Interview with Jon Land
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
That's a great question to start with and the answer, I don't think, is very typical for those of us lucky enough to be in this profession. I didn’t actually start writing until I was a sophomore at Brown University. First off, that was probably a positive thing since it’s so easy for fledgling writers to get discouraged when they start out in high school or even before. I’d always enjoyed the process, dating all the way back to junior high, but I never had even considered the notion of pursuing a career. For me, law school was as certain after college as college was after high school. But the writing bug bit me while at Brown, and I started writing magazine articles for periodicals like People and The Saturday Evening Post and fell in love with, confession time!, seeing my name in print. Around the same time, I fell in love with reading again, particularly thrillers, and figured why not write one, specifically for my Senior Honors Thesis in Brown’s Honors Program. Two wonderful professors, George Monteiro and the legendary Elmer Blistein, took a huge chance by sponsoring me, but I ended up finishing the book. It was god-awful for the most part, but I’d proven to myself that I could do it. The next book I wrote was the first one that ended up selling and, to this day, I credit Brown to a huge degree in providing me the academic freedom and opportunity to chase my dream.
What genre do you write and why?
I write thrillers because, as Robert Louis Stevenson so aptly stated, you can only write what you would read if somebody else had written it. I love thrillers, the form and everything about the genre. In large part because to a great extent any book that's impossible to put down, for whatever reason, is a thriller. I find the genre to be the purest form of storytelling and, essentially, that's what I am first and foremost: a storyteller. Classic storytelling from the very beginning, dating back to Homer and Greek mythology from which the form of the novel was born, was about great quests. Heroes venturing far from home to find their destiny often by saving their own people. Well, to me a thriller is about a modern hero racing to prevent something terrible from happening and bringing down the bad guys in the process. But for me thrillers are also about emotional quests--something the hero is struggling to overcome or achieve in their own lives that becomes intrinsically tied to the battle they're fighting that defines the plot. In other words, the thriller is made truly special by the elements that define it, starting with a hero that you care about root for. Like the greatest of classical heroes, the great of thriller heroes are flawed. They are willing to make sacrifices for the greater good and they accept their lot in life and place in society. The great John D. McDonald, who created Travis Magee, once defined story as "stuff happening to people you care about." That's what also makes for a great thriller.
One of the things that makes this book truly special is that, for the first time, the villain is a woman who’s every bit a match for Caitlin. That, coupled with the historical connection between Caitlin’s family and the villain’s, and you’ve got conflict that’s extremely personal. And, beyond that, this book features the most dangerous threat to the United States in the series so far with the villain’s plan being nothing less than putting our country back in the stone age from a technological standpoint. The scary thing being is that the villain Ana Callas Guajardo’s plan is very credible and terrifying.
Backing up a bit, I had done four Caitlin Strong Texas Ranger books prior to this and all of them, to one degree or another, involved the Mexican cartels and the drug trade. So before starting this one I asked myself where did it all start? Well, it turns out the Mexican drug trade actually began in the 1870s with a flood of Chinese immigrants who brought opium along for the ride. Just a few years later, farms growing the poppy flower needed to produce opium were sprouting up all over the country. And not long after that, right around the turn of the century, you have the actual birth of drug smuggling with opium being brought into the western United States through the Baja region. In fact, there was a Mexican provincial governor named Cantu (who’s actually a character in the book) who was lauded for building roads and other infrastructure projects when the real reason he built them was to facilitate his smuggling operation! Beyond that there’s a great historical sub-plot where Caitlin’s Texas Ranger grandfather and great-grandfather are involved in the initial efforts to stop the drug trafficking in its tracks. It’s so much fun in this series to tie the past and present together and that theme works especially well this time out.
What marketing methods are you using to promote your book?
Well, whatever they are, they aren't enough! (laughs) Seriously, this business is changing so fast and so frequently, that the only sure way to promote your book successfully is to already be a New York Times bestselling author. It isn't about throwing tons of money into advertising because that only works when you have enough books out their in the marketplace, tens of thousands really, to justify the expense. I tend to favor lower cost vehicles to reach the largest number of readers specifically, not just people in general. I've built up a great review base of critics who always cover me for some pretty big outlets, and that's important. I'm also doing, as your readers have probably figured out!, a blog tour which is a great way to reach readers who are actively searching for their next favorite author and great book. Here's the bottom line for me: no one strategy is going to work by itself. It's a matter of cobbling together a lot of smaller things that will ultimately create a demand and buzz for your book. Now, STRONG RAIN FALLING has only been out a few weeks and it's built up the best buzz of any book I've done maybe ever. The key is never to look at the effort based only on one book. It's a process that takes times and titles. And, as was the case for the late, great Elmore Leonard, sometimes it happens a bit later in our careers that we'd prefer. So long as it happens, I can be patient!
What formats is the book available in?
Right now hardcover and digital.
What do you like to do when you're not writing?
Well, I’m not nearly as interesting or complex as the characters in my Caitlin Strong books; in fact, I’m pretty dull. I love my work. I’m a gym rat. I’m huge fan of the great scripted shows on television. But the common denominator for me is passion. I never do anything half-assed. It’s either all or nothing. That goes for my volunteer efforts as well, most of which involve my alma mater Brown University and it goes for my writing above everything else. What some people call ego, I call pride. I don’t want to do anything or write anything that isn’t the absolute best it can be. Who we are is defined by what we do and how others perceive us. And the thing about being in the public eye, or in any position of responsibility, is that there’s more pressure on you to always be at your best and I thrive on pressure.
Who are your favourite authors?
Well, THE EXORCIST was the first book I read cover-to-cover in a single day, a single setting actually. Reading Robert Ludlum’s THE HOLCROFT COVENANT (along with THE MATARESE CIRCLE) taught me more about what makes a great thriller than anything else. THE BOYS FROM BRAZIL taught me the importance of a great “What if?” question. THE STAND showed me the wonder of taking the reader out of his or her world and into the world we fashion on the page. MARATHON MAN made me realize just how much caring about the characters means. I can quote portions of that book, just as I can from the others I mention here and far more. As far as strictly favorites, Lee Child and James Lee Burke are the authors I most look forward to, with plenty of others not far behind. David Morrell, who never writes the same book twice. Stephen Hunter, who’s a maestro when it comes to action scenes. Michael Connolly for writing books that are impossible to put down. And I’ve recently discovered John Hart who seems incapable of writing a bad sentence or creating a character who doesn’t command our interest.
What advice do you have for other writers?
I'm going to keep this one simple and tie it in with an answer above: my advice is tell
a story. Sounds simple but developing an instinctive sense of beginning, middle and end, of knowing how to build suspense, how to pace, how to make your book impossible to put down is what it all comes down to. You have to write so that every scene, every paragraph—hell, every line—contains conflict and gives the reader a reason to keep reading. When you think of great oral storytellers, think of the way they use the cadence and rhythm of their voices to keep those gathered around the campfire leaning forward. Well, finding that voice is just as important for storytellers who use written words as their tool instead.
What's your favourite quote about writing/for writers?
It comes from my phenomenal editor and agent Natalia Aponte who once told me, "When writing a scene, always know where the light is coming from." Do that and you'll have a frame around which to build your scene to create a visual tapestry in the reader's mind. We're really not all that much different from painters, particularly of landscapes; we just pictures in words instead of paint.
What's the best thing about being a writer?
Wow, there are so many I don't really know where to start--there have to be because this is a business that thrives on putting you over its knee and breaking you. Let me start with the freedom that comes with being your own boss. From there, it's a love for the process itself. I don't outline or plan very much in advance at all, so every time I sit down to work on a book, it's a process of self-discovery. It's about trusting your characters to take you where you need to go and lead you in the right direction. It's about trusting your instincts and being able to genuinely believe and say that you love what you do. There is no greater or more important thing than that.
Where can people find out more about you and your writing?
Okay, cop-out time! Let me the answer to that question in with my answer directly above. The great thing about being a writer is who you are doesn't matter nearly as much as what you do. Sure, you can find out stuff about me and all my books at my Web site,www.jonlandbooks.com, and all over the Web if you Google me. But I always tell people it isn't who I am, it's what I write. I'm a storyteller and the stories I write tell you all you need to know about me, especially if you enjoy them!