10 Questions with Rick Campbell
1. Mr. Campbell, thank you for this opportunity to be interviewed for my blog. Your new thriller, THE TRIDENT DECEPTION, came out on March 11. Tell us a bit more about this book.
In The Trident Deception, Israel discovers Iran is less than two weeks away from assembling their first nuclear bomb, and the Israeli security council decides the weapon assembly complex must be destroyed. However, the weapon assembly complex is a hardened underground facility that can be destroyed only by American conventional weapons or by one of Israel’s nuclear bombs. Israel asks the United States for the bunker-busting bombs they need, but the administration refuses to transfer the weapons to Israel while they are in discussions with Iran over their nuclear weapons program, convinced Iran would never use nuclear weapons offensively.
Israel isn’t willing to take that chance, convinced the risk is too great Iran will use nuclear weapons against them either directly or indirectly through a terrorist organization. That puts Israel between a rock and a hard place, forcing them to choose between letting Iran assemble their nuclear bomb, or use one of their own nuclear weapons in a first strike. The Israeli Prime Minister refuses to authorize the strike, convinced the world would turn against Israel if they were the first to use nuclear weapons. However, the Prime Minister authorizes a Mossad plan that transmits launch orders to a United States ballistic missile submarine – the United States will do the job for them. Unfortunately, the American traitor in the Pentagon involved in the plot changes the launch order from a single warhead aimed at the weapon assembly complex, to an order releasing all 24 of the submarine’s missiles, and all 192 warheads.
The submarine is then cut off from receiving a Termination Order, and begins its 8 day transit to launch range. As the president and his advisors grapple with the realization of what will happen in 8 days, the president finally gives the order – sink the USS Kentucky.
It may seem like I’ve given away a lot of the plot, but not really, That takes you up to the 100 page point, but a lot happens to get you there that I haven’t told you about, and from here the action really begins, as orders go out to the Pacific Fleet to find and sink the Kentucky.
2. Where did the inspiration for this story come from, and how much of the situations described in it are true and how much are fiction?
The inspiration for the book came from Tom Clancy’s – The Hunt For Red October. When I decided to write a submarine thriller, I started with what I consider to be the gold standard for this genre. My first thought was – “Why didn’t I think of that!” But of course, I didn’t. But Hunt For Red October was written 30 years ago, so I wondered if the basic story could somehow be updated for the 21st century and reversed – have the Soviet Union hunting down a United States ballistic missile submarine. Unfortunately, the Soviet Union doesn’t exist any more and the Russian navy is a shell of the former Soviet navy. And in my opinion, the Russian navy wouldn’t be able to find an American SSBN in the open ocean.
So I thought about switching oceans – to the Pacific. But I had the same problem. In the Pacific, you’ve got Russia and China, and neither navy has the ability to hunt down an American ballistic missile submarine in the open ocean. So I was stuck. The sad fact was, the only navy with the capability to hunt down an American ballistic missile submarine was our own navy. DING! That was it!
However, that was a tall mountain to climb. How do you get to the point where the president of the United States gives the order to hunt down and sink one of our own submarines? And have the reader actually believe it could happen? HUGE problem. But I came up with a solution that worked.
To answer the second part of your question, the plot is pure fiction, but I tried to base the premise of the book as close to real life as possible – something so realistic that you could be reading the book, then look up and see the events unfolding on the news on TV.
3. Why do your write? Why thrillers?
I write thrillers because no one loved my Sci-Fi novel!
I started to write because I had this great Sci-Fi story rolling around in my head for 20 years. I grew up reading Fantasy / Sci-Fi exclusively, so that was the story I wanted to write. I couldn’t bring myself to write it for years, figuring I didn’t have the requisite talent, since I’m an engineer by trade and have no training in writing. And I’ve always thought writing was mostly an innate skill – something you couldn’t teach yourself, and I didn’t think I had that type of talent. Writing was a skill the liberal arts people had, not a number-cruncher like me.
I finally decided to write that Sci-Fi story, but it went nowhere. I queried 40 agents, and not a single agent replied. However, I had finally written my story and I thought I was done with my writing experiment. But a strange thing happened – I discovered that I enjoyed writing – creating something out of nothing. So I decided to give it another try and write another novel. But what?
There’s an adage that says – either write what you love, or write what you know. Well, I wrote what I loved, but no one else loved it. So this time I decided to write what I knew. And what was that? Submarines! So I wrote a submarine thriller.
4. What are your writing habits? Outline or not?
I’m a heavy-duty outliner. So much so that I actually outline in Excel, with 13 columns per chapter. With multi-colored text in some columns. Yeah, I’m strange.
I can’t even fathom writing without an outline. At least not for my type of books. Everything’s very interlocked from a plot perspective, and I need to lay it out first, from start to finish. I also need to know ahead of time what characters will be in each chapter and whose POV the scene will be written in. Additionally, some of the Excel columns keep track of the multiple time zones, so I know what time it is in each scene, since they jump around quite a bit. I might be in Israel in one chapter, then in Washington D.C. the next, then in Hawaii the next. I need to know how much time has elapsed between the scenes and what time it is locally in every chapter.
5. How is THE TRIDENT DECEPTION different from numerous action thrillers books flooding this genre?
I’d say the main difference is that for the genre I’m writing in, there’s no better expert than me. I read a lot of submarine novels as I studied to become a writer, and a lot of the authors weren’t former submariners. And it shows. They’re talented writers, but they just don’t get it right, from the dialog, to the details, to the basic characterization of the characters themselves, to the situations they get themselves into and how they handle them.
6. A word of advice for new writers?
I’m still a new writer, so I’m looking for advice myself. Got any?
Actually, I’d say to follow your dream and don’t give up. Today there are more options than there were 10 years ago. If you can’t find an agent, there are lots of small presses and you can always self-publish. Just be aware that the challenge with both of those will be the marketing aspect, especially with self-publishing. As long as you’re willing to roll up your sleeves, have at it!
7. What are your thoughts on the latest publishing industry developments, mainly the rise of the self-publishing? Did you ever consider it or might you consider it in the future?
As I alluded to while answering the above question – yes. I almost self-published. The whole “find an agent, get a book deal” journey was wearing on me, and I don’t take rejection particularly well. I won’t tell you how many agents I had to query to find one, but Agent172 REALLY loved my book!
The waiting was the unbearable part for me, both for an agent and for a book deal, and I almost called my agent and told him to pull my submission. I had decided that writing wasn’t for me – I couldn’t handle the endless rejection. But I had come that far, so I decided to let the second round of submissions play out. After that, I was going to self-publish my book and call it quits, drawing my writing experiment to a close.
However, my agent had the insight to submit my manuscript to a fantastic editor at St. Martin’s Press, and it happened very much like my agent search – I got an offer almost immediately once you hit the right person. It’s been an exciting ride since then and I’m very happy with St. Martin’s Press. They’ve been wonderful, and as long as they don’t kick me to the curb, I plan to be with them for a very long time.
8. What are your favorite pastimes?
Pastime? What is that?
I’ve still got the day job, so pretty much every spare moment I have is spent somehow related to writing, or tied up with family activities. I can’t remember the last time I watched a TV program, aside from a football game.
I’d love to do more reading, especially in the Thriller genre. As I mentioned earlier, until I wrote The Trident Deception, I read almost exclusively Science Fiction / Fantasy, aside from a few Tom Clancy novels in the last century. I’ve started to read in the Thriller genre now, primarily to study and learn from the best, but it’s only a matter of time before I meet a famous thriller writer, and I’ll have no clue as to who they are or what they’ve written. (Awkward.) What writing skill I have I’ve gleaned by reading #1 best-selling Thriller authors, and I need to set time aside to do more reading and studying.
9. How do you connect with your fans?
I’ll let you know when I get one. 🙂
10. What is your next book going to be about?
Empire Rising is an all-out conventional war (naval battle) between the United States and China. Unlike two recent books with similar premises (Threat Vector by Clancy/Greaney and Shattered Trident by Larry Bond), the United States is unable to head off the conflict and the two nations actually go at it. There’s something for everyone as the battle unfolds from the skies over Taiwan to submarine combat in the Strait, with the Pacific Fleet’s five carrier strike groups in continuous Flex Ops in support, along with a SEAL Team insertion into the heart of Beijing. But not everything goes as planned for both sides in this action packed military thriller.