An Interview with Grant Blackwood
UNDER FIRE centers on Jack Ryan Jr. who is coming into his own as an operative. While on an intelligence mission in Tehran Jack meets with his old high school friend, Seth Gregory. Later Seth disappears and Jack is told he is a possible traitor. It becomes imperative that he must choose between his loyalties to his friend, Seth, or to his county. Pursuing the truth leads Jack across Iran, through war-torn Caucasus, and deep into territory controlled by the aggressive Russian Federation. He is helped by an enigmatic Iranian woman, Ysabel, who becomes a loyal partner. They race against the clock to determine who is friend and who is foe.
Elise Cooper: What was it like to write a Clancy novel on your own?
Grant Blackwood: I was proud to work with Tom on Dead Or Alive. This very successful book kept the franchise moving forward. I am keenly aware of the tradition I have been tasked with. Besides being a fan and reader, while writing Dead Or Alive I got steeped in the Clancy universe as a writer. Jack Ryan Junior’s drives and motivations was something I understood from working with Clancy earlier.
EC: Mark Greaney also writes Jack Ryan Jr. novels. Did you consult with him?
GB: Yes. Our biggest concern was continuity. He, our editor, and I talked a lot about what happened in the book written by Mark, and what I have Jack doing in this book. We did not only dovetail but wanted to make sure there were no contradictions, that it was a seamless change. In the early stages of planning this book I told Mark, ‘here is what I have in mind,’ to make sure it did not mess him up with his next Clancy book. He read Under Fire as I was going along so he has a good segue going into the next book. I know the plan is for two books a year going forward and we have not come to a decision if I will write another one.
EC: Would you be willing to write another Clancy book?
GB: I really enjoy writing about the Clancy universe. I feel like Tom is sitting on my shoulder when I write these books. I want to remain true to the Clancy world. This is always in the back of my mind. When I collaborated with Tom or any author I realize there are two visions for the book, which needs to be brought together. Whereas when I am the solo writer as with Under Fire it is all on me.
EC: When Jack got into trouble why didn’t he call the President, his dad Jack Ryan Sr.?
GB: The Campus, the organization Jack Jr. belongs to, engages in covert operations that are off the books. They are there to create distance between themselves and the President. Besides, Jack Jr. is coming into his own. He started, as an analyst but is now a full-fledged operative. He does not want to call dad whenever he gets into trouble.
EC: You wrote Jack Jr. as not being invincible. Why?
GB: There is this old saying in the intelligence business; things will go wrong. It is how someone handles themselves when they go off track that is a good judge of character. Jack Jr. realized he could not dwell on the guilt. He is really good at adjusting his course and moving forward, the hallmark of an intelligence operative.
EC: In this story you hammer the point home how even America’s allies have their own agenda. Please explain.
GB: That is a part of diplomacy and is played out in this book. The world of espionage is the “wilderness of mirrors,” in that nothing is as it seems to be. There is a very gray world, which helps to make a fascinating storyline. For much of the story no one seems to be who they claim to be. The motives, intentions, and methods are a minefield Jack must navigate. This is often the case with real-world, high-stakes field operatives. Our desires, interests, and benefits are not always the same as our allies. This is what can create a conflict.
EC: You concentrated heavily on explaining the world of espionage. Why?
GB: I wanted to write a book about the nitty gritty, down and dirty intelligence world. This necessitated putting in how covert ops and intelligence works. I also like to pay homage to those on the cutting edge of this world. The intelligence community is made up of unsung heroes with a really tough job. I hope I did them justice.
EC: Any reality to this story?
GB: I have always been interested in the Caspian States and Iran because it is a very volatile area. It is a hot bed of different goals and motivations and is a fertile ground for a great story. The history is deeply embedded in the Russian Federation and the Soviet Union. Tehran is wary of the Russian Federation and understands they are a stones throw away from one of the most powerful countries in the world. There are also many nations in the Russian Federation on their border. Today’s friend is tomorrow’s “Frenemy.”
EC: Can you give a heads up about your next projects?
GB: This is almost the fifteen-year anniversary of my Briggs Tanner series. The three novels will be re-released in an e-book. Tanner is an operative much like Jack Ryan Jr. I am also considering a standalone series with a new hero, Evan Rusk. He has been whispering in my ear for several years now. His background is a former US Air Force Pararescue operator and a Diplomatic Security Service Agent. Currently an investigative journalist he specializes in the issues involving the world’s most volatile places.