Author Interviews

Looking into the Sun: A Novel of the Syrian Conflict

Some truths are simply better portrayed in fiction than in non fiction. This was the title of the Amazon review which caught my eye.
During Todd’s times as a Naval Planner while working in Naples, Italy during the Arab Sprint he came across report after report of atrocities happening in Syria. Journalists would smuggle themselves in to Syria, capture video footage and then smuggle themselves out in order to publish that video. As a dad with two small children it was heart wrenching to see the devastation and suffering that these children were living in.
From that experience and with the desire to tell the story of the Syrian conflict and what it was doing tho the people of Syria Todd decided to write the Novel “Looking into the Sun”.

What is the back story behind your novel “Looking into the Sun” and why did you choose to share your experience in the form of a novel rather than memoir?

I was working as a Naval Planner and Strategist in the N5 (Plans, Policy, and Strategy directorate) at the US Sixth Fleet in Naples, Italy from 2011-2014. The Syrian crisis was going on since the Arab Spring began in 2012. I was researching the Syrian conflict as part of my job to dig into how the conflict could affect our own operations in the Mediterranean and those of our European allies. 

There was not a lot of detailed classified reports available on what was going on in Syria in the 2012-2013 time period when I was researching it as it was happening, but there were a few freelance reporters who had smuggled themselves into Syria to get dramatic footage and interview Syrians on what was going on in the country. The freelance journalists would smuggle themselves in – get footage and then smuggle themselves out and put their reporting on YouTube or sell it to new agencies. This is what Marie Colvin was doing in Homs, Syria when her position was mortared by Syrian government forces and she was killed. An excellent biopic film about her life, titled “A Private War”, was recently released. Journalists like her were what inspired me to write about the conflict from a journalist’s point of view who had smuggled in and out of Syria.  

I watched a lot of first hand reporting from those freelance reporters and was horrified at the carnage they were witnessing – much of it was not being reported in the mainstream media at the time. I had never been to Syria, but I took those reporter’s perspectives, wove their experiences into a fictionalized version of what they were seeing and started to write my novel. I chose to write a novel because none of these experiences were mine first-hand. However, every instance in the book had happened to a journalist or Syrian citizen at some point in the conflict. All of the things in the book were taken from real journalists who were there reporting on the conflict. Since those things did not happen to me personally, the book had to be novelized.

I decided to write a novel about this conflict because I was seeing the human casualties among the civilian population mount – to include lots of children. I have two small children and was floored to see the devastation these innocent Syrian kids were going through. I got mad at the main stream media that there was plenty of independent coverage but no widespread outrage until much later in the crisis and only after chemical weapons were involved. But the crisis was well underway at that point with many civilian casualties going unreported and unnoticed.

I wanted to shed light on this crisis and help garner awareness and support for non-governmental organizations (NGOs) (like Save the Children) that were doing a lot to help Syrian kids. All of my author profit from the sale of the book still goes to Save the Children’s Syrian Children’s Fund. So, whoever purchases it will be helping that cause directly.

What books had the most impact on you and your development?

I grew up reading lots of military history and biography. I was a history major at the US Naval Academy and have never stopped reading both non-fiction history and fictionalized techno-thrillers from authors such as Tom Clancy, Stephen Coonts, and Dan Brown.

Why is reading important for our Military and/or the Nation?

 I lean more toward non-fiction than fiction as I believe that there is great value in adding whatever one can to their deeper understanding of the complex world we live in. I am now serving as military faculty at the National Defense University’s College of Information and Cyberspace and have opened my reading aperture to much more science, technology, and philosophy books that help me to better understand our modern world. A few that I have enjoyed recently are “The Perfect Weapon” by David Sanger, “The Cybersecurity Dilemma” by Ben Buchanan, “On China” by Henry Kissinger, “The Hundred Year Marathon” by Michael Pillsbury, and “AI Superpowers” by Kai-Fu Lee.

Can you provide a specific example or story where reading (fiction or non-fiction) has helped you learn from others experience? Was there a specific challenge where you were able to rely on others experience to make your decision?

Reading has been a constant in my life and my time here at NDU has reinforced that, especially as a military officer, I must constantly be striving to educate myself and gain as much understanding of the world I am interacting with. I have been to many different countries and seen many different cultures and it is always valuable to have studies about the places, cultures, and histories to gain a bit more understanding than what is on the surface.

How has writing “Looking into the Sun”, and your screenplay “The Last Rescue” made you a better thinker and a better man?

The novel served as an outlet to voice my concern about a very real crisis and try to get more attention and support for the innocent Syrian children caught in the middle. I was very lucky to get an independent publisher (Pandamoon Publishing) to understand what my intention was for the book and they were more than eager to help me get it out in the world. 
I was equally blessed with getting an independent film producer (Mr. Eric J. Adams from Sleeperwave Films) interested in the screenplay. He has done excellent work in getting support for the film and we have recently gotten a director (Bobby Roth) attached to direct the film and he is hard at work to cast it with famous actors with the intention of raising awareness and getting continued support for Syrian kids.   

I’m no military helicopter pilot, I don’t have any life-threatening challenges, and I don’t even know anyone in the military. I’m just an average dad who lives and works in the suburbs, how would this book benefit me?

I wrote the novel to connect with the human interest of helping innocent kids. It is apolitical in tone but is highly emotional when it comes to the very real horrors it depicts. My publisher, Ms. Zara Kramer, told me that she wanted to publish the book because it “educated a middle aged woman who knew nothing about Syria and made me care about the kids in crisis there.”   

Other than your book, are there any books you would recommend be added to the Navy’s reading list?

I believe “Leaders Eat Last” by Simon Sinek is worthy of our attention from E-1 to O-10. It dives into the dynamics of how to think about the mechanics and human reasons and pitfalls of leading adults other than leaning only on military rank and the “because I said so” mentality. 

One of the first reviews on Amazon states “Some truths are better portrayed in fiction than nonfiction” Can you share how your novel can share truths rather than only entertainment value?

This is part of the reason why I wrote a novel. It allowed me to smash together a lot of the things I wanted to say about the world in a somewhat entertaining and sobering story between the cover of one single book. This is difficult to accomplish in non-fiction unless one is writing about the rich and engaging lives of some of life’s most experienced leaders. There is definitely a place for compelling biography, but outside that small group of humans, there is an infinite number of stories to tell that can give wisdom and highlight the human lessons we can all learn without experiencing them first-hand (which can be frustrating or even dangerous).

Todd grew up in San Diego, California where he enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1991. He served in the Marine Corps Reserve as an Infantry Scout and Light Armored Vehicle Crewman at Camp Pendleton, California, before he attended the U.S. Naval Academy (Class of 1998) where he earned a Bachelor of Science in History.
After graduation, he was commissioned as an Ensign in the U.S. Navy and served as a Surface Warfare Officer onboard a supply ship stationed in Bremerton, Washington, before he was granted a transfer into Naval Aviation. He earned his Navy “Wings of Gold” in 2002 and flew both the MH-53E Sea Dragon and MH-60S Knighthawk helicopters. He earned a Master of Arts in Diplomacy from Norwich University where he studied Europe and the Middle East extensively.
He also served with the U.S. Sixth Fleet in Naples, Italy (2011-2014), where he spent time studying international relations, global strategy, and regional conflicts throughout Europe and the Middle East. It was on this tour of duty that Todd saw the horrific toll the Syrian conflict was taking on innocent civilians, particularly, Syrian children.
His research drove him to write his debut novel, LOOKING INTO THE SUN, to raise awareness and garner support for Syrian children. He and his publisher are donating a percentage of proceeds to Save the Children.
Todd is still serving on active duty in the U.S. Navy and lives in Virginia with his wife, Bonnie, and their two children.

Todd Can be reached at: FaceBook, Twitter, or LinkedIn

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