Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Writing Techno-Thrillers

Tom Clancy is the master of the techno-thriller. I was an avid reader of his books from the first, The Hunt for Red October. I enjoyed his use of technology, though at times it grew a bit tedious, such as his detailed description of the bad guys fashioning a nuclear bomb. I was impressed enough, though, that I put quite a bit of technology into my first manuscripts in the early nineties.

I found the genre required a great deal of research into a variety of subjects. I went to the Vanderbilt University Library and got a courtesy card after explaining that I was an author, though unpublished at the time. I spent a lot of hours going through the stacks and reading up on technical subjects, both in books and magazines. Much of the information I needed came from the Engineering section of the library.

I wrote three Post Cold War thrillers that required extensive research. The first, Beware the Jabberwock, now in the Kindle Store, was not as heavily dependent on techno business as the following books. It did include a high-tech security system for an island off the Florida coast, for which I got an assist from my brother, whose electrical engineering career included being director of engineering for the local electric utility. I also researched some technical aspects of aerial photography. In earlier times I had been intelligence officer for an Air National Guard tactical reconnaissance group.

The second book, The Poksu Conspiracy, involves South Korea and nuclear power generation, plus some nuclear weapons issues. I frequented the Vanderbilt Library extensively on these subjects, allowing use of the jargon for getting a nuclear power plant online. I solicited advice from my brother regarding a sophisticated electronic setup for detonating a bomb.

The third book, which turned out as long as a Clancy thriller, is titled Overture to Disaster. Like the first book, it begins in the fall of 1991 as the Cold War was ending. Following parallel plot threads, it tracks a Belarus police investigator seeking answers to his brother's death and the aftermath of an Air Force special operators mission to bring out an important defector from Iran. This required research into the MH-53J Pave Low III special operations helicopter. After writing the part about the mission, I sent it to an operations officer in a spec ops unit for critique. I also did extensive research into Soviet weapons and the use of nerve gas.

Overall, I found that writing techno-thrillers requires a dedication to technical research and finding people who can supply obscure information. It was a lot of fun twenty years ago, but I have since gravitated to whodunits that require a limited amount of outside digging. Those early novels wandered all around the globe. Now I stick mostly to the Nashville area, with a few excursions to places not too distant.

Chester Campbell

Visit me at Mystery Mania

1 comment:

Jaden Terrell said...

I hope you have the best of luck with your techno-thrillers, Chester. Having read the first one (and I will get to the second as soon as I can, I promise!), I think you captured the tone perfectly.