Recently my good friend, best-selling novelist/screenwriter Jon Land sent me an advance copy of his new thriller STRONG ENOUGH TO DIE and ironically the first thought I had was sharing him with the Open Salon Community.
I’ve often mused that most interviews are mindless scraps of publicity or polluted theatre that fail to reveal the nuances of a person thus causing me to wonder... What would an interview look like if it were the people’s interview and what questions would you ask?
This interview is short by design, 10 questions to be exact. It wants to be the teaser, a peek into the mind and routine of a working writer that inspires the Open Salon Interview you would like to do with him. That said, your questions will become the basis of Jon Land’s first Open Salon post.
If this works I will repeat the process with other celebrities and fascinating people except I will solicit the questions in advance. Here goes…
(Note: Book Synopsis, Reviews and Praise follow the interview at the end of post.)
Jon Land is the acclaimed author of numerous bestsellers, including The Seven Sins, The Last Prophecy, Blood Diamonds, The Walls of Jericho, The Pillars of Solomon, A Walk in the Darkness, Keepers of the Gate, and The Blue Widows. He lives in Providence, Rhode Island. His last book THE SEVEN SINS was named one of the Top 5 Thrillers of the Year by Library Jounral and one of Border's Best Books of 2008 in the Mystery/Thriller and Horror Genre.
Jon…minor disclaimer, I would really like to avoid a Joaquin Phoenix moment here on my maiden voyage with you so please try to be charming and alert. OS is a tough room and some of the writers wandering the halls here actually have skills so this is your opportunity to validate my ruse.
I’m going to let the cat out of the bag right here on the first question. Like my good friend thriller writer Frank DeFelitta (Audrey Rose, Sea Trial, The Entity) you are one of the nicest guys on the planet. How does that square with the insanity leaking from your mind to the page?
Well, that’s a hell of a question and not an easy one to answer. Stephen King always likes to say that writing is all that keeps him from prison or a mental institution and maybe the same can be said for me. Writing is a cathartic experience, a way of slaying your demons in a way that lets your imagination run free. And that’s the key: I write from my subconscious, from the inside of the story looking out which means there’s a definite separation between who I am and what I write. People ask me a lot if I ever write about myself. The answer is never and always, since no one character I’ve ever created represents all of me, but every character represents a part of me.
Jon outwardly you appear to be a model citizen, you workout, eat well and seem to write religiously, a far cry from the hallmarks of the tormented like Hemingway and Thompson. How do you expect to walk among the greats without the self- destructive behavior the public yearns for?
[Laughs] First off, I’m honored to be placed in such grand company. But the kind of behavior exemplified by Thomson and Hemingway is the exception, not the rule, believe me. Most of my fellow thriller writers—Vince Flynn, David Morrell, Steve Berry, James Rollins, Sandra Brown—are committed family men and women with their feet planted firmly on the ground. First and foremost, this is a business, and that kind of behavior doesn’t belong in our world any more than it does in law, medicine or construction. Beyond that, writers make lousy celebrities. Witness Truman Capote. Ultimately, like Hunter Thompson, he became a caricature of himself, famous for what he had written, not what he was writing. We’re much better off in the background, like the Wizard of Oz, pulling the strings behind the curtain.
You attended heady Brown University in the heart of Providence RI home to the infamous Mayor Buddy Cianci who ruled Federal Hill like a mobster, even torturing his wife’s lover. Has Buddy inspired any of your work?
No. Buddy falls into the same larger-than-life category of Bernie Madoff and the ex-governor of Illinois, Blagojevich. People whose lives are so bizarrely off the charts that fiction can’t do them any justice. The key to writing great thrillers is to go right up to the top without going over. I’ve been guilty of going over the top more times than I can count and one of the things I love about Strong Enough to Die is that it’s grounded in reality with a modern day female Texas Ranger taking on really bad guys who are based on really bad guys.
The state of the economy is a thriller in and of itself, if you were writing the ending what would be the twist nobody saw coming?
If this were a thriller, we’d learn a shadowy cabal was responsible for everything and are actually planning something much worse that the hero will have only a week to stop! [laughs] But seriously in this case I think we’re living the twist that nobody saw coming in Barack Obama. I was too young to appreciate the JFK years but I think I finally understand them now. Obama is a transforming figure, capable of managing incredible feats based solely on his personality. I think what we’re realizing now is that as bad as we thought things were during the Bush years, they were worse. And as bad as we thought those sons of bitches were, they were much worse.
"No man in the wrong can stand up against a fellow that’s in the right and keeps on a-comin’” is the motto of the Texas Rangers. The main character in your book is a woman, Catlin Strong. Were there many women Texas Rangers and why did you choose a woman?
Whoa, another great question. The answer to the first part of your question is no, there haven’t been many women in the Rangers and things didn’t work out well at all for the only one to actually be commissioned in the field back in the 90s. That’s why I made Caitlin a fifth-generation Ranger; the fact that her father and grandfather were both legends explains why she’s so readily accepted. As far as why I chose a woman in the first place, well, somewhere around 75% of all books are bought by women but I couldn’t find one other action-thriller female hero. Mysteries and suspense tales, yes, but not an action-thriller. Caitlin definitely has a soft side but she’s damn good with a gun and, like all Rangers, not afraid to use it. That makes her a one-of-a-kind in this genre.
On that subject, it seems like the events that Caitlin Strong experiences reflect real headlines.
Indeed, they do. In fact, in one sense Strong Enough to Die.can be viewed as a cautionary tale about the individual freedoms we've sacrificed in the name of security. MacArthur-Rain, the villain's company, is Halliburton taken to the next level. The idea of Caitlin Strong following the trail of the men who tortured her own husband brought me to the concept of a broader plot enacted by a Cheney-like madman to spy on anyone at anytime. It's not just about the loss of privacy, it's about the loss of control over our own lives--something everyone can relate to and will be scared by. I don’t consider myself a political writer or an activist, but the last eight years have changed me in ways that have just made me look at the world differently and a lot of that is reflected in Strong Enough to Die.
Usually when I’m reading a book I visualize it as a movie with specific actors. If Strong Enough To Die were to become a film what actors do you see in the lead roles?
I never picture actors in the roles as I’m writing, but it’s definitely fun to do once the book is finished! I think Angelina Jolie was born to play Caitlin Strong but right now you could say that about her and any primo female role. I think Jennifer Lopez could be great; Eva Mendez and Hillary Swank too. As far as the male lead, modern day outlaw Cort Wesley Masters, I see Clive Owen in every dark role I read or write. But an Englishman playing a Texan? Tough sell. Josh Brolin would be great. Maybe Kevin Costner, though he’s getting a little long in the tooth. It’s like I always say: the best people to play these roles will be the ones ultimately cast if I’m lucky enough to have Strong Enough to Die made into a movie!
Beyond the fiction Strong Enough To Die includes a fair amount of history on the Texas Rangers. What is the most interesting fact about them that people may not know?
The Rangers are without question the most legendary lawmen in American history. There are so many stories I try to do justice to in Strong Enough to Die. But I think the most interesting fact about them people may not know is how bad-ass they really were and that translates into lots of bodies left buried in the desert over the years. The Rangers, then and now, were responsible for huge swatches of territory and often found themselves vastly outnumbered and outgunned—by rampaging Indians to the north and Mexican bandits to the south. They did what they had to in order to survive and often they straddled the line or crossed it entirely. That’s not meant as a criticism because the Rangers did what the times called for. Just like the characters in Strong Enough to Die, though, there was a degree of ambiguity in their actions. One of the early reviews of the book calls it “a study in the fine gradations of shadow between black and white.” That says it all.
My parents had limited education growing up in Brooklyn New York but books saved their lives and gave them the knowledge to sustain themselves. Will people be reading books in 10-20 years from now or will the internet reveal a new paradigm?
The best way I can answer that question is to say that 10-20 years from now, a generation will be coming of age that was raised on Harry Potter. Ten-year-old kids who stood in line at midnight to buy a book and then stayed up for the next 24 hours reading it. People will always be reading, even more then they do now. What will change is the means by which they’ll be reading. Amazon’s Kindle, Sony’s E-Reader, the I-phone, digital downloads, Audio. These new mediums will attract readers to them, probably reducing demand for bound books. But I go back to those kids reading Harry Potter again. People love having a book in their hands. They always have and always will.
I’m not a writer but I’ve often thought I have a book in me. Tell me why I should write it, how you would publish it and why people should become writers.
Now you’re really trying to stump me! Everybody believes they have a book them but very, very few know how to tell a story. You should only write your book if you have a story to tell with a beginning, middle and end. That may sound simple but the vast majority of would-be writers fail because they don’t understand that. And, let’s face it, this is a lousy time for the publishing industry which is in the process of redefining itself. What we’re witnessing is a world of bestsellers and everything else, with nothing in the middle. Basically, if you’re not on the front table at Barnes and Noble, your chances of succeeding in this business in a big way are pretty slim. So people should become writers only if they’re prepared to deal with the heartache and rejection that comes with it. That said, more books today are being published than ever before—100,000 last year alone. Think about that. 100,000 books. How many of them were successful—that’s another question entirely.
As a filmmaker if I could have anybody’s career I think it would be somebody fiercely independent like John Sayles. Who’s career would you most like to have?
Stop with the tough questions, will you!!!!! For starters, I’d say Lee Child, who writes the terrific Jack Reacher series, because after a dozen books or so he just keeps getting better. My friends Vince Flynn and Brad Thor because, along with Lee, they’re #1 New York Times Bestselling authors, which is the Holy Grail of the publishing business. I wish I could write as well as James Lee Burke or David Morrell, who I consider to be among the best novelists in the world today, not just thriller writers. Going back a little further, I’d say writers like John D. McDonald and Alistair McClain who wrote dozens and dozens of books and never disappointed their audience. I remember falling in love with reading, and thus writing, thanks to Stephen King, Robert Ludlum and Clive Cussler among others. If I could so for someone what they did for me someday, I’ll know I made it.
Jon I want to thank you for taking the time to join us here on Open Salon.
Strong Enough To Die -Synopsis
Caitlin Strong is a fifth-generation Texas Ranger, proud to wear the badge of her father and grandfather—until a deadly shoot-out along the Mexican border causes her to question her calling.
Five years later, Caitlin is still trying to purge herself of guilt from the day that ended her Ranger career. But a shattering discovery will reopen old wounds, and Caitlin’s renewed investigation into the truth behind the bloody desert firefight uncovers a terrifying plot that reaches into every home and threatens the very core of the country.
Her only hope for success—and survival—is to team up with Cort Wesley Masters, a deadly outlaw who has every reason to want her dead. But he also holds the key to the truth she desperately seeks in the anguished brain of an amnesiac torture victim.
Caitlin’s tormented quest for redemption takes her to a dark world, ranging from Washington to Bahrain to the wastelands of Mexico, as she finds that the strength to live comes from learning how to die.
Strong Enough To Die – Review
Kirkus Reviews- Mention the Texas Rangers to a mystery buff and chances are good that you’ll conjure up the image of either Tommy Lee Jones or Chuck Norris. The lead of Jon Land’s Strong Enough to Die is emphatically not like either of those crusty stalwarts, but she’s got all the toughness necessary to bring bad guys to justice. Good thing, to, since Caitlin Strong, a fifth-generation Ranger with the wit to match her good looks, has a whole army of postmodern bad guys to lasso, some of them recognizable from today’s headlines (think Abu Ghraib, Halliburton and Dick Cheney), and hunting them down takes her into some odd corners of the world. It also puts Strong in odd company, in particular with one fellow whom common sense dictates she avoid even as she grapples with villains who have technology, firepower and political connections on their side—and therein hangs the complex, intriguing tale. “In one sense, Strong Enough to Die can be viewed as a cautionary story about the individual freedoms we’ve sacrificed in the name of security,”says Land. “It’s about the loss of control over our own lives, something everyone can relate to and will be scared by.” Land has already finished the first draft of the sequel, which, he promises, will take Caitlin into new territory that, like that of her debut, is broad, ambitious and plenty dangerous.
Strong Enough to Die - Praise
“Magnificent! The Texas Rangers lore takes a great thriller to a whole new level. Exceptional.”—Lee Child, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Nothing to Lose on Strong Enough to Die
“A terrific book! The good, the bad, and the ugly woven into a tale that leaves the reader breathless. Great fun!”—Sandra Brown, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Smoke Screen on Strong Enough to Die
“An inventive Tex-Mex thriller. Jon Land’s style never waivers.”—Brad Thor, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Last Patriot on Strong Enough to Die
“As rip-roaring as a Texas wildfire! I loved it!”—Lisa Jackson, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Lost Souls on Strong Enough to Die
“You’ll get blisters on your fingers turning the pages so fast, but that won’t stop you reading until the slam-bang and very satisfying ending.”—John Lescroart, New York Times bestselling author of Betrayal on Strong Enough to Die
“Thrilling from the dramatic opening to the nail-biting ending, Strong Enough to Die is a complex, twisty page-turner with full, well-developed characters and a meaty story. Plan to stay up all night, because you won’t rest until the last bullet hits its mark.”—Allison Brennan, New York Times bestselling author of Playing Dead on Strong Enough to Die
“Blisteringly paced, complex in character, and terrifying in scope. Not to be missed!”—James Rollins, New York Times bestselling author of The Last Oracle on Strong Enough to Die
“Strong enough to be a bestseller! It’s a page-turner, and I loved the main characters, especially Caitlin. She has a sense of honor and duty, but also a big heart. A very compelling story.”—Carla Neggers, New York Times bestselling author of The Angel on Strong Enough to Die
“A supple, elegant thriller, told in an assured tone, from a born stylist who knows how to manipulate a reader in exciting ways. Strong Enough to Die catches you on page one and commands you to finish. Well done.”—Steve Berry, New York Times bestselling author of The Charlemagne Pursuit on Strong Enough to Die
“A fast-paced, kick-butt, action thriller with a timely story and two of the most captivating characters I’ve encountered in quite a while.”—David Morrell, New York Times bestselling author of The Spy Who Came for Christmas on Strong Enough to Die
Other Jon Land Books on Macmillan