Today author Jon Land is stopping by to talk with us. He's got a book coming out on November 20th, Pandora's Temple, his first time back to writing about Blaine McCracken in 15 years!
So let's first learn more about the book.
Please tell us about the book.
It’s called PANDORA’S TEMPLE and I’m thrilled to report it features the return of my longtime series hero Blaine McCracken after a 15-year absence. This time out he’s on the trail of the deadliest force in the universe with the potential, quite literally, to destroy the world. Of course it wouldn’t be a true big-scale thriller without a big “What if?” question and in PANDORA that question is, What if Pandora’s box was real?
That is a pretty freaky notion indeed.
Who or what inspires your writing?
Ah, the $64,000 question, and the short answer is nothing. Because if you wait to be inspired to write, you may be setting an absurdly high bar. Writing is a job like any other. Make no mistake about it, I love to write. Nobody needs to twist my arm to make me do it, but ultimately I have bills to pay and if I don’t write, they don’t get paid. Beyond that, and more to the point, I love the process of writing. I’m inspired by creating a puzzle and then fitting the pieces together in a coherent and logical way where everything connects and makes sense. But it’s the final product, seeing my stuff on bookstore shelves with my name prominently displayed, that inspires me to keep doing it more than anything else.
When did you know you would be a writer?
Not until I was in college at Brown University. That’s when I realized how I much I enjoyed the process of writing practically anything. But it was also at Brown that I fell in love with reading, and you can’t be a writer if you don’t love to read. That’s where I started to learn about structure, character, theme, setting—you name it. And not from writing classes either; I’ve never taken one of those. I learned everything I know about writing from reading, but was also blessed at Brown to have some great professors who really believed in and mentored me.
How long did take to write your first novel?
Perfect follow-up, because I actually wrote my first novel as a senior thesis at Brown. It was around 600 pages typed on a Smith-Corona typewriter—think I must have gone through about 20 ribbons! I spent much of the second semester on it so, say, around three months. The book was god-awful, but I finished it and before me or anyone else can publish a book, we have to finish it and that stops more would-be writers in their tracks than I can count. Bottom line here is that the Brown University curriculum allowed me to do something I could never have done anywhere else and it’s not an exaggeration to say if it wasn’t for that, I wouldn’t be a writer today.
It seems that is where the fire was definitely lit for you.
What is the hardest part of writing for you?
The frustration over having not achieved my greatest goals. I’ve had a lot of success, a great deal really, but I’ve never been a New York Times bestselling author. That’s the Holy Grail and, damn, it just keeps eluding me. So the hardest part of writing for me has nothing to do with the process but the helplessness I feel when I see so many of my contemporaries achieving something I haven’t yet. Hey, it gives me something to look forward to and work even harder to attain, so I guess it’s not all bad!
You still have something passionate to press for. I hope you make the NYT Bestseller's list!
Do you have any writing rituals?
I do. Let me mention just two. First off, I try to never leave off at the beginning of a chaper. I always write at least the few paragraphs so I when I go back to work the next day, I’ve got a running start. Then, to create the mindset, I’ll read a few chapters from one of my favorite writers—James Lee Burke, for example—before I start writing myself. That gets me in the mood and makes me want to write even more.
That's a really great idea for mood-setting and inspiration!
Have you written anything else?
Well, I started my career writing magazine articles and earlier this year, in January, I published my first ever nonfiction book. It was called BETRAYAL and told the tale of a decorated FBI agent’s failed attempts to nail the Boston gangster, Whitey Bulger, efforts that were vindicated last year. I’m incredibly proud of the book and many would tell you it’s the best work I’ve ever done. But the need to be factually and totally accurate in nonfiction is a mind-numbing process that involves armies of lawyers and fact-checkers—a tough slog for someone used to making everything up. That said, I’ve got several other nonfiction ideas I’m pursuing. The key in this business is to seize every opportunity and continually redefine yourself and your options. Over the years more than anything else I’ve learned that a great story is about fascinating heroic people, whether real or fictional. My late great agent Toni Mendez once said you can write anything if you know your characters. Truer words have never been spoken.
Congratulations on your first non-fiction book!
Your late agent sounds like a wise man. Those words ring so true in my ears too!
Any advice to aspiring writers?
Never forget that first and foremost, no matter what your field or genre, you are a storyteller, an entertainer. Equally important is to understand the nature of structure: of having a beginning, a middle and an end. Sounds simple but it’s amazing how elusive it is. Beyond that, I always refer to how the brilliant John D. McDonald defined story: Stuff happens to people you care about.
Again, so very true.
Who are your favorite authors?
Lee Child, James Lee Burke, Michael Connolly, Stephen King, David Morrell, Steve Berry, James Rollins, Nelson DeMille, David Baldacci—how much space do we have? (laughs) The thing all these names and others have in common is that they’re great storytellers. You simply can’t put their books down and there is nothing more important than just that. To me, that’s the ultimate goal and if you can’t do that, it doesn’t matter what else you do, no matter how brilliantly you do it.
I agree ten-fold. Those authors are master-storytellers. I too am a huge Stephen King fan. It doesn't matter if it's scary like The Dark Half, or historical like 11-12-63, it was ravaged by my senses and brought to life in my mind. That's an example of great writing at work.
What are your favorite books, or what book has impacted you the most?
Well, THE EXORCIST was the first book I read cover-to-cover in a single day, a single setting actually. Reading Robert Ludlum’s, THEHOLCROFT COVENANT 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.
A lot of great titles listed.
What are you currently reading?
A great book by John Hart called IRON HOUSE. Absolutely riveting stuff that makes it a perfect follow-up to his equally brilliant THE LASTCHILD.
Have to look that series up.
How do readers find out more about you?
I could say go to jonlandbooks.com, and I will. But the real answer is read my books. Read PANDORA’S TEMPLE, and if you enjoy it, try an entry from my Caitlin Strong Texas Ranger series. My books encapsulate who I am and being able to tell a great entertaining story that whisks the reader away for however long is a great gift. And the bond between reader and storyteller is one of the greatest and most enduring of any.
Thanks Jon, for chatting and stopping by!
And do go to the Booktrib chat with Jon Land. It's November 19 at 7:30 pm est.