Dale Brown writes military-action-aviation techno-thrillers and was a navigator-bombardier in the G-model B-52 Stratofortress heavy bomber and the FB-111, a supersonic medium bomber. He rose to the rank of captain via automatic promotion and is the recipient of several military decorations and awards, including the Air Force Commendation Medal, the Combat Crew Award, and the Marksmanship ribbon. He is also a Life Member of the Air Force Association and the U.S. Naval Institute.
Brown is the author of the new book, “Starfire,” which challenges notions of what is possible in the realm of cutting-edge weaponry and spacecraft and with life and humanity itself.
Brown previously wrote “TIGER’S CLAW” – a rapidly unfolding narrative of U.S.-China relations today. Brown thinks China is America’s #1 military, economic and political rival. He discusses how he expects US-Chinese relations to play out.
Brown writes military-action-aviation techno-thrillers, so he tell us more about his history and background to qualify him to write on such topics.
Brown also gives advice to writers who want to get their work out there.
Finally, Brown is a video game consultant, so he discusses his work in the gaming space.
Dale Brown was born in Buffalo, New York on November 2, 1956. He graduated from Penn State University with a degree in Western European History and received an Air Force commission in 1978. He was a navigator-bombardier in the B-52G Stratofortress heavy bomber and the FB-111A supersonic medium bomber, and is the recipient of several military decorations and awards including the Air Force Commendation Medal with oak leaf cluster, the Combat Crew Award, and the Marksmanship ribbon. Dale was also one of the nation’s first Air Force ROTC cadets to qualify for and complete the grueling three-week U.S. Army Airborne Infantry paratrooper training course. He was also an Air Force instructor on aircrew life support and combat survival, evasion, resistance, and escape.
Dale supports a number of organizations to promote law enforcement, education, and literacy. He is a Life Member of the Air Force Association, U.S. Naval Institute, and National Rifle Association. He is a command pilot for Angel Flight West (www.angelflightwest.org), a group that donate their time, skills, and aircraft to fly medical patients free of charge. He is also a mission pilot with the Civil Air Patrol, flying a variety of missions in support of the U.S. Air Force and other federal agencies. He is a multi-engine and instrument-rated private pilot and can often be found in the skies all across the United States, piloting his Piper Aztec-E airplane.
On the ground, Dale enjoys tennis, scuba diving, and soccer. Dale, his wife Diane, and son Hunter live near Lake Tahoe, Nevada.
Find out more about Dale Brown at www.dalebrown.info.
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Start of Interview with Dale Brown
Jason Hartman: It’s my pleasure to welcome my prolific writer to the show. That is Dale Brown, who is joining us today and he has authored 25 separate titles, selling about 15-20 million copies, so that’s a fantastic number. But as if that weren’t enough, having such an incredible career as an author, he also has a fascinating military background. He was in the Air Force for 8 years, and he writes military action aviation techno thrillers. Say that ten times fast. And he was a navigator bombardier in the G Model B52 Stratofortress heavy bomber. And the FB111, a supersonic medium bomber, and rose through the ranks and received several military decorations and awards, and we’re going to talk about his fascinating duel careers today. Dale welcome. How are you?
Dale Brown: Thank you very much for having me on the show, Jason.
Jason Hartman: Well it’s good to have you. Just to give our listeners a sense of geography, where are you located?
Dale Brown: I am located in beautiful Lake Tahoe, Nevada although we’re getting a little rain and we actually got a little snow yesterday. But it’s hard to believe it’s almost the end of May, but we’ve gotten snow just about every month of the year up here in Lake Tahoe. But it’s just an absolutely beautiful place to work and live, and I’m raising a 17 year old son and having a great time.
Jason Hartman: Fantastic. Well that snow and global warming… I just don’t get how people can still be saying that. That’s a topic…
Dale Brown: Well they don’t call it global warming anymore – it’s climate change.
Jason Hartman: Isn’t that convenient how they rebranded that one?
Dale Brown: Yeah.
Jason Hartman: Yeah, it sure is. But that’s a show for another day. So tell us… you got started as an author, and I should say that your books are all novels, so they’re all fiction, 25 titles… you got started while you were in the air force, huh?
Dale Brown: Well I actually started writing back when I was in high school. I worked for the high school newspaper, I had a column in the Penn State University Newspaper. And I was freelancing for many years writing for computer magazines and local newspapers and things like that, but I always wanted to try fiction. Flight of The Old Dog was the first novel, came out about a year after I got out of the air force, back in 1987 and it’s been one book a year since then. I’ve been lucky enough to do the two things I’ve always wanted to do in my life, is fly and write. And I’ve been lucky enough to make a living out of doing both.
Jason Hartman: Fantastic. Well, good for you. I want to go back to your beginnings, because a lot of aspiring authors are listening, a lot of authors are listening that maybe aren’t satisfied with where they are. How many books did your first title sell? How many copies?
Dale Brown: I think they printed maybe 30 thousand copies in hardback. The paperback of Flight of the Old Dog is still in print. They print maybe 3 or 4 thousand a year, and it’s in its 35th printing or something like that. But in hardback, it only sold maybe 30 thousand copies. The books are extremely rare these days. Which I’m happy to see them on eBay for astronomical sums for first editions. But they steadily got better after that after I was known. After the first book, especially the first paperback came about.
Jason Hartman: So how did you get that first publisher? Printing 30 thousand copies is a pretty big deal. Most publishers wouldn’t take that big of a risk even back in the 80s.
Dale Brown: Well actually I was doing it wrong when I first started marketing the books. And this is what I advise people all the time. First of all, you have to finish the book first. That’s my number one thing. A lot of authors when you get close to finishing the first book, you get anxious to find an editor and find a publisher for it and so you do if before finishing the book. And the worst nightmares was something I ran into, is where you actually find a publisher or find an agent who wants to read it right now, and this was before the age of being able to Email manuscripts, but even FedEx or UPS back then, they wanted it the next day or in the next couple of days because an agent was going to pitch it to a publisher, and they wanted to see it and read it right now. So I advise authors to finish the book first.
But I did it wrong. I marketed directly to publishers. For fiction that’s generally not done. They’d like you to find an agent and have an agent pitch it to different publishers. I just sort of looked into it. I finally found a publisher that said well, we don’t buy over the transom. We don’t buy directly from authors but if you find yourself an agent, then have the agent contact us. And he actually sent me an alphabetical list of agents, and I figured everybody that had that list would start at the A’s and go forward. So I started at the Z’s and went backward. And I finally found an agent, George and Olga Wieser, and they looked at it about 6 months or so after I got out of the air force and actually moved from the east coast to the west coast. And didn’t really think anything about the manuscript.
I thought the Wiesers just forgot about me or were maybe trying to steal the manuscript or something. And I got a telegram, my one and only telegram I’ve ever received in my life from the Wiesers, I don’t even know how they found me, but they sent me a telegram and it said exciting news about your manuscript, call us immediately, 212-260-0860. I still remember the phone number from almost 30 years ago.
Jason Hartman: Okay, so you didn’t have any literary agent at all on that first book. You went directly to publishers? I know you started that way and you started with the Z’s and so forth, but did you have a literary agent at the end there or completely no agent?
Dale Brown: Yes, the Wiesers were a very small husband and wife literary agency, so they’re the ones that actually found a publisher.
Jason Hartman: Right, so they were in the W’s, starting with Z’s. I think that theory worked. How big was that list, just out of curiosity, that list of literary agents?
Dale Brown: 300 agencies on there.
Jason Hartman: Okay, and where were Wiesers located? Were they New York?
Dale Brown: They were in New York City.
Jason Hartman: Okay, so they were in New York where the hub was – interesting. Okay, so you got them and they got you the publisher, right?
Dale Brown: Right. And that’s generally how it works. For non-fiction you can usually go to publishing houses, depending on what you’re writing about, you can usually go directly to a publisher. If you market to universities or you market to poetry clubs or things like that, you can usually generally go directly. But I would say for fiction they would like you to be represented by an agent and have the agent or somebody in their office read through the manuscript to make sure it’s appropriate for the publishing house, instead of having the authors do that themselves.
Jason Hartman: Sure, sure the agents act is a vetting mechanism for the publishers of course.
Dale Brown: Absolutely, and I think that’s how they like it done.
Jason Hartman: Right, right absolutely. So that was the first book. Now, with the second book that was just about a year later, is that correct?
Dale Brown: That’s right. The first contract was for three books. So I had Flight of the Old Dog done, actually Silver Tower was done also at the same time, and I think that’s also a key to getting published, is not just have one book but have at least one in the oven that may be more in mind when you go to talk with an agent. They always like to hear that you’ve got more than one project in mind. But I had Silver Tower was already done, and in fact Silver Tower was actually the first novel that I finished. But they were more interested in Flight of the Old Dog. This was at a time when Tom Clancy’s The Hunt for Red October had just come out maybe a year before, Stephen Coonts’s Flight of the Intruder, Team Yankee by Harold Coyle had just come out. So military techno thrillers were very big at the time. So Flight of the Old Dog sort of made its way onto that very same list. I think that really helped launch the book also.
But I had the second manuscript ready to go, and I never really believed… I thought, okay somebody will publish Flight of the Old Dog, final publish it and then that’ll be it. That will be the one and only book. Maybe one more after that, and the Weisers reminded me, actually admonished me, saying no, you’re not doing anything else. I was going to be a flight instructor and fly for a living, and they said oh no, you’re an author now. You have to get busy on the next book and the third book after that.
Jason Hartman: So your agent was really cracking the whip knowing that you’d be a profitable client.
Dale Brown: Oh heck yes, heck yes. And that’s the business also. They find an author they really like, and that the manuscript speaks to them, and I’ve been to the Wiesers’ office many times and at the time they had a very small office piled to the ceiling with manuscripts, literally piled to the ceiling. And they specialized in first time authors, so they looked through probably 100 manuscripts or queries per day looking for the one that they can spend the time on to read their manuscripts and to nurse them along in the business, because that’s their livelihood and they have to find that next big name, and that’s their business. So once they find somebody and once they get them under contract, then they do crack the whip. They want you to keep on performing and producing for them.
Jason Hartman: So with that first agent, were they the only one that called you or how did you sort of land them, and I know they called you, but you sent them a complete manuscript by the way… not a book proposal or an excerpt or anything. It was a complete manuscript, right?
Dale Brown: No, actually when you start out they like to get a query from you which is maybe a page and a half, at the very most two pages explaining what your book is about and what your authority is to write the book. And I had a military background. Flight of the Old Dog was about a B52 Bomber and I had flown B52s, I was still in the air force at the time. So I had a lot of authority in writing the book. And you explain what the story is about, what the main characters are about, and you have maybe 300 words to do that in. And you have to hook them, because they read so many of these things per day that you have to hook them in the first or second paragraph or else they’re going to set it aside and read the next one.
Jason Hartman: So what tips do you have for authors on hooking literary agents or publishers? A lot of times nowadays you’d go direct, a lot of times you self-publish too. But any tips on hooking them?
Dale Brown: You bet. Your query letter, or nowadays it’s a query Email, would be, it’s a narrative. You have to tell them a story. It’s not a resume. You’re not looking for a job, you don’t make bullet points and you don’t do dates. And from this date to this date I was here… it’s not a resume. You want to tell them a story. And it has to be every bit as exciting and every bit as engaging as your book is. And they will figure that if you can’t write an exciting and riveting letter, it’s only 200-300 words, then you’re probably not going to write them a riveting and exciting manuscript that’s 300,400,500 pages long. So you really have to hook them. You have to really tell them a story. You have to make it very brief but you have to put every bit of energy and excitement into it that you possibly can.
The first paragraph of my query letter was two words. It was the brink. I was hoping, and at least for the Wiesers it worked, but you want to force the reader to read the second paragraph. And if your first paragraph only has two words. It immediately asks the question, what brink are you talking about? What are you talking about? So they have to read the second paragraph to find out what you’re talking about and that’s exactly what you want them to do. You want them to keep on reading. You want to put something in the second paragraph that makes them want to read the third paragraph.
Once they get an idea of what your book is about, they’re going to say okay great, I’ve got it. What is your writing background? What have you done? And I could point to publications I’ve written for, a magazine COMPUTE!’S Gazette for Commodore, if you remember the Commodore computer.
Jason Hartman: Yes. That’s what we should also mention is that you’re a video game designer, right?
Dale Brown: Well, yeah I have two computer games. One for a 386 machine back years ago called…
Jason Hartman: I remember those.
Dale Brown: And recently after the war I wrote the story for that one, and both the computer games were based on my novels. The first one, Megafortress was based on Flight of the Old Dog and Act of War was based on my novel Act of War. So yeah, I was lucky enough to do that also. But you have to just nail the agents with your query letter. Make them want to read some more about it and then produce your credentials. What’s your writing background? Exactly what makes you think you can write this novel and make me successful and make you successful?
So you’ve only got about 300 words to do that, and if you’re successful… I sent out probably 100 query letters, I only got answers back from maybe 10 or 15 of them, and most of the answers back were written on my letter, something written back in red pencil saying no thanks, or not appropriate or a lot of them just said slush, which I thought they were calling my manuscript dirty snow – it stinks so bad it’s like dirty snow. When slush actually meant submitted unsolicited, and so a lot of agents won’t accept slush manuscripts so the assistant will just write slush on it and put it back in your envelope, your self-addressed and stamped envelope and mail it back to you.
So that was some of the responses I did get from them. But a lot of them would just write back, not for our office, or it doesn’t sound realistic or something like that. But one publisher did write back and said this is interesting. So he was the one that sent the list of agents to me, and I finally got an agent and did the whole process over again with the agent. You have to send them a query, they ask for an outline, they want a biography of the author, a maybe 50 page outline of the first 50 pages of the manuscript and then from there they may or may not ask for the entire manuscript, and it’s a good thing if they ask for the entire manuscript. And after that they pretty much decided, after they asked for the entire manuscript, they pretty much decided they’re going to represent you. So that’s why it’s important to have that manuscript completed by the time you start sending out those query letters.
Jason Hartman: Because you’ve got to be able to produce something.
Dale Brown: Absolutely. Nowadays, they go as far to ask for the entire manuscript. They want it within an hour, they want it in 30 minutes because you can just Email it to them.
Jason Hartman: Yeah, in the instant gratification world we live in. Take us through your career a little bit. 25 books, one a year, 15-20 million copies, Dale, that’s an incredible achievement, so congratulations on that. Along the way did you have any disappointing titles that just didn’t really fly, or if you want to call them outright flops? Were any unsatisfactory?
Dale Brown: No, I don’t think so. They’ve all been on the bestseller list, the New York Times Bestseller list. Not all of them made it on as a hardback, but they’ve all made it on at least as a paperback. So I’ve been lucky enough to have all of them as a New York Times Bestsellers. The third book, what happened with the third book, I was convinced… the sales for the first two books were okay, but I was convinced that I would never get another writing contract. So the third book I just decided to pull out all the stops. It was the sequel to Flight of the Old Dog.
I was convinced that I had no future as a writer, so I ended up killing half the crew of the B52 and crashing and destroying the Old Dog and it turns out it was one of the most successful books of the series. It spent 9 weeks in the top ten of the New York Times Bestseller list, and it made it as high as number 4 I believe. So it just proves that if you have a little desperation and if you’re not afraid to pull out all the stops and write something that really excites you, then eventually it will pay off. The Day of the Cheetah turned out to be a great book, and I thought it was going to be my last one.
Jason Hartman: When you said last one, what number was that in the line up?
Dale Brown: Day of the Cheetah was number 3. That was the third book of the three book contract, the first contract. And like I said, I thought I was never going to write another book after that so I was going to go out in a blaze of glory.
Jason Hartman: But you kept on going. They got 22 more out of you. The world got 22 more titles out of you. Are there more in the works now that you’ve done Star Fire?
Dale Brown: Oh absolutely, absolutely. I’m working on number 26 right now. In fact that’s due in a few months.
Jason Hartman: Well, good for you, good for you. Maybe we can close by talking a little bit about Dale, the actual act and process of writing. Where do you get the inspiration from, how do you manage your time, your work flow, overcoming writers block if you ever get it, I’m sure you must. Are there any tips there for the actual process of writing?
Dale Brown: Well the subject matter is what’s happening in the world right now. I try to write about technology that’s going to be out in the next 2-5 years so it’s not too science fiction but it’s not the stuff that’s out there now. What I want readers to do is that I want them to turn on the television or pick up a newspaper and read about some crisis overseas or even something in the US and then go to the bookstore or go online and find a novel about that exact same topic.
So Tiger’s Claw, my last novel, was about the South China Sea and the conflict between the United States and China. Well that could be brewing right now, so I like to pick topics that are happening now, that are fresh in folk’s minds and then have them pick up a book and read about what could happen in the present and what could happen in the future if we had some of this high tech weaponry that I describe.
And I’ve been lucky enough to write about technology that was just coming off the drawing boards and is now commonplace. I wrote about laser guided weapons, I wrote about GPS long before Desert Storm or before these weapons were used. And I’ve been lucky enough to have people read a book, come up to me and say how did you know about that? How’d you know about GPS and how’d you know about laser guided stuff and things like that? So that’s always fun when that happens.
The writing process for me, it’s an 8-5 job but I let it flow. And if it’s not flowing, I try to do something to distract myself away from whatever is stopping me from writing. For me that’s usually flying. I’m a pilot now, I do a lot of charity flying for a group called Angel Flight West. I’m a member of the civil air patrol, and in fact I was just named the Squadron Commander down in Nevada. So I fly with the civil air patrol. We’re a volunteer search and rescue organization, so that’s a really good distraction also. But for most of the days it’s an 8-5 job. When my son goes off to school, I get to work and when he comes home from school I stop and be with the family after that. Now after he goes to bed if there’s something rattling around in my head, I’ll go back to work and I’ll work until whenever it’s not rattling around anymore.
Jason Hartman: Do you use any specific software, any special software or just Word…
Dale Brown: Yeah, Microsoft Word has been it. But I tried Macintosh Computers for a while, but I always went back to the PC. I started with pencil and paper on the back deck of the alert facility out of a major air force base and graduated from a Commodore 64 to a Commodore 128 to various BCs after that. So I don’t think it matters exactly what you use… I know authors who still use typewriters. They still use electric typewriters.
Jason Hartman: I know some that handwrite too, still.
Dale Brown: Yeah, absolutely.
Jason Hartman: That must be just hell for their literary agents though, I’d have to think.
Dale Brown: Well they also have secretaries that will actually transcribe it for them. But however you can get it down, on paper, on the computer, on tape or however you do it, I really encourage people if you have a story or you have a novel in you to sit down and write it. You’re never too old to do it. I had no writing background except some experience with the high school newspaper and local newspapers. I have never taken a creative writing class, I’m not an English major, I’m sure I get the punctuation and usage wrong all the time but there’s software and there are editors that can help fix that.
I think after 25 novels I’ve kind of figured it out, but I don’t want folks to let the fact that you’re not an English major or you don’t know how to write, or are too restless to sit down for a while, don’t let that stop you. If there’s a story in you I encourage you to get it out and once you have it down and once you finish it, have people read it and give you their opinion about it.
Jason Hartman: Yeah. How come you never wrote nonfiction? You certainly have the authority to do that with your military background. There’s a lot of nonfiction you could write too. Just not interesting to you?
Dale Brown: Well, I tried other forms of writing. Fiction you have a lot of creative room to really let yourself go. With nonfiction of course, you have to… it’s nonfiction. You have to make sure it’s truthful, make sure that you do a lot of research… I do a lot of research but it has to be… all the research I do extends the story. You end up being a slave to the story and a slave to the characters. And the research I do supports the characters and the story. It’s not the topic itself, it’s whatever supports the story. You have so much more freedom and things like that. So I think eventually I’ll do more nonfiction stuff.
I’ve even tried to branch out into other areas of fiction, and the publishers have always discouraged me from doing that. Back at Penn State I was a west European history major, and I’ve always wanted to write about the Middle Ages and write about the crusades and things I’ve studied about. I’ve always wanted to write a novel about the high tech weaponry of the Middle Ages, like the cross bow. That was the weapon of mass destruction back in the Middle Ages, and I’ve always wanted to write a story about Richard the Lion Heart going on crusades and things like that, but I’ve been discouraged from doing that because I’ve been placed in that very nice comfortable pigeon hole.
But they really don’t want you to break out too much. They want you, because I have such a large readership, they want me to stick with it because that’s the investment that the publisher makes in you. They market and they sell to that one particular niche and they really don’t want you to branch out beyond that.
Jason Hartman: For sure. Well, specialize, specialize, specialize. There’s a lot to be said for that, very much so. Last question for you Dale, before you go. Have you considered any movie deals?
Dale Brown: I consider movie deals all the time, and it just hasn’t happened. And I’ve received various reasons why it might not have happened, but I try not to let it get me down too much. I have a lot of meetings, and I do a lot of phone conferences with producers and film agents and things like that. It just hasn’t happened yet.
I’ve had two books auctioned for motion pictures. Flight of the Old Dog and Hammer Heads were auctioned but they never came out. And I used to spend a lot of time going to Hollywood and going to the cocktail parties and going to the meetings, and I don’t do that as much anymore because I’m more committed to the writing and just getting the novels out. And I think eventually because I have so many, and there’s a huge market and a huge readership for my books, that eventually it will get somebody’s attention and some day it will happen.
Jason Hartman: It will happen. It definitely will. Well, Dale give out your website and tell people where they can find you.
Dale Brown: Absolutely. I’m on Megafortress.com or AirBattleForce.com, and you can also find me on Facebook and Twitter under Author Dale Brown.
Jason Hartman: Well, Dale Brown, thank you so much for joining us today.
Dale Brown: It’s my pleasure. Thanks for having me on the show.
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Transcribed by Ralph