The Able Trailblazer:
Interview with Brian Morra
By Carin Chea
In 1983, our nation was on the precipice of a nuclear war, and former intelligence officer Brian Morra wasn’t allowed to talk about it. Until now.
Technically, Morra began talking about it circa 2018 when he penned the first seeds of his novel, The Able Archers, a story teetering on the boundary between non-fiction and fiction.
Based on his real-life experiences as a participant in the closely avoided nuclear Armageddon of 1983, Morra offers readers a very rare fly-on-the-wall opportunity.
While other published books on this matter are non-fiction accounts, The Able Archers provides a more accessible and relatable perspective on the event. While entertaining, The Able Archers serves as a grim much-needed warning during our current, eerily parallel global situation.
The success of Morra’s maiden novel is certain, as Legendary Pictures (the powerhouse production company behind The Dark Knight and Dune) has already signed a contract to obtain the rights to The Able Archers. Safe to say, this is one movie that deserves to become a box office success.
Before you became a writer, you were an Air Force intelligence officer, after which you worked in the national security industry. Tell us about your professional career.
I started out in the ‘business’ as an Air Force intelligence officer. I aspired to a career in intelligence since I was a teenager. I was fascinated with foreign policy and national security, and international relations.
I read spy novels when I was a teenager and it just seemed like a more interesting thing to do with my life than staying in the small town I grew up in. I was looking for a way to see the world and get out of southern Virginia.
That’s what I did as a young man; after college, I was on active duty in Air Force Intelligence until age thirty, then I left the Air Force, and I went into the aerospace and defense industry.
I spent the rest of my career managing large national intelligence and defense programs. I also spent a great deal of my career working internationally.
In the last part of my career, I was a senior vice president at Northrup Grumman. I worked around the globe extensively with allies in Europe, East Asia, Middle East, India, all over the world. That was a fascinating part of my career as well.
I retired early because there were other things I wanted to do – like working with entrepreneurial firms and writing.
Currently, I’m on several corporate and non-profit boards. My avocation – of course – is writing books, with The Able Archers being the first in a planned series of seven.
What prompted you to write The Able Archers?
Over the course of my career, people who knew me encouraged me to write about the period of history that The Able Archers covers.
It was 1983 when we experienced a near nuclear war between the US and the Soviet Union. I was a participant in some of those events.
I didn’t write about it during the time when I was working on it for two reasons: I didn’t have time, and most of those events remained highly classified until around 2015.
That would explain why I’ve never heard of it.
Apparently, the US president hasn’t heard of it either, since President Biden said recently that the world hasn’t been at risk of a nuclear war since the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. That’s unfortunate because our leaders need to learn from the 1983 crisis.
Once I retired, I started thinking of writing about the 1983 Soviet nuclear war scare. I thought that if I did so, it’d be non-fiction, not a novel. But, in 2018, two very good non-fiction books about the 1983 nuclear scare were published, drawing on documents declassified recently by the US government.
Late in 2018, I was having dinner with a friend who’s a former undersecretary of defense, and he said, “You should write a novel because you were a participant. Those other two authors were not. You can bring a personal perceptive no one else can. You should take a shot at it. It will probably suck, but it might not.” Those were his exact words.
I started writing shortly after that conversation, taking on his dare to write something that didn’t ‘suck.’
I wanted my book to be accessible. I think I achieved that because I have readers from every demographic. I have teens to people in their 90s, people from all walks of life. It’s not just a “guy’s book” either. Most of my readers are probably women.
I didn’t want to make the writing as dense as, for example, Tom Clancy, with all the technical detail Clancy is known for.
Another motivation for me was I wanted to leave a record for my children – “here’s what your father did as a young man.” I also think it’s just a good story, an important story, that needs to be told. Most people don’t know about it, apparently including President Biden.
Earlier this week, I was in a meeting with a very senior intelligence official in our government. I gave him a copy of The Able Archers. He said, “You’ve got to get this story out there and get people to focus on it. You’re doing a service to the country getting this little-known event out there.”
I thought if I wrote an entertaining dramatization, I’d reach more people than with a non-fiction treatment. I wanted it to be entertaining and educational, especially considering what’s happening in Ukraine.
Whenever I’ve spoken about the book, I get questions about Ukraine, and there are strong parallels in this conflict with 1983. People in our government really ought to understand what happened in 1983 and how we nearly stumbled into a global nuclear war.
I see that some of the same mistakes are being repeated with Russia today. For example, there are frightening parallels between Vladimir Putin and the leader of the Soviet Union in 1983.
Is this your first novel?
Yes. I don’t read a lot of fiction and my wife does. She has been very helpful as story editor. She is terrific in helping with story arc and humanizing the characters.
If it’s a good first novel, and it seems to be because it’s won several awards, my wife Tracy gets a lot of the credit.
Which book in your series are you working on now?
I’m on number five. Book two is with my literary agent right now. He’s going to be shopping it to publishers soon. We also just signed an option contract for The Able Archers with Legendary Entertainment.
My God. That is huge entertainment company! Congratulations!
Thank you. The book was published in late March, and Legendary contacted us in early May, just weeks after the book came out.
And it probably garnered so much interest partially due to the political and global climate right now.
Yes, I assume that’s the case. In fact, I wrote the book prior to the latest Russian invasion of Ukraine. I also will point out that my manuscripts have to be approved by the Office of Pre-Publication review in the Pentagon and that is a lengthy process. They’re essentially the central clearing house for the government.
With The Able Archers, they read it first, then decided who they needed to send it to in the intelligence community, like the CIA.
Four of my books, including The Able Archers, have gone through that process, which takes up to a year.
Are you in the book?
One of the main characters and narrators is an American intelligence officer who is based on me. The other is a Soviet military intelligence officer who’s a colonel and quite a bit older.
That sets up an interesting dynamic – you have a young impetuous American guy and a more seasoned man who is settled in his life and an expert in his profession.
The Russian character is based on real KGB and GRU officers I knew in the 1980s. The reader sees the events through two different sets of eyes. I write all the books in three parts – or three acts.
In The Able Archers, Part one is narrated by the American, Part two by the Russian, and in Part three they alternate as narrators. Part three is where the two men come together to try and prevent a global nuclear war.
The cast of characters introduced in The Able Archers carry through the entire series. One thing that makes this book unusual is that I use first person narration by two different characters. I decided to do that because it really puts the reader right in the scene, which is what I want to do with those crazy and chaotic events.
I want the reader to feel like they’re right in the room.
I usually end interviews with questions about casting because it’s such a fun idea, but in your case it’s a very viable reality! Who would you cast to play the leads when The Able Archers is made into a movie?
It’s easier for me to cast the Russian (Levchenko) who is also fluent in English. One name that came to mind was Benedict Cumberbatch for the Russian lead.
The other name I just gave to Legendary last week is Tom Wlaschiha. He was in the last season of Stranger Things and several seasons of Game of Thrones.
For the American, one candidate is a young actor who was nominated for a best supporting actor Oscar for Manchester by The Sea, Lucas Hedges. The other actor was in Lost in Space, Charles Vandervaart.
Anything else you’d like us to know?
I also have a contract with Blackstone Publishing, and they’re issuing the audiobook of The Able Archers (available for purchase at Amazon) on November 15th. They hired two New York-based actors to read the book to match the book’s two narrators.
One of the actors is Russian and I assume he is the one who reads the GRU officer! It’s unabridged, and I’m excited to hear it.
For updates, ordering, and further information, please visit https://BrianJMorra.com.
The Able Archers, can also be ordered on Amazon.com and BN.com.
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