Jon Land is the author of more than 30 thrillers, including the bestselling Caitlin Strong Texas Ranger series that includes Strong Enough to Die, Strong Justice, Strong at the Break, Strong Vengeance and, coming this August, Strong Rain Falling. This past fall he resurrected his longtime series hero Blaine McCracken in the E-Book Original Pandora’s Temple, which became a bestseller on both Apple and Amazon and was nominated for a Thriller Award as Best E-Book Original. A follow-up, The Tenth Circle, is slated for release in time for the holiday season. Jon’s first nonfiction book, BETRAYAL, meanwhile, was a national bestseller and was named Best True Crime Book of 2012 by Suspense Magazine. He lives in Providence, Rhode Island and can be found on the Web at jonlandbooks.com. Connect with Jon at these sites:
Q&A with Jon Land
CM: Do you draw from personal experiences and/or current events? JL: Great question to start! Never on personal experiences, all the time on current events. I live a pretty uninteresting life which is just the way I like and I’ve always said writers are mostly much better off writing from their imagination. My very good friend Steve Berry says, “Don’t write what you know, write what you love.” I couldn’t agree more. Current events, on the other hand, form the very fabric of modern thriller fiction. STRONG RAIN FALLING, for example, involves a massive attack to be launched against the nation’s power grid—there’s nothing more current than that. And current, in the thriller form anyway, normally means scary. The challenge is writing about something that could be about to happen, to stay ahead of the curve instead of behind it.
CM: Do you start with the conclusion and plot in reverse or start from the beginning and see where the storyline brings you? JL: I’m a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants writer in all respects. I operate on the theory that if I don’t know what’s going to happen next, then the reader can’t possibly know. I can get away with this because I trust my characters to take me where they want and need to go. I’m normally about 100 pages ahead with where I’m headed in my mind, never much more than that. And the result, unfortunately at times, is my first drafts tend to need lots of work. In fact, I’d venture to say that one of my greatest strengths as a writer is actually rewriting, often based on my own objective read of what I’ve created. For me, first drafts area about getting it down and getting it done. Each successive draft hones and polishes the material further. I throw a bunch out, I add a bunch more—sometimes even entirely new characters, subplots and scenes if I sense a weakness or flaw. I’m also blessed with a terrific editor, Natalia Aponte, who’s always pushing me to do better, to make my Caitlin Strong books, and all my books for that matter, both structurally and emotionally complete. The thing I like to stress here is that no process works for all writers. We all have to find what works for us.
CM: Your routine when writing? Any idiosyncrasies? JL: Hey, you love those two-part questions, don’t you? (laughs) When I’m doing the hardest work of all, a first draft, I normally write in two shifts for two-three hours each that normally produces around 15-20 pages total. I’ll average 75-80 pages in a week and closer to the end will get over 100, so figure I can finish a first draft in around 7-8 weeks, a really fast clip. And part of the reason I’m able to do that is I’ve got two tricks I’ve come to rely on: First, I always leave a scene or chapter off in the middle, not the end, so I have a running start when I go back to work. There’s a tendency to want to stop writing at the end of a chapter just like there is when reading. I never stop there. Even if I get just the first couple paragraphs down, enough to provide direction, I’m good to go when I get back to the keyboard. I also always have a few books put aside by my favorite authors. Before putting my fingers to work, I’ll read 15-20 pages of their book (see below for more info on who!) just to get me in the right mindset, to remind me of what a great story reads like so I’m ready to write my own.
CM: Is writing your full time job? JL: Yes, it is. That’s probably the shortest answer to a question I’ve ever given, so I better go on a little. I’d always planned on becoming a lawyer. But I got bit by the writing bug in college and fell in love with the process as well as seeing my name in print. That’s the thing about me: I actually love the process of writing. I can’t explain why or how I do it exactly. I just know I love where it takes me. It’s like therapy. When I’m not writing, I go into withdrawals. It’s like a legal drug.
CM: Who are some of your favorite authors? JL: 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.
CM: What are you reading now? JL: Lee Child’s second book, DIE TRYING. I’ve been saving it forever but the time finally came!
CM: Are you working on your next novel? Can you tell us a little bit about it? JL: Again, with the two-part questions! (laughs) The next book’s already done. It’s called THE TENTH CIRCLE and it’s the follow-up to PANDORA’S TEMPLE once again featuring Blaine McCracken, my original series hero I’ve fallen back in love with. Beyond that I’m actually working on three books: a sequel to my bestselling THE SEVEN SINS, a terrific project I’m doing in tandem with the great Heather Graham, and I’m just about to start STRONG DARKNESS, the next book featuring Caitlin that takes her and Cort Wesley Masters to a very dark place potentially. I’m going to take her right up to the edge, but hopefully not so close that she slips over.
CM: Your novel will be a movie. Who would you cast? JL: Bruce Willis for Blaine McCracken—that’s the easy one. For Caitlin, let’s see, Eva Mendez maybe. Hillary Swank. Jennifer Garner. Maybe I should Google “strong actresses in their mid-30s and see what I get! In film, the budget to a large extent is determined by the box office value of your store. So if I wanted the biggest budget I’d have to say Angelina Jolie, but she might be a bit old. Hey, Sandra Bullock is too old too but she lives in Texas so who knows?
CM: Would you rather read or watch television or a film? JL: Okay, confession time: this is the golden age of scripted television and I can’t get enough of shows like THE WALKING DEAD, BREAKING BAD, JUSTIFIED, MAD MEN, DEXTER, GAME OF THRONES—the list goes on and on. But here’s the thing, the crucial disclaimer: I love those kind of shows because their novelistic in structure. Watching them week to week is like watching a novel. That’s why I don’t “binge watch” the way a lot of people are these days. I prefer to look forward to the next week’s episode in the arc, to be kept in suspense. Call it practicing what I preach.
CM: Favorite food? JL: Nothing beats a great steak, but lobster comes close. And I have a bagel for breakfast almost every day.
CM: Favorite beverage? JL: Iced tea—no doubt about it. Been that way for as long as I can remember. Of course, since I’m a writer, I probably should have said scotch, or maybe bourbon. Hell, anything that makes me forget what a tough business this is truly is!
Thank you Jon for stopping by today and answering my 2 part questions!! (chuckling)
ABOUT THE BOOK
Mexico, 1919: The birth of the Mexican drug trade begins with opium being smuggled across the U.S. border, igniting an all-out battle with American law enforcement in general and the Texas Rangers in particular.
The Present: Fifth Generation Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong and her lover, former outlaw Cort Wesley Masters, both survive terrifying gun battles. But this time, it turns out, the actual targets were not them, but Masters’ teenage sons.
That sets Caitlin and Cort Wesley off on a trail winding through the past and present with nothing less than the future of the United States hanging in the balance. Along the way they will confront terrible truths dating all the way back to the Mexican Revolution and the dogged battle Caitlin’s own grandfather and great-grandfather fought against the first generation of Mexican drug dealers.
At the heart of the storm soon to sweep away America as we know it, lies a mastermind whose abundant power is equaled only by her thirst for vengeance. Ana Callas Guajardo, the last surviving member of the family that founded the Mexican drug trade, has dedicated all of her vast resources to a plot aimed at the U.S.’s technological heart.
This time out, sabotage proves to be as deadly a weapon as bombs in a battle Caitlin must win in cyberspace as well. Her lone chance to prevail is to short-circuit a complex plan based as much on microchips as bullets. Because there’s a strong rain coming and only Caitlin and Cort Wesley can stop the fall before it’s too late.
READ AN EXCERPT
Providence, Rhode Island
Caitlin Strong was waiting downstairs in a grassy park bisected by concrete walkways when Dylan Torres emerged from the building. The boy fit in surprisingly well with the Brown University college students he slid between in approaching her, his long black hair bouncing just past his shoulders and attracting the attention of more than one passing coed.
“How’d it go?” Caitlin asked, rising from the bench that felt like a sauna in the sun.
Dylan shrugged and blew some stray hair from his face with his breath. “Size could be an issue.”
“For playing football at this level, I expect so.”
“Coach Estes didn’t rule it out. He just said there were no more first year slots left in the program.”
“How’d you leave it?” she asked, feeling dwarfed by the athletic buildings that housed playing courts, training facilities, a swimming pool, full gym and the offices of the school’s coaches. The buildings enclosed the park-like setting on three sides, leaving the street side to be rimmed by an eight-foot wall of carefully layered stone. Playing fields took up the rear of the complex beyond the buildings and, while waiting for Dylan, Caitlin heard the clang of aluminum bats hitting baseballs and thunks of what sounded like soccer balls being kicked about. Funny how living in a place the size of Texas made her antsy within an area where so much was squeezed so close.
“Well, short of me growing another four inches and putting on maybe twenty pounds of muscle, it’s gonna be an uphill battle,” Dylan said, looking down. “That is, if I even get into this place. That’s an uphill battle too.”
She reached out and touched his shoulder. “This coming from a kid who’s bested serial killers, kidnappers and last year a human monster who bled venom instead of blood.”
Dylan started to shrug, but smiled instead. “Helps that you and my dad were there to gun them all down.”
“Well, I don’t believe we’ll be shooting Coach Estes and my point was if anybody can handle an uphill battle or two, it’s you.”
Dylan lapsed into silence, leaving Caitlin to think of the restaurant they’d eaten at the night before where the waitress had complimented her on having such a good looking son. She’d felt her insides turn to mush when the boy smiled and went right on studying the menu, not bothering to correct the woman. He was three quarters through a fifth year at San Antonio’s St. Anthony Catholic High School, in range of finishing the year with straight “A”s. Though the school didn’t formally offer such a program, Caitlin’s captain D. W. Tepper had convinced them to make an exception on behalf of the Texas Rangers by slightly altering their Senior Connection program to fit the needs of a boy whose grades hadn’t anywhere near matched his potential yet.
Not that it was an easy fit. The school’s pristine campus in historic Monte Vista just north of downtown San Antonio was populated by boys and girls in staid, prescribed uniforms that made Dylan cringe. Blazers instead of shapeless shirts worn out at the waist, khakis instead of jeans gone from sagging to, more recently, what they called skinny, and hard leather dress shoes instead of the boots Caitlin had bought him for his birthday a few years back. But the undermanned football team had recruited him early on, Dylan donning a uniform for the first time since a brief stint in the Pop Warner league as a young boy while his mother was still alive and the father he’d yet to meet was in prison. This past fall at St. Anthony’s he’d taken to the sport again like a natural, playing running back and sifting through the tiniest holes in the defensive line to amass vast chunks of yardage. Dylan ended up being named Second Team All TAPPS District 2-5A, attracting the attention of several small colleges, though none on the level of Brown University, a perennial contender for the Ivy League crown.
Caitlin found those Friday nights, sitting with Cort Wesley Masters and his younger son Luke in stands ripe with the first soft bite of fall, strangely comforting. Given that she’d never had much use for such things in her own teenage years, the experience left her feeling as if she’d been transported back in time with a chance to relive her own youth through a boy who was as close to a son as she’d ever have. Left her recalling her own high school days smelling of gun oil instead of perfume. She’d been awkward then, gawky after growing tall fast. Still a few years short of forty, Caitlin had never added to that five-foot-seven-inch frame, although the present found her filled out and firm from regular workouts and jogging. She wore her wavy black hair more fashionably styled, but kept it the very same length she always had, perhaps in a misguided at-tempt to slow time if not stop it altogether.
Gazing at Dylan now, she recalled the headmaster of his school, a cousin of Caitlin’s own high school principal, coming up to her after the victorious opening home game.
“The school owes you a great bit of gratitude, Ranger.”
“Well, sir, I’ll bet Dylan’ll do even better next week.”
The headmaster gestured toward the newly installed lights. “I meant gratitude for the Rangers arranging for the variance that allowed us to go forward with the installation. That’s the only reason we’re able to be here to-night.”
She’d nodded, smiling to herself at how Captain Tepper had managed to arrange Dylan’s admission. “Our pleasure, sir.”
Now, months later on the campus of an Ivy League school in Providence, Rhode Island, Dylan looked down at the grass and then up again, something furtive lurking in his suddenly narrowed eyes. The sun sneaking through a nearby tree dappled his face and further hid what he was about to share.
“I got invited to a frat party.”
“Say that again.”
“I got invited to a party at this frat called D-Phi.”
“Short for Delta Phi. Like the Greek letters.”
“I know they’re Greek letters, son, just like I know what goes on at these kind of parties given that I’ve been called to break them up on more than one occasion.”
“You’re the one who made me start thinking about college.”
“Doesn’t mean I got you thinking about doing shots and playing beer pong.”
Caitlin looked at him as if he were speaking a foreign language.
“They call it Beirut here, not beer pong,” Dylan continued. “And it’s important I get a notion of what the campus life is like. You told me that too.”
“I let you go to this party, you promise you won’t drink?”
Dylan rolled his head from side to side. “I promise I won’t drink much.”
“What’s that mean?”
“That I’ll be just fine when you come pick me up in the morning to get to the airport.”
“Pick you up,” Caitlin repeated, her gaze narrowing.
“I’m staying with this kid from Texas who plays on the team. Coach set it up.”
Caitlin slapped an arm around the boy’s shoulder and steered him toward the street. “Because I may rethink my decision about shooting him.”
“I told him you were a Texas Ranger,” Dylan said, as they approached a pair of workmen stringing a tape measure outside the athletic complex’s hockey rink.
“What’d he think about that?” Caitlin said, finding her gaze drawn to the two men she noticed had no tools and were wearing scuffed shoes instead of work boots.
“He said he liked gals with guns.”
They continued along the walkway that curved around the park-like grounds, banking left at a small lot where Caitlin had parked her rental. She worked the remote to unlock the doors and watched Dylan ease around to the passenger side, while she turned back toward the hockey rink and the two workmen she couldn’t shake from her mind.
But they were gone.
Providence, Rhode Island
“What’s this WaterFire thing?” Dylan asked, spooning up the last of his ice cream while Caitlin sipped her nightly post-dinner coffee.
“Like a tradition here. Comes highly recommended.”
“You don’t want me going to that frat party.”
“The thought had crossed my mind, but I’m guessing the WaterFire’ll be done ‘fore your party even gets started.”
Dylan held the spoon in his hand and then licked at it.
“How’s the ice cream?”
“What’s the difference?”
“None, I guess.
They had chosen to eat at a restaurant called Paragon, again on the recommendation of Coach Estes, a fashionably loud, lit, and reasonably priced bistro-like restaurant on the student-dominated Thayer Street across from the University bookstore. Dylan ordered a pizza while Caitlin ruminated over the menu choices before eventually opting for what she always did: a steak. You can take the gal out of Texas, she thought to herself, but you can’t take Texas out of the gal.
“I hear this Waterfire is something special,” Caitlin said, when she saw him checking his watch.
“Yeah? Who told you that?”
“Coach Estes. What do you say we head downtown and check it out?”
* * *
They walked through the comfortable cool of the early evening darkness, a welcome respite from the sweltering spring heat wave that had struck Texas just before they’d left. Caitlin wanted to talk, but Dylan wouldn’t look up from his iPhone, banging out text after text.
They strolled up a slight hill and then down a steeper one, joining the thick flow of people heading for the sounds of the nighttime festival known as WaterFire. The air was crisp and laced with the pungent aroma of wood smoke drifting up from Providence’s downtown area, where the masses of milling people were headed. The scents grew stronger while the harmonic strains of music sharpened the closer they drew to an area bridged by walkways crisscross-ing a river that ran the entire length of the modest office buildings and residential towers that dominated the city’s skyline. A performance area had been roped off at the foot of the hill, currently occupied by a group of white-faced mimes. An array of pushcarts offering various grilled meats as well as snacks and sweets were lined up nearby, most with hefty lines before them.
The tightest clusters of festival patrons moved in both directions down a walkway at the river’s edge. Cait-lin realized the strange and haunting strains of music had their origins down here as well and moved to join the flow. The black water shimmered like glass, an eerie glow emanat-ing from its surface. Boaters and canoeists paddled lei-surely by. A water taxi packed with seated patrons sipping wine slid past followed by what looked like a gondola straight from Venice.
But it was the source of the orange glow reflecting off the water’s surface that claimed Caitlin’s attention. She could now identify the pungent scent of wood smoke as that of pine and cedar, hearing the familiar crackle of flames as she and Dylan reached a promenade that ran di-rectly alongside the river.
“Caitlin?” Dylan prodded, touching her shoulder.
She jerked to her right, stiffening, the boy’s hand like a hot iron against her shirt.
“Uh-oh,” the boy said. “You got that look.”
“Just don’t like crowds,” Caitlin managed, casting her gaze about. “That’s all.”
A lie, because she felt something wasn’t right, out of rhythm somehow. Her stomach had already tightened and now she could feel the bands of muscle in her neck and shoul-ders knotting up as well.
“Yeah?” Dylan followed before she forced a smile. “And, like, I’m supposed to believe that?”
Before them, a line of bonfires that seemed to rise out of the water curved along the expanse of the Providence river walk. The source of these bonfires, Caitlin saw now, were nearly a hundred steel braziers of flaming wood moored to the water’s surface and stoked by black-shirted workers in a square pontoon-like boat, including one who performed an elaborate fire dance in between tending the flames.
The twisting line of braziers seemed to stretch for-ever into the night. Caitlin and Dylan continued to follow their bright glow amid the crowd, keeping the knee-high re-taining wall on their right. More kiosks selling hotdogs, grilled meats to be stuffed in pockets, kabobs, beverages, and souvenirs had been set up above the river walk on streets and sidewalks. The sights and sounds left her homesick for Texas, the sweet smell of wood smoke reminding her of the scent of barbecue and grilled food wafting over the famed San Antonio River Walk.
Caitlin was imagining that smell when she felt some-thing, not much and not even identifiable at first, yet enough to make her neck hairs stand up. A ripple in the crowd, she realized an instant later, followed almost immediately by more of a buckling indicative of someone forcing their way through it. Instinct twisted Caitlin in the di-rection of the ripple’s origin and the flames’ glow caught a face that was familiar to her.
Because it belonged to one of the workman she’d glimpsed outside the hockey rink back at Brown University. And the second workman stood directly alongside him, hands pulling their jackets back enough to reveal the dark glint of the pistols wedged into their belts.
Genre: Thriller Published by: Forge Books Publication Date: August 13, 2013 Number of Pages: 368 ISBN: 978-0765331502 Series: Caitlin Strong, 5
(Can be read as a Stand Alone)
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