BTU #170 - 20 year Navy SEAL to Published Author (Jack Carr)

A friend of mine was at a fundraiser and met Brad Thor who is one of the top guys in this genre. My buddy knew that I was writing this novel and he asked me if I wanted to talk to Brad. So I spent about 20 minutes on the phone talking to him and I guess I passed his test so he said , ‘OK as a thank you for everything you did with the SEAL Team, when you finish your book I will send it to New York for you.’ About a year later I called him and said my book was done. And true to his word, he sent it to Simon and Schuster.
— Jack Carr

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Jack Carr is the author of the book, The Terminal List. He served for twenty years as a Navy SEAL, where he led a special operations teams on four continents as a Team Leader, Platoon Commander, Troop Commander and Task Unit Commander. He served with SEAL teams two and seven, and retiring as a LCDR. 

Why Listen: 

Jack spent 20 years in the Navy SEALs and went on to write a book published by Simon and Schuster. This is not just a great episode for aspiring authors, but for all Veterans. Jack has a great  perspective about tenacity and not taking no for an answer, as well as for setting out clear guidelines for the type of career and lifestyle he wanted after his military service.

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Selected Resources: 

Transcript & Time Stamps:


Joining me today from Park City, UT is Jack Carr. Jack is the author of the book The Terminal List. He served for 20 years as a Navy SEAL where he lead special operations teams on four continents. He served with SEAL Teams 2 and 7 and retired as a Lieutenant Commander.


What brought you to Park City?

We finished our last duty station in California and realized it was easier to get to Park City than any other ski locations in California due to traffic. We wanted to raise our kids in a ski town so here we are.


What would you want readers to know about The Terminal List?

It’s a political military thriller about revenge. It was something I loved reading about growing up. It’s about a guy whose career loosely resembles mine. He gets involved in various schemes up and down his chain of command. I also wanted to explore someone that had been fighting overseas for the past 15 years and comes home only to become an insurgent on his home soil.


At what point did you know you wanted to be an author?

From the time I was a little kid I wanted to do two things - one was to become a Navy SEAL and the other was to write fiction. I knew that I wanted to become a SEAL and then when I got out, i wanted to explore writing. I didn’t want to be 90 years old and look back and wonder how it would have gone if I had given writing a shot.


Was there anything you did while on active duty that helped you become a better writer?

It was kind of inadvertent. I essentially took a 20 year break from reading novels. For the most part I was reading about the economies and politics in the Middle East where we were deploying. I studied insurgencies and counter-insurgencies. So as I got out and started to write the book, having that background really helped me. It helped in developing the character and the story line.


That’s really interesting that writing was always a dream of yours and one day it clicked.

That’s right. And I was in a staff job during my last two years in the military so that position left me with a lot of time to prepare. I did my first 6 years enlisted and then became on officer. If I had stayed in after the staff billet, I would have eventually become a CO but you’re leading from behind rather than from the front. So it was at that time that I made the decision to make a change in my life. I went to a Training Command for my last couple years and made some preparations to transition.

I also had some backup plans too so all my eggs weren’t in the writing basket. And I’m still continuing to pursue some of those now.


I love that. Elizabeth Gilbert talks about a lot of that in Big Magic -- that you need to have some practicality surrounding the pursuit of your passion. This allows you the freedom to really explore your passion.

What was important to me when I was getting out was thinking about what I held value in. The most important thing to me was freedom. So everything I did had to fit that. I didn’t want to trade a uniform for a suit and tie in another organization. I had done that for 20 years in the military and I wanted to experience true freedom.


How long did it take you to write The Terminal List? What did your life look like during that time?

I wish I could say I was very disciplined but that was not the case because I was also juggling getting out of the military and time with my family. Most of it was written between 10PM-3AM. So finding that uninterrupted quiet time was key. I was also very fortunate that I had a dear friend Keith Wood that was also very interested in writing. So we went in 50/50 on writing it even though it’s my name on the book. What really helped is that this is a creative project that I would equate to a sculpture or painting that you don’t show to anyone during the creation process. But we had an advantage that we were trading off work, he brought his expertise in the pharmaceutical industry. By bouncing ideas off one another, we were really able to make it the best book it could possibly be.

It really worked out doing it this way. Tom Clancy’s second book Red Storm Rising, was written by Tom and a co-writer. So he has had a collaborative project as well and I believe it was one of his best books.


And how long did this process take?

About a year and a half. There was no timeline because with fiction you have to have a finished product before you submit it. So it took about a year and a half. Then I had to read, re-read, and edit. So after I was done with writing, I spent about four months revising before I got it to a point where I felt comfortable sending it to Simon and Schuster?


What was the process like to find a publisher?

I feel extremely fortunate the way things happened. About four months into this process, a friend of mine was at a fundraiser and met Brad Thor who is one of the top guys in this genre. My buddy knew that I was writing this novel and he asked me if I wanted to talk to Brad. So I spent about 20 minutes on the phone talking to him and I guess I passed his test. He said , ‘OK as a thank you for everything you did with the SEAL Team, when you finish your book I will send it to New York for you.’ About a year later I called him and said my book was done. And true to his word, he sent it to Simon and Schuster. I’ll never be able to repay him for this.

Every bit of the process was a real joy. From coming up with the outline, to the plot sequence, to creating the challenges the protagonist would solve. I absolutely love this industry. One thing Brad told me is that the only difference between a published and unpublished author is that the published author doesn’t quit. And he also said that it’s ok to write a bad chapter. It gave me permission to not always have to write completely perfectly in every moment.


I love that idea of using determination and tenacity to carry you through this process.

One thing I’ll share from Steven Pressfield is that he said “Hey, you never hear of a trucker getting trucker’s block”. Writer’s block does not exist - you just have to go do it.

He also said that for each one of his books, he had a theme. He writes that theme on a sticky note and puts it near where he writes. So then when there’s a story line or character that doesn’t connect back to that central theme, he knows it should be eliminated from the story.


What was one of the more challenging aspects of writing The Terminal List?

I feel bad even answering this question because I’ve truly loved every part of it. The hardest part for me was just finding the interrupted time to write. There’s so many distractions so it’s just about finding time that you can set aside and write.

Late at night was usually a good block of time although the kids get up super early so that wasn’t always ideal. Luckily my writing partner’s in laws have a home on a farm in Alabama. So I would fly out there for a week at a time every few months and lock myself down in the guest house. I would go out there where it’s quiet with no distractions. It was the perfect place to write for me.

For anyone that has read any of Malcolm Gladwell’s books - his career developed during a time when there was a lot of noise in the newsroom like typewriters, chatter, etc. So even today, he writes his books in coffee shops in New York City where there’s that background noise because that’s what he’s accustomed to.


What has your day-to-day been like since the book came out?

It’s been busy. The book tour has been ust busier than I thought but in a great way. I feel so fortunate to have so many opportunities to get the word out there. But I’m going to lock myself down for April and May because Book #2 is done being written but now needs to be reviewed and edited. My second book will be coming out around this time in 2019.


Do you have any resources you would recommend?

I would caution against spending too much time with books, podcasts, etc. At some point, you just need to dive in and start doing it.

However, some books I would recommend are:

The Authentic Swing

Turning Pro

Do the Work

On Writing

The Successful Novelist

Reacher Said Nothing


Do you have any other advice for someone looking to become a writer?

It’s important to figure out what your next mission in life is after the military. You’ve been part of something that’s bigger than yourself for a long time. So finding that same sense of purpose outside the military is important. And you need to make the life you want. Don’t pay attention to the odds. While you’re wasting bandwidth on the odds, somewhere is out there doing it.

I had to narrow down what I wanted to do when I got out but I really didn’t want to go down the more traditional route because it didn’t fit what was important to me and my family. So knowing your priorities will allow you to know what to say ‘yes” and “no” to.


Is there anything else you would share with listeners?

As people are getting out, there are so many resources available. People want to help you, people in business want to mentor people that are younger than them. So identifying some professional organizations in the sector you’re interested in can really help. Join some of these organizations and get to know those people. People will be more than happy to open doors for you.


Thanks so much for sharing your perspective and thoughts with us, Jack.