AUTHOR TO AUTHOR James Rollins uncovers the real Jon Land
Tuesday, January 24, 2012
While I have done many interviews over the years, this is the first interview of an author I'll do on my blog. I'm pleased that the person I'm interviewing is someone I've known a long time, that I personally find interesting as well as admirable. That individual is author Jon Land. In observing Jon over an extended period of time, I know that he is first in line to help others. First in line to share his experience and advice to the up and coming, and first to admit mistakes and do all he can to fix them. Don't we all know many others who could benefit from those qualities? It's my pleasure to invite you to visit Jon's website to learn more about him and his books, and my privilege to share with you this, my first author interview.
JON LAND: IN HIS OWN WORDS
The imagination binds us together in worlds that only exist as we share them. That is the complex and personal nature of the relationship between reader and writer. And though it may seem like casual entertainment it is much more than that. We share the great “what if?” as a story teaches us about the world we know, the one we don’t and more importantly, about ourselves as we walk within the skin of a character we’ve grown to love.
Authors are storytellers. It’s an age-old profession that has captured the hearts and minds of millions of people throughout time. Often, people wonder about storytellers. Where do the stories come from? Why is someone compelled to put a character through hardships, in danger, in love? I invite you to join me as we get to find out the story of the storyteller.
MY INTERVIEW WITH JON LAND
James: Hi Jon! Thanks for talking with me today.
Jon: My pleasure.
James: But I don’t want to talk about your writing just yet. I want to talk about you.
Jon: Fire away.
James: If you were not an author, what career would you be working in?
Jon: I'd be a lawyer which was always the plan until I got to college and fell in love with the process of writing and the notion of being my own boss. Just couldn't fathom another three years of school! So as soon as I graduated from Brown, I threw myself into writing. Because Brown has such a liberal curriculum, I was able to write my first thriller as a senior thesis for course credit. Man, it was God awful, but at the very least I proved to myself I could do it, I could actually finish a book. I wrote my first book that was actually published my first year out of school. And that's a lesson I always impart to young writers, that sometimes you have to chase your dream no matter how hard it is to catch. Sounds cliched, I know, but I'm speaking from experience.
James: Is Jon Land a Pen Name?
Jon: Nope. My mother had a crush on the B actor Jon Hall when she was pregnant with me. Hence, my name!
James: How has being an author changed your thought patterns and how you see the world?
Jon: I’m not sure it really has since being an author is all I’ve ever been. So I’ve always seen the world through the same eyes.
James: Do you belong to any charities? I seem to recall you did something for children that involved Macy's. Tell me about this?
Jon: You’re talking about Reading is Fundamental which I’m involved in through ITW. I volunteer in schools, one of which I’m currently assisting kids in creating an anthology. I can’t tell you how gratifying it is work with them. I feel guilty saying that it is a charity. It's been my experience that when you invest in people, they always give back more than you ever give them.
LEARN MORE ABOUT READING IS FUNDAMENTAL HERE
James: What is the craziest thing you have ever done on a whim?
Jon: Well, I became a writer--how's that? I'm actually half serious about that since becoming a writer was something I never planned or prepared for. It was more a matter of following a dream, but a dream that was hatched while I was in college as opposed to before. And whim or not, it's been the greatest decision of my life since I get to do something different every day and few days end without the sense that I've accomplished something vital and important.
James: Favorite restaurant in NYC, what do you do when not writing, most embarrassing moment :)
Jon: No doubt about it: Novita. I eat things there like Monk Fish and Chilean Sea Bass I'd never order anywhere else. It's a truly special place for me in large part because that where I always go with my publisher, the great Tom Doherty, someone I admire and respect as much as anyone I've ever known. When I'm not writing, I’m at the gym working out pretty much every day. It's not a luxury for me, it's a necessity--the way I clear my head and unwind. As for embarrassing moments, or Oh Shit moments you wish you could take back, well, I’ve had a few after drinking too much, but that’s why they call it a private life!
James: What is your best and worst habit?
Jon: My worst habit is I tend to take on too much. The word "No" has never been big in my vocabulary. But people wouldn't ask me to involve myself in something if it wasn't important to them and I hate to turn down requests to help or participate in just about anything. It means a lot that they thought enough of who I am to want me involved and I value that tremendously. The problem is there are only so many hours in the day and I have to remind myself that I have to be disciplined enough to always leave sufficient time for work. And discipline, by contrast, has always been by comparison my best habit--it has to be anytime you work for yourself and don't have anyone telling you what to do and when to do it. Those responsibilities fall on me as a writer and I've never had a problem accepting them. No matter how much talent any individual writer, or any artist, has, that talent doesn't matter unless you're capable of channeling it properly. When I'm asked, "What's the most thing a writer must do?," I'm tempted to answer "Finish!"
James: What movie heroes do you most identify with?
Jon: Wow, good question! First one that comes to mind is Jimmy Stewart’s George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life. The ending and the film itself are so uplifting that it’s easy to forget that George never realizes his dream, never gets out of Bedford Falls at all. But that doesn’t stop him from finding happiness, from carving a fresh path from the old one and not letting it reduce the quality of his life. Next, I’d say John Wayne’s Ethan Edwards in John Ford’s seminal The Searchers. That character spends eight years looking for his niece who’s been kidnapped by Indians. But he doesn’t want to save her, he wants to kill her because of his own racism and hatred. We watch as he manages to overcome both, seemingly a changed man until that final fadeout when he walks off instead of joining the reunited family. The ultimate loner hero comfortable only with his own company. Finally, I’d say Bogart in Casablanca. He could have the girl in the end but he chooses to do the noble thing and leave her to what he knows will be a better life. He’s willing to sacrifice for someone he loves, to put others above himself, knowing his fate lies along a different path.
James: Okay, what movie heroes do you least identify with?
Jon: Meaning . . .
James: Movie heroes you’d least like to be.
Jon: Challenging. The first that comes to mind is Dustin Hoffman’s Babe Levy in Marathon Man. He starts out tortured and alone and by the end of the movie is even more tortured and more alone. He’s never been able to let go of his demons and now he never will. Nothing but sadness before him, no sense of salvation or redemption like the characters above. Then there’s Warren Beatty’s character, Joe Pendleton, in Heaven Can Wait. Even though the ending’s reasonably happy, because of somebody else’s mistake, he doesn’t get to finish his own life. He’s a victim of the system, heavenly in this case, and there’s absolutely nothing he can do about it; he’s powerless. Finally there’s the brilliant Alan Ladd title character in Shane. He wants to change, hang up his guns and live a normal life. But no matter how much he tries, he can’t. He doesn’t get the girl, doesn’t get the family, and in the end does the noble thing by saving the homesteaders and then riding off into the sunrise, maybe to die after being shot. There’s something terribly sad and tragic about that too.
James: So what makes a hero?
Jon: The first word that comes to mind is sacrifice, a willingness, if not a proclivity, to do something for others at your own expense or perhaps loss.
James: You have a reputation for helping other writers selflessly without necessarily getting anything in return. So that makes you a hero, doesn’t it?
Jon: You’re very kind to say that but, no, it doesn’t. Because I’m not necessarily sacrificing anything other than time maybe. You want to talk about real heroes, look at teachers who’ve sacrificed a potential career making big bucks to work tirelessly to reach and mold young people. Look at soldiers who spend months and years in godforsaken countries without any of the comforts we take for granted. They’re putting their lives on the line every minute of every day. Then there are the quiet heroes who volunteer at hospice centers or retirement homes. They make a real difference in people’s lives in the toughest of circumstances because they wanna, do the right thing. I take great pride and pleasure in doing the right thing too, but the circumstances aren’t tough at all.
James: Still the concept of “paying it forward” seems to resonate very strongly with you.
Jon: Indeed it does. I believe all of us who have achieved a high degree of success in a field as difficult as writing have a duty, an obligation, to help others trying to follow that same path. All writers are very goal-oriented. We’re all chasing the same brass ring and the tendency is to look up at those who’ve got it in their grasp already. But there are far, far more writers out there who can’t even get on the merry-go-round. I believe there’s nothing more important than appreciating your accomplishments and achievements and using your own success to help others, in however small or large a way. And I never let myself lose sight of all the people who’ve helped me get where I am. I’ve always been fortunate enough to have a lot of people in my life who believe in me. Not everyone is that fortunate and I pride myself in being there for them as much as I can when asked.
James: You seem to relate very well to loners. Do you consider yourself one?
Jon: Well, I love people but I also thrive on a solitary lifestyle. I feel easily cramped and claustrophobic when I don’t have the freedom to shut the rest of the world out. I guess I love the sound of nothing. I’m answering your questions right now amid total silence, by myself, the same way I write. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
James: What makes you happy?
Jon: I’m not going to lie to you: continued success and more of it makes anyone happy, especially someone as goal-oriented as I am. But let me answer that question the simplest way I can. My favorite toast at holidays or events is something akin to “May we all be standing here next year at this same time.” Because if that’s the case then everyone in that room still has a chance to achieve what they want most and, most importantly, have a chance to be happy.
James: Let’s now talk about your writing. If you wanted people to take one thing out of your work, what would it be?
Jon: My film agent once told me I excel at writing about “winners.” That was years ago and his words may still ring true, but not in the same way. My more recent books define characters as much by their flaws as their strengths, the focus on how they overcome those flaws and the skeletons in their respective closets, to find some form of redemption. But they’re never satisfied. Their sense of honor creates a hunger for achievement, for standing up for what’s right and who’s been wronged the way a shark must constantly swim. Stop and it dies, just like if my characters stopped fighting for what they believed, they'd lose stheir sense of purpose. In that respect it’s not so much about changing who they are, but about coming to grips with the fact that they can’t change, not really.
James: Can you change?
Jon: You know, probably not, at least not fundamentally. Like Stephen King I believe all writers possess an element of madness. Being “eccentric” is a more polite way of putting it, I suppose. Being comfortable with who you are, accepting yourself. But that doesn’t mean you don’t keep challenging yourself to do better, as an artist and as a human being. Both are very important to me and I don't want to let anyone else down any more than I want to let myself down.
James: Let’s try it this way: Do you want to change?
Jon: No, absolutely not. I have career goals like everyone else, sure, but as far as who I am—no. I’ve always been comfortable living my own life, not somebody else’s—not, in other words, following a prescription or formula for what I’m supposed to be and am supposed to be doing.
James: Biggest influences?
Jon: The earlier works of Robert Ludlum, David Morrell and Stephen King.
James: What is one of your flaws as an author? (be honest!)
Jon: Hey, honest is the only way I know! I think I’m guilty of not always paying attention enough to detail. Lots of my contemporaries pride themselves on knowing their settings inside and out from first-hand experience, while I’m more of an armchair Marco Polo. That makes me over-reliant on Google!
James: Tell me about your writing environment at home.
Jon: My office is too cluttered with books and papers, the stacks of which keep growing as if the pages are reproducing. Once in a while I go on a cleaning binge and swear to myself it’ll never happen again, but the piles always seem to reappear in spite of my best intentions.
James: Do you sit an office or do you move about with a laptop.
Jon: Sit in an office. All the motion takes place in my head where I see everything happening as I type.
James: Do you ever write on location (where it is you are doing your research)?
Jon: I never write on location, but I've had a ball visiting places to research specific scenes. I do a lot of research with the ever magical Google, but when it comes to a scene I need to choreograph in detail (i.e. the setting of a major action scene), there's absolutely no substitute for going there and planning the scene in my mind as I walk the area, over and over again. I did that with DisneyWorld, Colonial Williamsburg, Masada, the streets and slums of Rio di Janeiro. That final one was the most interesting because I actually hung around with the supposedly dangerous street kids who live in the hillside slums called favellas. The hotel wasn't too happy when I wanted to have lunch served to them, so they ended up delivering food to the beach which they deemed safely off the property. That was a great trip.
James: Do you draw from experiences with real people for your characters?
Jon: Not really, no. My imagination is so vivid, I let it do all the talking and deciding. And, here's the thing, my characters are always a work in progress. They develop on the page as I write them without preconceived notions.
James: Where does inspiration of characters come from?
Jon: It doesn’t. I don’t believe in inspiration because believing in it entails relying upon it. My inspiration, if you want to call it that, comes from a love of what I do and continuing to pursue goals I can’t let go of.
James: What character do you identify with?
Jon: All of them, especially the good guys, to varying degrees. As I’ve grown as a person, I’ve gotten to know myself better and the result of that in my writing is characters who are defined as much by their flaws as their strengths.
James: Who are are your top 5 author winners?
Jon: Lee Child, Stephen King, James Lee Burke, Don Winslow and Steve Berry.
James: Why did you pick the thriller genre? Did a movie influence you that led you into this?
Jon: The early James Bond movies, and Hitchcock movies captured my imagination. They scared me to death, and I loved it. Yet the first movie I ever saw, Disney's 101 Dalmatians, had a powerful impact on me, too. Good guys can win--but only after they've struggled through edge-of-your-seat scary stuff and faced strong bad guys who could and would kill them. The flawed, good-guy wins--and the thriller lover in me was born.
James: If you were going to write a story and it was not a thriller what it would it be?
Jon: Whoa, that’s a tough one! I love fantasies like GAME OF THRONES but could never write one. I think I could do a modern horror story, something like FIRESTARTER or THE DEAD ZONE to name two King classics. But I think if you know the characters, you can write anything. The term thriller refers to pace as much as anything including structure.
James: Favorite place 2 write?
Jon: My office in the dead quiet.
James: While this interview focuses on you, many of the readers are also writers, and so I want to ask you a couple of things of interest to them.) (Then lead into the question on writer's block.)Many authors fear writer's block. Have you ever had it, and if so, what did you do to overcome it?
Jon: I don’t believe in writer’s block. I’m a professional. Professionals don’t make excuses.
James: Do You plan/outline plot or wing it?
Jon: I wing it, believing totally that if I don’t know what’s going to happen next, the reader can’t possibly. I think this spontaneity is one of my greatest strengths as a writer but it comes with a price since I don’t have the security of definitively knowing where I’m going next.
James: If you could invite five literary personages from any era to a dinner party, who would they be and why?
Jon: Such a good question and one I’ve never even considered before! I’d like to meet Hemingway—believe he’d be incredibly insecure like the rest of us. Mark Twain for sure, and Stephen King would be a must just for the conversation and we seem to think a lot alike. David Morrell because everytime I hear him speak I learn something new. And R.L. Stine because he’d keep everything light. My sixth choice, way out of the box, would be H.L. Menken because nobody had America more right than he did.
James: A plot or an idea you read that made you re-think your views/opinions on some issue?
Jon: I find research to be continually eye opening, like never leaving school. For one upcoming book I researched a potential terrorist plot to poison waters with radioactive waste and was shocked to learn the fact that tons and tons of radioactive waste have already been dumped into the oceans across the world. For another book I thought I was inventing the fact that someday your television would be able to watch you. Then the other day someone sent me an e-mail about new technology from Samsung which will actually make that possible. The great challenge and treat for thriller writers is the ability to be both student and prophet!
James: This is a question from Author Allison Brennan " how a guy can create such a great female character in Caitlin Strong!"
Jon: I don’t write about men or women, I write about people and the conflicts that drive their lives. I’m not a serial killer either, but I’ve written about them. Or a mass murderer. Or a Special Forces commando. Or a Palestinian. What I am is someone capable of moving into a number of people’s skins while I’m in the process of creating them and watching them evolve. Caitlin Strong couldn’t have worked as a man because the central conflict of putting a woman in a male-dominated world, all the issues that raises, would be lost. But it’s what defines Caitlin. I don’t write her; she writes herself so she deserves the credit, not me.
James: This is a question from a good friend of mine, Kristen Lamb "Have you ever had a character that creeped you out to write?"
Jon: That’s a GREAT question! And, yes, but it wasn’t a serial killer, mass murderer, assassin—nothing like that. It was a character from my upcoming book STRONG VENGEANCE who’s a pedophile. The scene in which he confronts Caitlin’s sixteen-year-old surrogate son Dylan might be the most chilling I’ve ever written. I still get goosebumps when I write. This character is simply and totally irredeemable.
James: I'd like to thank Jon for being my guest today. I enjoyed our conversation and I hope my readers have, too.
Explore the thriller and non-fiction world of Jon Land
Name: alexander quaye Date: 2012-01-24
great interview you did really good for your first time honestly i"m 15 so i can't offer any advice
Name: Marion Spicher Date: 2012-01-24
Not only the characterization of Jon Land came through in the interview, but some of your own, James Rollins. Thoroughly enjoyed reading this, appreciated Jon Land's viewpoint, and expect when I read his books, (because of this interview) the gratitude will continue. I will pass the word.
Name: Pauline Baird Jones Date: 2012-01-24
Most interesting! Was fun to find I'm not only loner (thought I call myself a hermit!).
Name: Adriana Ryan Date: 2012-01-24
A great, insightful interview! I loved how Jon said that it's important to remember to appreciate every single achievement we make as writers, even when we haven't gotten the "brass ring." A great lesson to remember about life in general too, in my opinion.
Name: Dani Wright Date: 2012-01-24
Excellent and informative. Thank-you for taking time to do this. I already knew about Mr. Land and have read several of his books, but it's always nice, as a reading enthusiast to get a glimpse behind the pages. That's why I also think it's very COOL that you seem so down to earth and touch with your fans. It's more appreciated than you can comprehend.
Name: John Arnold Date: 2012-01-24
I'm glad to see a writer who will make regular reference to Stephen King when it seems many won't. His opinions on Teachers, Military, and others like Hospice workers being heroes is nice to hear and shows (at least to me) his character. I look forward to reading his work. Thanks for posting this interview and bringing Jon Land to my attention.
Name: Merle Gornick Date: 2012-01-24
Thank you both for sharing such amwonderful interview! It was very informative and entertaining! I enjoy hearing from authors who are down to earth and perform charitable work as it is important in my life too. We support a local animal sanctuary and I buy children's books to give away to some of my younger program participants. I also had a giggle moment reading about one of your movie heroes from It's a Wonderful Life. It's one of our favorite Christmas movies and we named our second rescue canine after George Bailey! I am glad to have read this interview as it is a pleasure to get to know a little more about the both of you. Aloha! Merle
Name: Piper Bayard Date: 2012-01-24
Great interview! Knowing nothing about Jon Land before this interview, the first thing that comes across to me is his generous, life-loving personality. What a fun person to know. And so professional. I can see why you chose him for your first author interview. As a recovering attorney who is now the writer I wanted to be back in college, I laughed to learn that Jon planned to be an attorney before choosing to be a writer. Good on you, Jon, for cutting to the chase. Thank you, Jim, for expanding my world and introducing me to Jon Land. I look forward to checking out his books.
Name: Coleen Patrick Date: 2012-01-24
Great interview! Always love finding out where authors like to do their writing.
Name: D. L. Wilson Date: 2012-01-24
Not only are both of you outstanding suspense/thriller authors, this is a phenomenal blog post interview. You've provided an intimate view into the complex life of authors and glimpse of the intense work that goes into creating captivating fiction. Thanks!!
Name: David Date: 2012-01-25
Great interview! I think the key to any good interview is the questions. They need to be interesting and engaging, so the nature of the interviewee can shine thru. Insightful questions, and awesome answers. I look forward to more.
Name: Kristen Lamb Date: 2012-01-25
Thanks for including my question! SQUEEEEEEE!!! I am so thrilled, pardon the pun *bada bump snar* that you had Jon on your blog. Except now I have ANOTHER awesome writer to follow and I totally need to find a cloning machine so I can read all these amazing stories. Thanks Jon for being here and it was wonderful to get to know you.
Name: Amy Shojai Date: 2012-01-25
Kewl beans! Two of my fav thriller writers in one place, what could be better! See you both at Thrillerfest (again). Great questions, lots of fun here, too. Always good to learn more about the authors behind the stories.
Name: Debra Eve Date: 2012-01-27
Surprised to learn Jon doesn't outline. That's impressive. So is "Professionals don't make excuses." Absolutely spot on, my new motto. Thanks for a new level of inspiration!
Name: Ellie Ann Date: 2012-01-27
Such a cool interview of a cool man. It's great to get to know him better.
Name: Ian Walkley Date: 2012-02-02
Excellent interview, that really brought out lots of things I didn't know about Jon, surprisingly his enjoyment of solitude. Thanks James and Jon for sharing.
Name: Carole A.Whyte Date: 2012-02-18
Another writer to add to my list. Thanks James