Jon Land & Caitlin Strong Return

My guest today is a familiar face in the Lair, USA Today bestselling author Jon Land.  We’re celebrating the release of his latest Caitlin Strong thriller, Strong Cold Dead, which I bought, devoured, and loved the week it came out.  Several of the books in this series have been RT Top Picks.  In 2013, after the release of Strong Vengeance, Romantic Times said, “Caitlin Strong is the best female thriller protagonist in the entire genre right now.”–RT Book Reviews (Top Pick!)  Jon’s going to talk to us about Caitlin’s life and the experience of writing the series.

Welcome, Jon! Who is Caitlin Strong?

Jon-Land-smallShe’s a Fifth Generation Texas Ranger who’s essentially a modern day gunfighter. A kind of female Jack Reacher who embodies all the qualities of the classic frontier hero, except that she’s a woman!

Caitlin’s in a longterm relationship with Cort Wesley Masters. How did they meet, and how has their relationship evolved over the series?

Great question, because Caitlin once falsely jailed Cort Wesley. And, upon getting released from prison after four years, he has every intention of killing her. But he’s a changed man and ends up saving her life instead. To me, the best part of the series is not just their relationship, but also how Caitlin Strong becomes a surrogate mother to his two teenage sons. That’s the push of her character, while the pull is her gunfighter mentality that’s part of her nature. That conflict defines her and the series itself.

Please tell us about Caitlin’s latest outing, Strong Cold Dead.

I honestly believe, as supported by critical and reader response, that this is the best book in the series so far, and one of the primary reasons for this is that I’ve cast ISIS as the villains when the terrorist group comes to Texas in search of a superweapon that lies on a mysterious Indian reservation. Both structurally and emotionally, I think it just might be my most ambitious and best realized effort yet.

unknown-1You’ve reached back into Caitlin’s history and that of the Texas Rangers to provide historical underpinnings for your plot. What inspired you to do that?

Another great question! Originally, I thought it was just a nice touch, adding a fresh ingredient to help the book stand out in the very crowded thriller field. That’s why I started doing it, but what’s inspired me to continue it is that these historical underpinnings you mention help define the very nature of Caitlin’s character in upholding the legacy of the most famous lawmen in American history. I so like the fact that the Rangers today, for the most part, operate the same way they always have as throwbacks to a more frontier-oriented mentality. And, to a great extent, that’s what Caitlin is—a throwback.

In Strong Cold Dead, some of Caitlin’s professional chickens seem to be heading home to roost. Will that play into upcoming books?

Wow, I hadn’t actually thought about that! And the answer is, well, I think it’s very tricky to carry anything specific from one book in the series to the next because the last thing you want to do is leave the reader feeling he’s playing catch up and that he’s missed something by starting with a later book. The mark of any great series, in my mind, is that the reader doesn’t realize it’s a series when he or she picks up their first title. Each book has to read as standalone, while still making my most loyal readers enjoy the emotional growth and change in the characters they’ve continued to invite into their imaginations for reading pleasure.
unknownWould you like to share an excerpt from Strong Cold Dead?

Oh, for sure! And the one I’ve chosen offers a prime example of what I consider a primary staple of the series: that being how the emotional core of the story is tightly woven with the structural core. In this case, Caitlin’s surrogate son Dylan, son of her reformed outlaw lover Cort Wesley Masters, has joined a protest on a fictional Indian reservation because he’s fallen head over heels for a young Native woman. That doesn’t sit well with either Caitlin or Cort Wesley, but watch also how this scene drops hints about the events about to consume them all.

Caitlin spotted Cort Wesley Masters storming across the scene, heading straight for them. Red-faced and breathing so hard she could see his big chest contracting under his shirt, focus rooted entirely on Dylan as if Caitlin and Ela Nocona weren’t even there.

“When did you plan on telling me you dropped out of school, son?”

“I didn’t drop out,” Dylan said, looking up at Cort Wesley and trying to return his glare. “I’m just taking a semester off.”

“Well, I got a call from the Registrar. Apparently, there were a bunch of forms you neglected to fill out to the point where Brown isn’t sure you’re returning at all.”

Cort Wesley’s face was so red it seemed sunburned and his breath so hot it looked like smoke when it hit the moisture-soaked air. Caitlin could see the tension in his muscles beneath his shirt, his traps so pronounced they stretched the fabric of the t-shirt she’d bought him for his last birthday. 

Dylan slid closer to Ela Nocona. “We’re doing something important here.”

“We,” Cort Wesley repeated, seeming to notice Ela Nocona for the first time and, no doubt, coming to the same conclusion Caitlin already had. “So is it important enough to give up your future for?”

“Have you even heard what’s going on in North Dakota on that Bakken oil field that straddles Indian land?” Dylan asked him.

 “No, son, I haven’t.”

“It’s a repeat of how the nineteenth century went down for them. And now it’s happening here, in Texas. Somebody’s got to do something.”

“That somebody being you,” Cort Wesley nodded. “Maybe I should haul you out of here. Tie you to the back of my truck and drive you all the way back to Providence.”

Dylan shook his head and blew the hair from his face, then swiped at it again with a hand. Caitlin felt the air thicken between father and son, Dylan still nearly a half foot shorter than Cort Wesley at five-foot-nine but not about to give an inch, no more than he did playing running back for the Brown University football team under famed coach Phil Estes.  

“So you and the rest of these kids are trying to save the tribe from itself,” she heard Cort Wesley saying to Dylan, and turned back toward them, “is that it?”

“The elders are lying to them, Dad.”

“That’s none of your business.”

“But it’s mine, Mr. Torres, it’s my business,” Ela said, standing side-by-side with Dylan, addressing Cort Wesley respectfully. “This is a protected refuge. The oil company can’t touch it any of it, except here on the reservation since my people were deeded this part of the land. So that’s where they came, bringing promises to build new schools, new housing, new jobs. My people kept voting down a casino, but they accepted the company’s promises because the elders sold them a bill of goods. Carbon copy of North Dakota but nobody’s paying any attention.” Ela squeezed Dylan’s arm. “Maybe this will change that.”

“First, my name’s Masters, not Torres. Second, the only thing that’s gonna change is what happens when heads start getting busted,” Cort Wesley told her.

Caitlin held her gaze on Ela. “Are you accusing anybody of breaking the law here?”

“The laws of nature, of history, yes.”

“Those aren’t the laws I was talking about.”

Ela shrugged.

Caitlin felt a chill run through her and scanned the spectators again for the tall young man, so rail thin he seemed to have no waist at all. But she turned back toward Dylan and Ela before she could find him.

“Tell you what I can do. I can speak with the right folks at this minerals company to determine if their intentions are just. I can’t make any promises, but in my experience people real good at hiding behind intentions don’t talk such a good game when you pull back the curtain.”

“You don’t know what you’re dealing with here, Ranger, not with these people.”

“Well,” said Caitlin, still trying to spot the tall kid she couldn’t chase from her mind, “they don’t know what they’re dealing with either.”

What about writing this series gives you the most pure fun?

The magical moments when things fall together, not because of my intentions, so much as the characters actually being a step ahead of me. Since I don’t outline, I rely on spontaneity which, to a great extent, is where the energy of books like STRONG COLD DEAD comes from. By the same token, though, it’s scary when you don’t know everything, or even most things, that’s coming next. That makes those “Ah-ha!” moments the life blood of a writer like me.

unknown-2What’s the most challenging aspect of writing the series?

I’m going to answer that question a bit differently. Sure, it’s always challenging keeping a series fresh and original after eight books now. But the bigger, the biggest, challenge is developing strategies and doing whatever it takes to grow the readership of the series. It’s done well and been exceptionally well received. But, while building a great fan base, Caitlin has never broken out the way, say, James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux or Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire. But one of these days . . . (laughs)

I love this series, as you know, and am confident that it’s only a matter of time before Caitlin breaks out. How many other series are you currently writing?

Let me tell you about one. January will see publication of the first in a series I’m doing with the great romantic suspense novelist Heather Graham called THE RISING. We’d always wanted to work on something like this together and when the opportunity came, we chose a science fiction thriller featuring a pair of teenage heroes—neither of which either of us had ever done before. But the results speak for themselves and I couldn’t be more excited.

What’s next for you?

It’s time to write the next book in the Caitlin Strong series, STRONG TO THE BONE, a book that will reveal more about Caitlin than ever before, while pitting her against a modern day Nazi movement.

For further information about Jon and his books, check out his website, www.jonlandbooks.com.  You can also connect with him on Twitter, where he’s @jondland, and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/JonLandAuthor/

Jon is giving one commenter from the US today a copy of Strong Cold Dead, so please tell us what you like most about mystery and adventure books and films.

Comments

17 Comments

  • Jon Land says:

    Hi, everybody! It’s great to be back in The Lair and I look forward to chatting through the course of the day. Feel free to comment back after you see my response to your original comment.

  • ellie says:

    I am captivated with Jon’s novels which are intriguing and so well written. Mysteries are alluring since they cast a spell upon me because the suspense and the questions build up.

    • Jon Land says:

      Thanks, Ellie! That means so much to me. The challenge of writing a series is to make every book feel fresh and original, while continuing to develop the characters so they don’t get stale or feel like they’re going through the motions. My goal is always to make each book in the Caitlin Strong series better than the last, so here’s hoping I’m meeting that bar.

    • Ellie, I enjoy that buildup, too. I like stories like Jon’s that’re so well constructed that I don’t see the end coming.

  • Hi, Jon–

    It’s great to have you back and to hear some of the background on this series!

  • ruth says:

    Mystery novels are enthralling and when I am caught up in reading them nothing else intrudes. I am enmeshed within the pages and cannot leave. Mystery films such as film noir and those from the 1950’s are incomparable since the atmosphere and the black and white depiction is perfect.

    • Jon Land says:

      Excellent point, Ruth! Those 50s black and white movies you’re talking about gave birth to the genre of “film noir,” and they’ve been very vital in influencing the form of the thriller. Movies like KISS OF DEATH and FAREWELL MY LOVELY. Many of them went under the radar but can still be found on Turner Classic Movies and more outlets. And there’s something about that old, grainy black and white that makes them truly special.

    • Ruth, I get caught up like that in mysteries because of the puzzles. But that only works if I care about the characters.

  • Pearl says:

    When I read Jon’s novels, whether the Strong books or the unforgettable stories set in Israel I am transported by his creativity and amazing writing. Reading a mystery starts my adrenaline and the ongoing enjoyment continues until the very last page. The action, strength of the plot and the determination of the protagonist all are important ingredients which makes the mystery compelling.

    • Jon Land says:

      Pearl; Wow, you made my day! It’s always such a treat to hear from someone who’s been with me for as long as you have through a myriad of series. I think my series set in Israel and the Caitlin Strong series have more in common than people realize. I especially enjoyed your comment about “the determination of the protagonist.” So, so true, especially when it comes to Caitlin. You can always reach me directly at jonlandauthor@aol.com

  • Jeanne Adams says:

    Hi Jon!! Welcome back!! This is such a great series. I’m eager to read the latest, and just as eager to hear more about your collaboration with Heather Graham. And teenaged protagonists? Is this going to be YA, or Suspense? (or both?) Tell us more….

    I’m also your “Friday-Tweet” gal, in case you wondered where that strange woman got your twitter handle…Grins. I always include you in my Friday #GoRead tweets b/c I really do enjoy your books!

    • Jon Land says:

      Jeanne: Great to hear from you and I definitely remember you from past visits to The Lair. So glad you’re looking forward to STRONG COLD DEAD–you’re in for a Tweet. Also, great question on my collaboration with Heather Graham, THE RISING. It’s YA only in the sense that the heroes are high school seniors, but the plot is definitely adult-oriented. The book’s greatest strength, and hopefully not weakness, is that it’s a thriller, it’s romantic suspense and it also has strong elements of science fiction. All I can go by so far is the early response which has been terrific, so fingers crossed as they are when launching any venture, new or old. What’s your Twitter handle, by the way?

    • Hi, Jeanne–

      I think you’ll love Strong Cold Dead. 🙂

  • Jon Land says:

    Jeanne: Great to hear from you and I definitely remember you from past visits to The Lair. So glad you’re looking forward to STRONG COLD DEAD–you’re in for a Tweet. Also, great question on my collaboration with Heather Graham, THE RISING. It’s YA only in the sense that the heroes are high school seniors, but the plot is definitely adult-oriented. The book’s greatest strength, and hopefully not weakness, is that it’s a thriller, it’s romantic suspense and it also has strong elements of science fiction. All I can go by so far is the early response which has been terrific, so fingers crossed as they are when launching any venture, new or old. What’s your Twitter handle, by the way?