MARTINSBURG, W.Va. (AP) — John Gilstrap openly confesses that he always wanted to write.
Sometimes, though, dreams of an artistic nature must take a back seat to reality, and for Gilstrap, that is exactly what happened.
After earning a history degree at William and Mary, Gilstrap shared that it was difficult to find the journalism job he had seen for himself. Instead, he took a position as a managing editor for a trade journal, which he also openly confesses he hated.
While words and the recording of them was still a dream, Gilstrap headed back to school, earning a master’s degree in safety engineering from the University of Southern California. Following this accomplishment, Gilstrap moved into a new career, eventually becoming an expert on explosive safety and hazardous waste. Add in 15 years as a volunteer firefighter in Fairfax County, and Gilstrap was pretty far from the journalistic dream of his youth.
However, words continued to come in his off time while he continued the full-time work, moving on to owning his own consulting firm. His first novel, “Nathan’s Run,” which Gilstrap admits was really his fourth novel, was a huge, basically overnight, success.
“It was basically overnight that my life changed,” Gilstrap said in an interview with The Journal this week.
In addition to the book receiving high acclaim, Warner Brothers bought the movie rights, which propelled Gilstrap even more quickly into a world of literary success.
“I wasn’t ready for coming out of the gate like that. Literally, overnight, with a phone call, I went from paying bills, but not paying myself a salary, to a million dollars in my pocket,” he said, adding that through the help of a financial planner, a plan was put in place to help deal with the unexpected influx.
He explained that after the success of the book, people treated him differently.
“There was a lot of publicity all at once with magazines and television interviews,” he said.
Gilstrap followed that 1995 novel with multiple best-selling thrillers, including a series focusing on character Jonathan Grave, a former Delta released from the Army and now serving as a freelance hostage rescue specialist.
Gilstrap explained that with the success of “Nathan’s Run,” he sold his consulting business to his employees and moved into the world of writing full time.
“But, I’m a Type A personality, and writing is so isolated,” Gilstrap laughed.
So, despite the overwhelming success of his literary works, he went back to work as director of safety for a trade association in Washington, D.C. The job held his attention for just over 10 years, and now, he says, it’s time to return to his writing on a permanent basis.
As he left the city job, Gilstrap also said that moving out of the city was a desire for him and wife, Joy. A lifelong Fairfax County resident, he shared that he always liked West Virginia and since he no longer has to consider commuting, it was time to get out of the busy atmosphere.
In doing so, Berkeley County beckoned, and Gilstrap found property here where, just at the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, they broke ground on their home. Finally finished after some pandemic-related delays, the couple moved into their home in March of last year.
“I could be happy anywhere,” Gilstrap said, “but my wife wanted neighbors.”
He does find the new location of their home conducive to his writing.
“The dark, dark nights and the quiet are almost intoxicating,” the author said.
When asked about his ideas for his novels, Gilstrap said that simply reading the newspaper everyday gives way to possibilities. He added that locations in his books are always imaginary.
“I avoid research by making up locations,” he laughed.
Gilstrap’s newest novel, “White Smoke,” is set for release later this month. The book is set in West Virginia, in a fictional town dubbed Ortho, telling the tale of Victoria Emerson. Emerson, in the aftermath of a brief but devasting nuclear war, turns out to be the one woman who can lead a panicked citizenry away from feral instincts toward reestablishing a community based on law and justice.
Gilstrap will hold a book signing event at Four Season Books in Shepherdstown at 1 p.m. on March 18. He also shared that he is working with the Shepherdstown Public Library to develop and deliver a series of writing workshops, free of charge, to the local community.