Interview: May 3, 2012
In Marc Cameron’s new thriller, ACT OF TERROR, Special Agent Jericho Quinn returns to investigate a rash of mass violence sweeping across the United States. In this interview, conducted by Bookreporter.com’s Joe Hartlaub, Cameron shares the various things he has in common with Quinn, including a love of motorcycles, a background in martial arts, and a knowledge of advanced weaponry. He also talks about how he became an author after over 20 years in law enforcement and recommends some of his favorite books and writers.
Bookreporter.com: ACT OF TERROR marks the return of OSI Special Agent Jericho Quinn, a “blunt instrument” who reports directly to the President of the United States. Here, he is tasked with ending a wave of terrorist attacks against the United States and its citizens and employees at home and abroad. His mission sends him literally to the far corners of the earth as he attempts to thwart a plot that threatens to eviscerate the government. Let’s start our discussion with Quinn, who is one of the most capable and dangerous operations characters in modern fiction. What aspects of your personality and abilities do you share with him?
Marc Cameron: Apart from the divorce, Quinn is the guy we want to be. He’s moderately good looking, built like a decathlete, smart enough to speak five languages and loves a good fight. I know guys like this, but I am not one of them. I ride motorcycles, speak two-and-a-half languages and am fairly proficient with a sidearm. My background in martial arts and time living overseas help me write with some knowledge about such things --- and though I loved a good scrap when I was younger, I’m a far cry from Quinn in that regard. Both of us are hopelessly devoted to the girls we married. My wife just happened to stick with me through a very tough law enforcement career where his bailed.
BRC: While parts of the book are obviously fiction, there are elements of the narrative that ring so true that they seem almost certainly to have happened. Understanding that you cannot specifically reveal occurrences that are classified, what percentage of the novel is true (or based on actual events), and what percentage is entirely fiction?
MC: I’m pleased that you say the elements of the story ring true. The characters are certainly inspired by real people. Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to rub shoulders with some of the finest men and women on earth, who are out there toeing that thin blue (and sometimes camouflage) line. Jericho Quinn, Jacques Thibodaux and Veronica Garcia are a mixture of these people. Conversely, I’ve had occasion to sit for long periods with the very worst of humanity. That certainly doesn’t hurt when I’m writing a character.
I don’t think the plots are too far off from what could happen. The way they come about though is completely fictionalized. As I say in the books, the last thing I want to do is write a primer for the bad guys.
BRC: It is demonstrated early on that Jericho Quinn, in addition to being extremely proficient in naked-hand combat, is quite well-armed. Assuming that Quinn’s practices in personal protection mirror your own, to at least some extent, what is your personal carry-on weapon of choice? And for what reasons?
MC: I like the utility of my Glock and the simple form and function of my 1911. Though they are different shooting platforms, I practice with and am comfortable with both. I had a partner once who carried a S&W revolver he called Becky Sue. Though the rest of us were carrying semi-autos, he stuck with the wheel gun and outshot us all.
Like Quinn, I am rarely without a blade. My friends Ray and Ryan at Northern Knives like to reason that while not everyone has been shot, we have all likely been cut one way or another and will do almost anything to keep from it happening again. I have to admit, though, that I am most likely to use my ZT folder to open boxes and MREs.
BRC: It is obvious from ACT OF TERROR that you have studied terrorists as well as counter-terrorism measures. Let’s construct a scenario where you are put at the helm of the Department of Homeland Security and given the power to do whatever you feel needs to be done. What is the first thing you would do? The second? And what, if anything, would you leave intact?
MC: They’re doing a good job with available tools. I’m not really in a position to discuss that sort of thing.
BRC: One of the book’s many interesting elements is Quinn’s knowledge of technology and firearm weaponry. What do you consider the best and most up-to-date source to rely upon when researching the state of the art of those topics?
MC: The tech is constantly evolving. There are loads of websites and military apps out there. I have one on my iPhone that lists the weapons systems of various countries around the world. That said, nothing beats talking to the folks on the ground and in the sky who are actually doing the work. They can talk about the “soul” of the weapon more than just a description. When I have a question, I generally have someone I can call and ask about it. I’m fortunate to have that opportunity. Though I’m a storyteller at heart, when I’m around those guys, I zip my lips and open my ears. They all know that I write. Such good stuff comes from those training days. When we get together, everyone loves to talk about blades, guns and other things that go boom.
BRC: ACT OF TERROR is written on a large global canvas, with Quinn everywhere from New York, Anchorage, and the Washington, D.C. metro area to Afghanistan and a remote corner of China. While your own living arrangements are not quite as wide-ranging, you have indicated elsewhere that you are a native of Texas but now live in the Pacific Northwest. What are some of the similarities and differences (other than climate) between those two areas?
MC: The pipeline brought so many Texans to Alaska that it’s often difficult to draw a culture line. Both are big states (though I kid my Texas friends about how cute little ol’ Texas is now) and both have a lot of state pride. I think the ruggedness of the cowboy persona in Texas has a lot of similarities to the sourdough in Alaska. Folks in both places tend to be characters who are larger than life. I describe Jericho’s mother in this next book as: “a women who can butcher a moose, fillet a halibut and birth a baby all on the same day.” You’d have to figure Jericho Quinn would come from a mother like that, but to tell you the truth, I’ve met a lot of women like that up here, particularly the farther away from the road system you get. It’s the same with the people out on the remote ranches in West Texas. Stubborn, tough and good-hearted as long as they’re not crossed.
BRC: One characteristic that you and Quinn share is a love of motorcycles. What do you ride? What was your first bike?
MC: Dirt bikes as a kid, but my first street bike was a little Honda 500 Shadow. I’ve had a couple of BMWs and now ride a BMW 1200 GS. It’s virtually the same bike Quinn rides but with a little smaller gas tank. I’m 50 and have to get off and pee more often than he does, so a larger fuel tank is not that big a deal. There’s a certain hyper-vigilance that comes with riding that reminds me a bit of my first days of uniformed patrol. You realize that you’re sort of a target out there and it makes you aware of things you might not normally be aware of. Smells, bits of gravel, freshly painted white lines (slick as snot when wet) and all sorts of things. My joy of riding translates directly into Quinn’s joy of riding.
BRC: I’ve been a fan of Frank Frazetta and his artwork for almost 50 years, so I, of course, loved the fact that Quinn is a fan as well. I first encountered his work on the covers of the Tarzan novels, which Ace Books published in the 1960s, and, of course, the covers of Creepy and Eerie, as well as the Conan paperback covers mentioned in ACT OF TERROR. Besides Death Dealer, what is your --- and Quinn’s --- favorite Frazetta creation?
MC: Other than the Death Dealer, my (and Quinn’s) favorite Frazetta is “Wolfpack.” I remember seeing it on a book cover around the time I was in middle school. A voluptuous woman (with a lot of leg peeking from her skin dress) has turned to face a pack of huge, snarling wolves. You can see her tracks in the snow. She has fallen and clutches a tiny boy to her chest. Frazetta’s art always tells a story, but this one affected me a great deal. I wanted to jump in there and save her and the kid. Looking back, it may have even had something to do with me choosing the line of work I did.
BRC: Your biographical information indicates that you have spent over a quarter-century in law enforcement. What made you decide to start writing? When did you start writing? And if you were not involved in law enforcement or in writing, what do you think you would be doing?
MC: When I was a boy, my folks would take long drives from Texas to the Rocky Mountains to visit my grandmother. My dad wasn’t the listen-to-the-radio kind of driver, so in between reading, I would fill a couple of spiral notebooks with stories I wrote during the trips. I had a professor in college who penciled “this one looks publishable” on the corner of one of my assignments. It was likely an afterthought to him, but it was enough to start me submitting to publishers. Hanging around all the great storytellers and unique characters over the course of my career has given me plenty of grist for the mill.
If I had to pick a different career, I think I would have been a horse shoer. I apprenticed with a farrier/blacksmith when I was younger and did it for a while to make ends meet as a starving patrol officer in Texas. The art and craft of it was extremely satisfying. And it was a great way to stay in shape.
BRC: Which authors have influenced your literary career? Did you read much when you were younger? What and who did you prefer reading then, and now?
MC: I grew up in the Central Texas hills where Fred Gibson set OLD YELLER and SAVAGE SAM, so I read those books as a kid. The faint odor of must and mildew still brings to mind the smell of the old county library and the treasures I found there to take back to our farm.
As I got older, I discovered Larry McMurtry and remain a devoted fan. I read Ken Follett and Elmore Leonard with a pencil, marking them up like textbooks. Leonard, in my opinion, is the master of characterization with just a few words of dialogue.
BRC: On a related note, what have you read in the past six months that you would care to recommend to our readers?
MC: I read mostly nonfiction when I’m writing, a lot of journals, etc. I subscribe to Foreign Policy, Current History, The Week and several other periodicals. I just finished THE GREAT GAME again by Hopkirk, and that’s one of my favorite nonfiction adventure books. If readers like Jericho Quinn, I think they’d love these tales of intrigue and spy vs. spy set in Afghanistan and Central Asia. Kipling set Kim during this era. Kim is another of my (and Quinn’s) favorites, and you’ll see it referenced several times in the books.
BRC: As with many authors, you balance the demands of a time-consuming job --- in your case, law enforcement --- with family and a writing schedule. What sort of schedule did you follow while writing ACT OF TERROR? Did it differ at all from what you did while penning NATIONAL SECURITY, your first novel?
MC: I had a college professor tell me once: “Marc, you’ll never reach your full potential until you learn to use those little 15-minute periods in your life that most people waste.” A law enforcement job is demanding and was always my first priority after my family. That said, there is down time. We don’t have a television so that helps. I get a lot of writing done on airplanes or hotel rooms when I travel. It’s like watching my own movie, so it really doesn’t seem like much of a sacrifice.
NATIONAL SECURITY was more of a discovery than ACT OF TERROR, but I’m finding new things all along. There’s a character in ACT OF TERROR who was supposed to be a minor role at the beginning, but I loved her too much to let her go. I expect readers will know who I’m talking about.
I try to write an hour our two every day, more when I can.
BRC: ACT OF TERROR is complete in and of itself with a definite beginning and ending. It is, however, the second book in what appears to be an ongoing series. You left a couple of potential plot threads dangling for Quinn in his professional and personal life at the novel’s conclusion. What can you tell us about the next installment in the series?
MC: I’m not sure how far we’ll be able to go with Jericho, but we have four planned for now. We’ll see how things start to wrap themselves up. I’m about finished with the third one, and there are still several unresolved issues --- just like real life. Number three sees Quinn chasing terrorists in Miami, across the Argentine desert, deep into the Bolivian jungle and across the border back in the US. I always think of that moving map Spielberg showed on the Indiana Jones movies. That’s what I picture when I’m writing about Jericho Quinn’s adventures --- including the music.