January 15, 2015

Writer Wallace Lee Talks ‘Rambo: Year One’

Wallace Lee is an Italian writer who has been putting together 5 prequel novels centered around the early days of John Rambo.

Having read a preview of the story, I can say that it’s a very real and visceral story, reminiscent of the tone of First Blood and the Oliver Stone movie Platoon.

I spoke to Wallace about his story which you can check out below:





Wallace, I recently read the 40 page preview of your unofficial Rambo prequel novel and I must say it’s incredibly impressive.

Why did you want to write a Rambo prequel?

That’s funny, because the truth is that I never really wanted to write it.

It was an accident.

And even when I was actually writing it, I continued thinking:

‘Just a short tale’

‘Just another one’

‘Maybe another couple’

After the first three, they started becoming a single story and I found myself stuck inside a short novel, which I would later call ‘RAMBO YEAR ONE’.

So it was an accident and for a couple of months I tried a lot to stop myself (no writer is happy to work for months on a free-share work).

Anyway, let’s start from the beginning.

Three years ago, I started writing for other people: helping others with their works, ghost writing, etc., and immediately realized that this was making me a better writer.

It was a real writing workout, and a good one.

Then, one day, I told myself:

“What about Rambo? What about Trautman? They speak very little and every single phrase they say is legendary. They are VERY difficult characters.” 

So I started writing a short scene featuring Trautman (strangely, not Rambo) talking to Special Forces rookies, before the Special Forces selection program began.

But after the first lines, my mind literally exploded with ideas.

I just couldn’t stop.

I had too many ideas and too good.

I knew I was looking for trouble with copyright and other problems, but there was nothing I could do about it.

Good writers say that – sooner or later – you learn to ‘not write what you want’, but to ‘write the best hidden inside of you, no matter what’.

I have many friends that stopped writing when they understood this simple truth. They are the ones that think about writing like this:

“One day, I will become famous with a fantasy saga [containing] many books.”

“One day, I will become a famous military writer, like Tom Clancy.”

But being a writer has nothing to do with this.

You will never be any good if this is what really matters to you, because a novel is not a movie. You don’t do this and that because you know people will like it.

It’s a quest, not an act of craftsmanship.

And while I was writing my first Trautman’s short tale, I was immediately sure I had found something big.

This is big.

This is something I could write about forever, and very well.

I only have to dig deeper for it.

Many times, I tried to stop myself for logical reasons (mainly copyright), but the problem is that after so many years of writing, I had learnt the lesson.

If you don’t write a good idea when you find one, you are not a writer at all.

You are only playing at it.

So I told myself ‘f**k it, I will write it and then free-share it.’

Luckily for me, Mr David Morrell (author of the 1972 novel that created the character) turned out to be a very kind person, and he allowed me to freeshare it.

He explained me in detail how to free-share my work full legally (I will never thank him enough for that. Rambo is his, not mine).

And I will never thank him enough for that.


The way you describe some of the scenes in Vietnam paint a dark and intense picture. Can you tell us about the research you did into the war?


There are mainly two writing tricks.

The first, is that I am a former horror writer and this works very well within a Vietnam war novel.

I mean, bravery is when someone goes through scary things, isn’t it?

But if those same things don’t scare the reader, your hero isn’t brave at all (which is the mistake of most action movies nowadays. Try to compare the bad guys of the new Robocop with the ones of the old…).

The second trick is that I read everything I could find about the Vietnam War since I was a teenager (I am now 37).

I was a kid during the Vietnam-War-movie-craze (Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, etc) and I have always been a real movie nerd.

Moreover, as I started my Rambo prequel I also read about fifty books regarding Special Forces during the Vietnam war for two years, and watched countless documentaries, videos, websites, forums, etc.

I also talked with a lot of veterans in the process and that was really intense. They have an energy you can’t imagine.


The scene with the young man being tortured in Vietnam was tough to read. Was that inspired by any true stories?

Yes, it comes from a history book. Not all of the historians agree that this episode really happened or that the Apache sniper really existed, but my book is about what soldiers ‘thought’ about the war, so it was fine for  me.

The author of the book is Carlos Hathcock, and I kept the original dialogues and overall situation as the original, but omitted the worst.

The real episode was too bad even for me.


What is it about the Rambo character you think people identify with?

Frankly, I think only crazy people identify with Rambo (laughs).

Seriously, there are many things people like about the character: force, power, muscles, heart…But I am not exactly a common Rambo ‘nerd’.

Absurd as it may sound, but the truth is that I found in history books real episodes that make Rambo look ‘one of the many’.

I mean soldiers fighting in eight against one hundred, shooting until their barrels caught fire, or continuing to fight after being hit by six or seven bullets.

I found episodes that would sound absurd even on a big screen action flick, like the one of that famous Navy SEAL  (I don’t remember the name) that spit from inside a body bag hoping that the man who was closing him inside noticed that he was still alive.

So, while I was writing my Rambo short tales, I thought that maybe I could ‘feel the gap’.

I could write a Rambo prequel without the absurdity of most action flicks (like the preview you have just read) and yet satisfy the Rambo fans too.

People will judge if I really succeeded in that (not me) but if I did, this would be my greatest ‘ghost writing’ result ever.


How much did it take to put your work together? Would you be interested in returning to the Rambo character for further stories?


But you have to consider that sleeping inside my PC there is a complete saga of FIVE Rambo prequel novels that I wrote in two years.

Yes, you read it right.

The problem is translating them into English, but they are right here.

The Italian readers will surely read all of them… The US ones, I frankly don’t know.

Without a real publishing deal I have to translate them on my own, and this would stop me writing anything new for years.

I waited to end all of my saga (two years) before free sharing the first book.

Why did I do that?

In order to avoid what I call ‘the Game of Thrones mistake’.


If you read the Game of Thrones books and *then* watch the TV series, you will notice that some characters on TV are more important than they were in the books.

Why is that?

Because those same characters will be more important later, but the author didn’t know it when he started writing about them.

In other words, George Martin (both author of the novels and screenwriter of the TV series) fixed some aspects of his books before filming the TV episodes.

Since I noticed this fix work he had done, I didn’t want to make the same ‘mistake’ with my own saga, so I waited to write all of my books before free sharing the first one (and it worked. I changed some things too).

Don’t misunderstand me: Martin is one of my top three favorite writers. He is a rolemodel to me.


Going back to my saga, it covers all of the three years Rambo spent under Trautman’s command.

There’s the selection process to join the Green Berets, the year and a half of training in Fort Bragg and the two years Rambo fought in Vietnam until the last, ill-fated mission of the Baker team. There are about twelve fighting missions and multiple subplots with love stories, family ‘behind the scenes’ and even some politics.

The first two books are short novels (around 200 pages) while the others three are quite long (300-400 pages).


Regarding the question – will I ever write anything else about Rambo in Vietnam, I don’t think so.

But regarding another period of Rambo’s life, who knows?



Anyway, that’s it guys.

Here’s my saga; five full novels covering the beginning to the end of the Baker team.

And thank you, ACTION ELITE.


About the Author

Eoin Friel
Eoin Friel
I grew up watching JCVD, Sly and Arnold destroy bad guys, blow things up and spew one-liners like it's a fashion statement. Action is everything I go to the movies for and the reason I came up with this site is to share my love for the genre with everyone.



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