Why I Brought McCracken Back


Okay, confession time.  The truth behind the return of my original series hero Blaine McCracken was not based on planning or inspiration.  It was based instead on seizing a fresh and wonderful opportunity based on another opportunity lost.

See, around a year and a half ago Clive Cussler parted ways with one of his long-time co-authors.  Turned out my agent happened to represent another of those co-authors and was intimately aware of the opening as well as the whole process, certainly enough to believe I’d be the perfect fit given that my McCracken books owe a lot of their inspiration to Cussler’s terrific Dirk Pitt series.

Now I’m somebody who attacks such an opportunity like a pit bull; I wasn’t about to just put my name forward with a resume of titles and hope for the best.  No, I decided instead to go all-in by writing an extended sample.  Here’s where the fun begins because, like my nine-book McCracken series, all of Cussler’s series are high-concept based.  So I put brain to the grindstone, did some thinking followed by research, and discovered that no thriller writer had ever done a book using the mythical Pandora’s box as a jumping off point.  Such historical speculation has long been the basis of this kind of book, Clive’s and mine included, so I had the germ of an idea I knew rocked:

What if Pandora’s box was real?
           
Jon Land
Well, it turns out the box was really a jar, but that’s beside the point.  The real point for our purposes anyway is that Clive decided to go in a different direction.  Disappointing for sure, but this business is all about getting up off the mat, brushing yourself off, and getting back into the fight. To digress slightly, I had recently placed the first five long-out-of-print McCracken titles with a wonderful company called Open Road Integrated Media that had reissued them in digital format, giving new life to the series and the character.  So here I was with a hundred and fifty pages of a potentially great adventure and nothing to do with them.  But not for long because, thanks to Open Road, I had something to do with them indeed:  convert the story that was basically made for Blaine McCracken into a McCracken story.

It was one of the smartest things I ever did and also one of the easiest, since trying to tailor my writing for someone else hadn’t been much fun at all, while going back to my old pal Blaine was a blast from the start.  I added an extended rescue sequence prologue to reintroduce McCracken to readers and rewrote the original pages which exploded with the kind of life, energy and pacing that had come to typify the nine previous McCracken books.  I’m not saying it was easy, because the high-action thriller form requires an elegant and seamless choreography to make the extended action sequences seem fresh and original, as big and broad as what long-time McCracken fans had come to expect. 

Look, I stopped writing books featuring him fifteen years ago mostly because I thought I’d taken his character as far as I could, along with the fact that the end of the Cold War sort of sounded a death knell for these kind of thrillers.  Fortunately I was wrong on the first count and, thanks to the great writing of authors like James Rollins, Steve Berry, Vince Flynn and Brad Thor among others, this kind of thriller found itself very much back in vogue in the wake of 9/11.

In other words, the timing was perfect to bring Blaine McCracken back.  Perfect but also challenging.  First off, the stakes had to be typically high.  The McCracken books were highly influenced by Ian Fleming’s James Bond.  That meant the fate of the world, or at least the country, had to be hanging in the balance.  Good thing I had my Pandora’s box idea, along with something else I’d been playing around with:  dark matter, the least understood and potentially most powerful (and, thus, deadly) force in the universe.  The disaster aboard the Deepwater Horizon stuck in my mind, planting a seed of an even more epic disaster on an offshore oilrig as the basis for maybe the biggest action-adventure tale I’d ever penned.  Absolutely perfect to center around McCracken and certain to please his most ardent fans who expect nothing less of him.

Uh-oh, though, I had another problem:  as a deep cover operative who cut his teeth in Vietnam’s Operation Phoenix, he’d have to be around 60 years old unless I wanted to cheat a la Robert Parker who made the mistake of making his wondrous Spenser a Korean War vet meaning he’d be around eighty-five now and still kicking butt.  But cheating the reader was no way to reintroduce McCracken and had I made him, say, forty-five, he’d have been killing Vietcong at the age of ten.  So I decided to age him normally and introduce him in Pandora’s Temple about to celebrate his 60th birthday.  The phone has pretty much stopped ringing and time seems to have passed Blaine by, when the call that brings him back to action comes.

And that’s one of the things that brought him back to life for me.  I realized he made the perfect metaphor for so many successful businessmen and women who find their jobs outsourced or phased out when they reach the same age, thanks to the current economy.  I knew I had a theme that would create an emotional resonance in Pandora that would help elevate it above the run-of-the-mill thriller and make it not just a worthy addition to the series, but maybe the best one yet.  Lucky number ten!

Once I realized that, I was able to swiftly recapture McCracken’s voice and his sharp, thoughtful exchanges with his right-hand man, the seven-foot indestructible and wise Johnny Wareagle.  It happened organically and didn’t need to be forced at all, although I did go back and add some scenes to help recapture the magic between them that helps define who they are and the eternal quest they find themselves on.

Because at heart all great thrillers are quest stories and McCracken’s quest here is to find Pandora’s box because that’s the only way to save the world.  But this time out in saving the world, Blaine is also saving himself from the scrapheap, and watching him come to embrace that opportunity as the story goes on imbues the book with just the verve it needed to do justice to a hero who’s been away from the page since 1998. 

Based on the early response to Pandora’s Temple there’s no way he’ll be away for that long again and I’m already dreaming up his next challenge, the next topic no one’s ever written about before, that will serve Blaine well.  While we await that time, and while you enjoy this book, I have a question for you:

Who’s your favorite series hero and why?

Love to hear what you’ve got to say.  After all, without you there’d be no Blaine McCracken and there’d be no Jon Land.

Guest post by Jon Land. Jon Land is the critically acclaimed author of 32 books, including the bestselling series featuring Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong that includes STRONG ENOUGH TO DIE, STRONG JUSTICE, STRONG AT THE BREAK, STRONG VENGEANCE (July 2012) and STRONG RAIN FALLING (August 2013). He has more recently brought his long-time series hero Blaine McCracken back to the page in PANDORA’S TEMPLE (November 2012). He lives in Providence, Rhode Island.

Website: www.jonlandbooks.com



3 comments:

  1. Extraordinary write up and post. Very interesting. Thank you for sharing!!!

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  2. Loved this post! I love learning how books come to fruition.

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  3. Thanks for letting me share my thoughts and experiences with your readers! Hope they enjoy the post and look forward to meeting all of them again soon! Jon

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