By Jeff Ayers
On May 5, 2014, Jack Bauer returned in “24: Live Another Day” to restart the ticking clock on the groundbreaking and Emmy Award-winning drama. 24: DEADLINE will answer some of the questions of what happened to Jack in the four years between the end of season eight and the new “24: Live Another Day” event series.
The time is 5:00 p.m.: One hour ago, federal agent Jack Bauer was declared a fugitive. If he wants to survive, he must get out of the country, and he doesn’t have much time. With his former colleagues in the Counter Terrorist Unit now dead, under arrest, or shut down, Jack has no resources to call upon, no back-up, and nowhere to go—only his determination can drive him on. One thing remains clear to him: the promise he made to his daughter Kim. Jack vows that he will see Kim one last time to tell her he loves her—before he drops off the radar forever.
Tor/Forge books editor Melissa Frain said, “Few shows have ever been able to achieve what “24” has on television. As passionate fans of the show ourselves, we’re thrilled to help fill the gap between the devastating events of last season and Jack’s highly anticipated return in “24: Live Another Day” with 24: DEADLINE. And regarding the author, James Swallow: “With his background as a veteran tie-in author and a long-time fan of “24,” we think James has the perfect sensibility to tell the world just what happened to Jack Bauer after the clock wound down at the end of season eight.”
With that in mind, THE BIG THRILL took the time to chat with James Swallow.
When did you first get the writing bug?
I started writing seriously in my teens; I wrote articles for fanzines, and I eventually made the jump to getting paid for writing articles for pro magazine markets. That in turn led me to writing prose fiction and scripts. I quit my day job in 1997 to write full time and I’ve never looked back. But I guess I really got started when I was a kid; I loved writing stories and reading, and I always wanted to be a writer in some capacity (at least, after I realized that “astronaut” and “international assassin” would be the harder career choices). I’m still doing it because I like to think I’m good at it, because people keep asking me to—but mostly because I love it. It’s been a long, strange trip, and not without its rocks and shoals, but I wouldn’t give it up for anything. I’m still thrilled that I get to make stuff up for a living.
How did you land the assignment to bring back Jack Bauer in print form?
Luck, persistence, and skill are what keep you working, I like to think. It was a mix of the first and the last that got me the gig, thanks to a good friend over at Tor Books, my former editor Marco Palmieri. Marco and I had worked together on a number of tie-in projects when he was at Pocket Books, and we developed a great editor-author relationship over that period. When he learned about Forge taking up the “24” license, I was one of the people he suggested for the job—so I owe him big for that!
From Marco’s introduction, I had a meeting with the line editor Melissa Frain when she was over in the U.K. and we both bonded over out mutual love for the series. I’d watched the show from day one and absorbed all the other ”24”tie-in materials over the years, so I had good handle on Jack’s fictional world, and we went straight to work coming up with a storyline to kick off the new novel series.
What appeals to you about the “24” franchise?
There’s a lot of things about it that keep me coming back. At the most basic level, it’s exciting. The relentless pace of the show makes every episode a thrill ride, and that’s something I tried to emulate with my novel 24: DEADLINE. You also have an iconic lead character in the form of Jack Bauer, who is the ultimate survivor, the man who takes all the slings and arrows thrown at him and yet still remains true to his own code of honor. I’ve always liked heroes who come through their adventures bloody but unbowed, and that’s Jack through and through. All that, plus a compelling supporting cast, the high-octane action, and great drama make “24” a modern archetype for the thriller genre.
How do you find the right voice that will please the die-hard fans, yet also be inviting for the readers unfamiliar with the show?
Writing tie-ins is always a tough gig, because you’re constantly pulled between two extremes. On the one hand, you have to work to retain the texture of the fictional world and stay true to the established characters and tropes within it, but on the other hand you want to bring something of your own authorial tone to it and push the envelope. That’s a delicate balancing act and not all writers can manage it.
I think it’s important to have a good knowledge of, and respect for, the franchise you’re writing in. I read tie-in titles as well as write them and I always dislike works that miss that crucial element. If you know the material, you’ll know the “voice” of that world, and hopefully make the fans happy; at the same time, a good story will appeal to people who are perhaps not as steeped in all the background detail. The key—as always!—is to write a compelling narrative and not allow yourself to get bogged down in the minutiae, but to also maintain that all-important texture throughout so that, in the case of DEADLINE, it feels like a “24” story.
What has been your favorite universe to write a story? Why?
Tough call! I’ve enjoyed writing for every franchise. I’ve done them in different ways for different reasons—mostly because they are fictional universes I’ve enjoyed as a reader, a viewer, or a gamer, and I’ve had the chance to create a new piece of that. So, I don’t think I could pick just one.
Do you prefer writing your own stories or writing in already established universes?
Both have their pros and cons. Having a blank canvas to work from can be very liberating but it can also be daunting, whereas working in an established world can be a lot of fun, because you’re finding new ways to play with a toy box of ideas that are well known, but also quite restrictive. The key in both cases is to find what you love about these fictional worlds and work from there. I try to give both my original and tie-in work the same one hundred percent of my creative energies, and I enjoy them in equal but different way. I can’t say I’d ever want to pick one over the other.
What’s next for you?
At the moment, I’m shopping around an original action thriller novel of my own—the first in what I hope could be a series—and working on a science fiction tie-in based on the Star Trek franchise. Outside of prose writing, I’m writing the script for a top-secret videogame project that will be announced in the next few months, and having a great time with that.
I’m out there on the net in a few places, if people are interested in learning more about me, or following my ongoing attempts to be witty and erudite—on Twitter at @jmswallow, on Blogger, and on Tumblr.
James Swallow is the New York Times bestselling author of more than thirty-five books, including THE POISONED CHALICE, FEAR TO TREAD, DAY OF THE VIPERS, NEMESIS, ICARUS EFFECT, ENIGMA, PEACEMAKER and the SUNDOWNERS series. His other credits feature scripts for television, videogames and radio drama, including DEUS EX: HUMAN REVOLUTION, FABLE: THE JOURNEY, KILLZONE 2 and STAR TREK VOYAGER. A BAFTA nominee, James lives in London, and is currently at work on his next novel.
To learn more about James, please visit his website.