It takes a lot to impress me these days. Whether that’s because I’m old and set in my ways or I’m a just a little out of step with the world, jaded and tend to veer towards cynicism is open to debate, but whatever the reason, I’m not easily impressed by anyone or anything. Three years ago, while on holiday, I read a book called Seal Team 666 about a squad of Special Forces operators who push back against the things that go bump in the night and ensure, at any cost, that humanity is kept safe from all manner of other-worldy horrors. It blew me away. I mean it literally left me reeling, so I read it again. And again. The thing was, I’d never heard of the author, Weston Ochse before I read that novel, but you can bet your last dollar, pound, euro or whatever currency you call your own that I quickly rectified that mistake.
As soon as I was able to, I picked up and consumed the other tiles, Reign of Evil and Age of Blood, in the Seal Team 666 trilogy and read and re-read them a number of times. They were just as good, if not better than the first instalment. Then Weston Ochse wrote the Task Force Ombra trilogy (Grunt Life, Grunt Traitor and Grunt Hero) , which I also rabidly digested and have also gone back and re-read, a series that’s equal on all fronts to Seal Team 666. It solidified Ochse position as one of my favourite authors, as he’d managed to do the near impossible. He’d impressed the hell out of me six times in a row. And I’ll bet that if you pick up one of his books, he’ll impress the heck out of you too.
On the eve of the release of his new novel, Burning Sky, I was able to catch up with Weston to talk about Burning Sky, Seal Team 666 and much, much more. And this is what he had to say…
Interview by Tim Cundle
MM: For the benefit of the folks out there in Mass Movement land who might be familiar with you, would you like to introduce, and tell us a little about, yourself?
Weston: I’m a military veteran with 35 years of service and counting. I’ve written about 30 books and won a few awards. One of my books has been optioned to be a movie starring Dwayne Johnson. I have three Great Danes and am married to the author, Yvonne Navarro. I like Fly Fishing, wine, and exercise. My taste in music is so eclectic it will drive someone nuts. My favourites include Queens of the Stone Age, Highly Suspect, and Tech Nine. I’m currently listening to Sofi Tucker, 5 Seconds to Summer (who might have the album of the year), NAS, and Kendrik Lamar.
MM: Have you always wanted to be a writer and if so, who and what made you want to be author? Or was it something you decided to explore later on in life, and of so what was the lightbulb moment that made you realise that you were a writer?
Weston: I always wanted to be an author. I wrote a story when I was in 3rd grade that was published in the school newsletter that was so violent that the PTA had it recalled. It wasn’t until I was thirty that I started writing again.
MM: Which writer(s), if any, inspired you to write and made you want to be an author? And what was, and is, it about their work that made, and makes, you hold them in such regard?
Weston: Hemingway and his short stories. Bradbury and his ability to create wonder on the page. Cormac McCarthy and his themes of man vs nature and man’s inability to overcome nature.
MM: You’re also career military aren’t you? I know that you served in Army Intelligence for a long time and that you’ve worked, and still work, as a civilian / private sector contractor occasionally. What made you want to be a soldier?
Weston: I’d be dishonest to say that I joined because I wanted to. I joined, like most folks, because I had no better option. I’d already ruined two college scholarships. But as I began to see the world, I realized how much of it I never knew. Even now, there are those who think they understand things but have never left their hometown. It is knowing and learning that kept me going.
MM: And what did being part of something bigger than yourself, and serving in the military teach you about yourself and people? And how your experiences and service in the military prepare, and help, you for life as an author?
Weston: Travelling to more than fifty countries and working alongside the citizens of those countries taught me more about human nature and the nature of being human than anything I could have learned in school.
MM: I, and doubtless lots of other would be authors, have often been heard it said that writers should write what they know. Is that one of the reasons why a lot of your protagonists and characters either come from or a military background, or are still serving in the military? Because you have the experience to drawn from, to transform them into fully functioning, incredibly believable, relatable and immediate human beings?
Weston: Burning Sky represents my thirtieth book. My last seven have been either military Sci-Fi or military horror and have been my most successful. While my other books were written well, I think I’m able to instil a certain character—a certain heart—into the military books. So yes. Write what you know is important.
MM: Okay, let’s talk about your new novel Burning Sky. What can you tell us about it? Sell it to the folks out there? What was the writing process like for this book and where did you draw inspiration for it from, and what if anything, helped to inspire it?
Weston: I had a Post It Note about Alexander the Great and UFOs that I’d had sitting around for years. The edges were curled, it was coffee stained, but I never got rid of it. When my publisher asked me to pitch them a military horror series after the success of my military Sci -Fi series (Grunt Life, Grunt Traitor, and Grunt Hero) I found that Post It and decided that now was the time to use it. Only I didn’t make the story a Sci-Fi story, I made it horror. Once I figured out what I was going to write, and I plotted it, it took me about three months to write. It’s funny. Some are telling me it’s the best thing I’ve written. Some are even saying it’s the best military horror book ever written. I’m not sure about that. It didn’t feel different when I was writing it. But I did intentionally try and write the novel using the motifs and style of Cormac McCarthy, so maybe that’s part of the reason for its impact.
MM: Personally, I discovered your books via the Seal Team 666 series, a trilogy that I’ve red and re-read more times than I care to count and is, and I’m not trying to blow smoke up your backside, quite possibly my all-time favourite horror / Sci-Fi / Thriller franchise, so I have to know… Where did the idea come from? It’s such a wild, fantastic concept but works so well that it’s almost believable that an organisation like that could exist…
Weston: I love the fact that you’ve re-read my books. I can hardly ever re-read anything, so to have someone intentionally do it is quite an honour. Where’s the idea come from? My then editor Brendan Deneen and I said what if there was an even more special SEAL Team that captured Bin Laden and then it went from there. I’m always a fan of things hidden in plain sight. I’d love for there to be a real SEAL Team 666, so I wrote it as if there was.
MM: And do you have any more plans for further Seal Team 666 stories or novels? Talking of which, what’s the status of the long muted Dwayne Johnson film(s) based on the books?
Weston: Not yet. When and if the movie takes off, expect more SEAL Team 666 goodness.
MM: How do you see yourself? As a horror writer, a Sci-Fi author, a military science fiction writer or a creator of page turning thrillers? I’ve heard you described all of the previously mentioned and so was curious about which, if any, of those genres that you feel most comfortable being a part of and think that your work sits most easily in? Or do you prefer not to be pigeonholed or limited by genre boundaries and let your work speak for itself?
Weston: There you go. Trying to categorize me. My first novel, Scarecrow Gods, won the Bram Stoker Award for first novel. The Bram Stoker Awards are awarded by the Horror Writers Association, so I thought it was a horror novel. I pitched it to a New York publisher and was told that it was dark fantasy. Dark fantasy? I didn’t even know that was a genre. Over the years my work has been called many things, as you have noted. In the end, categorizing is for the editors and the book sellers. I’d just like to be known as a writer or an author—hopefully a good one.
MM: You’ve also authored comics, haven’t you? Most notably, a rather different take on Shazam for DC… Are you a comic book fan? Has the four colour universe always played a part in your life, and if so are you a Marvel or DC guy and which books have always been you go to titles of choice and why? Are comics something that you’d like to explore further at some point in the future? And if you could write the continuing story of any superhero or character from the world of comics, who would it be and why?
Weston: I’m a comic collector from way back. Bronze Age OG. My most valuable comic is an old Fantastic Four comic that introduces Galactus and the Silver Surfer. I loved the horror comics growing up, but my favourite series were Batman and The Defenders. The latter was the quintessential 1970s-1980s Bronze Age comic that was one of the first to have a female hero in charge of the team that also had African American members. At the time, I wasn’t so self-aware that I knew this was why I liked it. I just did. But now, looking back, I’ve always had a sense of global equality. In addition to my work with D.C., I’ve also had a short story printed in the back of several IDW comics. I dream about working in comics. I actually wrote a four part comic based on William F. Nolan’s Space for Hire Sci-Fi series that has been on the market for a while. I hope that gets sold so people can read it. Bill Nolan is a great guy and I love being partnered with him.
MM: Was, in your opinion, winning the Bram Stoker award for you debut novel so early in your career a boon or a curse? Do you think it hindered or helped you? Or did it help drive you onwards to strive to continually create? And do you remember how you felt when you found out that you’d won it? Do you want to tell us a little about it?
Weston: It could never be a curse. It’s an incredible honour. It helped me for sure. When I got the call, I was amazed. I didn’t think I had a chance in hell. I didn’t know anyone really. No one really knew who I was except through my short stories.
MM: And, honestly I have no idea how you find the time to do all of the things that you manage to do, you’re also involved in education and public speaking aren’t you? Would you like to tell us about those roles and how you became involved in both?
Weston: I believe in over-committing. I don’t know how, but I am able to find the time. It just works.
MM: I know it’s a little bit like asking which of your children is your favourite, but which of your books and characters up to this point in your career have been the most fun for you to create and write? And which do you identify with the most? Why?
Weston: My latest novel Burning Sky because it’s probably the best thing I’ve written.
MM: So is there anything that you can tell, or share with, us about Burning Sky? Any other titbits or morsels of information that tell us?
Weston: There are moments in the novel that will make every reader stop and remember. I’ve written something that will touch each of us down to our DNA. When you finish reading the novel, you will still think about it weeks later. I don’t know how I did it, but I did. This book will be remembered.
MM: What’s next for you Weston? What have you got planned for the immediate future?
Weston: I’m working on Dead Sky, the sequel to Burning Sky. I’m also working on rewrites to another novel that I’m about to announce the sale of and this one is going to be big.
MM: And if there’s anything that you’d like to add, now’s the time to do it…
Weston: No I need to get back to work writing the sequel. Thanks for the interview and thanks for Mass Movement. It’s uber cool.
Burning Sky is published by Solaris and is available now.