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How One BRCC Employee Used Childhood Experiences and Combat Exposure To Craft a Book Trilogy

Imagine being an eighth-grader in an overseas boarding school. Cool, right? Now picture said boarding school being attacked by terrorists. 

“It’s the same thing as a school shooting, essentially,” said Luke Ryan, Black Rifle Coffee Company’s social media manager, and published author. “That kind of exposure to violence at such a young age really influenced not only my life but also Tyler Ballard, the main character for my new trilogy of books.”

Ryan may not have had a violent upbringing — to be clear, his home life was great — but he certainly had violent experiences that shaped his life. The first time he heard gunshots was when he was in third grade. As the son of missionary/aid workers, Ryan spent his childhood in Thailand and Pakistan. There’s something to be said for those experiences occurring at such a developmentally important stage of life, and the implications of that sort of trauma aren’t always visible until later.

“It’s very different experiencing combat as a civilian compared to as a soldier,” Ryan said. “If you die, you’re still gonna die trying to do something. You react out of fear or training as a soldier, but you experience that differently as a civilian. There’s no training; you don’t have anything to do. All you have is the fear.”

There’s a stark contrast between the two. For Ryan, experiencing combat as a soldier was almost deja vu. When he deployed to Afghanistan, he was not too far from where the attack on his boarding school had occurred only about a decade before.

Ryan explained that his childhood didn’t influence his joining the military, not directly, anyway. His childhood experiences were something he didn’t think about until after he joined the military and started experiencing combat as a soldier. In his opinion, at least when you’re a soldier, your hands know what to do, though you’re always going to be scared. 

Photo courtesy of Dead Reckoning Collective.

Processing that trauma happens differently for everyone. For Ryan, it’s a catalyst and an inspiration — he tries to siphon all his experiences into his writing. 

“The act of writing is very cathartic for me. You start to explore these ideas, and you learn a lot about yourself, and you’re forced to ask questions and unpack whatever is in your brain,” Ryan said. “You may be surprised what comes out. It’s like an inward self-psychological study on the gears that turn behind different human beings, and you can take a close look at the human experience in a different way when you’re reading and writing fiction.”

This trilogy of books is not Ryan’s first foray into the world of publishing. He has a rapport built with Dead Reckoning Collective, a publisher that works specifically with veteran authors. Ryan said his trilogy was the largest work of fiction that Dead Reckoning had published to date. The fact that it’s so supportive of its veteran authors speaks to similarities in Dead Reckoning’s and Black Rifle Coffee’s missions.

Photo courtesy of Dead Reckoning Collective.

The First Marauder is set four years after an apocalyptic event known as “the Red” and introduces us to Tyler Ballard, a 15-year-old struggling with the death of his brother following a skirmish over resources. Tyler joins the East Tampa Militia (yes, the books are set in Tampa, Florida) in an attempt to find vengeance, but he instead discovers a web of circumstances that are not as simple as his fractured heart may have wished. 

Tyler’s journey illustrates the discovery of war and those involved in it — from the soldiers in the dirt to the politicians barking orders and pulling strings. The second book will leap to Tyer at age 25, and the third book will show him at age 50. This first book, in particular, has a lot to do with understanding war and politics as well as the quality of endurance. As you read, you’ll see Tyler continuing to push, even when he doesn’t know what he’s doing. 

In creating this universe, Ryan gave himself an 80-year period to work with and explore the trilogy. He also hopes to expand it out past the trilogy. Though he knows the post-apocalyptic setting can be a little tired, with so many books and movies being created in that realm, it’s also a place that is so familiar to many. This familiarity is comparable to how many soldiers feel about war. Ryan explained that it boils down to basic human traits: grief, anger, courage, loss, and fear. These building blocks of the human experience become distilled on the battlefield, and everyone can relate to them.

“I have a rule that I write five minutes a day, which is really important because that usually cascades into at least 10 to 20 minutes,” Ryan said. “When the minutes turn to hours and hours turn to days, they can add up to something substantial. I’m a very meticulous outliner — the entire structure is outlined on notecards and boards. In fact, there’s a board for each act and a notecard for each scene.”

Photo courtesy of Dead Reckoning Collective.

“My time is super valuable because I don’t have much of it,” Ryan said. “I like being able to study these emotions in their purest form, and writing allows me to do that.”

The First Marauder can be purchased “pretty much wherever you can buy books,” and the second novel in the trilogy will be released in 2022. To learn more about Ryan, his work at Black Rifle Coffee, and his other publications, check out his “11 Questions & A Cup of Coffee” and profile articles by Coffee or Die Magazine.