MARK GREANEY – CONTINUING THE TOM CLANCY TRADITION – FACES THE SPIES & SHADOWS AUTHOR INTERROGATION
Bestselling author Mark Greaney has co-written several books with ‘techno thriller’ legend Tom Clancy as well as his own solo spy thriller novels.
And since Clancy’s death in 2013, Greaney has stayed true to the characters created, continuing the adventures of the Ryans in subsequent novels. His latest novel under the Tom Clancy mantle is ‘Commander-in-Chief’ – available now.
But how will Mr Greaney fare when subjected to the Spies & Shadows questioning?
Your new book, Commander-in-Chief. Pitch it to us!
It’s a book about a Putin-esque Russian leader who is simultaneously threatening the Baltic States as well as trying to get his money out of Russia, because of paranoia about inner threats. President Jack Ryan Sr. is working diplomatically and militarily to thwart the Kremlin’s aims, while his son, Jack Ryan Jr., is following the dirty money trail, which leads to organized crime and a lot of violent characters.
There is land warfare and naval warfare, espionage, statecraft, international finance, and a lot of thrills in this one.
For anyone not familiar with the previous Jack Ryan books written either by yourself or with Mr Clancy, can C-in-C be read as a standalone story, or do readers have to read the previous books before this one?
You can absolutely read it as a stand alone. The characters are introduced in the opening and the plot itself doesn’t require knowing previous Clancy novels.
How long did the entire process take, from initial idea, through to finishing writing, through to the finished printed book in your hand?
I talked ideas with my editor last December, began working on it in the spring, and turned it in in the late summer. There was the usual editing, proofing, printing, etc., so I finally got a copy in my hands in early November for a December 1 release.
That sounds like it took an entire year, but I also wrote another book during that time, and got married [Congratulations! BG] – so I was able to fit in a few other things. My honeymoon was in the British Virgin Islands, and it just so happens to be one of the locales in the book! I also did research in Lithuania, Luxembourg, Belgium, and Poland, went on board a US Navy destroyer and visited US Marine Base Camp Pendleton in California.
After a fair few books to your name, you must have established a solid routine that serves you well. What does the typical writing day comprise?
I’m a morning person, at least when it comes to writing, so I get started by 6 and keep going as long as I can stay semi-focussed. I’ll do reading related to the book in the afternoons or evenings mostly. These books are very research heavy, so the actual crafting and writing of the story is just one facet of the work that goes into it. I do work 7 days a week, some harder than others, but usually I am enjoying myself.
If Commander-in-Chief makes it to the silver screen, who would you be your first choice of actors (past or present) to play the Ryans?
Harrison Ford for Jack Ryan Sr- That’s a no brainer. Chris Pine might make a reasonable Jack Jr. He played senior in a reboot of the film franchise for Paramount, and while I was bothered they didn’t use one of the Tom Clancy’s original books for the story, I thought he was fine in the role.
You worked with the late great, Tom Clancy on several books. How did that all come about?
We shared the same editor, Tom Colgan, at Penguin. He worked with me on my paperback series, The Gray Man, and he worked with Tom on his massive Jack Ryan novels. Clancy was looking for a new coauthor, and Tom Colgan thought of me and put us together. I did three books with Tom Clancy before he died, and Commander in Chief is my 3rd since his passing.
What did you most enjoy about working with him?
He was an idol of mine so our first meeting- at his home in Baltimore, will go down as the most amazing and surreal occurrence of my life. Twenty minutes after shaking hands we were talking about Chinese tanks and French jet engines and Cold War spycraft.
The awesome responsibility of taking on these well known characters and putting them in contemporary scenarios is probably the best part of the work, but having the calling card “Tom Clancy’s coauthor” was a great way to open doors and meet a lot of interesting people, so that is a fun aspect, too!
What made you decide to continue the association with him after his death?
I thought it over for a long time, and finally decided that if I was still only a reader of his books (which I had been for 25 years before I started writing with him) I would want someone sincere and respectful of the series to take it over.
I didn’t want his characters to change personalities, or make any huge changes at all, and I thought I was the right guy to steer the ship, at least for the first couple of books. I just agreed to do a 7th book in the series, but I held off for several months, because I wanted to know I had a plot before I agreed to do it. Someday someone else will come along to write Jack Ryan novels, and I’m perfectly fine with that, but for now I’m giving it my all.
How much free rein do you have with the publishers when it comes to plots and setting etc? Are there any plots, characters, or other details where your agent, publisher, or the authorities have vetoed it?
I am lucky to have a great relationship with my editor. We come up with ideas together, I go and write them up into a 15-20 page synopsis, and then we talk it over. I usually get what I want because Tom, my editor, agrees with me, but when he doesn’t he makes his case and I almost always see his point.
There have been a few ideas I’ve had that he thought sounded a little weak, but I managed to talk him into letting me write them up to see if I could “sell” them in the book- If I really believe I can pull something off I’ll just write it and see what he thinks at the end. After I turn in the entire draft he might come back and say a part of the book feels a little slow, a little preachy, a bit too coarse for a Clancy book, or something along those lines, but these are always small and easily correctable issues.
Tom Clancy’s family gets a final “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” on the book, and so far at least, it’s always been thumbs up. They’ve been very supportive!
As you’re probably neck deep in C-in-C publicity activities just now and can’t think too far ahead, you’re allowed to roll your eyes at this question, but what’s next with the Ryans?
Actually this is what I’m working on right now – my editor is waiting for my synopsis for the new Clancy book, so I am playing around with ideas. Can’t give away anything yet, because it all could change, but I have a big picture idea that I think would make an exciting book. Now I just have to add about 200,000 more words and I’m done!
When you’re not glued to your computer writing or thinking about plots and characters, what pleasurable distractions do you have?
For an American, I watch a lot of soccer. I played as an amateur into my mid-30’s but got hurt, so now I just watch MLS, EPL and Bundesliga matches. I do a lot of firearms training, partly for book research and partly because I enjoy it.
Just this year I trained under the lead carbine trainer for Naval Special Warfare (Navy SEAL’s) and have done a lot of pistol shooting. Just bought my 2nd AK-47 and joined a new firing range, so I expect to blow a lot of money on lead in 2016.
I travel a lot for research, and I’m off to S.E. Asia in 2016 as well as the Balkans, but my wife and I also want to do some more traveling in Mexico. On top of this we have 2 dogs, so they keep us busy.
Commander-in-Chief is available at all good bookshops, published by Penguin (UK) and G.B. Puttnam’s Sons (elsewhere).
Visit Mark’s website at markgreaneybooks.com for more info about the Clancy books and the Gray Man series.