Jon Land on Writing, the Texas Rangers, and Strong Rain Falling
Today I’m very happy to host Jon Land, author of the bestselling Caitlin Strong series (including the most recent addition, Strong Rain Falling). The Brown University alum and author of thirty books has some terrific insights to share on why he chose to write about the Texas Rangers and the art of crafting such a unique female protagonist as Caitlin Strong. Many thanks to Jon for taking the time to share these thoughtful answers!
Author Jon Land
do a lot of the same things
they used to do…”
Your depiction of the Texas Rangers – from the fictional to the historical – has no doubt required a great deal of research. What were some of the most surprising facts about the Rangers that your research led you to?
Great question to start off and several things actually. First and foremost, in the case of the Texas Rangers, the legends and the mythos really are accurate. They started off as the quintessential frontier heroes, going up against vastly larger forces and coming out on top more times than not. It’s also true that Rangers tracked down some of the worst outlaws in history, including Bonnie and Clyde. And another thing that surprised me was how well their well-earned reputations and prowess has carried over into contemporary times. Rangers, believe it or not, still do a lot of the same things they used to do and the lawless nature of the border with Mexico, thanks to drug smuggling, still leaves them with more than share of outlaws to deal with. The one surprising thing I learned that was not nearly as positive was how close the Rangers were to being disbanded in the early 1900s after their numbers expanded so fast because of out problems with Mexico, the organization lost its mythos. A number of very unsavory incidents occurred as a result, including a number of rumored massacres of Mexican civilians. But tradition managed to win out and the Rangers remain an elite law enforcement force today.
What motivated you to draw on the Texas Rangers at the start of this series and ultimately create the unforgettable Caitlin Strong?
Okay, confession time on that one. Caitlin Strong was actually born at a business meeting at my publisher where we were discussing what direction I should go in next. One of the heads of Forge’s sales department raised the point that thrillers are the most popular genre and the vast majority of books are bought by women so, BOOM!, a light bulb went off in my head and right there on the spot I said I wanted to create a female action hero, say a female version of Lee Child’s brilliant Jack Reacher. Well, I’d always wanted to write about the Texas Rangers so I just melded the two together and there was Caitlin waiting to burst out from the page. Hey, she may have been the product of a sales discussion, but she is without question the most complex, interesting hero I’ve ever created. Making Caitlin a Texas Ranger, and a Fifth Generation one at that, provided her with instant credibility. Rangers are the law enforcement equivalent of the Special Forces in my mind and in creating a female action hero, I needed to establish right from the get-go that she could handle herself on par with the male action figures who dominate the genre.
Read my review of Strong Rain Falling
the most complex, interesting
hero I’ve ever created.”
Caitlin is one impressive heroine. As the author, what do you think makes her such a compelling character for readers to connect with?
Wow, that’s such a great question. For starters, I think she’s a lot more comfortable in her own skin, in that she’s come to accept who she is. The problem with that is she remains vulnerable to her own frontier gunfighter mentality. She doesn’t shy away from violence and some might even say she embraces it too much. That forms a striking contrast with the feminine and maternal instincts that surface when she’s around Cort Wesley and his sons. I guess the point I’m kind of suggesting here is that the little things, tasks, we take for granted in life, like raising kids, are actually a lot harder than chasing bad guys and often killing them. That’s because it highlights the constant push-pull in her character between the old-fashioned gunfighter that Caitlin unquestionably is and the loving maternal figure she finds herself becoming for Cort Wesley’s two sons. I think Caitlin’s scenes with those boys, most notably the opening of STRONG RAIN FALLING when she’s taking 18-year-old Dylan on a college visit to Brown University, are the scenes where Caitlin springs most to life and all her emotional conflicts are most on display. This isn’t a part of her life she’d ever expected or planned for, but she wouldn’t trade it for anything. Writing action is easy compared to writing emotion, but it’s emotion that makes the Caitlin Strong books truly special. In traditional tales, it’s the woman who tries to get the male gunfighter to give up his guns and settle down. But I decided in the Caitlin Strong series to reverse that paradigm and define the relationship between Caitlin and Cort Wesley based on his struggles as a single father and her gradually acceding to her maternal instincts to become a surrogate mother for Cort Wesley’s sons. That adds a freshness and vitality to all the Caitlin Strong books that provides me with a continuing emotional core. Stick to that core and the rest falls into place.
Pandora’s Temple, tenth in the Blaine McCracken series
is a progression.”
You’re no stranger to writing a mystery series. Do you feel that your experiences writing your past novels shaped how you approached the Caitlin Strong books in any way?
That’s a really great question and the short answer is, yes, absolutely. Writing, like everything else, is a progression. Getting better at your craft and building on your accomplishments—in this case creative ones. Early on, and for a quite stretch after that in my career, my books were pretty much black and white: good guys versus bad guys with not much in the middle. But the thing I love most about the Caitlin Strong books are the shades of gray they include, the ambiguity of characters defined as much by their flaws as their strengths. Let’s look at a character other than Caitlin as an example: Colonel Guillermo Paz, the giant assassin formerly with the Venezuelan secret police. I don’t think I’ve ever created a character who speaks on his own and creates his own dialogue better than Paz. He’s an indestructible killing machine originally hired to kill Caitlin way back in the first book in the series [Strong Enough to Die], but has evolved into her protector and guardian angel since. He’s always in search of the elusive answers to provide some sort of spiritual enlightenment. When regular visits to church confessionals fail to achieve this for him, Strong Rain Falling features scenes of Paz auditing college philosophy classes where the professors, how I can put this mildly?, run afoul him—a truly bad idea, trust me. And the amazing thing about Paz (SPOILER ALERT!) was that he wasn’t even supposed to survive the first book in the series. Turned out he had plans of his own. And that’s the point, because when you shade your characters in gray, they take on much more an independent life of their own and grew organically within the context of the story.
Last but not least, what can we expect to see from Caitlin Strong next?
Ah, always my favorite question! As we speak, I’m just about to finish the first draft of STRONG DARKNESS, the next Caitlin thriller which will be published in September of 2014. In this one she takes on a Chinese villain with a plot, stop me if you’ve heard this before, to do unspeakable damage to the United States. Even more than usual, this one has strong (no pun intended!) basis in reality. The book has great potential but it’s too early in the process to say how it will compare to a book as good as STRONG RAIN FALLING. One thing that struck me the other day is how the theme of revenge seems to be the primary inciter for virtually all of my Caitlin Strong books. On the one hand, that’s a concern because I don’t want to become stale and repetitive. But on the other revenge has probably been the most powerful theme in the history of all literature and the difference in the Caitlin Strong series is that the vengeance in question is often coming from something that happened many years in the past, the basis for the historical subplots that have become a staple of the series.
About Jon Land
Jon Land is the critically acclaimed author of thirty novels, including the bestselling series featuring female Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong: Strong Enough to Die, Strong Justice, Strong at the Break, and Strong Vengeance. In addition, Land is the coauthor of the nonfiction bestseller Betrayal, which was named Best True-Crime Book of 2012 by Suspense Magazine. Jon Land lives in Providence, Rhode Island, and can be found on the Web at www.jonlandbooks.com.