While I served in the US Army Infantry, I never had the opportunity to work my way up and into the spec ops community. However, I have had the honor of being good friends with several men who did, several of whom I met through the martial arts. So writing the stories I love to write involves relying on stories from those friends, research, and my wandering imagination.
Check out this author’s interview published on Titan Literary after Serpents Underfoot received another amazing 5-Star review.
Serpents Underfoot finds JD Cordell facing a terrorist group that plans to detonate nukes on US soil. What were some sources that informed this novel’s development?
This story grew out of thoughts I have had about what it would be like to be a Spec Ops warrior. I served in the military and spent most of my time overseas. I served in the Army infantry, and when I enlisted, I scored high enough on the ASVAB test to get Ranger School in my contract. Unfortunately, when they discovered I had a slight speech impediment, they would not send me to Ranger School. They were going to let me out because they couldn’t honor their end of the deal, but I asked to stay. Hell, I could still shoot pretty darn well. So, I guess it is, at least in part, a fantasy about what might have been.
Combine that with a lifetime study of martial arts, the political climate at the time, my interest in Asian culture, and you have the birth of this story.
The rest is simply a bunch of “what if” questions. For instance, what if a soldier in Vietnam married a Vietnamese girl who saved his life? What if their son became a Navy SEAL, and what if his team uncovered a major terrorist plot? What if it involved high-ranking US government officials? You get the idea …
JD Cordell is essentially a composite of several people I have known and respected. While I was a bit too young to serve in Vietnam, I was old enough to have several good friends who did. One friend, in particular, served as a medic on long-range reconnaissance patrols in the region the first few chapters of Serpents Underfoot is set in. I also know a couple of former Navy SEALS, one of which recently passed away. He was actually an Underwater Demolition Team member and served in the Mekong Delta region during the Vietnam War. The UDT teams were essentially forerunners of the Navy SEALs.
So, what does a rusty Ford tractor have to do with karate?
Well, nothing really. But then again, everything. Hey, that’s kind of like a Zen riddle isn’t it?
Several years ago, say late 90s, at one of our post seminar workouts, Sensei Harrill was working with me and a couple of my senior students on Sanchin Kata.
Now first let me say there are several versions of this kata and while they have commonalities, they are not the same. A version of Sanchin can be found in several Chinese and Okinawan styles including Fujian White Crane, Five Ancestors, Uechi-Ryu, Goju-Ryu, and Isshin-ryu. There are certainly others as well. Tam Hon taught a style that was called “Saam Jin” which is Cantonese for “Sanchin.”
At its essence, Sanchin is taught to help the practitioner understand body mechanics and condition their body, while learning to deliver properly focused techniques from a stable platform.
It is also, unfortunately, a kata about which a prodigious amount of “bullshit” has been has been propagated. But that is not the subject of this post.
Isshin-ryu Karate’s Sanchin
The Isshin-ryu version of this kata is really quite difficult in its simplicity. It consists of only five steps (three forward and two backward) and there is a great deal of repetition. But, like an onion, there are many layers to this kata and as your understanding grows, and the more layers you peel away, the more you realize there is to learn. It gives a new level of understanding to the idea, the more I learn the more I realize how little I know.
I had been working with Sensei Harrill for sometime now, and had made a lot of changes in how I trained, and this included Sanchin. I now practiced Sanchin most often with the vertical fist (which I liked because it fit our basics). I still, on occasion, will practice with the corkscrew punch as I had originally been taught, and sometime I will mix it up. At that time, I was trying to get a handle what the kata taught as far as body mechanics, as well as the many different breathing patterns found in the kata (none of which, by they way, resembled a gasping pressure cooker about to blow its top).
However, there was one movement in the kata that always gave me a fit. I practiced and practiced, trying different ways of executing the movement, and nothing seemed to work for me. I had once seen Sensei easily demonstrate the use of that movement at a seminar on a pretty big guy, but I was not even getting close. And of course, as I demonstrated my Sanchin Kata while Sensei watched, that was readily apparent to him.
You’re not doing that properly …
I probably felt like that was the “understatement” of the year. I was painfully aware of that fact. especially seeing what he had done with that very same movement.
I am sure that I replied with something to the effect of, “I know, Sensei. I just can’t seem to get it right.”
And I remember him saying something like, “You don’t have the right focus.”
The hook …
So, how did I change my focus? By listening to what my Sensei told me!
He said to imagine a rusty old red Ford tractor that’s been sitting in the field for awhile. Now you’ve got to crank it up and plow that field. You finally get the tractor started, climb up into that seat. and reach for that big old shift lever with your right hand. Then you squeeze and give the lever a strong tug. And what happens? It doesn’t budge. It’s pretty much rusted into place. What do you do?
I thought about it a second … stand up and give it a real yank, I was thinking.
Then he added … but, you have to keep your butt in the seat.
Now that’s an altogether different proposition.
Which muscles would come into play and when? In what order would you use them? How would that feel internally? Think about it.
And over time, that earlier “movement” that had previously been using the muscles of my arm changed. It began to originate at my core. It employed the rotation of my hips, my abdominal muscles. the lats, the shoulders, and finally … the arm. The pull became a properly-focused, mechanically sound whole-body movement. And after working on it awhile, when I tried it in the dojo, people began to move.
And that is what an old rusty red Ford tractor has to do with my Isshin-ryu Karate.
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There are several to choose from, all with great reviews.
I received a copy of this novel from the author in return for a fair and honest review. I categorize this novel as ‘R’ because it contains scenes of violence and mature language. The story picks up a short time after the first novel “Serpents Underfoot” ends.
The primary character continues to be Former SEAL JD Cordell. After many years of service, Cordell retires taking his K9 Ajax with him. On his last active duty mission, Cordell rescues the very pretty young Doctor Ellen Chang. She was being held by terrorists in Niger. After his retirement, he finds she has come back to the States and has settled hear him. Romance is in full swing between the two.
Shortly after the death of her husband, Mai Cordell makes a trip back to Vietnam. She is trying to find her adopted brother, the Montagnard called Dish. Dish is a rebel wanted by the communist government. When a drug lord hears about her search, he kidnaps her and uses her for bait to draw out Dish.
Cordell heads to Vietnam as soon as he hears about his mother. While the US government can’t take direct action, they do assist Cordell. Two of his former SEAL Team members ‘volunteer’ to go with him. Will he be in time to save his mother and the uncle he has never met?
I thoroughly enjoyed the 8.5 hours I spent reading this 309-page thriller. I had enjoyed Mr. Gilbert’s prior novel in the series and this one was just as good! I like the chosen cover art. I give this novel a 4.5 (rounded up to a 5) out of 5.
I have read a lot of Mr. Purvis’ reviews and other posts over the last few years, so this review means a lot to me because I know Mr. Purvis does give very fair reviews and calls things as he sees them. Therefore, I would just like to say thank you, John, for this review, and I am so glad you enjoyed the book.
And if you haven’t visited his blog, you should. Mr. Purvis covers a lot of interesting topics.
You can purchase a copy of Montagnard or any of my other books by clicking the button below.
Serpents Underfoot is live on Amazon with its new cover.
Serpents Underfoot is out with its awesome new cover! 1106 Design did a great job, and they were a pleasure to work with. If you are ever in the market for a book cover, check them out. They will shortly be redoing the cover for Montagnard as well.
Resonant characters propel this consistently gripping terrorist tale. All of the characters are well developed, producing genuine shock when certain individuals die. The author writes in an unadorned prose that keeps the plot moving at a steady beat … the finale is … exhilarating.
Serpents Underfoot is the first book in the JD Cordell action thriller series! Full of Navy Seal action, the book will enthrall fans of action thrillers … The book has it all—authentic detail, breathless action, vividly drawn settings, and an exhilarating plot.
The Prairies Book Review
Check out all my books on my Amazon Author’s Page.
There are several to choose from, all with great reviews.
Below are the three new covers under consideration for my novel, Serpents Underfoot. I am always interested in what readers, supporters, and fans have to say about my work. It helps me improve as an author and keeps me motivated to work hard and keep my readers happy!
The question I am asking is not so much … which one do you like. It is more … which one piques your interest more or which one are you more inclined to buy?
Cover Design 1: This layout features a Navy SEAL at the top, balanced by the Vietnamese woman and Ajax below. The cover is filled with a subtle snakeskin texture.
Cover Design 2: This layout is a more traditional novel approach, with a large condensed title. The background is a subtle American flag.
Cover Design 3: This layout features JD Cordell and Ajax standing in front of the White House. There is a subtle snakeskin texture over the whole cover.
Okay, you’ve seen the covers! So, what do you think?
One thought behind Serpents Underfoot and Montagnard …
Over the past years, it became “fashionable” to bash US service members serving worldwide while making saints out of the other side. Nowhere was this more apparent than during the war in Vietnam, when we had Hanoi Jane posing for pictures with North Vietnamese artillery units and passing a POW’s hopeful message home on to the commander of the Hanoi Hilton prison, a place where so many American servicemen (including John McCain) were imprisoned and tortured. That was a national disgrace!
And it is not always intentional. The Vietnam War film by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, in my opinion, tried to give a truthful picture of the Vietnam War. However, we can rarely escape inserting our own views into what we create. While most who viewed this film praised it for its neutrality and fairness, and accurate portrayal of the war, many Vietnam Veterans I have spoken with, are still left with a bad taste in their mouths when watching this film because, at least in their view, it still portrays the American servicemen in a somewhat undeserved negative light.
Yes. Bad things happen in war. We all (well, at least those who bother to learn a little history) remember the My Lai Massacre. Unfortunately, war can bring out the worst in people as well as the best. But I would venture to say that at least 95 percent of American servicemembers serve their county honorably. That fact seems to get lost.
It was my intention, starting with Serpents Underfoot and continued in Montagnard, to write stories that would portray American servicemembers in a positive light because that is what the vast majority of them deserve. Being an old veteran myself, it still upsets me to hear some schmuck bad-mouth the very same people who fought for that schmuck’s right to bad-mouth them. And, far more often than not, the bad-mouthing is undeserved. Anyway, that was my goal. Readers will notice, I included all branches of service in Serpents Underfoot and several of them in Montagnard. There are even references to the British SAS, SBS, and the Israeli Defense Force. These are those who fight to preserve freedom around the globe.
I am happy when readers pick up on this …
And several of them have. There are comments in reviews like …
This story gives insight into the bravery of men like these who risk their lives to save others. (Montagnard)
You will find an astounding emotional impact as you walk beside men like JD and his K9 partner, Ajax, risking their lives to protect other people. (Montagnard)
A good job of describing the real Vietnam war and the inhuman crimes committed, not by US servicemembers but by the Vietcong and North Vietnam army. (Serpents Underfoot)
That is why a review like this one from DeeDee means so much to me!
Great story; very well written. Loved all the characters. This book, like your last one, had me from the beginning. JD is amazing and is an Isshin-ryu expert to boot. This book has it all. It makes you proud to be an American, has believable love stories and great action throughout. Loved it.
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I have had a long-held interest in the martial arts. One Christmas, I received a book called Best Karate, written by Mas Oyama, when I was 13 or 14 years old. I spent hours in my bedroom trying to learn from the book.
When I began attending the Charles H McCann Technical School in North Adams, Massachusetts, I was invited by a friend to a Uechi-ryu Karate (a very traditional Okinawan system) class in nearby Adams and started attending. But once I discovered cars and girls, that pretty much ended that … as well as my interest in scouting.
When I was stationed in Korea (12/81 to 12/82), I studied Tae Kwon Do with the battalion instructor. He was excellent. I earned a red belt, which, in that system, was the equivalent of a brown belt in the ranking system used by many styles. When I got back to the U.S., I started competing in tournaments and did okay. However, I discovered these Isshin-ryu guys who had a wicked reverse punch. They would slide up your extended kicking leg and nail you with it. I decided I needed to see what they were doing and so sought out an Isshin-ryu dojo.
Years later, I was running my own dojo and hosting tournaments. But I was very disappointed in the way things were evolving. I was never that wild about sport karate. I just did that to keep students. I saw limited techniques being used in sport karate; it was more like a game of tag. The rules seemed to violate the karate “maxims” I was trying to adhere to.
For example, in Okinawan Karate, all kicks are targeted below the waist. Step into the ring, and now all kicks must be above the waist. That seemed odd!
And kata, especially with the advent of musical kata, quickly devolved into breakdancing with some kicks thrown in.
Note: Let me just say that full-contact karate and MMA fighters of today are great athletes and some damn tough individuals. They are very good at what they do and deserve respect. It is just not “karate” as I had come to understand it.
The problem was that I do read a great deal, and I had read a lot of history about Okinawa, the birthplace of Karate, and the early pioneers of Tang Hand, which later become known as Empty Hand … or Karate. I was simply not seeing the Karate I’d read so much about. Either the stories were all lies, or there was nobody around who could do that stuff anymore. I was actually ready to throw in the towel. Then I met Sensei Sherman Harrill.
Sensei Harrill was from a cross-roads in the cornfields called Carson, Iowa (near Council Bluffs). He was an ex-Marine who trained with the Isshin-ryu system’s founder, Tatsuo Shimabuku, while stationed in Okinawa in the late 50s. And he was the real deal.
Everything I had ever seen paled when stacked up against what he did. No matter who you were, how big, how strong, or what you knew … he would effortlessly show you the error of your ways. Organizations, rank, who you knew did not matter. It was what you could demonstrate on the mat that counted.
So, I started over. I traveled all around the country to seminars for years to train with this guy. It was a humbling and memorable moment when I asked him how I could become his student. He laughed and replied. “well, most folks just ask.” So, I asked. And he replied, “Darren, I have seen the changes you are making in your Karate and how you train … so welcome aboard.”
That was the beginning of the journey of a lifetime.
The origins of JD’s Nguyen-ryu
Nguyen-ryu is an indigenous martial art found in Vietnam. Mai’s father, Ang, was a village elder, and in the book Serpents Underfoot, a well-respected practitioner of this art. Ang taught this art to both his daughter, Mai, and the son of his old Montagnard friend, Dish. Dish and Mai both taught the art to Curtis Cordell, Mai’s American husband, and JD’s father.
Curtis tried to teach Nguyen-ryu to his son, but that old father-son thing interfered. Eventually, Curtis took his son to a dojo run by a friend of his. That Sensei taught a very traditional version of Isshin-ryu. JD did learn a great deal of Nguyen-ryu from his mother, which blended well with the Isshin-ryu.
It has been my experience that most “real” martial arts have more in common than differences. That is because when you get past all the marketing hype, it is body mechanics that determine what works … and the human body only moves powerfully so many ways.
My exposure to Nguyen-ryu
Enter Charlie Taylor, a good friend, a Vietnam veteran, and a damn good martial artist. He just showed up at my dojo one day and started helping out.
Charlie had served several tours in Vietnam as a medic on Long Range Reconnaissance Patrols in the region of Vietnam my books focus on. He was a quiet guy, but when the mood struck, he had some fantastic stories to tell about his experiences in Vietnam. I am sure he embellished them a bit to make them more fun to listen too, but there was something in the stories and his eyes when he told them that led you to understand that there was an element of truth to each one.
Charlie was also a highly-skilled martial artist, and there was nothing “superfluous” in what he did. I remember spending time training what was essentially a “silent sentry removal” technique with him and being shocked and a bit disturbed at the ease with which it worked. I still remember asking him, rhetorically,
“And, you’ve used this before.”
He just looked at me kind of funny and replied, “On a few occasions.”
While he knew a few of the kata, Charlie didn’t practice Isshin -ryu. In fact, many of our workouts consisted of me teaching him more Isshin-ryu kata. He practiced what he called Nguyen-ryu. Charlie claimed he’d learned it from his grandfather, who’d married a Vietnamese girl while stationed in Japan after WWII. This girl’s father was a skilled practitioner of the style, and after a suitable period of denials, consented to teach it to his daughter’s round-eyed husband.
I know it sounds like a movie plot. And maybe it is. I can neither prove nor disprove Charlie’s claims. However, I can definitely vouch for his abilities. Charlie could be damn scary when he was “in the zone,” much like my former instructor, Sensei Harrill. Those who have trained with Sensei Harrill will understand what I am referring to. We called it “shark eyes.”
Charlie did have an honorary 5th-degree black belt in Isshin-ryu Karate signed by Harold Long. However, he always claimed it was not worth the paper it was written on. It seems Charlie had impressed Harold Long with his abilities while training for a period at Long’s school in Knoxville, Tennessee, but, as mentioned earlier, had only learned a few of the kata. He held no official rank in Nguyen-ryu, so he always wore a white belt.
I will say that the kid’s classes loved it when Charlie regaled them with stories of his early training days. He always referred to them as “Papaw Days.”
Unfortunately, Charlie passed away a few years ago from a combination of medical conditions, several of which I am sure originated with his tours of duty in Vietnam. Some of the threads in Serpents Underfoot and Montagnard are based on past discussions with Charlie. And I think Charlie may be resurrected from the dead for a character in the next book in the series titled Reciprocity. I think he would like that.
Martial Arts scenes in the two books …
I have seen a large man knocked unconscious with a punch to the shoulder. I do not know too many people who could do that. Sensei Harrill certainly could. And, his “fence post punch” was something to behold. You did not want to get hit with it.
On more than one occasion, MMA fighters or cage fighters from the casinos in Council Bluff would make their way to his dojo after hearing about this karate guy who had a reputation for being a badass. Every one of them left with a new appreciation for karate … well, at least Sherman Harrill’s version.
The technique JD uses to take out the drug smuggler on the trail from Laos into Vietnam is simply one of my variations on Charlie Taylor’s sentry removal technique.
Putting it all together
I like to think my stories are written to entertain, but there is so much more to them, at least for me. They are ways to remember, record, and share the people I have known, places I have been, things I have seen, and the stories I have heard, as well as the possibilities those things can combine to create.
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I am a bibliophile and have been one since childhood. In fact, Biblio is my avatar name. Books were my favorite birthday gifts. A week before I got married I took the GRE test so I could go to Library School the following year. (I knew that I wanted to be a Librarian. But no, we did not get to sit around and read books all day.) Unlike some of my fellow librarians, I never had the urge to catalog my Golden Books.
With so many books and so little time, I’ve turned more into a tsudonko. (Tsundoku is acquiring reading materials but letting them pile up in one’s home without reading them. The term originated in the Meiji era (1868–1912) as Japanese slang. It combines elements of tsunde-oku, (to pile things up ready for later and leave) and dokusho…
My original plan, at the suggestion of my editor, was to submit Montagnard to Kirkus Reviews; which I did. A few days later, I got an email from Katerina at Kirkus, suggesting that, since Montagnard was a sequel, I should let them also review Serpents Underfoot so they would have a better picture of the story as well as me as an author.
While it made sense, anyone who has looked into Kirkus knows that 1) they are brutally honest, and 2) they are expensive. That is because they are the gold standard for book reviews and a good review from Kirkus can open doors and reach a large number of influencers like publishers, agents, foreign publishers, film executives, librarians, and booksellers.
I was hesitant because, while I know Serpents Underfoot is a pretty darn good read (its gotten lots of good reviews), it was also self-edited, and I was sure I would get raked over the coals. It seems, though, that this was not to be the case! Anyway, to make a long story short, I ponied up to have Serpents Underfoot reviewed as well. That was on June 16th. I received the “review completed” notification email today!
Here are a few excerpts …
Resonant characters propel this consistently gripping terrorist tale.
In this debut thriller, a Navy SEAL tries to uncover a terrorist plot.
… Gilbert’s action-oriented tale is dense with characters and personal histories … myriad subplots and backstories are often enthralling.
… All of the story characters are well developed, producing genuine shocks when certain individuals die. The author writes in an unadorned prose that keeps the plot moving at a steady beat.
… the finale is … exhilarating.
Combine this with the Literary Titan August 2020 Gold Book Award notification on August 3rd, and my feet may not touch the ground for the rest of the week!
Anyone who would like to, can read the full Kirkus review by clicking here!
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And if you have read Serpents Underfoot, check out its sequel, Montagnard, on Amazon.com! It’s even better!