By Josie Brown
Fast bikes. Hot women. Lethal weapons. When Marc Cameron‘s legion of loyal readers pick up a Jericho Quinn thriller, they already know they’re in for one hell of a ride.
His latest book in the series, STATE OF EMERGENCY, does not disappoint. As you can imagine, Marc has quite a few things to say about his process for plotting, scheming, and mixing this potent combination…
I love this plot: terrorism involving a motorcycle rally? Brilliant! How did the idea for this book come to you?
Thanks for taking the time to talk to me, Josie.
The Dakar is a 6000 mile desert motorcycle (and 4×4) rally billed as the most dangerous race in the world. What better place for Jericho Quinn? You get the idea a race is dangerous when they make you write your blood-type on all your gear.
It amazes me that the Dakar is third only to the Olympic Games and The World Cup in worldwide fans, and yet most people in the US have never heard of it. The riding season in Alaska is short and the winters are long. Thankfully, the Dakar falls in January, and we can follow the ride vicariously from here to get our winter riding fix.
In STATE OF EMERGENCY, there are several groups after the same Soviet-era nuke–so, Quinn is not only trying to find the bomb, but working to stay alive during the race while battling a psychotic Venezuelan, Yemeni members of Al Qaeda, Columbian drug lords, and Chechen terrorists–all after the same device.
Your background in federal law enforcement has given you a gimlet eye for detail in the real world of national security. Does it drive you crazy to go to a movie, or read a book, or watch a TV show, where details are less than accurate?
I often find myself walking the fine line of telling too much of the law enforcement process (writing a handbook for bad guys) and not getting the reality I’m looking for.
I like to think my books are more Indiana Jones than RED OCTOBER. There are plenty of technical bits, but in the main, it’s about the adventure. Quinn and Thibodaux get to do things that many folks in the Counter Terrorism business wish they could get away with.
I try to keep the threats real. There is a great deal of open-source stuff out there regarding terrorist groups and what they would like to do to the United States if given the opportunity. Sadly, a lot of folks hate us so the pickings are ripe. My background allows me to know where to look and then fill in the blanks.
More than anything, I try to make sure the weapons and fights are correct. I walk through each fight scene–sometimes with my wife, sometimes with former coworkers– and I do a lot of diagramming, as if I was preparing an operational plan for a law enforcement mission.
I made a deal with my wife a long time ago to keep my mouth shut about tactics and guns when we’re watching a movie. But, three things really bug me when I see them:
When they use a revolver with a silencer. There are very few revolvers where this would work. I don’t think anyone but gun nuts care about stuff like this, but still–Bad.
When the protagonist carries his or her weapon up by his or her face, so they can get the pistol on camera. Bad, bad…
And when someone draws their pistol and then racks the slide to chamber a round–as if they weren’t carrying their pistol loaded until they drew it. Bad, bad, bad…
How much of your story ideas do you pluck out of the news, as opposed to your own knowledge of terrorism and national security?
I read FOREIGN AFFAIRS, FOREIGN POLICY, THE WEEK, several world affairs blogs and stay in touch with my old friends still in the business. Five or six times a day I find myself thinking, “That would be a good problem for Jericho to solve.”
The US Marshals are, in my opinion, the premier federal law enforcement agency when it comes to hunting fugitives. We spend a lot of time thinking like the bad guys in order to catch them. I find myself drawing from that experience quite a bit when I’m writing villains. Though we live in a dangerous world, many people are insulated from it. For good or bad, I got to see it first hand.
I’m fortunate enough to have worked in DC and know how federal agencies communicate and work (or don’t work) together. I’ve spent time in the White House on protective details, explored the subbasements under the Capitol, been shot with a Taser–and fought, arrested and interrogated evil men and women.
Little things like these hopefully allow me to add verisimilitude to my books and give me plenty of grist for the mill.
What’s more fun to write about, cowboys, or assassins? And why?
They ride motorcycles instead of horses, but Jericho Quinn and Jacques Thibodaux would both fit into a Western pretty easily.
I enjoyed writing westerns, and wouldn’t mind doing some more in the future. Most of my growing-up years were in Texas. I was a farrier for a while, to keep food on the table as a young copper; and served on the Mounted Patrol with a police department near Fort Worth. I love horses, and enjoy writing about that culture. Many of my mentors as I came up through the ranks in law enforcement were cowboy archetypes–senior detectives, county sheriffs, Texas Highway Patrol, and, of course, Texas Rangers. I started with the US Marshals in Texas where “leather boots were still in style for manly footwear.” Merle Haggard fans will get the reference.
All that said, Jericho and associates are great fun to write. Their exploits give me the entire world as a canvas and allows me to bring on all sorts of bad guys from varied cultures and parts of the globe.
How many motorcycles do you own (have you owned)? If more than one, which is your favorite, and why?
I’ve had several motorcycles over the years, but not as many as I would have liked. Right now there are three in garage–a BMW GS, a Honda Shadow and my wife’s Yamaha scooter that she uses to commute to her job.
I really can’t think of one I don’t like–Harley’s, Hondas, Ducatis–I like them all–and try to have Jericho on a different kind of bike in each book–along with his regular ride.
I’m a BMW guy now. I’m on my second 1200 GS, Modestine (after Robert Louis Stevenson’s donkey). Her photo is on my website. GS stands for the German words that mean ‘street and trail” so Modestine is the perfect bike for Alaska. You see a lot of GSs on the road. Jericho rides a GS Adventure which is basically the same bike with a bigger gas tank. I have to get off every 250 miles or so to go to the bathroom anyway so the regular GS if fine for me.
Biker culture is right at home in a Jericho Quinn novel. A great book is all about details. That said, you’ve seamlessly combined your love of bikes into this story. I’m guessing it was a joy to write, probably just flowed out of you. Am I right?
I’ve heard it said many times that people ride motorcycles for the same reason a dog sticks its head out the car window.
Several years ago we met some friends up in the mountains north of our home to pick blueberries and shoot guns. He showed up on a BMW 1150 Adventure, predecessor to the model I own now. It was the first time I’d seen one. I was writing Westerns at the time, but the aggressive, beaked-predator look of this motorcycle made me want to put a character on such a bike. Ewan McGregor rides one of these bikes in THE LONG WAY AROUND. It’s called an adventure for a reason, and just begs to be taken to dicey uncharted places. I’ll be riding mine from Alaska down to Texas in early fall–exploring, writing and doing some book signings along the way.
I think the culture of riding lends itself to this sort of story and these characters. People who ride often develop a certain swagger. Like Jericho’s dad tells both his sons: “You have to ride like everyone else on the road is on crack and out to kill you.” In many ways, riding reminds me of my first months on patrol when everything had a heightened risk. You have this sort of hyper-vigilance about your surroundings. I don’t want to be overly dramatic, but on patrol every car you stop is a potential threat. On a bike, it’s every car on the road. Things smell different–more intense.
I’ve been connected at the hip to a pager or cell phone of one kind or another for 27 of my 29 years of law enforcement. I don’t have all the connectivity Jericho does on his bike, so riding affords me a time to actually be by myself without the threat of a buzzing phone. I’ve plotted a lot of stories on the 400 mile ride between Anchorage and Fairbanks.
Your female FSB agent is a wonderful counterpoint character to Jericho. How did she come to you?
I originally envisioned this series with Quinn working with a different female protagonist in each book: Megan Mahoney, the brilliant and beautiful doctor from the CDC in NATIONAL SECURITY and the smart and curvaceous multi-lingual Uniformed CIA Officer, Veronica “Ronnie” Garcia in ACT OF TERROR .
Since everyone is looking for a Soviet-era nuke in STATE OF EMERGENCY, it seemed natural to have the other woman be a Russian FSB agent charged with hunting down lost Soviet munitions. Aleksandra “Aleks” Kanatova’s looks and backstory are loosely based on Russian spies Anna Chapman, who graced the cover of the Russian version of MAXIM magazine after she was deported from the US; and Maria Konnenkova, a WWII-era spy who dated Einstein and Oppenheimer, passing secrets about the Manhattan Project to the Russians.
Do you find women easy to write? (Yeah, I know: this question sounds sexist, but hey, we female authors who write mystery/thrillers get the opposite asked of us all the time so I’m now turning the tables…)
I don’t know about “easy” but I find women fun to write. I started work when there weren’t too many women in law enforcement. The ones that were had a lot of pioneering to do for the ones that followed, and, it seemed, had to work extra hard to prove themselves.
Two of the best bosses I ever had in law enforcement (or anywhere) were female–a sergeant at the police department where I started (we all called her Ma) and my chief deputy when I first moved to Alaska. I am forever basing little bits and pieces of my heroines on these incredible women. And boy, do I have stories. (Look me up sometime at a ThrillerFest….)
Ronnie Garcia, who makes her first appearance in the second book was supposed to show up during a shooting at CIA headquarters, help kill the bad guys and die heroically. By the end of her scene, I realized she was too good a character to kill off so quickly. Of Cuban/Russian parentage, she’s on the fit side of zaftig and I envision her as someone who jumped out of a Frank Frazetta illustration (talk about sexist). She’s strong, smart, bodacious and, in many ways, naively innocent. Ronnie fought her way into the role as the leading lady in ACT OF TERROR, and appears in STATE OF EMERGENCY as well as the next book, adding all sorts of wrinkles to Quinn’s personal and professional life.
Even though I wanted Quinn to work with a different woman in each story, I didn’t want him to be James Bond. Since he’s so conflicted about his feelings for his ex-wife, he gets to have all sorts of sexual tension with the woman in each book without falling into bed at every turn. I think that gives me a chance to explore the female characters without that always being the end goal.
She doesn’t play a big part in every book, but I really enjoy writing about Jacques’ wife and the mother of his seven sons, Camille “Cornmeal” Thibodaux. She allows her tough-as-nails Marine gunny husband a ration of five non-bible curse words each month to keep him on what she sees as the strait and narrow. She’s strong-willed, deeply religious, pretty, devoted to her man–and extremely sexual. As Jacques tells it, she’s always up for a game of “escaped convict and the warden’s wife”.
Aleks, the FSB agent in STATE OF EMERGENCY, was great fun to write. It was interesting to look at terrorism through the eyes of a female agent working for a foreign power. In STATE OF EMERGENCY, she is most interested in Chechen terrorists she believes might end up with the bomb.
Which novelists are your greatest influences, and why?
Growing up, I loved anything that had an air of adventure to it. I read Dumas early on, and had a sword when I was young, hacking away at the Johnson grass on our farm in Texas, pretending to be a musketeer or Cyrano (or Zorro or a pirate) well past the age that I should have stopped such things.
Hemingway’s Africa stories certainly affected me.
I have reread KIM at least a six times–and my characters often quote Kipling.
Ian Fleming, of course. Especially because of his personal history in espionage during World War II. My mom and dad took me with them to see Dr. No at a drive-in movie when I was a baby. I really discovered James Bond when I was in the fourth grade. I had all the paperbacks by the time I was in middle school but I think my mom confiscated THE SPY WHO LOVED ME because it went missing shortly after she looked it over.
I’m a big Elmore Leonard fan and wish I had the knack for the wacky like Carl Hiaasen.
I like Ludlum, Le Carre, and have read pretty much everything by David Morrell. As a retired federal agent, I have to say Morrell seems to have his finger on the little-known truths of the work more than just about anyone I have read.
Ken Follet is a favorite. EYE OF THE NEEDLE and THE KEY TO REBECCA are two of the best spy stories out there. I have read both with a highlighter and pencil, dissecting them to see how he put them together.
It’s not a thriller, but when I read something crappy, I go back and re-read Norman Maclean’s A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT. The writing cleans my brain.
What’s next up on the horizon for you (and Jericho?)
The next book takes Jericho to Japan and reveals some of Mrs. Miyagi’s past as well as her mysterious tattoo.
I just returned from a research trip to Japan where I was fortunate enough to stay with another novelist and her husband who is a police officer. Incredible information that I think will add some real depth to the story.
I also introduce a new character, a deputy marshal named August Bowen. It’s been fun to write about my old agency now that enough time has passed since I retired.
Not sure where we’ll go after that. But it will likely be on a motorcycle.
Marc Cameron is a retired Chief Deputy US Marshal and 29-year law enforcement veteran. His short stories have appeared in BOYS’ LIFE Magazine and the Saturday Evening Post. He has published nine novels, six of them Westerns (several as a ghost writer and two under his pen name, Mark Henry). His present Jericho Quinn series—NATIONAL SECURITY, ACT OF TERROR and STATE OF EMERGENCY— features an adventure motorcyclist, Air Force OSI agent and renaissance man who spends his days sorting out his life and kicking terrorist butt. Marc lives in Alaska with his beautiful bride and BMW motorcycle.
To learn more about Marc, please visit his website.