In the latest page-turning thriller from Jon Land, Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong wages her own personal war on drugs—holding nothing back as she attempts to take down the illicit opioid trade.
Year in and year out, Land is always a lock for an entertaining thriller, and Strong From the Heart is no exception. This year, Land once again agreed to go on the record for our Five Questions segment, and I asked him about everything from how he came up with the story idea for this book to how he’s been spending time in quarantine.
TRBS: As always, you delivered yet another page-turning thriller starting one of the most badass female protagonists in the genre. How did you come up with the story idea for this book?
Land: Ha-ha! I’m laughing because that question begs a much different answer than the truth. Caitlin was born at a marketing meeting with Forge Books. head of mass-market sales noted that although thrillers were the most popular genre, and most books are bought by women, there weren’t any traditional thriller heroes who were women. You know, like a female Jack Reacher, a woman who could go toe-to-toe with tough guys and hold her own. Well, women can’t serve in combat as Navy SEALs or Army Special Forces, so right then and there at that meeting, I said what about a Texas Ranger? And let’s call her . . . Caitlin Strong! The rest, as they say, is history.
TRBS: What research, if any, did you have to do before actually sitting down to write Strong from the Heart?
Land: That’s a great question and here’s another not quite typical answer—this seems to be the day for those! I actually did a great deal of the research for STRONG FROM THE HEART inadvertently when I co-wrote a nonfiction book called CHASING THE DRAGON with one of the foremost DEA agents in history, Dan Addario. In writing that book, I learned an incredible amount about the War on Drugs and why we’re losing it, along with the fact that there are forces within the government that are precluding those efforts. The latter gave me the germ of the idea to make rogue elements of Washington powerbrokers the biggest drug dealers in the history of the country, and I based a character in the book on Dan Addario in Doyle Lodge. Generally, I don’t do research in advance of starting a book because I don’t know what I need to know, or appear to know, yet. I think writers who do their research in advance often feel obligated to cram everything into the book, writing it around all that information instead of letting the story dictate what the reader needs to know. In general, less information is more. You want to give the reader what they need to know to enjoy the story more and that’s all.
TRBS: What is your writing process like? Do you outline ahead of time, have a target word count you try to hit each day? What’s your secret?
Land: Stop with these great questions—you’re making me think too much! As I indicated in the question above, I know very little about the book I’m writing when I start it. I have a pretty good notion about what the McGuffin is, though, truth be told (confession time!) when I wrote the prologue of STRONG FROM THE HEART, an entire town found dead after perishing in a matter of moments, I had no idea yet what had killed them all—just a vague notion. I always tell people that if I don’t know what’s going to happen next, the reader can’t possibly know. And I feel that part of being a storyteller is letting the story I’m telling develop organically instead of me forcing myself upon it. I write from the inside out, living what’s happening with my characters. Interestingly enough, even though I don’t have a word count in mind when I start, all eleven of the Caitlin Strong books have been within around 3,000 words of each other. And every time I start a book, even after publishing over 50 of them, I’m still afraid it won’t be long enough when I finish. Go figure.
TRBS: How have you passed time during self-isolation and social distancing due to COVID-19? Read any good books?
Land: Well, confession time again. Everyone’s life has been adversely affected by COVID, but mine far less than the vast majority. I live in a bubble anyway—hey, you might say I’ve been social distancing my whole career! Writers are used to being alone, to working in a box, so from that standpoint not a lot changed for me. And I have had so much work, I just took my first day off since this whole thing started in March to go to the beach. The whole thing has felt surreal, though; even for me every day is “Blurs-day.” And there have been numerous occasions when I literally couldn’t remember what day of the week it was. I have read a bunch of good books, but that’s not unusual for me either. What’s more mind-numbing about this for me, any author really, is what our industry is going to look like on the other side. How many bookstores are we going to lose? What happens to Barnes and Noble? How much power is Amazon going to end up with? These were already perilous times for all but the very top authors and they are only going to become more perilous as a result of COVID.
TRBS: Lastly, what’s next for you, and when can readers expect to hear from Caitlin again?
Two fun questions to answer! I’m really excited to tell you I’ve taken over Margaret Truman’s Capital Crimes series and my first title, MURDER ON THE METRO, publishes in February of 2021 as the 32nd title in that iconic series. My goal is nothing short of shepherding the series back to the New York Times bestseller list. It’s one of the biggest thriller brands out there with still a ton of fans, and I want to do it justice. The demands of that series, along with MURDER, SHE WROTE, which I’ve also been doing, I’m probably going to take a year off from writing the next Caitlin Strong book. But, rest assured, she will be back and better than ever. Taking over other series requires me to take ownership of them. I already own the Strong series, though. And, to break a little news here, I just finished writing the pilot for a potential Caitlin Strong streaming series, thanks to an association with a top Hollywood producer in that realm. So stay tuned—literally!
Praised as “One of the hardest working, most thoughtful, and fairest reviewers out there” by #1 New York Times bestselling author Lisa Scottoline, Ryan Steck has “quickly established himself as the authority on mysteries and thrillers” (Author A.J. Tata). Steck also works full-time as a freelance editor and pens a monthly thriller column for CrimeReads. For more information, be sure to follow him on Twitter and Facebook. He currently lives in Southwest Michigan with his wife and their six children.