[David E. Meadows / SixthFleet.Com]
Welcome to SixthFleet.Com,
the Cyberspace Home of author David E. Meadows.
"When Meadows' men set sail, it's sure to be a mission like no other."
--W.E.B. Griffin

"Rip-snorting, realistic action-adventure from a man who
has been there. David Meadows is the real thing,"

--Stephen Coonts author of numerous bestsellers, including
Flight of the Intruder, Saucer, America, and Liberty.

"An absorbing, compelling look at America's future place in the world. It's
visionary, and scary. Great battle scenes, believable heroes, plus villains
you'll love to hate!"

-Joe Buff, bestselling author of Straits of Power, Tidal Rip, and Crush Depth.

"David E. Meadows is simply the best writer of naval thriller/adventure fiction out there today."
--Tom Wilson, acclaimed author of Black Canyon, Desert Fury, Tango Uniform and other best selling military thrillers.

INTERVIEW WITH DAVID E. MEADOWS

by Christy Tillery French

Re-Published with permission from: Guest Interviews
Find interviews from authors, poets, publishers, directors, and many more...

David E. Meadows is author of the Sixth Fleet series published by Berkley Books, a division of Penguin Putnam. The books in the series published to date are: The Sixth Fleet, The Sixth Fleet: Seawolf, The Sixth Fleet: Tomcat, and the Sixth Fleet, Cobra. His next book, Joint Task Force Liberia, will be released in 2003. It is the first in a new four book series. Joint Task Force America and Joint Task Force Phoenix are due for release in 2004. Meadows is a Captain in the United States Navy with extensive experience in aircraft and surface ships. He is currently stationed at the Pentagon, assigned to the Joint Staff of the Joint Chief of Staffs.

Welcome David, and thank you for taking the time to answer my questions.

This is one question I have to ask. You are known as "Igor" in the Navy. What is the background behind the nickname?

Igor was a nickname given me when I first started flying. I have yet to meet a aviator or aircrewman who doesn't have a handle—a nickname. I had the graceful distinction of crewmembers bestowing "Igor" on me. It could have been because I'm six foot seven or it could have been because some thought that Igor was Russian for David, then again it could have been the gym locker episode...

You hold a MS in National Resource Management and an MBA and Bachelor of Science degree in Arabic/Middle East Studies. That certainly comes into play considering the world situation today. Is your expertise in this area the reason you are stationed at the Pentagon? Can you tell us more about what you do there or is that "classified?"

I am a cryptologic officer in the U.S. Navy. Within the cryptologic field are various specialties. The Navy trained me in Arabic and French, which earned minors in both language. On my own initiative, I earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Arabic/Middle East Studies from University of La Verne while stationed at Naval Security Group Activity Athens, Greece. I speak neither fluently to the point that I have been offered unlimited libationary compensation by native Frenchmen if would never, ever again speak their language.

I was sent to the Joint Staff because of my cryptologic background in Information Operations—a benign name for fighting on the cyber battlefield.

It was interesting to read that you are a career cryptologist and have woven this interesting field into your series through background characters. It's a little disconcerting to read that the Navy is the only branch of the Armed Forces that has retained the specialty of cryptology. What are your feelings about this?

I think the other services have a loss they can never recoup. The cryptologic community has been responsible for giving the edge to our warfighters in winning more battlefield successes than any single community within the military. Cryptologists have the only skill sets to tell enemy intent. Any intelligence officer can tell you enemy location; enemy movement; and enemy order of battle; but it takes a special skill to determine enemy intent.

We (cryptologists) always like to point to the World War II success at the Battle of Midway as the crowning moment in cryptology. Hal Holbrook plays Commander Joe Rochefort in the movie "Midway" where they (cryptologists) break the Japanese code. Today, we still have those different colored housecoats like the ones he wore in the movie. Mine is blue and hangs alongside my raincoat collection.

I think as time progresses and certain documents become declassified, other significant successes will come to light, but as we move into the future, the Navy will be the only service with a trained cadre of personnel capable of taking the cryptologic skills of the past into the information warfare of tomorrow.

It goes without saying that Berkley Books is a well-known, well-respected publisher. When did you first realize you wanted to be an author and what is the span between that time and when you were first published? Were you represented to them through an agent? How long did the process take for you, from submission to publication

I first realized I wanted to be an author when I was in high school ghost writing weekly English papers for other jocks and charging them a buck for each paper. The experience was professionally and financially rewarding. Of course, no good deed goes unpunished. The adverse side effects of ghost writing these papers became obvious when my customers began receiving better grades than me.

Therefore, I tried to skew the results to improve my English grades. It failed miserably. I think the teacher knew and that was her way of punishing me. Of course, I have come to realize with age that just because you're paranoid doesn't necessarily mean you're wrong.

I was 17 when I was writing those papers and 49 when Berkley Publishing Group signed me for my first contract; a contract for four books. Many people would say that's a long time, but I wanted to make sure the English teacher wasn't still out there waiting.

Writing! I have always wanted to be a writer. If you really want to write, then you write, regardless of whether you are ever published or not. I had this burning desire to tell tall stories; tell them in a way that the reader would keep turning the pages, chasing the action. I wanted to toss away those paragraphs readers glance over while chasing the action; those paragraphs that bog the reader down in a techno-babble swamp.

I started writing seriously while I was the Commanding Officer of Naval Reconnaissance Support Activity in Rota, Spain, in the early 1990s. I had bought my first computer and discovered the joys of word processing. Plus, I had spent our income tax return to buy this computer and my better half wanted to know what I intended to do with it now that I had it. Told her I was going to write a novel. "Good," she said, handing me a large plastic bag. "Carry out the trash before you start."

My first manuscript was about the 1820s Indian Wars in Georgia. When I typed 'THE END,' I leaned back in my chair, crossed my arms behind my head, and sighed. I knew this manuscript was the great American novel. I knew in my heart this manuscript was so great because I wrote it; I read it; and, I loved it. What better reviewer could an author have other than himself? How could anyone feel differently? This was a page-turning epic that soon would have the agents and editors fighting over it.

Uncrossing my hands, I opened a new file and typed my first query letter. I soon discovered the only fight over the manuscript was how quick they could get the rejection slip in the mail.

After a couple of years, and following our return to the United States in 1993, I put a different perspective on my writing. I knew I had to write. I enjoyed it too much to stop, therefore I would become a purveyor of fine rejection slips. A collector of these fine works of art from professionals in the literary world. I saturated the agency world with query letters and they filled my post box with rejection slips. They came from everywhere. I think my name was passed around the secret world of literary agents, including those I had never submitted who sent me rejection slips before I had even mailed a query letter to them. While other friends of mine collected matchboxes, lampshades, erotic novels and made calendars from photographs of road kill, I collected rejection slips. During this period of literary purgatory there would be moments when I really felt down—felt that no one would ever read my stuff. Whenever that happened, I would pop a beer, sit cross-legged on the deck and read my collection of rejection slips. I never figured out why I did this because it never helped me feel better, but it did give me an excuse on hot August days to have several beers.

As a dedicated collector of rejection slips and President of my own "Rejection Slips I have Grown to Love" club, I organized them in chronological order. Then, in the mid-1990s, I read a Writer's Digest article that opined this theory that budding writers could track their improving writing style to the quality of rejection slips. Flipping through the stacks of rejection slips collected over the years, I discovered that the earlier ones looked as if someone had ripped a piece of typewriter paper into thirds; stamped it with a tactful formatted rejection; and, while wrinkling their nose from the smell and holding the rejection slip cautiously between two fingers, they had slipped it into the Self-Addressed Stamped-Envelope and tossed it into the outgoing mail stack.

Continuing to thumb through my collection, I noticed that sometime during the second year of my query letter campaign, I started receiving requests by agents to submit my manuscript for review. The rejection slips didn't stop with this new twist, but I started receiving rejection slips that were typewritten; some even personalized. Somewhere near the end of that period, a few agents even took the time to handwrite a response. (Of course, that could have been because they wanted nothing in their computers to indicate they had ever asked to see one of my manuscripts. ——By then, I had completed two more unpublished novels.)

Most agents were very encouraging with some providing comments on how to improve the manuscript such as, "throw this mess away and start over," or "I'd gag if I'd been able to eat anything after reading this" and, my favorite, "Is this Candid Camera?"

I was ecstatic. They were reading my manuscript. How did I know? Because like all budding authors who doubt that anyone would ever read their manuscript, I had developed what I knew were little things to tell me when someone had read it. Things no one would notice except me. I would turn one page of the manuscript upside down, so the reader had to turn the paper around to read it. I would sometimes put a small drop of glue between two sheets so the reader would have to pull the pages apart. It never occurred to me that agents knew all these little things writers do until I received a rejected manuscript with coffee rings on numerous pages and the comment within the rejection slip, "Just wanted to assure you I read every page of this manuscript. I had a full cup of coffee when I started and I had a full, cold cup when I finished. I read it and have come to the conclusion that you should stay in the Navy." I sent a thank you note to the agent with a large coffee ring in the center of the note.

Of course, by the time, I received the 'coffee ring' rejection, I had just finished my third manuscript and decided to spruce up my query letters. I changed to 24lb beige paper, stopped using crayons, and started a new round of query letters. I develop this OPLAN (Operational Plan - a military term referring to what at one time could have been called a War Plan.) I was going to treat my manuscripts as if they were warships. Warships don't do near as well in completing their mission when they're moored dockside and manuscripts can't be published if they stagnate on your desk.

I read Writer's Digest religiously, though I never went so far as to light a candle when the next month's issue arrived. I learned a lot from this close relationship and to this day, I still subscribe to the magazine and am an active member of the Writer's Digest book club. An article in Writer's Digest suggested keeping a 5-deep list of agents who you believed represented your style and genre. As soon as a rejection slip explodes out of your mailbox, immediately mail a new query letter to the next agent on your list. (WARNING! Never use the same query letter. Always write a new one for each agent. Otherwise, you run the risk of the agents knowing each other or, even worse, sending a letter to 'Joan' that refers to her as 'Bob' in the text of the letter. I never bothered sending another query letter to Joan.)

We left the United States in 1995 for a four-year tour in London, England. (I know, I know………it's a horrible job, but someone has to do it. Do you know there are tens of thousands of pubs in London. This added a new hobby to my other one of collecting rejection slips.)

While living north of Hyde Park near Saint Mary's Hospital, I started my fourth fiction manuscript on the Indian Wars of 1820s. I was halfway through it when my wife and best friend, Felicity, told me I should write what I know about. I gave that a lot of thought. She never reads Writer's Digest and they had said the same thing. It was an epiphany. I fell on the floor, wrapped my arms around her leg, and thanked her for the insight. She told me to behave; act my age; and carry the trash out.

On a trip to visit the staff of the Commander, U.S. Sixth Fleet, the idea of a book about this forward deployed U.S. Fleet that owns no ships, but has been involved in every Middle East crisis since World War II flushed itself out. I started writing the book in 1998 and finished it the same year. By then, we were down to the final six months in England. I decided I would take a shot at going directly to a publisher and see what slush pile rejection slips looked like.

I submitted a query letter about THE SIXTH FLEET to Penguin Putnam to an editor whose name I had discovered in the acknowledgement section of an author who wrote military thrillers. (I forget the name, it's been so long, but it could have been Stephen Coonts, Dale Brown, Tom Wilson, or Michael DiMercurio.)

A month later, I got a reply from a different editor who was with Berkley Publishing Group. The Berkley editor had informed me that Penguin had passed my query letter to him. He asked to see the manuscript, so in February 1999, the manuscript for THE SIXTH FLEET sat sail for New York. Berkley Publishing Group is a paperback imprint for Penguin Putnam.

While my manuscript was enjoying its port call at Berkley, my family and I returned to Frederick, MD, where we still owned a house from our tour in Washington in 1993.

The Navy marched me off to the Industrial College of the Armed Forces at Fort McNair in Washington D.C. to study for a Master's degree in National Resource Strategy - Information Operations Curriculum. This was to help prepare me for duty on the Joint Staff of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. I checked on board ICAF in July 1999. Around the same time, the Berkley editor contacted me and asked if he could hold the manuscript for another couple of weeks. I figured after six months, two more weeks wouldn't hurt. Besides, our furniture had yet to arrive. The only thing we had in our house was a new Dell computer, four sleeping bags, and a coffee pot.

August 1999, Berkley Publishing Group bought THE SIXTH FLEET with a provision that I write three more books using the same characters and story line. Luckily, I had finished the sequel during this period and was able to ship SIXTH FLEET-SEAWOLF. Their offer was on a Tuesday. By Thursday, I started receiving telephone calls from agents offering to handle me; a couple of agents I remembered from their rejection slips.

The week before Berkley Publishing Group made its offer, I had restarted my search for an agent and the first one on my list was a Nancy Coffey with Pinder Lane & Garon-Brooke Associates. My letter and her email passed each other along the information highway. I had found her name acknowledged in a book titled 'Invasion' by Eric Harry; an author whose writings I enjoy.

It was only after we signed the contract that I discovered the Berkley editor I was working with had handled such great writers as Tom Clancy, W.E.B. Griffin, Dale Brown, and Stephen Coonts.

A note here: This Berkley editor, Mr. Tom Colgan, deserves the credit for the SIXTH FLEET titles. Originally, they had names such as BLOOD ACROSS THE MED and ESCAPE FROM ALGERIA. I think the tweaking of the title to SIXTH FLEET contributed to the success the series continues to enjoy. Lesson learned is that titles matter.

The short answer to your question, is that it took me eight years, a hundred or so rejection slips, two computers, and eight hundred sixty British pubs until I got published. My number one British Pub is the O'Conor Don -- the Guinness flagship pub located on Marylebone Lane about two blocks north of Oxford Street. I mention this pub in my book COBRA. If you go in there, tell them Igor sent you, they'll ask you for money to help pay my bar tab. My photograph is hanging somewhere in the O'Conor Don. If you find it, please let me know where they have it.

Could you explain what the Sixth Fleet series is about? So far, there are four published books in this series. How many more are in the series?

The central plot of the Sixth Fleet series is about how a downsized U.S. military must respond to a chaotic North Africa scenario caused by Islamic extremists attempting to combine the countries from Morocco to Sudan under one flag; one country. Each book has several subplots that complement the series as the reader watches through the eyes of the men and women who must rise to the occasion that desperate straits sometimes force upon them. Joe Buff, the author of Crushed Depth, called the series 'visionary.' I have had other comments about how the books seemed to foresee the terrorist era in which we are living and confronting.

There are only four books in the series and the last one was released in August 2002. Amazon still carries the four as top best sellers for their Men's Adventure/War Fiction list. Berkley Publishing Group in their announcement of the upcoming JOINT TASK FORCE series called the SIXTH FLEET highly successful.

Can you give us a brief summary of what Joint Task Force Liberia deals with?

JOINT TASK FORCE LIBERIA is a story where a stable Liberian democracy exists. In furtherance of this democracy, and following the Israel model, Liberia offers Afro-Americans dual citizenship. An enclave of Americans have moved back to Liberia and have carved a small town out of the central jungle of Liberia. A coalition of African nationalists and Islamic Jihadists overrun the Monrovian government, torturing and executing Americans.

The Commander, United States Amphibious Group Two, sorties east to rescue the Americans and restore order. PHIBGRU Two's job is simple; liberate and evacuate the trapped families in Liberia. But, in today's geopolitical climate, nothing is simple. The French dispatch a two-carrier battle group to stop the small American Amphibious Task Force from what the French perceive is an American end-run to further expand its influence in Africa——a continent the French have always viewed as their area of influence.

The manuscript for JOINT TASK FORCE AMERICA has been finished and submitted. I am writing JOINT TASK FORCE PHOENIX now, but have not selected a name for the final book in this four-book series.

You have received accolades from some pretty well-known authors. Congratulations. But what I wonder is, whose opinion do you value the most?

Every comment and suggestion from the those authors have been treated with great respect for they have traveled a lot further along this literary road than I have. While I have deep admiration for all the authors who have so kindly provided accolades for THE SIXTH FLEET, the opinion of my wife and best friend, Felicity, is the most valuable one. I can bounce variations of a plot off her and from her expressions, I can tell whether I'm the only one who thinks it's an acceptable twist or not.

I like to bounce character names off her such as Tucker Raleigh who is a Navy SEAL Commander in JOINT TASK FORCE AMERICA and see what mental profile the name evokes. I kept the Tucker character even though she saw him with a full head of hair and knees that worked.

Do you have an agent? In your opinion, how valuable is an agent to an author, published or unpublished?

Yes, I do have an agent. Nancy Coffey remains my agent. Last year she set up her own agency independent of Pinder Land & Garon-Brooke and took me with her. Agents help you get your foot in the door. My success from the slush pile is unique. If you decide to go that route, then start with a query letter so your manuscript stands a chance of being looked at.

Agents do the negotiating with publishing houses and arrange for your books to be shown to oversea publishers. They serve as sounding boards for book proposals and even provide their own ideas for books. I am an anomaly in that I had a contract offered by a major publishing house before I had an agent. When I was talking with Mr. Colgan over lunch in New York in May 2000, he told me how my offer came to be, which helps highlight why you need an agent.

He decided one day to go through this huge stack of 'slush' pile manuscripts; read a few pages; and dash off a rejection slip. Mine was one of the first he pulled because he felt obligated to tell me something since they had had the manuscript so long. (This was before he called and asked to keep the manuscript an extra couple of weeks.) He started reading it; found himself still reading it many pages later, and then took it home to read over the weekend. He liked the way it ended, leaving the reader wanting to read a sequel. The bottom line was he was fully prepared to reject it, but the first few pages captured his attention so that he read the entire manuscript.

The lessons learned is that editors depend on agents to find writers that will earn money for the publishing house and those writers being represented by an agent get first looks from a busy editor. (From reading Publishers' Week and my own interface with Mr. Colgan, I have come to the subjective conclusion that editors are always overworked. They have very little free time—ergo, they depend more on agents to find that Tom Clancy, Stephen Coonts, & Earnest Hemingway for them.) Another lesson is that your query letter and your manuscript has to capture and hold the attention of the agent and/or editor that is reading your submission. Otherwise, the query letter is never finished and the manuscript seldom survives the first five pages.

Do you feel as if you've reached a point in your life where you can sit back and say, well, I'm there, or is there something else you wish to accomplish, some other goal you have set for yourself?

Gosh, no! I don't think any author regardless of how successful ever feels they have reached a point where their success is guaranteed. I used to worry about being published, now I worry about staying published. Even with my 5th novel, JOINT TASK FORCE LIBERIA, coming out September 2nd to acclaims based on THE SIXTH FLEET success; and with two novels scheduled for release in 2004 and another for 2005, I cross my fingers and hope the readers enjoy them.

I truly enjoy writing and I enjoy the military thriller genre. I have several other projects outside the military thriller genre that I am working and when I retire from the Navy will pursue them. That is my other goal in the field of writing.

I also want to hike the Appalachian Trail; sail the Atlantic inter-coastal waterway; barhop in Rota, Spain again; hold up the bar at the O'Conor Don in London; be drafted as a Chippendale dancer; and, offered a fold-out opportunity for the AARP Playgirl edition. I believe the Appalachian Trail, inter-coastal waterway, and visiting pubs in two countries are doable. I don't think I have the stamina nor desire to read the rejection slips that would come from pursuing the other two things.

What is the most important piece of advice you would give an unpublished author?

Write, write, write. Then, when you're finished, throw the first few pages away and edit, edit, edit. Several important facts:

  • a.You can't publish something you haven't written.
  • b.You can't publish something an agent or editor haven't seen.
  • c.You can't publish bad writing regardless of how moral a person you are and how much God loves you.
  • d.Every author meets thousands who have always wanted to write, but never had the time.
  • e.No one who wished to write ever got published who didn't sit down put words to paper.
  • f.Read each rejection slip carefully for its value, for these rejection slips come from people who know the publishing industry and know what will sell.
  • g.Publishing is a business. If it won't make a profit, it won't be commercially published.
  • h.Manuscripts sitting at home use up time in a writer's search for publication.
  • i.The first few pages of a manuscript are usually useless to the story.
  • It was interesting to note that several of your favorite authors are also my favorites, including Stephen King and Dean Koontz, and that you and I both hold King's The Stand in high regard. Of your favorite authors, which author(s) do you consider your writing style closest to, if any?

    That is a hard question to answer. I have always thought my writing was distinct from others. If I had to choose one, who I think my writing best resembles, I would have to choose W.E.B. Griffin. He writes great series with books that stand-alone.

    What, in your opinion, is the best avenue an author can pursue to promote themselves and their writing(s)?

    New authors are not going to get much of a publicity fund from the publisher. You need to be proactive, going out and scheduling book signings and appearances. Write and email reviewers and authors offering them copies of your books and asking them to consider providing you a blurb or quote you can use. When approached by new authors who ask the same from you, if possible provide them the same. Spend the money (tax deductible, by the way) and buy business cards or bookmarkers and give them out freely. Send out flyers announcing your new books. Go professional on your web page. It's not as expensive as you think. Visit http://www.sixthfleet.com to see the one by Parker Information Resources who has a business focus on writers. They handle Dale Brown, Joe Buff, Michael DiMercurio, Tom Wilson, me, and others in the military thriller genre.

    In addition, join the Writer's Digest Book Club. I have built my writer's reference library from them and there are books available through WDBC about self-promotion. If you don't subscribe to magazines that cater to writers, then do so. Even experienced writers learn something from reading them.

    What is your current WIP?

    My current Work in Progress is JOINT TASK FORCE PHOENIX; the third book in the four book JOINT TASK FORCE series. We recently moved (two weeks ago) and I have just started this novel. Before we moved, I reviewed the synopsis and wrote a chapter-by-chapter outline. I am halfway through the first draft for Chapter 1 subtitled 'The Spy is Discovered.' I don't use subtitles for the chapters in the finished product, just during the chapter by chapter outline phase.

    I have an non-contracted manuscript titled "The Checker Players" that I am working when I have spare time.

    I read that you are an antique fanatic and like to frequent auctions and antique shows with your wife. What else do you like to do in your spare time?

    Right now, I have little spare time. I write a lot during the early morning hours during the week before I hop in my old Ford Crown Victoria and fight the I-270 traffic to Washington D.C. to the Pentagon. I leave around 5:30AM and return around 7:00PM every day. On weekends, I sleep until around 5:00AM, write until around 10 AM and then do those myriad of things that husbands and fathers do. Weekends are mostly for writing new stuff and weekdays are mostly for editing. I find if I cut out sleeping all together, I could have a couple of hours of free time, but the neighbors frown on cutting the grass at midnight.

    David E. Meadows / SixthFleet.Com
    David E. Meadows
    Washington D.C.

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