Jon Land e-interviewed by Hilary Williamson (May, 2009)
Jon Land, who lives in Providence, Rhode Island, is the bestselling author of over two dozen action-adventure novels, including seven in his popular Ben Kamal/Danielle Barnea series and last year's rollercoaster thrill ride, The Seven Sins: The Tyrant Ascending. His latest release, Strong Enough to Die, is another high-octane thriller. This first in a new Caitlin Strong series stars an indomitable heroine descended from generations of Texas Rangers along with her counterpart on the other side of the law, Cort Wesley Masters. They take on an insidious - and vastly powerful - evil, that wields great power within U.S. government circles.
Q: Your leads - in this new series as in your Ben and Danielle books - remind me of Pyramus and Thisbe in Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream. They're communicating from opposite sides of a wall. In Ben Kamal's and Danielle Barnea's cases, they're Arab and Israeli; in Strong Enough to Die, a Texas Ranger and an outlaw. Do you have fun breaking down the walls?
A: Now thatís a great opening question! Talk about jumping right in! And I guess you're right, I do like breaking down walls and have a lot of fun with it. In Strong Enough to Die I think that's especially because the characters of Caitlin Strong and Cort Wesley Masters are neither black nor white; they're more like shades of gray. Ambiguous, defined as much by their flaws as their strengths. So maybe it's more a matter of characters straddling that wall instead of being on opposite sides of it.
Q: One very enjoyable aspect of Strong Enough to Die is the Texas Ranger lore scattered throughout. Did you know much about the Rangers before you picked them as a focus for the series, and did your digging turn up any big surprises for you?
A: I'd always wanted to write about the Rangers, at least use them as a backdrop, because no thriller writer ever had before. And, remember, we're talking about the most famous lawmen in American history who exist today pretty much as they always have. What surprised me in my research was the fact that a lot of their history is shrouded in ambiguous shades of gray too. These were men who had an entire frontier to defend against marauding Mexicans to the south and renegade Indians to the north. They had no choice but to be brutal at times. That said the motto of "One Riot, One Ranger" is surprisingly accurate from a historical perspective. There's just nothing like the Texas Rangers in the annals of American history and I really wanted to do their tradition justice in the book.
Q: Were there any real life models for the Strong family tradition in the Texas Rangers?
A: While there are multi-generational examples in the Rangers, I didn't use any of them as models for the Strongs. Instead I made the Strongs kind of a composite of Ranger legends like John B. Armstrong who gunned down John Hardin and Lone Wolf Gonzallus, the most famous 20th century Ranger who cleaned up the town of Kilgore during the oil boom of the 30s. My point being Texas Rangers were the last of the old-fashioned gunfighters, like Wyatt Earp and Wild Bill Hickcok, and they've maintained that mentality to this day.
Q: Your heroine, Caitlin Strong (whose character lives up to her surname), makes a choice that crosses a line early on in this first episode - will she continue to struggle with her dark side?
A: She'll continue to struggle with her emotions and her conflicting feelings about who and what she wants. She's a character much more comfortable with a gun, it often seems, than in her own skin. And future books in the series will continue to explore that dichotomy.
Q: A Mexican mafia has a huge US presence in Strong Enough to Die; is this in any way based on reality?
A: Most definitely. The Mexican Mafia is a huge force in drug smuggling, one of the primary cartels operating in Juarez and Nuevo Laredo. They've also got a presence in virtually every U.S. city. The point isn't so much their name, or their basis in reality. It's the fact that they represent the infiltration of our society by these drug gangs out of Mexico. That's front page stuff now but not a lot of people were talking about it when I was writing the book. This is the prime front in a major war we're going to be fighting for years. I'm not going to tell you al-Qaeda isn't dangerous. But a lot more Americans die every year at the hands of Mexican drug gangs than terrorists.
Q: A victim of torture has a key role in the novel - how did researching this aspect affect you?
A: Let me answer that a different way. The idea for the book actually came to me after I learned about the existence of Torture Recovery Centers where victims of torture go to be rehabilitated. I didn't even know they existed and there are only about 30 in this country. Researching these centers for me just reinforced my hatred of what the Bush administration did to this country - basically the erosion of civil rights and personal freedoms.
Q: There's a very disturbing Big Brother technology, Fire Arrow, at the heart of the conflict in Strong Enough to Die; do you think Western governments have been sliding down this slippery slope in reaction to terrorism?
A: Just our government, thanks to the excesses of Cheney and his gang of miscreants, truly despicable human beings from the top down. They weren't about keeping us safe - that's a load of crap. They were about expanding their own power. Now we know what it's like to have megalomaniacs running things. More than anything else, President Obama has restored honor and real leadership to the presidency. It's amazing how much he's accomplished in such a short period of time compared to Bush, who was a lightweight and a joke. But the true tragedy, more and more of it coming out every day, is how much damage the previous administration did to our nation and our sensibility. These were men who just flaunted the law, making up their own when it suited them. My God, that's scary and in that sense I think the Haliburton-like villainous corporation, MacArthur-Rain, in Strong Enough to Die represented a lot of venting on my part.
Q: An unusual killer for hire achieves a degree of redemption in the novel; will he continue to play a role in the Caitlin Strong novels?
A: (laughs) Guillermo Paz was one of those characters who got away from me. He started out more as a force of nature than a person, modeled after Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men who I thought was the best villain I'd encountered since Hannibal Lecter. But along the way Paz took himself in another direction, adding to the theme of ambiguity in he book. He will indeed return in the first sequel anyway, and I think readers would be very disappointed if he didn't.
Q: What's next for your various series, and will we see more of Caitlin Strong soon?
A: We will indeed! I'm working on the final draft of Strong Justice right now. Strong Enough to Die's going to be a tough act to follow but I think Strong Justice manages to pull that off. It's a bigger book with more at stake and even more action, if you can believe that. I think Caitlin Strong's the character I've been looking for my entire career - she's that much fun to write. And, as the only female hero of an action-thriller series going today, I can't wait to see where her future adventures will take her and Cort Wesley Masters.Find out more about Jon Lands, his various thriller series and screenplay at his Website, and read our previous Interview with the author.
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