When Brian Haig graduated from West Point in the mid-1970s and started his career in the U.S. Army, becoming a best-selling novelist was the furthest thing from his mind. Now, with the release of his third novel, The Kingmaker, he finds himself a successful writer, and the way he reached that goal is nearly as good a story as the plot of one of his international thrillers.
Haig is the son of former Army General and Secretary of State Alexander Haig. He spent 22 years in the Army, mainly as an infantry officer and military strategist. In the early and mid-1990s, Haig became special assistant to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General John M. Shalikashvili, a role that gave him an insider's perspective on geopolitical affairs.
His military background served him well when he began writing fiction, a career decision arrived at almost by accident. When his wife informed him they were expecting their fourth child, "All of a sudden I realized there were big college bills looming in the future, which I wasn't going to be able to do on a military paycheck," Haig explained in a recent interview. It was time to look for opportunities outside the Army to support his growing family.
An offer came from AT&T to help build a global satellite network, with a salary two to three times his lieutenant colonel's pay. But AT&T needed him within a week. "I walked into my boss (Shalikashvili) and said Sir, I'm going to have to retire.' He told me he understood," Haig recalls, offering a dead-on imitation of General Shalikashvili's Polish accent. "When I told him [I needed to retire] tomorrow, he was very surprised, but he got it through." Before Haig could start his new job, however, a regime change at AT&T meant the company wasn't going into the satellite business after all. The job offer was off the table.
"I spent about six months trying to find a job. Because I was sitting around at home a lot, I decided to try reading some novels, which I hadn't really done before," Haig said. "Then I decided to try writing one, just to figure out the mechanics of it and see if I could do it." An opportunity to run an international helicopter company took him away from writing for a while, but when he left that job, Haig took a year off to devote himself to becoming a novelist. At the center of his work is protagonist Sean Drummond, a smart, sarcastic, but dedicated Army JAG lawyer. With a number of family members in the legal profession, including a brother who is a Washington, D.C., attorney, Haig saw the law as familiar territory.
Working each day from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. with breaks for meals and homework help for his kids Haig wrote three novels in that first year. A chance encounter in a New York restaurant with the wife of a literary agent ultimately led to Warner Books purchasing two of those novels, Secret Sanction and Mortal Allies. With his publisher soon contracting for an additional four Sean Drummond novels and Nicholas Cage's film production company optioning all of them, his writing career was secured.
"First-time readers often assume these are military books, but they're not. They're legal or international thrillers set inside that milieu," says Haig, who now seems as comfortable in front of a room full of book fans as he once was in the corridors of the Pentagon.
His latest novel, The Kingmaker, finds Sean Drummond defending an officer and former West Point classmate against charges of spying for present-day Russia. Dangerous political turf wars in both the U.S. and Russia threaten not just Drummond's ability to defend his client, but his life as well. Haig convincingly suggests that a shadowy group of oligarchs might have been the main force behind Russian President Vladimir Putin's rapid ascent to power. Seamless plotting sets Haig's work apart from his peers and makes The Kingmaker a compelling read.
Michael Grollman is a freelance writer in New Jersey.