Interview: John A. Daly, Author of the Sean Coleman Thrillers
Note from Bernie: Hope you enjoy this interview I did with our own John Daly, who is not only a thoughtful political columnist (for my website, among other publications) but also a novelist. He has just written another page-turner with SAFEGUARD, book #4 in his Sean Coleman Thriller series. Take a look, and if you’re into thrillers, click here to buy his book(s). (This is a non-member column; open to all). Thanks. —Bernie Goldberg
Bernie Goldberg: I'm always curious about why writers write, beyond that it's a way to make a living. Why do you write, John?
John Daly: Well, let me say first that I would never advise anyone to write for a living. Truth be told, very few people make a lot of money writing. For those that do, that's great. But it has to be a passion first and foremost. And though my books sell better than I ever could have imagined, it's really that passion that keeps me writing.
A lot of the appeal is having a voice and an idea, with the challenge being to put the right words together, in the right order, to make what you have to say compelling to the reader. I think "compelling" is a good descriptor, because it really is about pushing or pulling the reader in a particular direction. In the case of fiction, you want to draw people into a story, make them care about the characters, and keep them engaged up until the last paragraph. In opinion writing, you want to present a solid case, and perhaps even persuade the reader over to your way of thinking.
Of course, the latter is particularly challenging these days, especially in the realm of politics. The only arguments a lot of people are receptive to are the ones telling them exactly what they want to hear: that they're right, and that the "other side" is completely wrong (and maybe even evil).
More political writers than ever cater to these crowds, and they make some good money doing it, but there's nothing compelling about keeping the reader in a box or in their comfort zone. Such writers, in my estimation, don't have a genuine passion for what they do.
Goldberg: Tell me about how you write. Do you map out each scene before you start actually writing your thriller ... or do you fly by the seat of your pants ... and go wherever the action takes you?
Daly: The only thing I really outline is the timeline. I want to make sure that I allocate the appropriate amount of time for the action to unfold. My scenes are usually just unstructured ideas until I write them, but I think it's important to respect the time component, whether it's to set the time of day or night correctly, or how long it would take a character to get from one location to another.
For example, in my first book, Sean drives from Colorado to upstate Michigan, so I spent some time calculating (for scene purposes) where he'd likely be geographically at certain times of the day, and where he'd be when he settled down for the night. Then I added some components to the story based on those locations. In Safeguard, there's a bit of a countdown-timer element to the story, so outlining the timeline was particularly important.
When I prepare to write a Sean Coleman thriller, I usually have a good idea of how I want the story to begin and end, but — for the sake of the plot — I don't want to commit myself much beyond that. Sometimes really good ideas formulate out of thin air, when I'm working on a scene, and I don't want to turn them away for the sake of an outline.
Goldberg: Congratulations on your recent trip to the "White House" where you were recognized for your writing by none other than "President Trump" (video below). That had to be quite an honor. Being that we've never met in person, I must say that you're much taller than I had thought. Our president is 6'3" and you look to have a couple of inches on him.
Daly: Thanks. Yes, it was indeed an honor... but unfortunately my White House invitation was the result of some mix-up by the president's staff. As it turns out, they meant to invite professional golfer, John Daly (who's a big Trump supporter). This became evident, after the press conference, when "President Trump" kept joking that I put more balls in the water than the men's Olympic swim team.
Seriously though, that's the great John Di Domenico (the world's greatest Trump impersonator) portraying the president. He's hilarious, and we had a lot of fun with that improvised sketch.
Goldberg: For those who don't know ... Who is Sean Coleman?
Daly: Sean Coleman is a rough-around-the-edges kind of guy who works as a security guard in a small mountain town in Colorado. He's a big dude, standing around 6'5"and weighing between 235 and 250 (depending on the book). Age-wise, he's in his late 30s. Sean grew up without a father, and had a pretty hard childhood. He's had some trouble with alcohol, and has damaged a number of relationships with friends and family over the years.
However, the story of Sean Coleman is ultimately one of redemption. He's a good man deep down, and he works hard throughout the series to become a respectable individual who helps others (though he does run into some personal setbacks).
I write each book in the series as a standalone with stories that don't really intertwine (for the most part). But there's a big thread that does, indirectly, tie them together: Sean's growth as an individual.
Goldberg: What's Sean up to in your new novel, Safeguard?
Daly: Well, without giving away too much from the previous book, Broken Slate, let's just say that one of those "personal setbacks" I mentioned earlier has led Sean to leave his longtime home in the Colorado mountains, and take a job far away from everyone he knows in the High Plains of the northern part of the state. He's now the lone security guard at a long retired (and very secluded) Cold War era nuclear-missile silo. These days, the silo serves as a county archive, storage facility, and very rarely visited museum.
It's sort of the ideal job for someone looking to isolate himself, and deal with some personal demons, but as Sean soon discovers, the forgotten compound has piqued unwelcome interest from an armed group of strangers who've cut off communications, and are intent on taking over the facility. The group's motivations aren't clear, but their determination is. And Sean is put into the situation of having to take them on by himself.
Goldberg: Where did you come up with the idea for Safeguard?
Daly: The missile silo in the story is an actual place, just outside of Greeley, Colorado where I've lived for a number of years. One of the fascinating things about the large, underground facility is that very few people — even here in Greeley — are aware of its existence. I lived here for 20 years before I knew of it. Weld County has owned it since the 1970s, but the site isn't really advertised to the public.
When I finally heard about it just a few years ago, I scheduled a tour with some friends. It was given by the on-site caretaker/security guard, who lived at least part-time at the barbed-wire-surrounded facility with just his dog. As he showed us the grounds and then took us down inside the facility itself, I fell in love with the atmosphere, character, and history of the place. There's a retro-ruggedness about it, and of course a sense of isolation.
Walking through the long tunnels, living quarters, control room, launch bay, etc., I found myself weighing some ideas about a character trapped inside, or held captive inside by some bad people. The site is full of potential hiding spots, and I knew the compartmentalized layout would be good for some intense scenes and interesting action sequences. The setting also seemed a natural fit for Sean Coleman, a loner security guard.
In addition to its role in the Cold War, the site actually has a lot of post-60s history too, some of it even deadly...which made it all the more interesting to me. People familiar with that history will recognize a bit of it in my book.
Goldberg: Just between us and the legions who read your books: Do you fancy yourself the protagonist of your books? Are you some version of Sean Coleman -- in your mind, anyway?
Daly: No, not really. I suppose all authors bring at least a little bit of themselves to their main characters, but Sean and I are quite a bit different. He grew up in a broken home; mine was stable. He's an alcoholic; I don't even drink. He's a bit of a loner; I like to entertain an audience. He's the kind of guy who talks with his fists; I prefer the humor route.
One thing Sean and I do have in common is that, as kids, we watched a lot of television — police and private investigator shows mostly. It's a big part of Sean Coleman's character, having been influenced by television detectives, and finding himself applying their methods (sometimes comically) to the situations he's faced with.
A buddy of mine has a theory that I live vicariously through Sean Coleman, in that Sean says and does things that I wish I could say or do (but wouldn't be able to get away with in real life). To an extent, he's probably right.
Goldberg: When reading your books, would people recognize real-life individuals that your characters are possibly based on?
Daly: Probably not. I've never based a character entirely on a real person (mainly because I don't want to be sued), but I suspect all fiction writers incorporate real-life people into their characters, whether it's done as a composite or from borrowed personality traits or incidents.
What a lot of people I know have recognized in my books are their own names. When naming characters, I'm always borrowing first and last names (one or the other; not both together) from my friends. It's a way of showing appreciation for their friendship, and saying thanks for their support. There are times when I've received excited texts at two in the morning from friends on the other side of the country who were up late reading one of my books, and suddenly discovered their own name. For me, there's something personally rewarding about it.
Speaking of that, you may not be aware of this, but a local business I mention in my first two books, "Bernard's Pawnshop," is named after you.
Goldberg: You're also a featured writer on my website, a place that proudly publishes your mostly political pieces. That said, what would Sean Coleman make of our current political scene ... and if you don't know ... what do you make of our current political scene?
Daly: First, I should mention that the Sean Coleman thrillers are apolitical, and so is Sean for the most part. The series actually takes place in the early 2000s, when George W. Bush was in office, but the only detectable evidence of a political leaning is Sean making fun of his brother-in-law for voting for Al Gore (I couldn't resist).
Believe it or not, Donald Trump is actually mentioned in my first book (which was written years before he'd ever entered politics).
As for today's political scene, I think Sean would feel as exhausted with it as a lot of us do. In one of my books, Sean tells someone that he hates reality television shows (which were still pretty new back then). And since that's what today's politics perhaps most closely resemble, I think he'd probably hold the same sentiments in their regard. Being a rugged individualist, Sean definitely wouldn't be a part of any political tribe or mob. His judgment isn't always the best, but he's an independent thinker.
Goldberg: Thanks, John. Best of luck with your new book and your continued political writing here, on this website, and elsewhere.
Daly: Thanks Bernie. I appreciate it.
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