The Alaska Life – Eagle River Alaska Author Pens Iconic Tom Clancy Series
What do Alaskans do when it’s blowing outside with freezing rain? If you’re Alaska author Marc Cameron, you work on your next Tom Clancy/Jack Ryan novel. Marc is the New York Times bestselling author of seventeen critically acclaimed novels, including two of the most recent Tom Clancy/Jack Ryan series, and his own wildly popular Jericho Quinn thrillers. Marc is known for his iconic characters. From Jericho Quinn to Jack Ryan and now Arliss Cutter, his heroes spring to life on the page in a way that pulls in readers. His characters are so distinct that fans are eager to devour each of his thrillers.
In 2016, the Tom Clancy enterprise chose Marc to author the next Tom Clancy/Jack Ryan novels. Power and Empire debuted last year at number six on the New York Times bestseller list. “In Mother Russia, secrets did not stay secret for long. Information was strength…” These are the opening lines of Marc’s second Jack Ryan novel, Oath of Office, which comes out later this month.
Originally from Texas, Marc spent twenty-nine years in law enforcement, the last twenty as the Chief Deputy U.S. Marshal in Alaska. His assignments took him from Alaska to Manhattan, Canada to Mexico and dozens of points in between. In 2011, he retired to write full time. Marc’s short stories have appeared in The Saturday Evening Post and Boys’ Life magazine. He holds a second-degree black belt in Jujitsu, is a man-tracking instructor, and teaches defensive tactics to law enforcement agency and civilian groups. As a certified law enforcement scuba diver, an avid sailor, and motorcycle enthusiast, Marc often features boats and bikes in his novels. He lives in Eagle River with his wife and BMW motorcycle.
Bestselling author Brad Thor called Cameron one of the hottest new authors in the thriller genre, and Mark Greaney said Cameron’s books are “blistering reads and riveting page-turners.” Marc graciously took a break from his busy schedule to talk about his two upcoming book releases.
- With the anticipated release of your Tom Clancy/Jack Ryan novel, Oath of Office, and your new Arliss Cutter series set in Alaska, Open Carry, you must be over the moon. How were you chosen to write the next novels in the Tom Clancy/Jack Ryan novel series?
I became a fan of Tom Clancy after reading The Hunt for Red October as a rookie policeman. Mark Greaney had written the previous seven novels, and he offered to do a cover quote for my next Jericho Quinn novel. I told him that would be grand, so I sent him Field of Fire, which came out in 2016. Unbeknownst to me, Greaney had pulled out of writing the Tom Clancy series. He’d planned to send Field of Fire to his editor, Tom Colgan, at Putnam, recommending me as the next writer for the Jack Ryan novel series. Colgan called my agent, who contacted me to make the offer.
- How did you react when you found out you’d be the next author of the Jack Ryan novels?
It was terrifying. I was on a beach in Florida working on the first draft of my new Arliss Cutter series, Open Carry, when my agent called to tell me. Before that, I’d had no idea. My wife has photos of me holding the phone and collapsing on the sand. It was overwhelming. After that, we put ourselves through the Tom Clancy university, studying everything in the Ryanverse. I’ve made a decent living from the large readership of the Jericho Quinn books, but the Tom Clancy franchise readership is incredibly huge, it’s international. The enormity of that was mind-blowing. I don’t read my own reviews, but I knew there would be backlash from the Mark Greaney fans—how could I possibly carry on these iconic characters? I had to get past that and do the best I could.
- Publishers Weekly stated in their review of Power and Empire: “All the writers who have contributed to the [Jack Ryan] series since Clancy’s death have been good, but Cameron’s formidable performance puts him at the head of the pack.” Do you have freedom with plot and characters or does the Clancy franchise have specific ideas about plot and character?
My editor, Tom Colgan and I talk quite a bit, and we brainstorm together. We usually come away from our first meeting with a kernel of an idea. For instance, on the latest book, Oath of Office, he had an idea of a Persian Spring—something that wasn’t what it seemed, and Jack Ryan is convinced there’s something sinister behind it. From that idea, I wrote a synopsis with Portuguese arms dealers, stolen missiles, and subplots where Jack Ryan must spin multiple plates at the same time. For example, near the beginning of the book, the Secretary of Homeland Security is in the Oval Office with President Jack Ryan, who asks him if he’s up to speed now that he’s settled in. “Tell me what scares you,” says Ryan. “Three things, Mr. President,” responds the Secretary. “Which three things?” Ryan asks. “Any three sir, if they all happen at the same time.” That’s the crux of the novel.
I chase my protagonist up a tree, then throw rocks at him. It’s my job to do that—no one wants to read about people strolling through daisies, readers want them picking their way barefoot through miles of broken glass. I am so fortunate to work with two of the best editors in New York, Tom Colgan for the Clancy books, and Gary Goldstein for the Jericho Quinn novels. Tom and I agreed from the beginning my job was not to imitate Tom Clancy’s style, but to write the books in Marc Cameron’s voice and style in the spirit of Tom Clancy. Stay true to the characters and write them as Clancy had envisioned them. I enjoy writing Jack Ryan, he’s a good, honest archetype of a character. The cool thing about Jack is he’s strong and vulnerable at the same time. I write multiple drafts until I get him right.
- How does being a novelist compare with your career in law enforcement?
Being a novelist is, in my view, the second-best job in the world. I retired from the first. My law enforcement career put me shoulder-to-shoulder with some of the finest men and women on the planet—and nose-to-nose with some of the nastiest, which provided terrific experience for writing thrillers. I learned that extreme fear, intense anger, and death all vary in the extreme. And in my experience, so does evil. Surprisingly, I learned most criminals aren’t truly evil, despite committing terrible acts and making bad choices. In twenty-nine years of law enforcement, I can count the truly evil ones on both hands. I draw heavily from these people for characters in my novels—as I do from the myriad of bad-tempered, misguided, and mentally unstable criminals I’ve hunted, arrested, and transported. Turns out, the best job in the world was incredible training for the second-best job in the world.
- What are your thoughts on the Jack Ryan film series that premiered in September on Amazon? Will you be called upon for future involvement, such as a consultant as the series continues?
I’m not involved with the Jack Ryan film projects. The novels and the films are separate entities. I did enjoy watching the episodes, though, and thought John Krasinski did a good job playing the role of Jack Ryan. I empathized with Krasinski having large shoes to fill.
- I enjoyed reading Triple Frontier, where Jericho Quinn rides a BMW 1200 GS Adventure motorcycle. I understand you have a BMW GS bike. Have you ridden it on the Alaska Highway to the Lower 48?
Yes, about five times now. My son and I rode the Alaska Highway a few years ago on bikes. He rode a Triumph and I rode my GS. It was a great adventure.
- As an Alaskan, I love the cover of Open Carry, which takes place in an Alaska setting. What role does Alaska play for you when bringing this story to life?
Open Carry is a mystery set against the backdrop of a reality show in Southeast Alaska, so naturally Alaska is another character, same as in my Jericho Quinn books. Anyone who lives here knows how unique and big Alaska is, so saying it is another character sounds simplistic, but in reality Alaska’s terrain is a character and the weather and the people are also characters. What’s that joke–we’re all here because we aren’t all there? You either love Alaska or you hate it. I love it, my wife and I have lived here twenty years. I’ve been retired six years now, with no plans to leave. We go to the Cook Islands in the South Pacific for several months each winter to write, but we’re always happy to return to Alaska. I used to read Thor Heyerdahl’s books as a kid and dreamt about exploring Polynesia in the South Pacific. We fell in love with Rarotonga. We play the song, Southern Cross by Crosby, Stills, & Nash whenever our plane lands in Rarotonga. We see the Southern Cross each evening over the place we stay.
- The first of your new Arliss Cutter series, Open Carry, will be released February 2019. Tell us about your new character, U.S. Marshal, Arliss Cutter. How does he differ from Jericho Quinn?
Jericho is more over the top, wears leathers and rides a motorcycle. He’s more of a James Bond character and I made him a hybrid of the best law enforcement agents—quick, smart, and ruthless. He wears a Japanese sword down the spine of his jacket. This series is more like a graphic novel in print. The stories begin with a crime and a series of mysteries that Jericho Quinn sets out to solve, packed with action and adventure, that move at a fast, suspenseful pace. My Alaskan character, Arliss Cutter is a supervisory deputy marshal, married several times. He draws a solid line on bad behavior, doesn’t tolerate bullies, and has an unwavering sense of right and wrong. No grey areas with Arliss.
- When are your Alaska book signings for your Jack Ryan novel, Oath of Office, and the first of your new series, Open Carry?
The Oath of Office book signing will be at Anchorage Barnes and Noble, December 5th, 2018 at 6 p.m. Open Carry will be out at the end of February and I’ll announce the Anchorage book signing on my website at marccameronbooks.com. Come see me next month at Barnes and Noble, I love talking with readers, especially fellow Alaskans.
- With all you’ve achieved as a successful Alaska author, what would you say to those dreaming of writing novels, as you were inspired by the Tom Clancy characters?
Keep writing no matter what. Enjoy what you write and keep it fun. Turn off the smart phones, look up to observe what goes on around you. Make it happen. Dreams do come true if you don’t give up on them. A while back, someone asked me if money was no object and I could do anything, what would it be? That’s an easy one: Writing on an island in the South Pacific—or just about anywhere. As long as I’m writing.
Interview and text by Alaska author Lois Simenson November 2018
Lois Simenson’s stories have appeared in the Cirque and Santa Fe Writers Project Literary Journals, The Anchorage Press, Alaska Magazine, Alaska Women Speak, Erma Bombeck Humor Writers.org, The Hill U.S. Congress Blog, and The Washington DC Metro Bugle. Her true story, Embers of Memories, about wildland firefighting in Alaska, won a 2016 Alaska Press Club award in the Best Alaskan History category. This story inspired her current novel, Alaskan Spark, which is forthcoming in 2019. Links to her stories are available at loispaigesimenson.com.