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Lee Child

e-interviewed by Martina Bexte (September, 2003)

During his close to twenty years with Granada Television, Lee Child regularly bumped elbows with such luminaries as John Gielgud and Laurence Olivier. When downsizing occurred in the mid-nineties, Lee was suddenly faced with the prospect of looking for another line of work. Writing a novel appealed to him and his ex-military hero, Jack Reacher was born.

Lee's first thriller, Killing Floor, was embraced by publishers and fans alike and went on to receive rave reviews. With the release of Persuader in May 2003 and with plans for more Jack Reacher stories extending into 2006, Lee Child establishes his presence even more firmly as a thriller writer to watch!

Q: After the downsizing at Granada Television what prompted you to write a novel? First novels aren't easy to sell.

A: Desperation, basically. I had to make a living and I had burned all my boats in the TV industry through union activism.

Q: You've established yourself as a successful writer, yet would anything ever entice you back into television?

A: Nothing. TV is a very dumbed-down world now. I prefer the people and the readers I deal with in the world of books.

Q: There are plenty of crime/adventure/thriller series being published nowadays so why create yet another series character when the competition's already so stiff?

A: I can't resist a challenge - and the nice thing about books is there's always room for more.

Q: What made your first book, Killing Floor, and your lead character, Jack Reacher, an instant hit? What's the most important attribute for a series character? What do you believe is the appeal of a continuing series? Will this trend slow anytime soon?

A: The appeal is always about a great character. Listen to how people talk about series - they always use the character's name ... "The Travis McGees, the Spensers, the Harry Bosch books, the Reacher books" etc, etc. The most important attribute is a sense of vicarious thrill - the character has got to be the smart/strong/tough person the reader secretly wants to be - or to be with.

Q: They say writers put a bit of themselves into their characters -- what traits do you and Reacher share?

A: We're practically twins!

Q: Was your choice to use an American ex-military policeman as your main protagonist a deliberate one or was it something that just appealed to you on a personal or creative level?

A: Both, really. It automatically provides a convincing back-story set-up, and I like the lonely alienation that some ex-military people have.

Q: There has been some criticism of your work citing that your dialogue isn't "authentically American". The most consistent comment is your use (overuse?) of "Hell are you talking about?" How would you answer your dialogue critics who say nobody actually talks like that in America?

A: I'd say they're wrong, and they need to listen better. Phrases beginning "What the hell" in real-life use tend to go one of two ways. Either the "hell" is swallowed ... as in "What the ... ?" Or the "What the ... " is swallowed, to produce "... Hell is going on here?" Listen, and you'll see. Outsiders have a very acute ear for stuff like this.

Q: On the one hand Jack Reacher displays a lot of humanity and compassion - on the other he can be completely ruthless. A good example of Reacher's personal brand of justice is in your latest book, Persuader. His single-minded agenda hinges on flushing out and eliminating an old adversary. Some people would applaud the outcome of Reacher's and Quinn's final confrontation while others might shout vigilantism. Comments?

A: Both reactions would be valid. But this is fiction, and the notion of the lone avenger has been vital for thousands of years.

Q: Much of Reacher's life has revolved around the military. Besides being a skilled and well respected military policeman, he's also an expert marksman/sniper so naturally knows a lot about guns and other ordnance. Persuader is teeming with weapons information. How long does it take to research this kind of technical data and what/who are your sources?

A: I use gun catalogs and magazines, and reference books from the military. Doesn't stop me making mistakes, though - as a glance at my e-mail in-box would confirm.

Q:You wrote your first novel of the series in first person, but your second through sixth is in third person. What made you return to first person point of view in Persuader ? Which is your preference?

A: My preference might well be first-person ... if the story structure allows it. But both have unique advantages and disadvantages.

Q: In Persuader you used a series of flashbacks to show Reacher and Quinn's previous involvement. Any plans to set a future book (or books) back a few years before Reacher quits the military - show him doing his job as an investigator?

A: You bet ... check out the 2004 book The Enemy. It's a prequel.

Q: Strong women play major roles in many of your stories. Has this helped with the success of the series?

A: I think so ... readers like to see strong, attractive women characters and I like to write them.

Q: Most of the books showcase a romantic interest, short-lived as some of Reacher's dalliances are. On the other hand he seems to be crazy about Jodie Garber, the daughter of his former commanding officer and mentor, Leon Garber. Yet after two books they've split, Jodie to pursue her law career and Reacher to continue his travels. Why did you break them up -- to give Reacher more realistic access to types of "adventures" he gets involved with?

A: Partly, but also to emphasize that's it's not reacher's choice alone. The women have a say, too.

Q: Will Jodie return in future books? Will the right woman ever cross paths with Reacher and convince him to settle down?

A: I'd get killed if Reacher ever settled down. I tease the readers with the possibility.

Q: What percentage of your readers are women? What's your female fan base's Number One positive comment about the Reacher series? Negative? What about your male readers?

A: Maybe 60% or so are women - they like Reacher, plain and simple. But they don't like his hygiene! Male readers like the way he comes back at bullies.

Q: When can fans expect the next Reacher novel to hit book stores? Can you tell us a bit about the plot?

A: The Enemy will be available spring 2004. As I said before, it's a prequel, set in 1990. Reacher's a serving MP major, recently pulled out of the Noriega hunt in Panama and sent to a sleepy base in North Carolina, where nothing is going on ... or is it? I'm happy with it.

Q: When all is said and done what would you like your readers to take with them after they've turned the last page of one of your novels -- do you strive to impart some sort of message or is your main objective to provide a few solid hours of escapism?

A: Mostly just the escapism, with the feeling that the good guys won.
Lee Child grew up in the UK, went to law school and worked for Granada Television in Manchester, England till 1995. He now lives and writes outside New York City.
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