Former U.S. Air Force pilot Brinn Colenda weaves real-life experience and political intrigue into his military thrillers. Homeland Burning (2018) is the second book in the Callahan Family Saga published by Southern Yellow Pine Publishing. You’ll find Brinn on his website BrinnColenda.us and on Facebook.
What is your elevator pitch for Homeland Burning?
Spring 2000: An international organization launches environmental terrorism attacks across New Mexico and the Southwestern United States. Wildfires destroy western mountain watersheds and municipal water systems, breached dams release tidal waves of water to obliterate farms and towns, and stone-cold shooters target helpless civilians. USAF Colonel Tom Callahan struggles to convince a skeptical U.S. intelligence community that enemy attacks on American soil are not only possible but inevitable. Callahan’s political enemies in Washington conspire to distract the President and ridicule evidence, forcing Tom to go rogue. He’ll need all the help he can get from aviators of the New Mexico National Guard, the Civil Air Patrol, and the Ninety-Nines (an international organization of women pilots).
What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
I love the Southwest, especially New Mexico, and I wanted to highlight the culture and the geography, both of which are unique. At the same time, the Southwest is particularly vulnerable to the attacks portrayed in Homeland Burning. I wanted to use fiction to point out some public policy issues that need to be considered and discussed without being preachy.
What was the most rewarding aspect of writing Homeland Burning?
The research. The characters. The storyline. The people I met along the way that helped—pilots, emergency management people, soldiers, firefighters, rangers, police, even a couple of cabinet secretaries.
How did the book come together?
It should not have taken as long as it did. I got caught up in my job as a councilor—but all those meetings and speeches turned into grist for the storyline. Probably about twelve months of actual writing. I am lucky to be in a superb writing group in Taos, which helped me immensely. Southern Yellow Pine Publishing of Tallahassee had published my second thriller, Chita Quest, the third in the Callahan Saga (yes, I wrote them out of sequence chronologically!), and jumped on Homeland, so I did not have any time delay from finished to published work.
What inspired you to start the Callahan Family Saga books? What sparked the story idea for the second in the series?
I got the idea for Cochabamba Conspiracy, the first book in the series, when I lived in Bolivia. Then I became intrigued with what happens to family dynamics when in danger or under other types of stress. The Callahan family happens to be military—military families are stressed under normal conditions. The stories are about ordinary people put in extraordinary circumstances and how they manage to survive and grow. I read a lot of thrillers so I decided to use that format. The idea for Homeland Burning came to me while I was serving as a councilor for the Village of Angel Fire. We were struggling with how to address the issue of emergency management, especially wildfires, and it occurred to me that the United States could be a prime target for ecoterrorism.
Tell us a little about your main characters.
I always have pilots and flying scenes in the stories. In Homeland Burning, I chose to highlight female aviators because I think they are usually overlooked. I am always amazed at how characters grow or crumble. One of the minor characters kept growing in stature and showed me that you could be gentle and kind without being weak. She became one of the stalwarts of the book, saved lives, taught lessons in humility, and essentially saved everybody. The antagonist went a little nuts and the Callahans were taken to the edge of their capacity to cope. I love my characters and often have conversations with them. They are all strong-willed and often they do what they want, not what I want.
You began your writing career later in life. What did your mature self bring to the writing table that your younger self never could have?
I was lucky in my career—I flew cool planes, lived in distant lands, and worked at reasonably high levels in government. I met many interesting and complex people. I developed a “big picture” of life and of international politics that I did not have as a young man.
Who are your favorite authors, and what do you admire most about their writing?
Ken Follett, Isabel Allende, Arturo Perez-Reverte, Daniel Silva, Dick Francis. They all tell compelling stories, beautifully written. I nearly cry when I read Allende and Perez-Reverte. Their translations are better than anything I can write—I can’t even imagine how beautiful their written words would be in the original Spanish.
Do you have a message or theme that recurs in your writing?
My female characters are strong, competent, and confident—able to handle dangerous and often bizarre situations. They are not the kind of women who are usually portrayed in thrillers, but they are the kind of women in my family and circle of friends. I like to take readers to exotic locations to broaden their horizons. I pride myself on the quality of my research so readers learn interesting things as they enjoy the story.
What writing projects are you working on now?
I am writing a Young Adult thriller using some of the Callahan characters. It will “star” the Callahan’s sixteen-year-old son as he spends a semester abroad in Ireland and faces a decision between the easy way out and the right thing to do.
KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. She has a new speculative fiction blog at klwagoner.com and writes about memoir at ThisNewMountain.com.