With The Sum of All Fears still infiltrating movie theaters nationwide, Tom Clancy is poised to storm back into bookstores with Red Rabbit, his 10th novel starring superspy Jack Ryan. TIME's Lev Grossman talks with the author about Catholicism, drinking with Colin Powell and why we'll never see Senator Clancy.One of your books describes a suicide attack with a 747. Do you ever get the feeling terrorists are using your novels as a playbook?
I don't think they're the most literate people in the world. And they don't need me to come up with crazy ideas.
What about our guys? Do they ever come to you for advice?
The office of the Secretary of Defense had me in last year to come to a couple of meetings. We sit around the table and speculate on what the big guys are going to do, what our vulnerabilities are and what you do about those vulnerabilities.
Red Rabbit's plot revolves around Pope John Paul II. Are you a Catholic?
With a name like Clancy, I'd better be.
I assume you've been following what's been going on with the church...?
With great sadness, yeah. You know, anti-Catholicism is the last respectable prejudice. You can't hate black people anymore, of course, and you can't hate homosexuals anymore, but you can hate all the Catholics you want.
Got any sins you want to confess? Drugs? Booze?
I prefer nicotine, but my wife made me stop smoking. This is the first book I've ever written without smoking, and it was awful, it was just awful!
No Vices at all?
I don't gamble either. Except when I bet my publisher $20 million that I can write a book.
Now that Ben Affleck is playing Jack Ryan, do you guys, like, hang out and all?
He's been down to the house, and we've become friends. He's a great kid, a most impressive young gentleman. He can read and write, which is not the usual thing for actors, and he's very bright. He knows how to listen. His Oscar is for writing, so we get along fine. I offered to adopt him a couple of weeks ago.
So, ever been tempted to run for office?
Several times. They've asked me to run for the House and the Senate, but I've always managed to keep my virtue intact. I mean, who wants to hang out with those kind of people? Look at J.C. Watts I've met him, he's a good kid, and I'm sorry he's leaving, but he wants to go to his kid's Little League games! If you're a father, that kind of rips your heart out. I respect that. I talked with Colin Powell two years ago or so we were in Philadelphia, having a few drinks in a bar and I asked him why he didn't want to be President. He looks at me, and he says, "Tommy, I want to be a person. If you're President, the only time when you're alone is when you're taking a leak." If then.
Speaking of which, you're a father yourself. Are your kids going to be writers?
God, I hope not. I don't recommend writing as a form of employment, because it's such miserable work. That's how you tell a rookie: if they actually think the writing's fun. I guess it is for the first one or two, but after that it just becomes miserable work, like digging in the dirt with a shovel. But it's something you have to do. You can't not do it.
Do you ever wish you had Jack Ryan's career instead of Tom Clancy's?
Dear God, no. I don't like to work that hard. I mean, he's President now. What a horrible life!