Jon Land discusses his newest book, Strong Darkness, the 6th book in the Caitlin Strong series.
Question: Will you tell us a little about Strong Darkness and what inspired you to write it?
Answer: Strong Darkness is the 6th in the Caitlin Strong Texas Ranger series and pits Caitlin against a vengeful Chinese billionaire with a plot to murder tens of millions of Americans. The whole concept was born when I watched a “60 Minutes” segment about a Chinese company called Shinzen that really did build the 4G network. That opened the door both in my imagination, and reality, for adapting fact into fiction by having Li Zhen build the 5G network for nefarious purposes.
Q: What did you enjoy most about writing it, and what was most challenging?
A: Wow, two great questions for the price of one! First, no doubt about it, what I enjoyed most, as always, were the characters. They come to life so easily that I don’t really write these books so much as get down what Caitlin and company do and say. There’s just never a slow spot in the process because I trust them to lead me where I need to go. The most challenging part? Well, these kind of thrillers require big action scenes and set pieces to succeed, and it’s always a challenge to come up with those kind of scenes organically so they don’t seem just thrown into the mix. And with my Caitlin Strong books I try not to stray too far from the credible, meaning I have to keep coming up with new and original ways to give Caitlin an excuse to use her gun.
Q: What kind of research did you do for Strong Darkness?
A: You had to ask! The truth is I do my research on the fly as I’m writing instead of before I plunge into the story. See, I’ve always felt that if you do the research in advance you end up writing the book around it instead of fitting the facts and findings into the context where they best belong. There’s an incredible amount of information in Strong Darkness to which I say thank God for Google. I can’t tell you how many times I type a question into the search box and I always find what I’m looking for. As far as the advanced technology the villain is using as part of his deadly plot, the good thing is I mostly invented or adapted it. And when I do that, which is often, I always remember the great Robert Louis Stevenson quote: “It doesn’t matter to me if you believe what I’m writing is true; all that matters is that you don’t disbelieve it.”
Q: What’s the most bizarre thing you learned while researching Strong Darkness?
A: What I alluded to above: that a Chinese company built our 4G wireless network. Take a step back and think about that. A country known for stealing our secrets was responsible for constructing the network over which plenty of those secrets travel. The problem is there’s no longer an American company capable of doing the job and that’s not just bizarre, it’s tragic.
Q: Do you identify with any of the characters in Strong Darkness?
A: All of them to some degree, I guess, but none really in particular. See, to me they’re real and I want to avoid imposing my own sensibility upon them. Now, that said, Strong Darkness opens with Caitlin extracting a particularly fitting brand of justice on a thinly disguised version of the Westboro Baptist Church. And that’s not the first time I’ve had her slay a dragon I personally find contemptuous. In that respect, it’s not so much that I identify with her, as she becomes a projection of my own thoughts and feelings, capable of doing the things that I can’t do.
Q: Did you learn anything while writing Strong Darkness?
A: The great thing about being a writer, particularly a thriller writer, is that you never stop learning. Each book requires that you become expert on a whole bunch of new things you didn’t know a lot about prior to writing it. Mostly that knowledge concerns “stuff;” technology of some kind, guns, weapons, settings. But with that comes learning new things about your characters, what motivates and drives them. One of the things that stands out in particular for me with Strong Darkness was how much Cort Wesley Masters’ oldest son is becoming like him. That’s a great theme I’ve been exploring for some time but it really comes front and center here. Beyond that, and in addition to the whole Chinese building the 4G wireless network thing, I really enjoyed researching the building of the Transcontinental Railroad and how its opening and continued expansion marked the symbolic end of frontier America.
Q: What’s your favorite thing about being a writer?
A: No doubt about it, the freedom. I love being my own boss, setting my own schedule and being ultimately responsible for my own success or failure to a great degree. The challenges and pressure is constant but, hey, like Hyman Roth said to Michael Corleone in The Godfather II, “Michael, this is the business we have chosen.” You take the good with the bad, and I wouldn’t change that for anything. The sense of accomplishment you’re left with every work day/session, the feeling of seeing your latest book for the first time. That kind of magic doesn’t get old and the thing about me is that I love the actual process of writing. The sense of having the story take you over, consume you in a way where it’s dictating to you what to put down on the page.
Q: What’s the first book you remember loving?
A: No doubt about that either: William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist. I read it cover to cover when I was around thirteen on a rainy Saturday afternoon. I don’t think I got off my bed once through the whole process. And that same feeling is what I strive to give my readers every time I sit down to write. Because it’s the kid inside me that’s doing the writing and it’s the kid inside my readers who’s flipping the pages. The Exorcist may not have been the best written book ever, but it was a perfect story in every way. And that’s what I remind myself of all the time: Above everything else, I’m a storyteller. That’s what I am.