A major storyline in “Power and Empire,” the new Tom Clancy/Jack Ryan novel, takes place in North Texas.
The author, Marc Cameron, writing his first installment in the bestselling series of geopolitical action thrillers, gives shoutouts to the Dallas Cowboys, Whataburger, the Omni Hotel, the Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth and the I-35 rush-hour crawl.
Every DFW detail rings true, because the native North Texan knows the territory.
“It was fun to go home in this way,” says Cameron, who lives in Alaska now but still considers himself to be a dyed-in-the-wool Texan.
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It’s worth noting, though, that the Metroplex plot spends most of its time in a seamy underbelly of the area, with disturbing accounts of human trafficking and child prostitution.
That being the case, “Power and Empire” is unlikely to get quoted in any local tourism brochures.
“It’s a wonderful place. I hope nobody takes offense,” Cameron says. “But part of my point is that the evil that exists in the world is so pervasive. All it takes is one sketchy house out in the country.”
Bad news, Alvarado. You drew the short straw. One especially nasty villain establishes his headquarters within its city limits.
“But that shouldn’t reflect badly on the neighbors,” Cameron points out. “What I wanted to show is that this malignancy is out there and it’s happening in little spots everywhere.”
It’s downright surreal to Cameron, who spent nearly three decades in law enforcement before he started writing novels for a living, that he gets to do this now within the pages of a Tom Clancy thriller.
“I’ve been a Clancy fan since the beginning,” he says. “Reagan was still president when I picked up ‘The Hunt for Red October’ (Clancy’s 1984 debut, a genre-defining bestseller that introduced Jack Ryan). I have all his books. Most are on Kindle now, but there are still many in my bookcase.”
With “Red October” and bestselling follow-ups that include “Patriot Games” (1987), “Clear and Present Danger” (1989) and “The Sum of All Fears” (1991), Clancy practically defined how the political/techno-thriller is written.
After he died in 2013, several other authors, Mark Greaney most notable among them, continued to write the series, which stars Jack Ryan (CIA man-turned-U.S. president), John Clark and Jack Ryan Jr.
Cameron made a name for himself with his own series of thrillers, originating with 2011’s “National Security.” The books feature Jericho Quinn, a special agent with an anti-terror task force that officially doesn’t exist.
Cameron had no idea he was being considered to join Team Clancy until he got the job offer.
“It all spins from my friendship with Mark Greaney,” Cameron says. “Mark wrote with Clancy before Clancy passed away and then wrote seven Jack Ryans. Mark and I became friends at a writers conference in California several years ago. Last year, he offered to do a cover blurb for one of my books.
“What I didn’t know was he had decided to step away from the Clancy franchise and that he recommended me to the Clancy editor. My wife and I were down in Florida doing research for a Jericho Quinn book when my agent called. It was an out-of-the-blue surprise. I just about collapsed in the sand.”
The current arrangement has Mike Maden, another former North Texan, writing the summer Clancy books that showcase Jack Ryan Jr. (the kid is a chip off the old block) while Cameron writes the fatter winter releases (“Power and Empire” weighs in at a hefty 582 pages).
“We are writing the same characters, but they’re different types of books,” Cameron says. “Mike’s books are more hard-charging, I guess you could say. I have a few more pages to go over the geopolitical aspect of things.”
They work with the same editor, who makes sure one author doesn’t write the other into a corner.
“Here’s an example: Because ‘Power and Empire’ deals with a threat from China [in the other main storyline], we make sure the president of China has the same name from book to book,” Cameron says. “Details like that are important.”
Cameron is already working on his next Jack Ryan book, to be published in December 2018.
“We’ll see more of Dr. Cathy Ryan (Jack’s wife) in the next book,” Cameron promises. “And President Ryan will face numerous new threats from all directions.”
Even though Cameron went into law enforcement after he graduated from Weatherford High School in 1980, he always dreamed of being a writer.
“Books were big in our house growing up,” he remembers. “My dad was a teacher. My mother was a teacher. My aunt was a librarian. I loved what I was doing. But I also wanted to write.”
Fittingly, during his first year with his wife of 34 years, she scrimped and saved enough money to buy him a bulletproof vest and a Smith Corona electric typewriter. Dual career paths were established.
But before he made a name for himself in publishing as Marc Cameron, he paid his dues.
“I got a ton of rejection letters,” he says. “I ended up writing Westerns, wrote magazine articles for Boy’s Life and Saturday Evening Post, started getting published. I started with the pen name Mark Henry and I ghost-wrote for a few people where my name didn’t appear on the book.”
Meanwhile, he steadily advanced in the original line of work — serving as a uniformed officer, mounted officer, SWAT officer and detective. In 1991, he joined the U.S. Marshals Service. Six years ago, at age 50, he took early retirement so he could write full time. “And we’ve never looked back.”
Cameron is having the time of his life writing with Clancy’s iconic characters.
“I especially enjoy writing Jack Ryan,” he says. “He’s such a good, honest archetype of a character. The cool thing about Jack is that he’s so strong and so vulnerable at the same time. I wanted to be sure I got him exactly right, so I wrote a lot of drafts of the chapters with him.”
Meanwhile, Cameron admits he has felt pressure stepping into Clancy’s shoes.
“I have to divorce myself from the thought of how daunting this is,” he says. “Otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to do it. And there’s added pressure because Mark Greaney did such an incredible job carrying on Clancy’s work.
“But hopefully the readers who embraced Tom Clancy and Mark Greaney will accept me.”
Tom Clancy Power and Empire
- By Marc Cameron
- Putnam, $29.95
Meet the author: Cameron will be at Half Price Books Ridgmar/Westover Village, 475 Sherry Lane in Fort Worth, at 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 30, to discuss “Power and Empire” and to sign copies.