National Press Club

Marine follows a hero's journey in new novel by Tom Young

July 16, 2014 | By Mark Krikorian |

``I will confess to you it's easier to write a novel when you're using a plot somebody else already came up with three thousand years ago."

That was novelist Tom Young joking to a National Press Club Book Rap July 15 on how he derived the structure of his new military thriller, "Sand and Fire," from the work of Joseph Campbell, the noted scholar of comparative mythology.

Young explained that Campbell found in epic stories across many cultures "a common plot pattern that seems to have universal appeal," which he called the "hero's journey." "I've used elements of that plot pattern in the past," Young said, "but this is the first time I've tried to write a novel that followed the whole circle of the hero's journey."

In "Sand and Fire" that hero is A.E. Blount, a six-foot-eight Marine gunnery sergeant whose grandfather was one of the first black Marines. A hero's journey starts with a challenge that demands action: "In Blount's case, it's a chemical weapons attack that kills his former commander," Young said. "In another story it might be because some moron steals Helen and takes her to Troy."

"Sand and Fire" is the fifth in Young's series featuring characters Michael Parson and Sophia Gold. The author didn’t want to give out any spoilers, saying only that "when it comes to Blount, the bad guys don't know who they're messing with. He embodies that old Marine Corps saying, 'No better friend, no worse enemy.'"

While writing "Sand and Fire" Young also wrote a novella, "Phantom Fury," offering more of Blount's backstory than could be comfortably fit into the main novel. It is available as an e-book.

"'Phantom Fury' and 'Sand and Fire' are, in large part, tributes to the Marines," said Young, who served more than 20 years as a flight engineer for the West Virginia Air National Guard. He flew in Kosovo, Bosnia, Afghanistan, Iraq, the Horn of Africa, Latin America, and elsewhere before retiring last year.

Young, an NPC member and former broadcast journalist, also introduced Jeff Koeppel, who gave a progress report on the possible movie version of Young's first Parson & Gold novel, "The Mullah's Storm." Also offering comments was Barbara Van Dahlen, president of Give an Hour, a non-profit offering free mental health services to military members, which the film project supports.

Mike Curley of the NPC Book & Author Committee introduced Young.