Thursday, June 17, 2021

Jack Campbell Interview - Boundless

Photo Content from Jack Campbell

Jack Campbell” is the pen name of John G. Hemry, a retired naval officer who graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis before serving with the surface fleet and in a variety of other assignments. He is the New York Times bestselling author of The Lost Fleet series and The Lost Stars series, as well as the Stark’s War, Paul Sinclair, and Pillars of Reality series. He lives with his indomitable wife and three children in Maryland.


Greatest thing you learned at school.
Before I entered the US Naval Academy I was given a copy of the book laying out the requirements for first year students (plebes). And I thought I could never put up with all that but consoled myself with knowing the copy I'd been given was a couple of decades old and surely all that had changed. It hadn't. What I learned over that first summer and the years afterwards was that I could do things I hadn't thought I could, that I could endure things I hadn't thought I could, and that (as Winston Churchill put it) the secret to getting through hell is to keep walking. It's that simple, and that difficult, and by that point I knew I could do it.

When/how did you realize you had a creative dream or calling to fulfill?
Maybe when I was about six and tried to write a long story about everything I'd done that summer. Maybe when I was about eleven and discovered that my love of history and mythology could be used to dream up my own fictional histories and stories. Or when I was in high school and made my first (very weak) attempts to write short stories. But definitely when I was further along in life, having experienced many things, and reading a book thought to myself "I could do this," and resolved to make it happen some day.

Beyond your own work (of course), what is your all-time favorite book and why? And what is your favorite book outside of your genre?
To be honest, my favorite book has changed over time. Once I would've said Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury because it spoke to my teenaged search for me. Later I would've said The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkein (yes, it's a trilogy, but it's one story so I think of it as one book) because it's a vast and brilliantly done new mythology. Then came Gate of Ivrel by C. J. Cherryh, because of its amazing characters, plot, and writing, and how Vanye was tackling the same questions of honor and duty that I was as a young Navy officer. Today I'd probably say Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc by Mark Twain, because it contains Twain's amazing writing along with the story of a person so remarkable she'd be considered an impossible myth except for the extensive historical record proving what Joan did.

My favorite book outside of genre might be The Unwomanly Face of War by Svetlana Alexievich. It's a collection of interviews with many of the "front line girls" who fought for Russia during World War Two. It's unvarnished, deeply moving, and remarkable history at its best.

Can you tell us when you started BOUNDLESS, how that came about?
It's a bit of a longer story. I'd been pleasantly surprised when readers asked me to continue the saga of the Lost Fleet after the first six books. There were plenty of potential stories set up in the first books, so I was able to quickly jump into the Beyond the Frontier series, and tie that in with the Lost Stars series to expand the characters and settings. But after finishing Leviathan and Shattered Spear, there was still demand for more stories in that universe, and at that point I wasn't sure where to take things in a way that wasn't simply retelling earlier stories with slight variations. It was important to me to keep telling new stories, not treading the same ground, because I think that's important to readers. I decided to try what became the Genesis Fleet series (set much earlier than the Lost Fleet) to show how the Alliance came into being, and what roles the ancestors of Lost Fleet characters and others played in that. Aside from being a good stand alone series, by showing the stresses and challenges that created the Alliance, Genesis Fleet also helped me formulate what would happen after Leviathan in the Beyond the Frontier series. At that point, I was able to come up with some new stories, a new overarching plot, that would give my characters new challenges and do justice to what became The Lost Fleet - Outlands series beginning with BOUNDLESS.

What was the most surprising thing you learned in creating your characters?
That they aren't simply my plot puppets. I can put them in situations, but they have their own ideas of what to do and how to do it. That in some cases I'm not sure I "created" them, because they appear, fully formed, me knowing in an instant who they are and what they're like and what their name is. Are they truly "my" characters? Or am I giving voice to others who need someone to speak for them?

  • 1. BOUNDLESS is the twelfth book in the six-book Lost Fleet series that began with DAUNTLESS in 2006, and the nineteenth book in the Lost Fleet universe since 2006.
  • 2. Beware of smiling faces (sometimes, they don't tell the truth) as The Temptations and The Undisputed Truth reminded us in 1971.
  • 3. Two feuding characters get their names from the battling families in A Fistful of Dollars, the first of the "Spaghetti Westerns" by Sergio Leone.
  • 4. Master Chief Gioninni's character is a tribute to the Bosun Mate Gioninni created by Rear Admiral Dan Gallery for his stories set in the 1950s and 1960s US Navy involving a conniving sailor who knows all the angles.
  • 5. The perfect and nearly indestructible ceramic copies of famous artwork described in the great hall of the Alliance Senate actually exist already. They're in Japan, at the Otsuka Museum of Art in Naruto City. (Yes, Naruto City is a real place.) 
  • 6. The action and events at Kane Star System are the continuation (and conclusion) of the story begun in the five-book comic series Lost Fleet - Corsair.
  • 7. The action in which the old sergeant was the sole survivor still living is based partly on Operation Market Garden in World War Two. The plan rested on the British First Airborne Division being dropped into Arnhem to seize an important bridge. When clear evidence surfaced that two German armored divisions had been moved into Arnhem, no senior officer wanted to change the plan. An intelligence officer who insisted that the paratroopers should at least be warned was forced to take medical leave. The result was the almost total annihilation of the Airborne Division, with eight thousand men sacrificed so that no one had to tell Field Marshall Montgomery his plan should be changed.
  • 8. Like other Lost Fleet novels, BOUNDLESS is written with enough background material included so that even if it's the first book someone has read in the Lost Fleet universe they can understand what's happening. (And including that background material painlessly into the story is getting harder with every new book…)
  • 9. The names of the battle cruiser Dauntless and the Midway Star System are linked in history. At the Battle of Midway in June, 1942, SBD Dauntless dive bombers sank four Japanese aircraft carriers in a victory that turned the tide of World War Two in the Pacific. (Bonus Random Fact: Chicago's Midway Airport is named after the battle, and includes a Dauntless suspended from the ceiling near the entrance to Concourse A.)
  • 10. Quantum Mechanics really is that weird.
Writing Behind the Scenes
One of the challenges any writer faces is trying to get outside the box of their own experience. A common form of that box lies in the names of characters. It is very easy to keep using the same names, the same kinds of names, for characters, without even realizing that you're doing it. They're not all Joe Smith, but it is surprisingly difficult to break out of the pattern of using a certain type/ethnicity of name. One of the simplest ways to find new names that I've discovered is to watch the credits at the end of new Disney/Pixar movies. There's a wonderful variety of names from every culture and nation right there, including the combinations of names that already blend peoples' backgrounds. I also often search for names using internet sources for name meanings, picking nations and cultures more or less at random to see what names feel right for characters. For example, in the Pillars of Reality stories I needed a name for a Mage who could temporarily create giant birds, and stumbled across Alera, a name used by an Nigerian tribe. It was a perfect name, drawn from an non-traditional (for Western novelists) source.

Sometimes, though, I don't have to find a name. The character tells me their name, and I don't have any choice but to use it. Tanya Desjani, for example. I knew that was her name the moment the character appeared. I've never known anyone by that name, or ever seen the name before. (I think it may be from the region around Armenia.) But it was her name, and I would have changed it at my peril.

What is the first job you have had?
First paying job was with a roofer. But before and after that I was working on the family farm.

Best date you've ever had?
My first date with my wife-to-be. We went to the National Arboretum looking for an Upright European Hornbeam tree, spent a long time browsing in a book store, and ended the night by watching episodes of Speed Racer.

What is your most memorable travel experience?
Two happened in the same portion of the Atlantic well off the coast of the US. In one, while headed south my ship encountered sea smoke (fog near the surface of the water) that instead of forming a bank, instead was divided into a forest of pillars ranging from one to two meters in height, each standing separate from the others. It felt like sailing through a ghost forest. Going back north the same way weeks later, we encountered a patch of the ocean that was absolutely still. The water was perfectly smooth, not a breath of wind, creating an eerie feeling that the world itself had stopped. Our wake was the only motion visible on the ocean, and even that quickly damped out and vanished into the mirror of the water.

Which would you choose, true love with a guarantee of a heart break or have never loved before?
I've got true love with no heart break, so that's definitely my preference. But among the two choices you offer, I'd want love with heart break. The overwhelming exhilaration and tidal wave of emotion that comes with first love is an experience I would not have wanted to miss. That "better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all" saying is absolutely true, I think.

What is the weirdest thing you have seen in someone else’s home?
Probably the key to the Bastille hanging on the wall at Mt. Vernon. 

Admiral John "Black Jack" Geary may have saved the Alliance only to destroy it, in this thrilling and eagerly awaited continuation of the New York Times bestselling series.

Geary believed in the Alliance. Even when he uncovered overwhelming evidence that the highest echelons of the government and fleet command were involved in secret programs and prison camps, he believed it was worth saving. And that his duty was to see that justice was served even though some factions feared that revealing the truth would cause the Alliance to crumble.

But after narrowly surviving two assassination attempts when he brings evidence of the misdeeds to the capital star system, Geary realizes that some have decided the easiest way to make the Alliance's problems go away is to get rid of him. He finds himself ordered to undertake a perilous new mission outside of the reaches of human-occupied space while the Senate clashes over the evidence.

Geary's warships must escort a diplomatic and scientific mission across the dangerous, disintegrating remnants of the Syndicate Worlds empire. But even if he can make it to Midway Star System, the gateway to alien-controlled space, Geary will face former Syndicate officials who have rebelled and regard the Alliance with deep suspicion. And that will be the easy part. . . .
You can purchase Boundless at the following Retailers:

1 Winner will receive a $10 Amazon Gift Card.


  1. "If you could live in any period in history, where would it be and why?" Tudor. Cool threads.

  2. I couldn't go back very far in time because I like my comforts to much but it would be nice to go back to the 80's.

  3. I'd go back to the 1960s, it was awesome!!

  4. I would live in the near future with the hopes the world has eradicated COVID.

  5. I would want to live in the 1960s, because of the great music and fashion during that time.

  6. The early 70's and have a complete do-over.

  7. I'd love to live in the mid 1900s. Society was much more polite and life was they had air conditioning!

  8. I would like to live in Regency England, if I could be a member of the Aristocracy. It sounds exciting to attends balls wearing the latest fashions.

  9. The 1950s. Seems like everything was good.