Aaron M. Zook, Jr.—an award-winning author and speaker—entertains with a purpose in his books and presentations. He’s thrilled thousands of readers through his YA Christian mystery/adventure Thunder and Lightning series about two inquisitive boys and their dogs who solve one crisis after another around the world. Aaron volunteers in church and in the community. Check out his info, fun facts, and books on his website—https://www.ZookBooks.org, BoldVisionBooks.com, or Amazon.com. Aaron is a retired U.S. Army Colonel and lives with his wife, Joyce, in Holly Lake Ranch, TX. They have two married sons and four wonderful grandchildren.
Do you recall how your interest in writing originated? What/who inspired you to publish your first book?
My interest in writing started because of great books that I read, starting with books I read for school like Huckleberry Finn and books I read for fun, like Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth or the science fiction books I read by Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein. I excelled in high school and college English classes, including the composition portions, which made me feel I could be a writer.
My two sons told me I should publish the stories I told them about two boys and two dogs named Thunder and Lightning. I enjoyed telling the stories of these boys and dogs while we drove our own sons to swim meets and castle excursions around Germany. When I finished my military career, writing became the perfect transition for me.
How much of your books are realistic? Are the experiences based on someone you know, or are they events in your real life?
My fiction books, The Thunder and Lightning Series, are set in realistic settings which anyone can look up on the internet. I take the boys around the world since my military life led me to those places or I have visited them personally. I change some of the characteristics of the setting, but leave enough in place that you would recognize the location if you traveled there. The story lines in each book are set to take the two lead characters, Gabe and Alex Zanadu, through a series of trials that help them grow and mature since they grow six months older in each succeeding book.
Dramatic situations fill the boys with fear, excitement, anticipation, pain, sadness, hope, and heart-thumping action. I engineer the feelings, experiences, and actions taken based on true-life individuals that I have met or worked with, including my own. With two boys and two dogs, what could go wrong?
What is your current project? Will you share a little of it with us – kind of a sneak peek?
My current project is tentatively titled “The Crashin’ Coaster Mystery.” The initial location is San Antonio, Texas, but soon the casualty toll rockets as incidents occur in Theme Parks around the United States. Enjoy this initial part of the book.
Excerpt from Chapter 1
Gabe (fourteen) and his friend Ben board the Crashin’ Coaster at the Barrels of Fun Amusement Park in San Antonio.
Ben sat on my left. Each car consisted of two bucket seats connected by metal bars that left the rider with 360 degrees of visibility. I felt like a bird about ready to launch in the air. We buckled in our straps. Charlie came by and checked the connections, then lowered the padded protective T-bars down over our heads.
“No way anyone could fall out of these straps.” I tugged hard on my seatbelt. No give at all.
“Yeah.” Ben looked at a profile of a pirate ship across the scaffolding of the ride. “Can’t wait to hit the corner corkscrew at seventy miles-an-hour.”
I nodded. Adjusted my back and loosened my shoulders.
The coaster dropped with a clunk and slid forward a few feet. Locked for several seconds. Then fired out past the loading platform at sixty miles-an-hour.
I yelled. “On our way.” I saw Ben’s eyes widen. Screams and laughter filled the air as we rose to the towering pinnacle of the first drop.
“I’m so scared.” Ben grinned at his joke, but his hands gripped the padded roll bar hard.
I faced him, arms raised over my head. “The next part is best.”
We slowed on the steep climb and sprockets underneath the coaster clanked and rumbled to get us the last thirty feet to the top.
“Feel the tension?” I smiled.
Ben’s face was a shade whiter than before. “It’s working.”
“Maybe you should stick to your Harley’s.”
“At least they’re attached to solid ground.”
Ben’s love of motorcycles is what brought us together at Youth Group. I loved mini-bikes and he wanted the big bikes.
I tapped his side. “Get ready. Time to rock and roll.”
The first car went over the top. As we rose to the summit, I twisted to see the panorama of the park and in the distance, the Tower of Americas in downtown San Antonio.
“Awesome.” I shouted as our car dove toward the ground.
We shot through a sideways tunnel after the drop, barely missed some pirate cannons, did two upside-down loops, and flew towards a sharp bend.
Racing at top speed, halfway through the corkscrew turn, the coaster jerked, slamming me and Ben against our straps. Our hands flew toward the padded roll-bar.
The screeching noise and metal grinding on metal pierced through skull. I covered my ears with my hands and yelled in pain, but couldn’t even hear myself.
Other riders in front of me flopped about like crash dummies in a road test.
The coaster skidded to a stop and our car was upside down.
I slid. Clutched my seat harness hard. Eyes wide, I stared at the ground littered with bits of metal pipes, rebar, and old rusted coaster parts overgrown with weeds.
Sweat beaded on my forehead. I strained to stay in the car at least thirty to forty feet above the twisted metal below.
Falling would be a brutal way to die.
My feet, jammed on the inside of the car, slipped. My body swung to the side. Fear got the best of me.
What do you do in the ‘real world’ when you’re not writing?
I enjoy many things besides writing. I volunteer in my church as a guitarist and vocalist on our Praise Team, teach a class to teens about Lee Strobel’s book, The Case for Christ, serve in the fellowship’s project for feeding the hungry, participate and host Small Group gatherings in our home, sell books and speak at writer’s conferences and other locations around Texas, work at publicity and advertising, and now I’m working on putting my books into audio format. Additionally, I like to golf a few times a week, workout and run two to three days a week, and spend time traveling with my wife to see our children and our grandchildren. I have no lack of things to do.
What are the challenges in writing your books? (Ex: logistical, research, literary, psychological, etc)
Most of the challenges come from researching to get the procedures and facts right for the different agencies I use in my books. A second challenge is finding a quiet place away from the regular routine of life to focus completely on a story line. I take a five-day span of time at a secluded place to focus on writing the next section of each book. Without distractions I am able to produce an electric plot tied in with thrilling action.
Are there any quotes or verses you find inspiring? What are they and why?
My primary inspiration comes from Praise and Worship music, which is based on Scriptural concepts such as God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit and their impact on our daily lives. God’s love, Jesus’ saving grace imparted to us through his resurrection, and the Holy Spirit’s guidance in our lives.
I have many verses that provide motivation and guidance. I’ve memorized a minimum of one verse from each book in the Bible. I often recite them when I am traveling long distances to book sales and writer’s conferences. A few are quoted/paraphrased below.
Colossians 3:2 “Set your mind on things above and not on things that are on the earth.”
Colossians 3:23 “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord, rather than for men.”
1 Corinthians 5:17 “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things have passed away and behold, new things have come.”
Romans 3:23 “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”
Romans 6:23 “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Romans 10:9, 10, 13a “If you confess with you mouth Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him up from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth one confesses, resulting in salvation.” “All who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved.”
Also, I have an annual LEADERSHIP Quotes flip-book that sits on my desk. The thoughts always remind me that my altitude is a reflection of my attitude. I look at these from time to time.
Tell us a little about yourself. Perhaps something that a lot of people do not know?
I’m a retired U.S. Army Colonel that worked in Human Resources. I thoroughly enjoyed contributing to the safety of our Nation for the 26+ years I served. I also served six years in the U.S. Air Force as a Korean Linguist. What an exciting time I had using those skills! I’m also a licensed minister by the Southern Baptist Church, a license I received when I was a Lieutenant in the Army. Later on, I became the Pastor of Goeppingen Baptist Church in Goeppingen, Germany for a year and three months while I continued my U.S. Army service. We had to close the church because the military closed our base and I moved on assignment back to the United States. The members of the church moved to another Baptist church near Stuttgart.
When I commissioned in the U.S. Army, I also became a member and leader for Officers’ Christian Fellowship. I coordinated ministry in local, area, and regional levels, became a Board Member (served as Vice President for a year), and finally took the position of Fort Hood and South Texas Coordinator. I worked in that position for three years until my book writing career grew to a point I could no longer do both well.
Are you a planner or a pantser when it comes to writing? (Planner – outline; Pantser – sit down and write)
I am definitely a planner. When I left the military, the Lord helped me lay out a twelve-book plan for the Thunder and Lightning series. After writing a general plan for each book, I started the first book with a terrific book proposal, outline, and summary. Each chapter had a summary before I wrote the entire book. I’ve done this for each of the following books in the series and for the novel length biography I ghost wrote for another retired U.S. Army colonel.
If there was anything you could change regarding your publishing experience, what would it be and why? Also, do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
The first thing I would change is getting a better education (by attending a writer’s conference) before I even put a pen to paper. I had written my first entire book for Young Adults when I found at the first writer’s conference that I should have written my book in first person instead of third person. Therefore, before any publisher would look at my book, I had to change it from 3rdperson POV to 1stperson POV.
Another item I might change is to write the draft manuscripts for all the stories in the series before beginning the publication process. For a writer today, social media, marketing, publicity, and advertising take up a lot of my time which I could have spent writing the books.
Is there anything you would like to say to your readers and fans?
I love my readers and fans! When they ask me how soon I can get out the next book, I get pumped up. Their great reviews, comments about how my books have excited them or given them hours of soul-gripping drama and adventure, I feel good about what I’ve written. Keep those emails and post coming!
My contact info is in my signature below followed by another favorite Scripture I have. Thanks, C.J., for giving me the opportunity to be interviewed by you!
Aaron M. Zook, Jr.
COL, U.S. Army (Retired)
CEO, Lightwalker Ministries/ZookBooks
1 John 1:7 "...but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, then we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin."
A nearly disastrous car wreck in Germany launches twelve-year-old Gabriel Zanadu, Alexander, his fourteen-year-old brother, and their two dogs, Thunder and Lightning, into a sinister adventure near the famous German castle, Neuschwanstein. Unexplained eavesdropping, death threats, and heart-pumping danger drag Gabe, Alex, and the dogs into the clutches of a little-known foreign terrorist network. After they are kidnapped by the terrorists, the scraped and bruised boys battle their captors in underground caverns for freedom. Remembering lessons from their military dad and home-schooling mom, Gabe and Alex struggle to escape their deadly situation.
Bold Vision Books:
Threatened in the streets of Goeppingen, Germany, twelve-year-old Gabe and his fourteen-year-old brother, Alex Zanadu, make a disastrous decision that plummets them, their dogs Thunder and Lightning, and international friends into the clutches of an evil human trafficking ring inside the Berchtesgaden Salt Mines in Germany. Challenge after challenge confronts the boys and their friends as they navigate the Egyptian Path of Death. Will they remember the sailor song clues their mysterious benefactor G prepared for them? Can the boys, the dogs, and their friends make it safely past each difficulty? Find the answer to these questions and more in this heart-pumping, action-packed adventure/mystery story.
Bold Vision Books:
A psychologically disturbed Austrian who believes he is the reincarnation of Mozart, threatens all of Salzburg, Austria with destruction unless Gabe, Alex, and their dogs, Thunder and Lightning, can unravel the clues, solve the mystery, and capture the master of deception. Thirteen-year-old Gabe and his fifteen-year-old brother, Alex, with their canine companions and a team of their friends, work to save the town, but a surprise twist puts the fate of Salzburg on the shoulders of Gabe. Will he crumple under the weight? Will he overcome the madman's menace?
Bold Vision Books:
Dateline: Spring 1991. Location: Naha City, Okinawa, Japan
On a foggy Okinawan night, a stranger disrupts the Zanadu family’s first island-unique dinner at a seafood restaurant. His violent search for a flying microbot leaves the family devastated, with Gabe and Alex Zanadu’s mother unconscious on the floor and their father searching for answers. Mike, an Okinawan government official’s son, who also saw the stranger assault his father, leads the thirteen and fifteen-year-old brothers in a search for the fleeing thugs. Unsuccessful in bringing the attackers to justice, Gabe and Alex, their two dogs, Thunder and Lightning, and their new friends, Mike and his older sister, Crystal, find themselves hunted by the Okinawan and mainland-Japan mafia. When the Japanese mafia grabs Gabe’s older brother, Alex, and Crystal, the race is on for Gabe and Mike, along with the dogs, to find and free their siblings before they meet an untimely end.
Bold Vision Books: