Two major pieces of wisdom from Bob Lee Swagger and Stephen Hunter

Stephen Hunter crafts some of the best books out there, and he easily ranks among my favorite authors.

I studied his novels extensively as I undertook the more mature phase of my writing career in my early twenties, and I’m now re-reading “Point of Impact” for at least the fourth or fifth time.

Quick sidenote: For those who don’t know, Hunter created Bob Lee Swagger for Point of Impact, as well as the books that follow in the series. And Swagger, aka “Bob the Nailer,” remains one of the best and most iconic characters you’ll find anywhere.

Here are two major pieces of wisdom from the great Marine Sniper, Bob Lee Swagger, that I just unearthed. Please note, in both scenes he’s describing a trophy buck that lives up above him, and that he’s named Old Tim.

First piece of wisdom: Strive to be tough

“Old Tim, scarred and beat up, with many an adventure behind him. Tim would be alone, too: Tim didn’t have a harem, and didn’t need one anymore. One year Tim had had a prong of antler shot off by some lucky city dick from Little Rock and looked out of balance for a whole season. Tim had limped another whole year because Sam Vincent, not as spry as once he’d been, had held sloppy and put a .45-70 softpoint — too much gun, but Sam loved that old Winchester — into his haunches, and only bled him bad enough to kill any normal buck.

“Tim was tough, Bob knew, and that was the kindest word he had for anybody, living or dead.”

Second piece of wisdom: Live in the present

“Bob loved their magic. When he had hunted men, there was no magic. Men were stupid. They farted and yakked and gave themselves away miles before they moved into the killing zone.

“But the deer, particularly the old Ouachita stags, appeared like ghosts, simply exploding out of brushy nothingness, as if they were superior visitors from another planet. And they were superior, in their way, Bob knew: their senses were so razor keen, everything focused on the next two minutes. That was their secret. They didn’t think about the last two minutes, which had ceased entirely to exist in the second after they were experienced, had evaporated entirely. They only thought about the next two minutes. No past, no real future. There was only now.”

One final endnote. For those who hate the thought of Bob Lee Swagger killing this fine deer, fear not. Bob only shoots it with a plastic bullet designed to stun the deer. And each year, he hunts it, shoots it in the spine with this plastic bullet, and then in the few minutes that it’s immobile, he saws off its antlers.

Bob doesn’t believe in killing, and he hates the thought that scores of hunters ascend into the mountains to kill this trophy buck. So his act of hunting and removing its trophy rack is one of mercy.

Keep the faith,

Stan R. Mitchell

Oak Ridge, Tenn.

About me: I’m a full-time, action-fiction author with books similar to Vince Flynn, Stephen Hunter, and Tom Clancy. I’m also a prior infantry Marine with Combat Action Ribbon, and a guy who spent 10+ years writing every day in the newspaper business. Please consider subscribing for email alerts — I mostly post about things that either motivate you, inspire you, or make you laugh.

What’s with the Nazi “SS” symbol on Nick’s chest? And why is he so unlikable?

Sold Out” earned a great review the other day. See it here:

And while we’re on the subject of “Sold Out,”I thought I’d address two recent complaints I’ve recently received about the book.

The first and most serious one concerned the Nazi “SS” symbol on Nick’s chest.

Well, the Nazi “SS” symbol isn’t something I made up. I had a buddy who I served with in 3rd Platoon, Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 8th Marines, who later became a Scout Sniper two years after I met him and got to know him really well. (This was roughly in 1997.) One day, a bunch of my friends were circled around him following his completion of Scout Sniper training and I walked up to see what was causing the commotion. Turns out, he had a Nazi “SS” symbol burned into his chest, exactly like Nick Woods in the book. (Same location, same terrifying font.)

My friend told me it had been burned into his chest with a coat hanger just a couple of days earlier.

When I said, “Man, do you know what that symbol is?,” he answered me with pretty much the exact dialogue that you find in the book. (In short, that it was not about the Nazi connotation but about the strength, quality, and pride portrayed by the German Army in WW II.)

My friend also said that all Scout Snipers got one burned into their chest. (At least at that time.)

Furthermore, I know of several Marine Scout Snipers who have read this book and given me feedback who have served since 1999 (when I got out) and none of them have mentioned the Nazi “SS” symbol scene, so I’m assuming it still happens. (Otherwise, I’m certain these men who provided me feedback would have said, “Bro, no one burns a Nazi SS symbol into their chest anymore…”)

Finally, as further proof, remember this news story from only 2012?

“Marine scout snipers used Nazi SS logo:”

I say all this just to provide some context and show where I’m coming from as the author. It’s not like I had some wild-haired fancy idea to put a very controversial thing into the book.

The burned “SS” symbol on Nick’s chest is like every other thing in the book. It’s part of either something I experienced while I served, learned from two of my best friends who went through Scout Sniper school, or researched and documented in the dozens of sniper books I’ve read over the past 15 years.

I’d also like to address why Nick is so unlikable.

Obviously, Nick really is jacked up in the head… He’s about as messed up as they come. Not only does he have PTSD, but he has higher than normal levels of paranoia because he was literally sold out by the government that he trusted.

And given that he’s killed a hundred plus guys in a series of missions he can’t talk about, he’s not your typical vet. He’s a dangerous animal that you don’t want to set off.

No, he’s not like some likable Hollywood character. Instead, he’s precisely like many vets you’ll meet in the real world.

And if I’m totally honest, I’d have to admit this: I wrote much of “Sold Out” right after my exit from the Marine Corps, when I was dealing with some serious paranoia and had spent the better part of four years fixated on the multitude of ways to kill people.

I was in a dark place, and I suppose the book reveals it.

Just as Nick Woods gets into a major fight with his wife over his paranoid thoughts and preparations for an attack on his home, I, too, dealt with that. Nick got caught with a gun under his sink and a secret journal full of suspected people following him.

I got into a major fight with my wife because I was unscrewing the electrical outlets in my home, convinced after a weird interaction at the mall — which I thought was with a CIA agent– that everything I said in the home was being listened to by the federal government. (This was in 1999 or 2000, way before the days of the NSA being in the news for listening and reading to every single thing that we say. Hi, NSA.)

My point is that the Nick Woods in “Sold Out” is far more real than you probably ever want to imagine.

We prefer images of soldiers and Marines returning home with a smile, hugging wives and kids and wrapped in the flag. We don’t want to think about those same men taking different routes to work, being startled in their sleep and seizing their wives neck, or nearly taking a dude out in the mall who approaches them twice with some weird comments.

But the veterans who have actually been through a lot are like that. They have wire triggers, they’re alert, and you don’t want to startle them. (Just ask one of my friends.)

And while many of you will say, “But, Stan, you’re so nice. This is all hard to believe,” you need to know that the Stan you see now is not the Stan you would have seen right after I got out. (And the Stan you see now is still half-crazy, lol!)

Love you guys. Thanks for all the support. Both of books continue to sell better and better and I owe each and every one of you greatly. (And, yes, “Mexican Heat” is still in final edits and get closer and closer to being published every day!)

Keep the faith,

Stan R. Mitchell

Oak Ridge, Tenn.

P.S. Please consider subscribing for email alerts of new posts.

 If you enjoy fast-paced books, you just might like my works. “Sold Out” tracks the life of a legendary Marine Sniper after a CIA unit decides to kill him for reasons of national security. “Little Man, and the Dixon County War” tells the uphill fight a young deputy faces after finding himself in the sights of a mighty cattle baron. And “Soldier On,” a short novel, follows the lives of several German soldiers in a depleted infantry company trying to make it through the final, miserable months of World War II.

Winter is coming, but you don’t have to despair

My friends and supporters know that I’m so dang close to getting Mexican Heat down. (For those who don’t know, Mexican Heat is the sequel to Sold Out.)

And for probably two or three weeks now, I’ve been telling my beta readers and close writing friends that it would be done… “Probably in a day or two.” Or, “Just two more scenes, most likely.”

And I’ve said that multiple times. “Probably in a day or two.” “Just two more scenes, most likely.”

And then tonight I cranked out another 2,700 words. (For me, that’s a marathon, by the way. I’m a plodder, not a sprinter — with a good night being 800-ish to a 1,000 words and an average one being 500 to 700.)

So, frustrated tonight, I decided to re-read my writing tips file that I’ve collected through the past ten-plus years, and do some online research. Maybe ole’ Stan was losing his touch, right?

I mean, the 2,700 words I wrote tonight felt solid. Like, really good. But, I just crossed 90,000 words and I still haven’t gotten to those two final scenes that I know must happen. (Most novels should aim for 60-80,000 words.)

Then, I read this by George R. R. Martin, a legend obviously, and felt instantly comforted.

  • “Sometimes these damn characters have a mind of their own and refuse to do what I want them to do”. — George R R Martin

So, the book will be done soon. Probably in a day or two. Just two more scenes, most likely.

And because you guys rock and are such great supporters of mine, here’s some serious motivation I found while trolling the internet, trying to confirm my writer skills weren’t dead.

From, again, George R R Martin. (And if you had to click that link above to figure out who he was, you should seriously punch yourself right in the face.)

Remember: Winter is coming

Valar morghulis — All men must die. I think an awareness of our own mortality is something that concerns most art and literature. But I don’t think that necessarily translates to a pessimistic worldview. Just like in the real world, my characters are only here for a short time; the important thing is that love, passion, empathy, laughter; even laughing in the face of death, is still possible. There is darkness in the world but we don’t have to give way to despair. One of the best themes in The Lord of the Rings is that despair is the ultimate crime. Winter is coming, but you can light the torches and drink the wine and gather around the fire and continue to fight the good fight.

Thanks for being such great supporters, guys. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it and how thankful I feel to be where I am, chasing my dream with every ounce of energy and courage that I can muster, trying to make it to that next mile marker just up the hill a ways.

And I promise: The book will be good. It will have multiple hand-to-hand scenes. And Nick Woods and his crew (yeah, I know, a new development for the typical sniper/loner) will bag some cartel dudes… (Okay, more like a lot of cartel dudes… But would you expect anything less from me?)

Oh, and it will be done soon. Probably in a day or two. Just two more scenes, most likely.

Keep the faith,

Stan R. Mitchell

Oak Ridge, Tenn.

P.S. If you enjoy fast-paced books, you just might like my works. “Sold Out” tracks the life of a legendary Marine Sniper after a CIA unit decides to kill him for reasons of national security. “Little Man, and the Dixon County War” tells the uphill fight a young deputy faces after surviving three years of war only to find himself in the sights of a mighty cattle baron. And “Soldier On,” a short novel, follows the lives of several German soldiers in a depleted infantry company trying to make it through the final, miserable months of World War II.