When Brad Thor’s novel The Last Patriot debuted at No. 1 on The New York Times bestseller list, people around the thriller writer told him life was going to change now that he’d landed in publishing’s top spot. But he’s not resting on his hard-won fame. “I’ve worked so hard to get to this point,” he says. “All I can think about is working inch by inch to get here.” Thor has made a career of writing about the adventures of his unapologetically patriotic hero Scot Harvath, who Thor admits is his alter ego. H e writes political thrillers that ride the crest of current American values and fears, and he pulls no punches when it comes to writing about the threats of our times, including radical I slam. I n fact, Thor received death threats surrounding the publication of The Last Patriot. Still, he says he has no regrets about publishing the novel. “I live in America,” T hor says. “I have the right to write whatever I want. And it’s equaled by another right just as powerful: the right not to read it. Freedom of speech includes the freedom to offend people.” The outspoken author recently talked candidly to Writer’s Digest about censorship, the attributes of a great action scene, and the reason writers should never, ever trust the adage “write what you know.”
You majored in creative writing in college. Did you know when you s tarted writing your first novel after graduating that you wanted to write thrillers?
I sat down to write a novel and that’s what naturally came to me. I t starts out with a guy who comes home and finds his girlfriend tied to a chair, and it’s set in Paris. Some part of me knew. I think it’s because I love to read thrillers. I like books that have razor-sharp plotting that snaps and moves along. I t’s not about the main character being different at the end. I don’t want my main character to be different in the end. I still want him committed to his ideas, to be steadfast, true and loyal. That’s the strength of my books: This is a good guy. W e don’t have a lot of people right now in popular culture who stick to their guns, figuratively and literally.
How did you come up with your Scot Harvath character?
Scot H arvath is my alter ego, like D irk Pitt was for C live Cussler and Jack Ryan was for Tom Clancy. W e have an incredible warrior class in this country—people in law enforcement, intelligence—and I thank God every night we have them standing fast to protect us from the tremendous amount of evil that exists in the world. When I go out with them I ’m always happy to buy the beers and keep my mouth shut, and I listen to the way they speak. I listen to the things they say, and a lot of that makes it into my books. I take character traits and things they say to me verbatim.
How did you get your first novel, The L ions of Lucerne, published?
My wife and I were on our honeymoon and we ended up sharing a train compartment with a sales rep from Simon & Schuster, Cindy Jackson. I didn’t know she was a sales rep. W e had an overnight train together and we talked all night about books. She asked me what I was doing when I got back home and I said that I was going to write my first novel. And when we got into the train station in Amsterdam, we traded business cards and lo and behold, she’s a sales rep for Simon & Schuster. She said she’d love to read my novel.
How’s it feel to hit No. 1 with The Last Patriot?
It feels terrific. T here are writers who go their whole lives and never hit that No. 1 spot. It was so great to be at the ThrillerFest conference among my peers; it was incredibly humbling. Being on the Times list is fantastic, period. I landed at No. 7 last time. I ’ve never been nominated for an Academy A ward, but that’s how I describe it—getting No. 1 on the NYT list was like winning the Oscar. For the rest of your career you’ll always be a NYT bestselling author.
What do you attribute the dramatic initial success of The Last Patriot to?
This is my seventh book. I ’ve been building word of mouth about my books, and PR plays into it. I think there was a lot of anticipation for this book because of the subject matter, the death threats and so on.
Your plot questions the origins of Is lam and you’ve been receiving death threats. What kind of safety measures have you had to resort to?
Well, we had to sell our house. That was the big thing that happened very early on, and that was very unpleasant. I loved my house. My kids did, too, but we had to move. We brought in security people to assess our situation and that was the big thing that came up right away. They said we were extremely vulnerable in our old place. I’ve been cautioned that there’s a lot I can’t say.