I am thrilled to have on today, Bob Mayer, a NY Times Best-Selling multi-published author. He is a West Point graduate, served in the Infantry and Special Forces (Green Beret) commanding an A-Team and as a Special Forces operations officer, and was an instructor at Fort Bragg. He teaches Novel Writing, Warrior Writer and does keynote speeches. For more information on Bob and his books visit his website or his blog, Write It Forward.
How Writers Recon for their Books
by Bob Mayer
Thanks for the opportunity to guest blog today. I was thinking the other day about when I commanded a reconnaissance platoon in the First Cavalry Division. Our job was to be out in front of the main unit, scouting for the enemy and checking out the terrain.
It’s not much different as a writer. Here are some examples regarding books I’ve written and the recons I’ve done.
Area 51 is in the middle of nowhere on the road to nowhere. Nevada Route 375, which has officially been named Extraterrestrial Highway, is the road you take only if you want to drive by the fringe of Area 51 and stop in the Little Ale’Inn in Rachel, Nevada.
When my wife and I moved from South Carolina to Whidbey Island, Washington almost seven years ago, we went out of our way (well I did, over my wife’s protests) to drive up the road. We got on it and saw not a single car for at least a half hour. Then, and not making this up, we spotted a car coming the other way. Right out of Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang. Same kind of old car and the people in it were dressed exactly right for the era with the top down.
Last year I spent a morning with a crew from the SyFy channel filming in Nevada. I drove down from Whidbey Island—takes two days. We linked up in Vegas and then drove out, at the unGodly hour of 4 am (reminded me of being in the Army when everything always started at oh-dark-thirty, especially airborne operations) to drive the 120 miles to Rachel, Nevada. We stopped at the Little Ale’Inn. Then I led them out to the main gate to Area 51. We filmed for about an hour. I was technically the ‘expert’ about Area 51 for the host of the show. I’ve done shows before, Discovery Channel about Special Forces, etc, but this was interesting because we were filming in a place where you can’t film. Big sign says so. But also, we were on BLM land, not on Air Force aka National Security Agency land. We could see their cameras filming us. So I guess my license plate is in the database now.
And we didn’t run into a little grey, aka Paul, on the road.
The episode was about the Spear of Destiny and how it could have ended up at Area 51. The crew had filmed all over the world, tracking it. We had to film so early because the entire crew was flying to South America at 4 that afternoon.
I thought about it for the show, and I do have to say as former Special Forces, it would be a hell of a place to infiltrate successfully. On the west you’ve got the Nevada Test Site where they detonated 739 nukes over the years. I aint coming in from that direction. On the south, Yucca Mountain where they store nuclear waste. Ditto. And then the outer perimeter, which keeps getting expanded, is thoroughly covered by cameras, thermal, motion detectors, etc. And it’s pretty much wide open desert. No sneaking up. No parachuting in, because the airspace is as highly classified as that over the White House. And if you did get through outer perimeter, you still got dozens of miles to get to the actual facility, which has its own layers of guards and security. So, all in all, when the host asked me where I would secure something very important, I had to say it was Area 51.
On the drive back, I passed Pilot Peak in northeast Nevada. I have a scene in my book, Duty, Honor, Country a Novel of West Point & the Civil War set at the base of that mountain. It was pretty easy to see why the mountain was so important to early travelers. John Fremont named the mountain after Kit Carson went there and lit a fire to guide him in when they needed water. Both figures are in the book as I cover their 1845 expedition to California, where they ended up conquering California from the Mexicans.
One thing I love about being a writer is going to the places I write about to get the feel for them. When I walked the entire Shiloh battlefield, I was amazed at how places that resonate in history such as The Hornet’s Nest or Bloody Pond, were just these simple spots that you wouldn’t give a second glance to, but on which so much blood was spilled. Now that I’m back east in North Carolina, I will be revisiting a lot of Civil War locations for the second book in the Duty, Honor, Country series. For the new series spinning off of Area 51: Area 51: Nightstalkers, I think I’ve already spent enough time tempting the fates in Nevada.