It’s hard to put into words just how great of an addition Mike Maden has been to the Jack Ryan universe. A couple years ago, Maden replaced Grant Blackwood the same year that Marc Cameron replaced Mark Greaney. Cameron, of course, now writes the fall books, which tend to focus more on President Jack Ryan. Maden, for the last two years, has been penning the summer titles, which follow Jack Ryan Junior and his work with the Campus as an elite operator.
Tom Clancy Point of Contact (2017) and Tom Clancy Line of Sight (2018), Maden’s first two books set in the universe that Tom Clancy built, have taken this franchise–which has always lived in the shadow of the Jack Senior books–to another level. From his Brad Thor-like opening in Point of Contact to the Clancy-esque bomb scene in Line of Sight, Maden has provided a much-needed jolt to the series, earning praise from readers and critics alike.
While Tom Clancy Line of Sight actually came out back in June, a scheduling conflict kept me from catching up with Mike Maden until just recently. Graciously, the bestselling author agreed to partake in our Five Questions segment, and I asked about everything from which Clancy book is his favorite to what advice he has for new authors. Read the full Q&A below and then, if you haven’t already, order your copy of Tom Clancy Line of Sight, the explosive new Jack Ryan Junior novel, today.
TRBS: This book is just fantastic. How did you come up with the plot idea, and what kind of research did you have to do before actually sitting down to write?
Maden: “Making books and making sausages share a lot in common, including the fact it’s not always a pretty thing to describe, ya know? But it looks something like this, at least for me. Whenever I start a new project, I always begin with a theme—what is it that I want to say through the action of the story? One of my favorite ideas (borrowed from the Greek philosopher Heraclitus) is: Character is destiny. In my mind, that’s as true for individuals as it is for nations. At an even deeper level, ‘identity is destiny’ and that was the theme I wanted to explore in Line of Sight. The states of the former Yugoslavia were the perfect place to explore this concept, particularly following that country’s breakup and the subsequent wars of ‘ethnic cleansing’ that followed in the 1990s. I had followed these events somewhat closely as they unfolded back in the day, but it was a real eye-opener to dive back into articles, books, and even videos regarding those conflicts with the perspective of historical hindsight. Traveling in that part of the world was also hugely important for me in bringing the characters and conflicts to life in the context of a Jack Ryan, Jr. story. Unfortunately, there are lessons for the United States to learn today from those terrible years in the Balkans.”
TRBS: What is your writing process like (do you outline your books, have a certain amount of words you try to write each day, etc.), and what advice do you have for aspiring authors?
Maden: “The first task of every writer is to discover his or her own writing process. I truly admire writers like Stephen King who begin with just a character and a conflict and discover the story as they write. Me? I’m just not that bright. I need to know how the story ends before I start so I know where it’s all heading with a strong theme in mind to help me make the right choices along the way. So yes, I definitely outline, and then I set hard and fast daily word counts that I hold to as slavishly as I can. Large head wounds, certain types of plague viruses and family events are the only things that might interrupt my writing schedule.
“My advice to aspiring writers is the same I give to all writers: write. The solution to almost every writing problem? Write. I agree with Hemingway: the first draft is always…well, the word he used rhymes with ‘spit.’ If that’s true for Hemingway, it’s certainly true for me, and probably for every other writer, aspiring or otherwise. So, getting the first draft out is key—spit as fast as you can. Then the real work begins: rewriting. (And I’m sure you’ve all heard the bromide, ‘All writing is rewriting.’ Well, it’s mostly true.) The advantage of a great outline is that it prevents me from having to rewrite as much or trying to solve significant story problems in the rewrite. The last place I want to discover a fatal plot hole is on page 437 of my first draft—I’d much rather find it on page 3 of my outline.”
TRBS: Obviously, Line of Sight is your second Clancy book. What was the day like when you got the call, asking to write in the iconic Jack Ryan universe that Tom Clancy built?
Maden: “The day the series editor, Tom Colgan, called me was the greatest literary day of my life. Anyone who writes in the genre that Tom Clancy built is a fan of the Jack Ryan universe. It was a privilege and an honor to have been asked to join The Campus. But of course, thirty seconds after I hung up, I realized that now I actually have to write a Tom Clancy novel! Suddenly, the weight and responsibility of that fell on me. It felt like being asked by Queen Elizabeth to add a few more lines to Henry’s St. Crispin Day’s speech. You can’t say no, can you? But how do you add to greatness? (More important: how do you avoid screwing it up?) The pressure I was feeling all came from within me—Tom Colgan, the Penguin Random House team and the Clancy estate have been nothing but totally supportive and encouraging. But me? Decades before I ever wrote my first novel, I was already a Clancy fan, and that’s why I take the responsibility of meeting the expectations of Clancy fans very, very seriously.”
TRBS: What is your favorite Tom Clancy novel and why?
Maden: “The Hunt for Red October. That says more about me than any of the other great novels in the series. THRO was the first time I had ever read Tom Clancy, and the first time he absolutely gobsmacked me with the techno-realism that he’s famous for. Sure, it was a great story all on its own, but he practically made the hardware another character in the story. His respect and admiration for our military and intelligence services came through loud and clear as well, and it’s the place where we first met the iconic Jack Ryan. I’ve also never forgotten that sense of both awe and curiosity he generated within me as I turned those pages, and that’s something to which I aspire as a writer.”
TRBS: Lastly, what’s next for you, and is there a chance you might ever write another book in your Drone series in the future?
Maden: “The next thing for me is another Jack Ryan Jr. novel slated for June 2019 which I’m currently working on. I have an outline for another Drone novel in my desk drawer. I’m just waiting for Troy to give me the ‘go’ sign. He’s still rehabbing from his last adventure and deserves time off with Margaret for all of the hell I’ve put him through in the course of four books.”
Praised as “one of today’s finest book reviewers” by New York Times bestselling author Gayle Lynds, Ryan Steck (“The Godfather of the thriller genre” — Ben Coes) has “quickly established himself as the authority on mysteries and thrillers” (Author A.J. Tata). He currently lives in Southwest Michigan with his wife and their six children.