J. Leon Pridgen II has done it all—from his time in the Army with the 82nd Airborne Division to sets on Hollywood to authoring several successful novels. His latest, Unit 416, tells the tale of a band of unlikely heroes who work together to elevate their lives and become an unstoppable team of soldiers.
Recently, Mr. Pridgen took the time to answer some questions about Unit 416, his writing influences, and the research that went into the novel in this exclusive Q&A!
What television shows are you currently watching?
My show at the moment is This Is Us. It’s some of the most amazing work on network television. I was hooked after the first 10 minutes of the show. It reminds me of a show I watched when I was in my early twenties: Thirtysomething. It wasn't until the second episode that I realized that Ken Olin was a producer on the show—he played Michael on Thirtysomething.
Describe Unit 416 in 5 words.
Survive no matter the odds.
What do you want readers to think or feel after finishing this book?
That ordinary people can accomplish extraordinary things when they elevate their expectations.
What are you currently reading?
Camino Island by John Grisham. Chasing Space by Leland Melvin is next on the list. I am attempting to get this in before I continue working on my next novel. It is hard for me to read anything when I am writing.
If you could team up Sergeant Keeble with any other detective or investigator, who would you choose?
It is a toss up. There are two detectives that come to mind for me: J. J. Gittes of Chinatown and Easy Rollins of Devil in a Blue Dress. It may be due in large part to the actors who brought these characters to life in film: Jack Nicholson and Denzel Washington, respectively.
What's your favorite line from Unit 416 and why?
“You’re a lot like I used to be. There’s a light that has to stay lit. We’re going to take you to some dark places, most of them within yourselves. You’ve got to have a light to follow. You … you have to stay lit.” This is an exchange from Sergeant Keeble to Mike Winston. It is a moment that Keeble conveys to Winston that there is something inside of him, a fire that he must never allow anyone or anything to douse.
What books or authors have had the biggest influence on your work?
I am a huge fan of Walter Mosely and John Grisham, as you might be able to tell from one of the books I am currently reading. My first novel (self-published) was legal suspense, and my first published novel was urban suspense.
What kind of research did you conduct for Unit 416?
There was extensive research regarding the countries of Uzbekistan and Afghanistan as well a look into the operations of drug cartels. I am fortunate to have prior military service (Army), which helped with the military backdrop.
What was the hardest part about writing this book?
There were a few moving parts on this joint effort. A. John Vinci created the story and the primary characters, and it was up to me to write and develop the story. Once we were able to bring all parties to the table, I was able to get a clear path and direction of where to carry the story. What we created is a story I am sure you will enjoy.
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J. Leon Pridgen II is originally from Aberdeen, Maryland, grew up at Ft. Bragg, NC, and resides in Mooresville, NC. Leon’s journey in life so far has taken him from the jungles of Panama with the 82nd Airborne Division to Hollywood film sets co-starring in movies like The Program and Careful What You Wish For. Along the way, he has authored the novels Color of Justice and Your Past Catches You.