on the aircraft carrier USS Wasp during World War II, and my other grandfather built LST’s (Landing Ship Tank) at a local shipyard during the war. So growing up I learned of my family’s connection to the US Navy through several channels, it kindled a love in me for the service, and though I never served, I never lost my love or interest in it. A passion became soaking up as much as I could on military history and weapons technology. I read everything I could get my hands on, or watch movies and documentaries related to these subjects. I was like a sponge.

3. What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?

One particular gentleman who is family through my uncle (the same mentioned above), as he is the brother of my aunt. This gentleman, is a retired English Literature professor, who got me through my rough drafts, and showed me tricks to improving my proof-reading. Your own Scott Hughes, though I only know him through correspondence, taught me the importance of getting several sets of eyes to critique my material. Through him I learned the importance getting material edited, edited, then edited again.

4. Let's talk about your book SSN Seadragon. This is a military adventure. How did you do research for the story?

Well, as I mentioned the gem of the idea came though contemplation of Biblical Eschatology (End-of-Days prophecy). So a lot of Biblical research went into the storyline. Since it happens during the Cold War much of my material was old declassified documentation and historical material from books, websites, and documentaries. I also relied on specialized technical materials pertaining to military hardware and warships.

Then there were the nautical charts and historical maps, and Google earth photos. My story might be fiction, but I wanted the material to intertwine with real historic events doing realistic things. This included having real ship movements into real environments and locations. Landing a commando into Inchon Korean weeks before the invasion in 1950 meant pouring over a lot of material both recent and historical to determine what existed at the time, what the local water conditions are like, water depths, currents, tides, and so forth, then figuring out where a submarine could operate and insert a CIA specialist. So in a sense I’m planning a military operation then narrating it, and this is just one example of how I did this throughout the book. The same can be said for the research I did to create the story arc for chasing down a KBG assassin in greater London in 1965.

I make use of latitude and longitude coordinates, and if someone is the accuracy geek I am and takes the time to look them up, they will discover those coordinates are the real locations where the events are portrayed. The ship movements were actually plotted out by me on nautical maps, so ships arrived at locations within realistic timer frames.

Let me summarize it this way, it took four years to research and write SSN SEADRAGON and untold hours of research with a multitude of materials to bring it all together.

5. The reviewer states that the characters are well-developed. Are they based on anyone in real life?

In the real world, we are all a products of our culture, and our beliefs are shaped by the attitudes of our times. This is also true of the characters in fictional stories, particularly historical fiction. I knew the characters had to be real to be believed. This meant giving them personalities, with loves, hates, and short-comings, as well as talents and skills. Even more important was to make them products of their times. This meant developing them from the culture of the era in which they operate. So how did I go about this? Knowing and understanding the era is key, an author needs to know the subject they’re writing about to make the narrative real.

For me, growing up in the late Cold War years (1970s and 1980s) helped, as I was already familiar with many of the attitudes of the period (example: American attitudes towards Soviet Russia were very familiar to me, as I still hold a very negative attitude towards communism and socialism). Having people around me who lived and worked in the world of this time frame was a good starting point, as I said my father and uncle were engineers working with nuclear powered warships during the heights of the Cold War. Choosing a career path (engineering) and the NROTC program led me to meet others who saw the front lines of the Cold War was also invaluable. As I was entering college the Cold War had just drawn to a close and many of the “soldiers” were now in Academia, and I found I naturally gravitated towards them, and what they were willing to talk about (much was still classified) fascinated me, so I just listened, asked questions and soaked in what I could. As my career furthered, opportunities allowed me to cross paths with a few engineers who ironically use to work in Soviet weapons development programs, who have since immigrated to the US. Again being friendly with them, they opened up about their experiences, and I gained a perspective I otherwise would never had. It’s an understatement to say I am thankful to the Lord for having had these opportunities.

Other avenues for character development come from being a history buff, which led me to read volumes about people and events from this era of history. Plus the multitudes of movies churned out during this period, gives a lot of insight into peoples’ behaviors and attitudes from this period; I’m an avid fan of Hunt For Red October and Crimson Tide. I just paid very close attention to the mannerisms and attitudes of the characters portrayed during this time and incorporated some where I thought it applicable. As an example, attitudes towards smoking were not looked upon with the negative as they are today, in fact smoking was a social norm, so many of my characters smoke.

So I guess you could say my characters are amalgamations of all these insights. I will also mention that my fictional characters act and play next to real people who did live during this period, such as General Douglas MacArthur and Admiral Hyman Rickover.

6. There is also a supernatural element to the story. The book talks about the spiritual elements behind the cold war. Can you talk about that a bit?

I’d be happy to…As a Christian I believe we are as much spiritual beings as physical. Looking back on the Cold War the one under lying fear was the concern that geopolitical events would spiral out of control and into Nuclear Armageddon. I myself remember, even as a kid, this fear pervaded even into the late years of Cold War (movies like The Day After, War Games, Dr. Strangelove, The Dawn’s Early Light, On The Beach helped feed it). It felt like a chaos that humanity could not control. While it did not pervade out every waking moment, it was still there, like an evil spiritual entity that wanted people to fear it, and it fed into the physical world as stories in the news unfolded and weapon systems with untold destructive power existed. Add to this humanity’s poor track record of avoiding using the most destructive weapons on each other, made the fear of total nuclear war all too real and scary.

St Paul tells us in the book of Ephesians “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

The sub-title of my book is “The Crucible of Leviathan.” Leviathan is an evil and powerful spiritual force that feeds on chaos and destruction. The only way for any Christian to subdue Leviathan is through a strong faith, prayer, and belief in the Lord, God. The characters in my book discover certain events are not in their control have to dig for that inner Faith when everything else they try has failed them.

As a torpedo swims towards one of the American submarines featured in the book, it was fired from a Soviet submarine the American sub had managed to sink. I take you inside the boat and give to you the palpable fear each crew-member feels. Will that torpedo snuff out their lives? How do they handle their sudden reconciliation of their mortality? I don’t want to give a away a plot within the story…lets just say that if you truly believe in God’s authority then NEVER discount the power prayer!

7. Would you consider this to be a Christian book? Or is it more generally spiritual?

Well, from my answer above, I think it is most definitely a Christian book. What I’m about to mention may appear disjointed but I am going somewhere with this. Two inspirations led me to write SSN SEADRAGON.

The 1st is Eschatology, or biblical end times prophecy which fills almost 30 percent of Jewish/Christian Scripture; The Olivet Discourse of Jesus as accounted in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21, St Paul writings in 1st Thessalonians 4 &5 and 2nd Timothy, the books of Daniel, and Revelation, and Ezekiel 37 thru 39. Ezekiel 37, 38, and 39 especially inspired this book. In these three chapters Ezekiel writes of the restoration of the nation of Israel, which has come to pass in 1948 after the dispersion of the Jewish people in 70 AD by the Roman Empire, since then Israel has faced several wars that threatened her very existence (1948 Arab/Israeli War, 1967 Six Days War, 1973 Yom-Koper War, etc.). Ezekiel, in chapters 38 and 39, speaks of a massive international military coalition led by Russia that will envelop the Jewish state from all sides sweep down on her in an attempt to completely annihilate her, only to have God intervene and decimate the invading forces. As a student of history and Eschatological Scripture I found myself saying “gee Ezekiel 37 appears fulfilled when David Ben-Gurion declared the modern Israeli state on May 14th 1948. And the wars of 1948, 1967, and 1973, had some, but not all the critical points of Ezekiel 38 and 39. What if these three wars are a warning from God about what is to come.”

So SSN SEADRAGON: The Crucible of Leviathan is the first in a book series leading up to the Six Days War and the introduction of the critical characters who play a major roll in events shaping up, and who are divinely inspired and led by God. All of this is played out against the backdrop of the Cold War, where we have Russia (in the form of the Soviet Union) forging an alliance of nations (Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Sudan, etc.) surrounding and hostile to Israel (an American and NATO ally) that engage in a war that are devastatingly defeated— well golly Wolly—if that doesn’t have parallels to the passages of Ezekiel 38 and 39. By the way the 2nd Book is 80 percent written, and will be out in the next year or so.

The 2nd is inspiration is in America’s founding as a nation. The United States was established with a rich heritage steeped in Judeo-Christian principles, despite recent attempts to rewrite the history of our founding. So it would only be natural to see a Jude’s/Christian heritage reflect within our military, since it is a microcosm of the nation and our culture. Through the Constitution and the 1st Amendment we do not force a particular brand or denomination of the Christian faith on our citizens, we still have a rich heritage of respect and obedience to a Divine Creator reflected in our institutions.

As I write this we are nationally remembering the 75th Anniversary of the D-Day landings on Normandy. President Roosevelt, famous for his “Fire Side Chat” radio talks, used one following the first day of the landings to both inform the American people, and then conducted a national prayer for Divine intervention. The prayer was for God to use the landings for a just and noble cause towards defeating the evils of Nazism and restore peace to the World. So powerful I thought it, I reprinted the full text from that broadcast on my website blog for my tribute to D-Day 75 here: (https://www.ssnsdbooksoffer.com/post/d-day-75)

This is just one of many examples of American leaders leading our nation in prayer, or referencing a Creator; our own Declaration of Independence mentions Him four times. But, in the last ten years I began to notice a disturbing and very antithetical movement, or even outward animosity towards the Christian faith in American society and the US Military.

When I was in NROTC (why I did not commission into the Navy is whole other story, I will address sometime in my website blog) we had chaplains for the different faiths that predominated the ranks (Christian and Jew), and most of my fellow midshipmen proclaimed some kind of faith in God. Those who were agnostic or atheist, recognized that the majority did proclaim a faith and appeared not to be bothered by it, and we who did profess a faith did not demean or besmirch those who did not. It was just a mutual respect. Since then, I have even been referred to as an uneducated, science-denying backwards hick, for my faith in Christ—never mind that I have a bachelor’s of science in engineering!

To get straight to the nub, there are several groups today that see the Christian faith professed by Military personnel as destructive and criminal, even going so far as to have anyone, including chaplains professing biblical Christianity as violating UCMJ regulations, and demanding disciplinary actions including court marshals for doing so. This garbage flies so in the face of Military tradition—and thank God there are law foundations defending the service-members whose 1st Amendment rights to freely exercise their religion have come under fire—that I could not just sit back an watch this continue to happen, so I wrote a narrative that shows how faith has been integral to the courage of an American warrior. I will say strongly that though what I wrote may be fiction the American soldier relying on his/her faith to see them through very scary moments IS FACT, here is another example form my blog (https://www.ssnsdbooksoffer.com/post/an ... ster-story). The old adage still holds true, “There is no such thing as an atheist in a foxhole.”

8. In this book, what was the hardest scene for you to write?

The scenes taking place in the Vietnam War though they are few, personally knowing vets from this war who have bad memories not only of the fighting but the way they were treated post-fighting is a disgrace, and I wanted to do them in a way that was as realistic as I could make them but not dishonor their sacrifices. After this getting the minute details of submarine operations right was a big concern.

9. What's next for you in the writing scene?

Well for starters there’s my 30 volume treatis on the rise and fall of the Roman Empire—oh sorry I was confusing myself with Edward Gibbons ;). No I have several things I’m working on or contemplating:

1.) SSN SEADRAGON ends on a cliffhanger and has many wide arcing storylines that will come together so I have more of this to release.
2.) I am looking at doing a spin-off series on a character several people have shown an interest in me pursuing and that is MI5/MI6 officer Samuel McHenry, in particular doing his back story, for which I have A LOT of scratch material written. I need to find time for this one, because he is complex and I did not want him to be a cheap carbon of James Bond. I took inspiration from several of Patrick McGoohan’s spy characters for him, who I felt were more thoroughly stone-cold and ruthless when required than Bond could ever be, which is why I feel his story makes for a good narrative.
3.) I have started a short-story series based in SSN SEADRAGON world but it is post SSN SEADRAGON events and involves the USS Permit SSN-594 in the 1970’s and 1980’s and will not have as deep the Christian overtones as SSN SEADRAGON. I’ve already started material for this and have submitted it for online publishing, so we’ll see how it goes.

How about a few inane questions.
10. What's your favorite word?


Pablum—it’s stupid sounding word and when said repeatedly it stupidly reminds of Robbie The Robot from Lost In Space. —“Danger Will Robinson, Danger, Danger!”

11. If you could be any animal what would you be and why?

The Lion, he is a majestic creature both feared and admired.

12. What do you like to do in your down time from writing?

Read, my bible, naval history and fiction, attend church, walk, swim, spend time with family (trying to be a good father and husband), doing Christian charity work, fix the never ending stuff around the house that breaks—we engineers have this arrogant belief we are also electricians, plumbers, mechanics.

13. What's the worst name you can think of that a child would have?

My wife will kill for this one but without a doubt Cosmo. My niece just had a cute baby boy, and named the kid Cosmo—So I call him “Kramer.” When I first heard this I jokingly texted, Melissa, my wife, a publicity photo of comedian Michael Richards portraying his iconic character wearing his signature gaudy clothes, a cigar in his mouth, and that deer-in-the-headlights look that made the Seinfeld character funny. Now every time I mention little Cosmo as “Kramer” to her, I get a laser-beam, focused evil-eye stare.
Good books, like good friends, are few and chosen; the more select, the more enjoyable.
-Louisa May Alcott

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