It's rare to meet a writer whose life story is as fascinating as the characters he creates.
But that's exactly the case when it comes to Joshua Hood, a decorated combat veteran, lifelong Memphian, and bestselling author of two intense military thrillers.
Josh Hood didn't have an easy road to publication, but the 36-year-old refused to give up, pushing forward despite receiving 80-plus rejections for his first book. Most people would have likely thrown in the towel at that point.
But Joshua Hood is not most people. A quick look at his bio makes that pretty clear.
Joshua Hood graduated from the University of Memphis before joining the military and spending five years in the 82nd Airborne Division, where he was team leader in the 3-504 Parachute Infantry Regiment. In 2005, he was sent to Iraq and conducted combat operations in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom from 2005–2006. From 2007 to 2008 he served as a squad leader in the 1-508th Parachute Infantry Regiment and was deployed to Afghanistan for Operation Enduring Freedom. Hood was decorated for valor in Operation Furious Pursuit. He is currently a member of a full time SWAT team in Memphis, Tennessee, and has conducted countless stateside operations with the FBI, ATF, DEA, Secret Service, and US Marshals.
Joshua Hood is a man who is used to showing strength in tough situations, and his dedication to his work refuses to let him quit. When the publishing industry turned him down, Hood refused to take "no" for an answer. Instead, he kept fighting. He studied his craft and spent countless hours revising Clear by Fire. The process was time consuming, and it ultimately resulted in Hood making some fairly major changes to his initial draft. As any writer can tell you, the process of revising a lengthy manuscript can be daunting.
But all of Joshua Hood's hard work paid off. With his newly revised manuscript in hand, Hood was able to land a top-tier New York City agent who secured Josh a 2-book hardcover deal with major publisher Simon & Schuster. Hood's debut novel, Clear by Fire, was released in August 2015. The follow-up, Warning Order, hit shelves June 28 of this year.
I had the chance to speak with Joshua Hood recently, and I'm thrilled to bring you the excerpts of our conversation.
Johanna Edwards: First off, thank you for your service. You're a decorated Army veteran with a truly impressive resume. I've got your official bio here in front of me, and it's unbelievably impressive. Prior to serving overseas, you obtained an English degree with a focus on technical writing. How did your time in the military shape you as a writer?
Joshua Hood: The military gave me access to the real war on terror. I got to see things from the ground. Get the taste and feel of fear, death and heroism, things other authors in the genre kinda guess at. When I came back, I did my best to apply them to the Clear by Fire and Warning Order.
Edwards: One thing that I admire about your books is that you don't shy away from brutality. There were several scenes that I found uncomfortable to read, but I appreciated the rawness and the honesty of your writing. How much of it did you draw from actual experience?
Hood: Pretty much all of it (except for the torture scene).
Jack Donovan wrote an essay entitled, “Violence is Golden.” In it he talks about the fact that the average American has been shielded from the horrors of the world. We have what I refer to as ‘first world problems’ e.g. the line at Starbucks is really long, or my favorite show just got canceled. Obviously this is a very subjective world view, and not applicable to everyone, but it resonated with me after being in Afghanistan and Iraq.
In Clear by Fire and Warning Order, violence is as much of a character as the protagonist and antagonist.
Edwards: You have very eclectic taste in authors and books. Who are some of your favorite writers and what has drawn you to their work?
Hood: I am a big fan of the classics. The first “thriller” in my opinion was the Iliad. I love Chuck Palahniuk, Joseph Conrad, John Dos Passos -- authors who bring much more than just an easy story.
Edwards: You received more than 80 rejections before landing your first agent. A lot of people would have given up at that point. How did you find the strength to push forward in a situation where most people would have thrown in the towel?
Hood: When I was in grade school I was diagnosed with a learning disability and ADD. Back then they really didn’t know how to deal with people who had a high intellect but were bad at things like math and science. So they put us in “special classes” and kind of hoped we didn’t tear anything up. My parents told me at an early age that this didn’t define me or my future, and that if I wanted something out of life I was just going to have to work harder.This was reinforced in the military, so quitting has never really been my thing. My grandmother once told me that “people are like cars, and I just happened to be a Volkswagen. A Corvette might get to the finish line faster than me, but if I stayed the course I’d get there in the end.”
Edwards: When it comes to writing, you've compared yourself to a knuckleball pitcher. Care to elaborate?
Hood: When I first got serious about writing, I was under the impression that it was some kind of esoteric skill. You either had it or you didn’t. I never looked at myself as an artist; in fact I feel that writing is more of a craft than anything else. I came up with the knuckleballer analogy after watching a documentary on Netflix. For anyone who doesn’t know, a knuckle ball is a specialty pitch that is very slow. Since the beginning of baseball there have been like 70 pitchers who throw it regularly because it is so hard to master, and even harder to use in a game.
Guys who throw it usually have a few great games followed by long slumps because little things like broken fingernails affect the mechanics of the pitch. This was how I felt after putting out a book that fellow authors said was “on point” but didn’t have commercial success.
Edwards: Do you foresee yourself staying in the military thriller genre, or do you have plans to branch out at some point?
Hood: When you are starting out, you learn by trial and error. One secret that you learn the hard way is that a book is judged by its sales.
Sorry to burst anyone’s bubble, but it is true.
I want to write full time, so I have to master my craft, but I also have to create characters and stories that reach a very broad audience.
Some people call that selling out, but at the end of the day writing is a business. So an author has to make the decision: “am I going to write for arts sake or do I want to make money?” Sounds pretty crappy, but I promise you it is the truth.
Edwards: Do you think living in Memphis has influenced your writing in any way?
Hood: I think all southerners are natural storytellers, and Memphis has some of the best. We have a wonderful literary heritage and the Delta is so rich with characters and ideas, it is hard not to be influenced by Memphis.
Edwards: What are some of your favorite things to do around Memphis?
Hood: Honestly, I work way too much to have much downtime.
Edwards: You have a pretty demanding day job. I understand you're on call, which must be very disruptive to your writing routine. How are you able to carve out time to write?
Hood: I wake up everyday at five and write until it is time for work. For me it is very important to stick to a routine. I got to meet Brad Taylor the other day. Not only is he a hero of mine, he is also one of the people who believed in me from day one. He told me, “I don’t write everyday, but I am always thinking about writing.” Like me he keeps a notebook on him at all times and the reason he has written 14 books in five years is because when he does finally sit down and write he literally forces himself to write 10,000 or more words at a time.
Edwards: Who would you like to see play Mason Kane in a movie?
Hood: Either Sullivan Stapleton or Leonardo DiCaprio
Edwards: What is your favorite part of the writing process? Your least favorite part?
Hood: I love everything about the writing process. Every time I sit at the keyboard I feel like I have just come home again.
I don’t enjoy the marketing, Tweeting, Facebooking etc that comes with selling the books, which seems to take up 75% of my time.
Edwards: What's the best piece of advice you would offer to aspiring writers?
Hood: I get this one all the time, and I have to defer to my man Eric Thomas. He tells a story about a guy who goes to a guru and asks, “What is the key to success?”
The guru said, “meet me at the beach tomorrow an hour after dawn.”
The next day the guy shows up, and the guru is standing in the water. He tells his young neophyte to take off his shoes and come out and meet him. The guy grumbles, but follows him out. The guru takes him deeper, and deeper until he his barely able to stand up and then he dunks him beneath the waves and holds him down until his lungs are about to burst. Right when he is about to pass out the guru lets him come up.
The neophyte sputters and when he finally catches his breath says, “You almost drowned me.”
The guru smiles and says, “when you want to succeed as bad as you wanted to breath you will be a successful.”
According to industry statistics around 2% of first time writers get publish by one of the big five. Pretty staggering odds, huh. But what the odds don’t reflect is that out of 100 writers 80% never get off the couch and write. Out of the 20% that actually put pen to paper, 10% never get more than halfway before giving up, and 5% quit after their first rejection.
Edwards: The publishing industry has changed pretty drastically over the past couple of years. What are your thoughts on the rise of the e-book empire?
Hood: I love it because it opens the playing field up and allows authors to have more creative control.
Edwards: What has the reaction been like from your family and friends? I know your wife has been supportive of the process. What was it like for them to see you in print?
Hood: They love it, which is embarrassing because as an author I like to stay in the shadows.
Edwards: I know your grandmother had a tremendous influence on your life. What were some of the things she said that contributed to your success?
Hood: Besides the Volkswagen thing, she once told me, “You can’t sell anything from an empty cart.” She reminds me of the guru in the early section, full of elusive knowledge. She used to say that you have to “grow through what you go through,” which is something I still work on.
Edwards: What's next for Josh Hood? Do you have a third book in the works?
Hood: I’ve got a couple of books in the works. It’s a pretty exciting time to be a writer and I am very optimistic.