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“John Mangan’s Into a Dark Frontier is cut from same cloth as the best of Vince Flynn and Brad Thor, a story written with authority and military authenticity. It’s a harsh look at a continent-wide battlefield, waged not only for land but also for the heart of freedom. Timely and exciting.” ―James Rollins, New York Times best-selling author
“John Mangan’s Into a Dark Frontier is a powerful, realistic, and daringly unique international thriller. Its near-future plotline is as brilliantly crafted as it is dark and foreboding, and the action scenes are visceral and utterly thrilling. Tormented but able Slade Crawford is a perfect anti-hero to root for, and Into a Dark Frontier is a surefire winner of a debut.” ―Mark Greaney, #1 New York Times best-selling author
“A riveting imagined what-if so real you wonder if it might even be possible. Tense, intelligent, harsh, and surprising, this thrill ride is drum tight in its execution.” ―Steve Berry, New York Times best-selling author
“Into a Dark Frontier is an international thriller of rare depth and complexity that would make the likes of John Le Carre and Robert Ludlum proud. But John Mangan goes both of them one better by injecting into the mix a loner hero with a gunfighter mentality fit for taming continents as well as frontiers, with Africa subbing for the Old West. A vision splendidly realized and tale wondrously executed.” ―Jon Land, USA Today bestselling author
“Mangan’s debut reads like he couldn’t get the words out and onto the page fast enough, which translates into a…blazingly fast and fun action thriller.” ―Publishers Weekly
“John Mangan’s Into a Dark Frontier plunges the reader into the chaos of an African continent where anarchy reigns. A near-futuristic scenario, one that could really emerge. Expect an overdose of action and danger that careens off the scales.” ―Robert K. Tanenbaum, New York Times best-selling author
“Its relentless opening chase sets the tone for Into a Dark Frontier, a winner for fans of techno-action novels. After eight deployments as a combat rescue pilot, its author knows what he’s writing about and does so with speed and insider details.” ―David Morrell, New York Timesbest-selling author
“Into a Dark Frontier is a hell of a debut novel with a terrifying plot and relentless action that made sure the only time I wasn’t turning pages was when I was looking over my shoulder.” ―Joshua Hood, author of Clear by Fire and Warning Order
LET THE GAMES BEGIN…
What made you venture into writing?
Initially, it was simply a love of story telling, but as my novel
developed it was the feeling that came from creating complex
characters and the environment that drives them. I think that the only
way to create an authentic story is to study yourself, your
relationships, and the human condition in general. People are what
drive a good story, and so you have to become an observer of
people. The pleasure of writing doesn’t just occur while sitting behind
a keyboard, it also comes from watching the world around you,
grabbing little tidbits of dialogue, vignettes, or interesting human
Do you have any favorite books or authors that influenced you
As a boy I loved the Jack London stories where life has been
distilled down to its most base, uncivilized components, where a
man’s fate is decided by fire, food and fang. In Jack’s world, that’s
where you find out who you are.
My novel starts off with our protagonist living squarely in the
modern world, surrounded by gadgets, technology and civilized
mores. But by the ending he has descended into a world that has
more in common with the bronze age than any other, a place where
the day is won by the strength of a man’s will and his willingness to
harness medieval savagery. Perhaps Mr. London would approve…
How long did it take you to finish Into the Dark Frontier?
The creation of the story wasn’t linear, with a precise beginning
and ending. Imagine dozens of seeds scattered across a garden, and
over several years the sprouting seedlings are gradually bound
together, trimmed away, uprooted and replanted until 6 years later
they have been woven into some semblance of a story. Then spend 4
more years pitching that mess to agents, re-writing, editing and
eventually hacking out 60K words. So to answer your question, it was
about 10 years.
Describe some challenges writing your first book.
One of the biggest problems was settling on a point-of- view.
Initially, I chose Third Person Omniscient and the narrator rotated
between the intertwined, converging stories of the Hero, the Sidekick,
and the Villain. This seems to be the most popular format in modern
thrillers but I couldn’t get it to work. The story always kept collapsing
back down to Slade and the peripheral stories always became
lackluster and fell apart. Eventually I realized that this was because
the story belonged to Slade and Slade alone, it was about his
journey. I started over and confined the narrator to Slade’s head and
his immediate surroundings, so the reader lives the story entirely
through his eyes. The advantage of this technique is that it makes it
very easy to generate a sense of mystery and spring surprises on the reader.
The downside of this technique is that it leaves a lot of unfilled
space in the story line, and readers will begin to fill that blank space
with their own preconceived ideas. Overcoming those preconceived
ideas can be extremely difficult, and if not overcome, can lead a
reader to misinterpret what the author is trying to communicate.
For example, IADF devotes only a few paragraphs of backstory
to illustrate Slade’s time in prison and subsequent decision to jump
parole. Recently, a professional review of IADF came out and they
mentioned how Slade had busted out of a “black-site” prison.
It sounds interesting, but unfortunately there was no black-site
and no thrilling jailbreak. The reviewer had filled in details that didn’t
actually exist. It’s only after you have feedback from a broad
audience that you can begin to see where you left holes for readers
to fall through. Actually, feedback like that is priceless, it shows how
much I have to learning about crafting a story.
What did you enjoy most?
When the characters began to say and do things that surprised
me, or they took the story in an unexpected direction. Once that
happened I began to feel like it was their world and I was just a visitor
to it. After that I wasn’t creating the characters or their story, I was
just a novice painter struggling to draw them properly and my
greatest responsibility was to make sure they weren’t
What motivates Slade Crawford?
Slade is a tragic character torn by competing and irreconcilable
instincts. First and foremost he is a wolf, with a wolf’s passion for the
kill. But he also has a sense of duty to his country, family and those
that depend upon him. Unfortunately, his killer instincts compel him to
return to the fight again and again, leading him to forsake the very
people that he claims he is protecting. Fighting is what he does best,
but a wife and child don’t need a fighter, they need a husband and
dad. So, he fails them, bigly.
Slade is also entering the autumn of his life and has begun to
look back on, and examine his failures. His doubts concerning his
own morality, and his need for atonement become central to the
story. In order to explore this side of his character I surrounded Slade
with a supporting cast chosen for their varying moral codes, ranging
from devoutly moral, to ambivalent, to amoral and then downright evil.
Watching Slade interact with these different people was one of the
most rewarding aspects of writing the book. I painted this facet of the
story with a very light brush as I did not want to come off as preachy.
If I was successful then I think that an attentive reader will experience
something a bit deeper than a straight action novel.
What was it like crafting a character like Slade?
It became extremely personal, as Slade is an amalgamation of
myself and several people that I know. Slade’s internal struggles are
not fiction, they come from the life stories of people that I care about.
The central tragedy that haunts Slade was taken from the real
experience of a soldier that I befriended a few years ago. I asked him
if I could use his story and he eventually gave me permission. I was
hesitant to use it, but in the end I was hoping that if my buddy could
externalize the tragedy, see it happen to somebody else, then
perhaps he could gain a healthier perspective on it.
So to answer your question, it was not easy, I felt like Slade’s
actions and responses had to be true to the real people that he
Lead us into your decision to choose Africa as a setting.
I wanted to create a modern story in the tradition of the classic
Westerns, and a Western requires two things: #1, a lawless land that
nobody controls, and #2, a place that settlers (pioneers) would
actually want to emigrate to.
There’s lots of places in the Middle East that fit the bill for
characteristic #1, but I can’t picture anybody packing up and
emigrating to Yemen. Conversely, Africa has the right combination of
political volatility, simmering violence, fertile lands and untapped
resources in which I could create a believable story.
Have you ever been there?
No, it’s one of the few places I haven’t been yet. For research I
read extensively about the Victorian explorers of the 1800’s and their
exploits in Africa. Much of the story’s sense of wilderness is based
upon what they experienced. I also spent a good bit of time doing the
ol’ Google Earth research expedition.
Describe your experience writing about action scenes versus
being out in the field.
I found that actual combat is far different from how it is depicted in
most thriller novels. Modern combat scenes are typically very detailed
and they portray combat as a series of discreet, separate events that
the subject is aware of and in control of; “He turned 45 degrees to his
left, raised the glock 9mm, aligned the sights on his targets center of
mass then squeezed trigger until…”
This technique builds a picture of what is happening, but it’s like
trying to understand sex by reading a medical textbook. Yes, you’ll
end up understanding what goes where, but you will be completely
clueless as to the human side of the experience.
The authors that I tried to emulate, and who best describe the
fear, confusion and altered-state reality of combat are James Salter,
Cormac McCarthy, James Frazier and Anthony Loyd.
Will this be a standalone or part of a series?
It’s set up to be a series. I’ve got the second book plotted out
but I am waiting on reader reactions to the first book before I make
some big decisions. I can reveal that Book 2 will focus on the
character Elizabeth and her response to what happened in Book 1,
but how I will tell her story is still in doubt. I don’t know if I’ll keep my
narrator confined to Slade’s head, share time inside Elizabeth’s head,
or shift over to her entirely. To be honest I’m terrified of trying to
represent what’s going on in her head, I’m pretty sure I’ll make a hash
of it and end up getting loads of female hate mail. We’ll see…
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