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The Instructor: Debut Thriller

The Instructor, debut novel by T.R. Hendricks

Author Interview + Book & Author Info + Author Pet Corner!

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The Instructor

The InstructorDerek Harrington, retired Marine Force Recon and SERE instructor, is barely scraping by teaching the basics of wilderness survival.

His fledgling bushcraft school is on the cusp of going out of business and expenses are piling up fast. His only true mission these days? To get his ailing father into a full care facility and to support his ex-wife and their son.

When one of his students presents him with an opportunity too good to be true—$20,000 to instruct a private group for 30 days in upstate New York—Derek reluctantly takes the job, despite his reservations about the group’s insistence on anonymity. But it isn’t long before the training takes an unexpected turn—and a new offer is made.

Reaching out to an FBI contact to sound his concerns, Derek soon finds himself in deep cover, deep in the woods, embroiled with a fringe group led by a charismatic leader who will stop at nothing to get what he wants.

When what he wants becomes Derek’s head, the teacher is pitted against his students as Derek races against time to stop what could very well be the first attack of a domestic terrorist cell.

To purchase The Instructor, click any of the following links: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, Target

Author Interview — The Instructor

The Instructor focuses on retired Marine Force Recon and SERE instructor Derek Harrington. What should readers know about Derek?

Fans of the genre won’t be disappointed with the intangibles Derek brings to the table. He has all of the attributes and skillsets of a Special Operations veteran; a practitioner of human and counterintelligence; HALO and SCUBA qualified; an expert in wilderness survival to name a few; plus being seasoned in combat operations after serving with some of the U.S. military’s most elite units.

Yet even with all that, I think what sets Derek apart more than other characters of the same background is the human reality of where he is in his life. Those in the ranks of Special Operations are a different breed, seemingly on the precipice of the next step in evolution, but they are still very much regular people with everyday concerns that we all face. Derek is retired from the military and finds himself at a difficult crossroads as he tries to reintegrate with civilian life.

That reintegration is where I think Derek’s humanity comes through. He can’t hold a corporate job. He’s divorced, trying to salvage relationships with his ex-wife and only son, and his father has early onset dementia that’s rapidly requiring around the clock care. The bushcraft school he founded is fledgling and on the verge of going under, and the bills and expenses are piling up as a result.

All of these stressors compound to trigger unaddressed mental health issues resulting from a lifetime of sustained combat. Derek wrestles with his external circumstances and his internal trauma, all while being thrust into the impossible situation that develops throughout the story. That’s what I want people to know. Yes, Derek is a highly qualified badass, but he’s also a regular person. He could be your friend, neighbor, brother or cousin. Someone you want watching your back as you’re kicking down doors, but could just as easily be at a BBQ with while talking football.

How did your history as a former Army tank platoon leader and military intelligence officer inform The Instructor?

I drew heavily on my own military experience and deployments to Iraq, as well as my reintegration issues and resultant struggles with PTSD, in forming Derek as a character and the scenes and situations he finds himself in. This covers everything from specific engagements I might have experienced and repurposed for the story, tactical and technical aspects of how the military operates through the lens of my service, and everyday interactions that I’ve stored in my messed up brain for use later on. (See the baseball game chapter.)

Authenticity is something that is really important for me in my writing, especially when dealing with the complex issues that my characters might face. It’s why I hope that the moniker, “write what you know” rings true with THE INSTRUCTOR. While it is a work of fiction and there has to be some leeway with certain aspects for the sake of the story, creating something as near to reality as possible is what I always strive for. I want my readers to say, “this guy gets it” versus rolling their eyes and saying, “that would never happen.” Pulling from my service and life afterward is the best way I can achieve the former.

You also worked as a Security Staff Agent. Did that career also inform the writing of The Instructor?

Working as a Security Staff Agent (aka Executive Protection or Professional Bodyguard) was a unique experience that I feel fortunate to have had, even if it was just for the approx. two years that I was in that field. The firm I worked for recruits heavily from former military ranks because of the translatable skills such as heightened discipline; attention to detail; physical fitness; calm under pressure; and dedicated vigilance. A lot of these elements have found their way into my characters, and while THE INSTRUCTOR may not have specific situations from my SSA time, there’s always the possibility that future works will include some (insofar as my non-disclosure agreement will allow, lol.)

Jetting across the country while protecting A-list celebrity clients is something most won’t ever get to do, so I’m grateful for the time that I did just that. Ultimately I chose to leave the profession as I found it wasn’t conducive to family life with a toddler at home, but a tip of the cap to those men and women who work tirelessly day in and day out sacrificing their own safety for that of those who they are entrusted to secure. As my former firm always says, “Protection is a noble profession.”

Tell us about the road to publication for your debut novel:

How much time do you have? Lol.

My long and winding road is most likely very reminiscent to that of 90% of authors out there. I’ve always enjoyed writing as an escape and a hobby, but didn’t really start pursuing it as a legitimate goal until 8-9 years ago. At the time I was writing short stories and the more of them I shared, the more positive feedback and encouragement I received. While I was creating short stories I was also working on full length novels. My first manuscript that I felt confident enough to query, probably my fourth overall, failed epically. And rightfully so. I had no idea what I was doing, no real concept of the industry, the established processes, and even simple things like how to format query letters and my submission pages. (Note to all you writers out there, single spaced manuscripts without your name in the header and no page numbers is NOT the way to send your work out into the world.)

While that MS (obviously) didn’t find a home, the lessons I learned about how to give my work the greatest chance of success were invaluable. So the next time around when THE INSTRUCTOR was ready to go, I had an entire depth of knowledge as well as a thought out strategy on how to get it into the hands of agents that would be most interested in representing my novel.

And even with that, all but one agent passed on me. Landing an agent can very much be at times a confluence of many factors. The writer’s talent; the story they put together; an agent’s current stable of authors and if their works are similar to the submitted MS; books out in the market or forecasted to be out similar to the MS, etc. The list goes on and on. Having that perfect storm of conditions come together is part of a submission’s success, but making your work the best it can be and conforming to submission requirements is what you’re able to control in that storm.

After a revise and resubmit, my agent Barbara Poelle of IGLA signed me. We went through another 1-2 rounds of revisions before going out on submission, where Robert Davis, my editor at Tor/Forge acquired THE INSTRUCTOR. From there it was off to the races, and as I sit here typing this we’re roughly a month away from pub day!

What are some of your favorite woodworking projects?

The InstructorThe InstructorLet me preface this by saying that I am no carpenter by any stretch of the imagination. Everything I have put together has been through self-taught trial and error and following instructions I found on Pinterest. While I greatly enjoy the pride and accomplishment that comes with finishing a project, the real purpose behind woodworking is the therapeutic quieting of my mind. I found that, especially when I was struggling with PTSD fueled intrusive thoughts, things like the exactness of measurements and attention needed when operating various power tools pushed everything else into the background.

There was just the project, and that relief became something I sought out as often as I could and still do when time allows.

Pictured are a few of my favorites. The destination sign post was one I always wanted to do dating back to my time on active duty, and one of the first I did when I got out.

The corner stand was also an early work, and while I would have rather thrown it on the firepit when done, to this day I am told that it must never suffer that fate.

The Instructor

Does the wine cork bulletin board convey the amount of drinking I used to do? Probably, but the board sure came out great.

And last but not least, the lemonade stand was all the rage for one summer at birthday and block parties.

What are you working on now?

I have just recently turned in the sequel to THE INSTRUCTOR to my editor, and as I mentioned earlier, with pub day just weeks away at this point it’s all about the marketing and publicity for the launch of my book baby. That said, I’m eager to get back into the creative trenches. So much time has been devoted to editing as of late that I’m really looking forward to putting together a new draft. I have some research that has already been gathered for the early chapters of book #3 in the Derek Harrington series, so that’s most likely where I’ll be headed next. Unless a sudden urge to write about vampires overcomes me…

Words of Wisdom for Aspiring Writers:

Besides putting page numbers on your manuscript submissions? Lol

The best wisdom I can give; Don’t. Quit.

Publishing is a slow burn, a slog at times, and you need to be prepared for a marathon not a sprint. Find yourself a critique partner/writing group/beta readers, or all three and constantly work to perfect your writing and take it to the level an agent and editor will be hungry for. Follow the established protocols when approaching an agent. Don’t get cute or try to reinvent the wheel. (Also, don’t be creepy and ask out an agent in your query letter. This is publishing not Hinge.)

Be punctual in your responses and early in meeting deadlines. Along with this, be patient. Agent and editor time is valuable, and they have a tremendous amount of tasks to accomplish day in and day out. You may be the next Shakespeare, but if you’re constantly hounding people about your submissions your stuff will end up on the rejection pile before it even gets looked at. (In other words, don’t be a jerk.)

But really, never giving up on your dream is the best advice I can impart. Believe in yourself and your work. Rejection stings, but it’s a big part of the process. Give yourself a few hours or a day at the most to feel sorry for yourself. Then learn from it, roll up your sleeves, and get back to work. Champions are made as much through grit and determination as they are through pure talent.

Great advice! Congratulations on your debut, and thank you for your service.

Author Pet Corner!


Baxter (terrier): aptly named after the dog star of Anchorman, Baxter acts like a circus canine every time you walk through the door. Affectionate and a fan of cuddling up against you, Baxter is also a consummate digger, loves getting out of the yard, and has the absolute worst breath you will ever smell on a dog. He’s a schmuck, but he’s our schmuck.

Thor (dachshund): while diminutive in size, he possesses god-like powers of cuteness and personality. Also a fan of cuddling, Thor will readily lean over and present his belly for rubs, climb onto your chest for face licks, and bark/growl until you pay attention to him. While his namesake is the god of thunder, Thor often acts like Loki the trickster, especially when it comes to knocking the garbage can over and scattering trash across the kitchen floor in search of a snack. Despite this, his pure handsomeness spares him from any ill will, thus encouraging the low-rider rascal to repeat his nefarious actions.

T.R. Hendricks — Author of The Instructor

The Instructor

T.R. Hendricks is a former United States Army Captain who served as a tank platoon leader, and then as a military intelligence officer, where he was an advisor to the Iraqi Ministry of Interior’s National Information and Intelligence Agency.

When not working or writing in his home in upstate New York, Hendricks is most likely reading, woodworking, or watching his beloved San Francisco 49ers. The Instructor is his first novel.

To learn more about T.R. click on any of the following links:

Twitter: @TR_Hendricks

IG: @readtrhendricks

TikTok: @readtrhendricks

Elena Taylor/Elena Hartwell

All We Buried, available now in print, e-book, and audio.

Silver Falchion Award Finalist, Best Investigator

Foreword INDIE Award Finalist, Best Mystery



The Foundation of Plot, a Wait, Wait, Don’t Query (Yet!) guidebook. Amazon #1 bestseller


Elena Hartwell

Author and developmental editor.

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