Tom Clancy, author of blockbusters like “The Hunt for Red October,” died in 2013. Yet thrillers keep coming under his name. The latest book is called “Power and Empire” and it’s written by Fort Worth native Marc Cameron. Even though he’s already written the best-selling Jericho Quinn adventure series, he told me taking on Clancy’s legendary characters was intimidating.
These days, Cameron divides his time between Alaska and the Cook Islands (see photo above.) But he grew up in North Texas, and his long career in law enforcement began with a 7-year stint with the Weatherford police department.
You can click above to listen to our conversation, or read a longer version here. (Both were edited for clarity and brevity)
How do you go about writing in someone else’s name, especially someone as legendary as Tom Clancy?
That is the $64,000 question. There is absolutely no way that you can imitate Tom Clancy. He’s an inimitable force, so we don’t even try. I hope that it’s the same style of book, but it’s really a Mark Cameron novel in the spirit of Tom Clancy with those iconic characters: Jack Ryan, Jack Ryan Jr., John Clark. I try to stay true to them.
Were you familiar with the books?
Absolutely. I remember when I first read “The Hunt For Red October.” I was a rookie policeman just trying to navigate my way through a new job, and that was a good escape. Sort of a larger-than-life, new kind of fiction that you really attribute to Tom Clancy — that kind of technological, high stakes thriller. So, I’ve been a Tom Clancy fan since he started writing.
Now, you’re not the first writer to work under Tom Clancy’s name. Does someone keep track of all the storylines or approve the characters. How does it work?
It’s kind of a small group, but certainly very knowledgeable. We all talk to one another back-and-forth on email and phone calls to make sure that something as simple as what Jack Ryan Jr.’s favorite soccer team is. Mark Greaney and I had a long discussion about that because we know, as readers, that we have a certain character type and look and hobbies and all of that that we envision. We don’t want to mess that up for readers, so we want to get that right for sure.
Part of the new book, “Power and Empire,” is set here in Texas, and you’re from Fort Worth. You started your law enforcement career here. How much of the novel is inspired by your experiences?
Cameron: I was talking to a friend of mine from the Marshals Service, and we developed a mutual friendship. He introduced me to a lieutenant at the time – now, he’s a captain with the Texas Department of Public Safety – and they were just telling me about a program that didn’t have anything to do with the research for this book. The Intervention for the Protection of Children, or IPC, plays a big part in this book because it was so fascinating, and that really blossomed out of a Texas DPS program to stop and combat human trafficking. I would say my contacts certainly played a big part, as far as building the characters. Those specific contacts in Texas. I attribute them to really a good third of the plot of the book.
Is there going to be the next book in the Tom Clancy series from you?
Yes. We’re talking back and forth about plot right now, and I’ve submitted a synopsis, and they seem to like it. I have a “Jericho” book to finish in the next few weeks, and then I’ll get right to work on the next Tom Clancy.
You had a long career in law enforcement, and it sounds like it was pretty exciting. You are also an avid adventure motorcyclist, you’re a sailor and a camper, you have a black belt in jujitsu, you teach fugitive tracking, and you speak fluent Mandarin. Quite frankly, you sound more like a character from one of your novels than an actual novelist. So, can you tell me a little bit about how you got interested in writing?
Sure. I speak Japanese. My son speaks Mandarin. I wanted to write when I was a little boy, and I was just always drawn to writing. Back when I was young, our teachers used to read to us a lot, and I remember a teacher reading “Where the Red Fern Grows” to us when I was in the third grade, and it made her cry. I thought, “wow, I want to write stuff that makes pretty ladies cry. That’d be kind of cool.” I started writing when I was very young, probably 11 or 12 years old, just filling up notepads.
Were you writing the whole time you were in law enforcement?
I actually was. I told my wife that I wanted to be a novelist and a police officer before we even got married, In that first year, she bought me a ballistic vest and a Smith Corona typewriter. She wanted to help my dreams to be a writer, so I started early on submitting and getting a lot of rejection letters, learning the craft and taking note of the people I met on the good side of the law and the fugitive side of the law.
What makes a great hero for thrillers or spy novels?
Good heroes, in my opinion, don’t decide to be heroes. They just are. We have Medal of Honor winners that jumped on top of grenades and saved their buddies. People that run toward the sound of gunfire for no thought about their own safety or even more figuratively, people that risk — like Jack Ryan does in virtually every story — their good name, that risk people thinking poorly of them. He just doesn’t even think about that. He just does what’s right and does what needs to be done. I think there’s a certain innate quality of selflessness in a hero that allows them to press forward when little bits of pieces of their body and soul are being whittled away. We, as readers, look up to that. I think in a certain sense, we wan to be that kind of a person.