A Between the Lines Interview with Lee Child

By Andrew Peterson

Jack Reacher.  Men want to be him.  Women want to have his children.  What is it about this tall, unassuming, street-smart man, with an atomic clock in his head who wanders the countryside looking for adventure?  Why are we so fascinated with his unique lifestyle?  And what spawned this phenomenon?

lee-child.jpgThe answers are found inside Lee Child’s soul.  Reacher isn’t just some random concoction, he’s the result of a lifetime’s worth of experience and influence.  Simply stated, Jack Reacher is more real than any of us will ever know.

Lee Child’s legacy is forever secured.  Reacher is a household name in more than 51 countries and 36 languages.  Reacher is timeless.  If he’d lived in the Egyptian era, he would’ve kicked Marc Antony’s butt, seduced Cleopatra, led a slave revolt, and moved on.  In medieval times, he would’ve been a sword wielding Crusader fighting injustice against peasants.  And in the old west, he would’ve been a nomadic gunslinger who helps a rancher defend his home against murderous cattle rustlers.

Lee’s approach to the Reacher books isn’t complicated.  It doesn’t have to be.  “For a so-called noir or hard-boiled writer, my books aren’t really very gray.  There are good guys and bad guys, and the good guys win–count on it.”

And this holds true for his latest book, 61 HOURS.  I raced through the ARC in three sittings.

Here’s the jacket copy:

61-hours.JPGWhen a bus accident in a blizzard strands Jack Reacher in Bolton, South Dakota, it lands him in the crosshairs of a deadly confrontation–and rockets him to a final showdown so shocking these sixty-one hours will be 2010’s most talked about bestseller.  If you think you know how Jack Reacher will react when pushed to his breaking point, then you don’t know Jack!

61 HOURS is special to me because I won an ITW charitable auction to be a character in the book.  Andrew Peterson plays a small town deputy chief of police who helps Reacher defend an elderly woman against a vicious Mexican drug lord who wants her dead.  She’s a witness to a murder which has the potential to crumble the drug lord’s empire.  The book is fast paced and full of twists and turns–classic Reacher action.

The 4′-11″ drug lord’s name is Plato and he’s brutally cruel to his enemies, especially if they mention his height.  Think about a surgical procedure to reduce the length of your legs.  Or having your ankle shackled to a steel pole with no food or water, but with a hatchet as your only companion.  It’s delightfully devious.  I found myself wondering if I could actually do it.

As the title suggests, there’s a countdown taking place and it’s centered around a small, abandoned government building out in the middle of nowhere that no one seems to know anything about.  Reacher contacts his replacement counterpart in his former unit to get answers, but information is scarce.

The local cops need his help–they aren’t equipped to deal with the kind of troubling coming their way.  Reacher’s initially reluctant to get involved, but the elderly woman wins his heart and he decides to defend her at all costs.
At the cliffhanger ending of the book, I literally said out loud, “No!  It can’t end it like this!”  I mean that in a good way.

There are dozens of interviews with Lee out there on the internet and some of them are quite detailed about Lee’s background and evolution with Reacher.  This feature is written to give you a snapshot of Lee and his latest book, 61 HOURS.  I would need several dozen pages to delve deeply into the Lee Child/Jack Reacher relationship.  For those of you who are interested, type “Lee Child interview” into the search engine box and take the day off work, you’re going to need it!

Lee generously agreed to be interviewed for this feature, and his time is appreciated.

I asked Lee how many books he’s sold.  He said, “Fourteen.”  Fourteen?  Don’t you mean fourteen million?  He wasn’t kidding.  “I have sold exactly 14.  My various publishers around the world have sold nearly 40 million copies of them, but that’s their process and their achievement.”

If you had to pick only 3 adjectives to describe Reacher, what would they be?

Big, ugly, misanthropic.

Jack Reacher is nothing short of iconic.  Can you expand on why readers relate to Reacher so deeply?  Does he give the “little guy” hope?  A sense of adventure?  Does he represent a secret desire to toss society’s rules aside and “push the limits?”

All of the above, I think, plus more … although I try not to inquire too deeply.  I’m not sure I want to understand it, in case that stops me from being able to do it.  To paraphrase Yogi Berra, I can’t think and write at the same time.  But clearly there’s a lot of wish fulfillment there – mine and the readers’ – and a certain vicarious joy in seeing justice done, in seeing at least a fictional world set right, when we can’t set the real world right.

I can’t think of a single actor to play Reacher in a movie.  Do you also struggle with that?

I don’t, because that’s Hollywood’s job, not mine.  But I worked with actors for 18 long years, and I know that what you see ain’t necessarily what you get.  There’s a bunch of actors we might like in the end, even if we’re scratching our heads when the casting announcement is made.

Lee, you’ve achieved a mountain’s worth of success.  Metaphorically, what does Lee Child want from Santa Claus?  What do you truly want out of life?

Personally, nothing more.  All I wanted was to be able to pay the bills.  I’d be happy to see world peace, a cure for cancer, and legalized marijuana, though.

How do you define a true friendship?  And how many “true friends” do you have?  (Lee, this question kinda relates to Reacher too)

Tough question.  A true friend might give me a clean handgun, a ride to the border, and a thousand bucks in cash, instantly and no questions asked, and there’s a handful of those for me and for Reacher.  In terms of who I can trust to totally know me and get me, I can count them on the fingers of one thumb.

Which of the 14 Reacher books did you find the most difficult to write, and why?

Probably “Persuader.”  It was a high-pressure book – the first for my new publisher – and I had one idea, and I had used it by the end of chapter one.  Ironically it’s one of my favorites.  It came out really well.  Maybe ideas are overrated.

Have you ever purposefully gone looking for trouble?  Did you find it?

Once, a few years ago.  The Yankees had just gone out of the postseason, with a whimper.  I was very out of sorts.  I stalked down to Union Square about midnight, looking for at least a little yelling and pushing and shoving.  Just to let off steam.  But New York is so polite these days.  Everyone said, “Excuse me,” when I barged into them and got out the way.

You receive some ah, interesting articles of clothing in the mail.  Can you elaborate on that!

Reacher gets them, not me.  Literally – the packages are addressed to him.  Panties, mostly – I put them in a box.

What kind of vacations do you like to take?

Sun, beach, reading.  All my pleasures are horizontal.  I do nothing active.

And a lighthearted question.  Who would win an arm-wrestling contest between you and Steve Berry?

Well, Berry is a lawyer, and also a councilman in whatever little Georgia town he’s from.  No doubt he controls the local police department.  So if I laid a hand on him he would probably sue me for a trillion dollars and I’d spend eighty-five years in some hellhole Georgia prison, too.  So all in all, I’ll stay away from arm-wrestling him.
Probably a wise choice, but personally, I think Lee would smoke Steve Berry.  Sorry Steve, but Lee would spank you like a naughty step-child!  I could be wrong, but I’m just saying…

——–

On a serious note, Lee has a “risk and reward” philosophy beyond what most people would feel comfortable with.  “I don’t see the point of phony fighting, or playing cards for pennies.  Losing needs to have real consequences.”  That attitude keeps Lee at the top of his game.  He’s a #1 New York Times bestselling author–the pinnacle of the industry.

At the same time, Lee’s also a down-to-Earth guy.  You’ve got an equal chance of seeing him in a MacDonald’s as a five-star restaurant.  “I’m indifferent to food.  I don’t eat much.  I like a MacDonald’s cheeseburger occasionally.”  Like Reacher, black coffee is his favorite beverage.

Many of Lee’s fans are fanatical Reacher groupies.  As mentioned above, proof of this is found in some of the unusual “gifts” Lee receives in the mail from women.  He claims they’re sent to Reacher, but isn’t that like a ventriloquist claiming the fan mail he gets is really sent to his puppet?  Lee is quite humble about it and as stated, puts them in a box.  Based on the number of women fans out there, he probably leases a small warehouse!

Lee’s books are all stand alone thrillers, but if you’re new to Lee’s world, it’s probably best to start at the beginning.  Reacher has evolved some though the series.  Here are the Reacher books in the order they were written:

KILLING FLOOR;  DIE TRYING;  TRIPWIRE;  RUNNING BLIND;  ECHO BURNING;  WITHOUT FAIL;  PERSUADER;  THE ENEMY;  ONE SHOT;  THE HARD WAY;  BAD LUCK AND TROUBLE;  NOTHING TO LOSE;  GONE TOMORROW; 61 HOURS.  He also edited an ITW anthology, KILLER YEAR, and another coming in June: FIRST THRILLS.

I’ve read all of them, some more than once.  If I had to choose a favorite, it would probably be PERSUADER, but not for the reasons most people might think.  I was absolutely horrified and fascinated to see Reacher being flushed down a huge, naturally occurring toilet bowl in the frigid Atlantic ocean!  That’s all I’m going to say about it, you’ll have to read the scene for yourself.  But trust me folks, it’s a literary classic.

Lee also gives back to the writing community.  He’s served on the board of directors for ITW, and served as the Mystery Writers of America President in 2009.  He’s more than just generous with his time.  In keeping with Reacher’s “everything I need and nothing I don’t” philosophy, Lee gives away what he can’t use–normally for the little guy down on his luck.  Rent money, wheelchairs, and even cars for people who are struggling.  He’s also on record for paying for 52 students at his old college, who would have had to quit because of the financial crisis.  Seeing the big picture yet?  Lee child is all-around great guy with an amazing talent.

* * *

Lee Child was born in 1954 in Coventry, England, but spent his formative years in the nearby city of Birmingham.  By coincidence he won a scholarship to the same high school that JRR Tolkien had attended.  He went to law school in Sheffield, England, and after part-time work in the theater he joined Granada Television in Manchester for what turned out to be an eighteen-year career as a presentation director during British TV’s “golden age.”  During his tenure his company made Brideshead Revisited, The Jewel in the Crown, Prime Suspect, and Cracker.  But he was fired in 1995 at the age of 40 as a result of corporate restructuring.  Always a voracious reader, he decided to see an opportunity where others might have seen a crisis and bought six dollars’ worth of paper and pencils and sat down to write a book, KILLING FLOOR, the first in the Jack Reacher series.

KILLING FLOOR became an immediate success and launched the series which has grown in sales and impact with every new Reacher adventure.

Lee has three homes–an apartment in Manhattan, a country house in the south of France, and whatever airplane cabin he happens to be in while traveling between the two.  In the U.S. he drives a supercharged Jaguar, which was built in Jaguar’s Browns Lane plant, thirty yards from the hospital in which he was born.

Lee spends his spare time reading, listening to music, and watching the Yankees, Aston Villa, or Marseilles soccer.  He is married with a grown-up daughter.  He is tall and slim, despite an appalling diet and a refusal to exercise.

Andrew Peterson

Andrew Peterson is the author of First To Kill, the debut in a series featuring Nathan McBride, a former marine sniper and CIA operations officer.The next McBride novel, Forced To Kill, will be available early next year in exclusive audiobook format from Audible.com.Andrew works as a volunteer firefighter, enjoys scuba diving, target shooting, flying helicopters, hiking and camping, and an occasional sad round of golf.

Visit Andy at: www.andrewpeterson.com.
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