On July 31st, BookPeople is hosting a special event. Stephen Hunter will be here with his latest Bob Lee Swagger book, Game Of Snipers. The Nailer comes out of retirement to take on a sniper much younger and possibly more skilled. Mr. Hunter will be interviewed by one of our favorite Texas authors Billy Kring, creator of the series featuring border agent Hunter Kincaid and a die hard Stephen Hunter fan. Here is a little taste of what you are in for between the two.
- How did you come up with the idea of using Juba the Sniper as Bob Lee Swagger’s protagonist and make him current in today’s time?
I had heard rumors, myths, legends for years. In fact I had used him in two other plots which died and buried themselves between the outline and the keyboard. So he was THERE, in my imagination. He has in fact surfaced in a few other pop cult takes on the war. I tried to imagine where the rumors might have come from: there had to be a kernel of truth behind them, so I created THAT guy, knowing he wasn’t the legend of Juba just as Bob isn’t the legend of Bob the Nailer. I wanted him as real, as human as possible; I’m not a superhero guy.
- Janet McDowell, the woman who motivates Bob Lee to take on the assignment is in a class by herself, a force of nature. How did you develop her for the book?
She’s based on a Baltimore woman, Tracy Miller, whose son Nick was a graduate of my son’s prep school, Boy’s Latin. He went to Falluja as a marine sniper and came home in a box. It hits so hard when it hits nearby and I have thought a lot about the loss of the young man and the alchemization process by which she became a veteran’s counselor at Towson State University. I was so impressed with that and wanted to quietly salute it.
- Did you base the hunt for Juba on any real-life incidents?
Not purposely, .but I realized about halfway through that I had indeed stolen the plot–that is, from the original intelligence breakthrough to the analysis of forensic information to the near-miss raids to the last second dash from someone else. Fortunately that person was me: it’s very similar to “The Master Sniper,” my first published book, from 1980.
- When Bob Lee physically confronts Juba, we see the strength and skill of the terrorist, and how Swagger is physically outmatched. For me as a reader of your stories, it was shocking, and really set up the rest of the book. Did you plan for this (Showing Juba as so formidable) when you first began writing the story?
One of my rules is that gunfights are better if the shooters know and have had face-time with each other. So I wanted a confrontation, even if only for seconds. Then I thought rigorously about the outcome and realized that no other was possible. There’s also a scene where Bob falls out of a tree. I’m sure no other thriller hero has fallen out of a tree. Can you see Harry Bosch falling out of a tree? However, at 73, I fall a lot, my forehead looks like it belongs to a pirate, and I live in fear of that horrible moment when you realize gravity now owns your ass and will do with it as it pleases. I thought both things were details not normal to the genre and I’m always looking for something–oops, I just fell off the sofa! Anyhow, I’m always looking for something like that.
- Was there anything in your research that surprised you?
I had seen s many bogus mile-long shots in movies, I wanted to document how difficult, how arduous, how math and tech-intense such an undertaking might be. You just don’t crank up the elevation on the scope and pull. The surprise wasn’t that the math was daunting, particularly to me, who finds keeping up a checkbook daunting as well but that it was endless. It has to equations with Greek letters in them. Those issues are like Alice’s wonderland, unknowable, so the surprise wasn’t how much I got in but how much I had to leave out.
- Age and injuries are playing an ever-larger part in Swagger’s life. I’m hoping you have some future adventures planned for Bob the Nailer?
Yes, but he will be old. I think someone would pay for a 35-year-old Bob Lee, but I won’t be writing it. I have no idea what a 35-year-old feels like when he wakes up in the morning. I do know what 73 feels like: first he’s grateful that he DID wake-up, and then he begins to take roll-call on the pains–hip, check, finger, check, shoulder, check, toe, check. Hmm, all quiet on the knee front today but something seems to be going on in that OTHER shoulder!