Up Close: Lee Child

Once in a Blue Moon Things Go Just Right

By Dawn Ius

In a recent video interview with Andy Martin, New York Times bestselling author Lee Child sits on a brown couch. He reaches into a pack of smokes, withdraws a cigarette, looks up at the camera, and lights it. A western-style guitar strums in the background.

After a long drag, the camera pans first to Martin—who reads a fan’s question aloud—and then back to Child, who is now leaning back on the couch, lanky legs crossed, feet bare.

It’s a classic portrayal of Child, who even after staggering international success—more than 100 million copies of his books have sold in almost 50 languages—always comes across as laid back and quiet. Humble.

Not quite a mirror image of the protagonist that has brought him that success—though admittedly, Child says like Jack Reacher, he used to be a bit of a scrapper—but the two do share a few similarities. Like a an affection—dependence?—on coffee. And of course, there’s their height.

But while Child enters a room quietly, almost unassumingly, Reacher—a six-foot-five, super-tough, ex-military cop muscle guy—is a presence, even when he isn’t saying a thing. He’s changed over the course of 24 books, but the core of who he is remains the same—which is why millions of fans wait with bated breath for the next installment of Child’s long-running series.

This year, it’s BLUE MOON—and even with everything he’s gone through in the past, Reacher is in a heap of trouble.

“This is a random universe,” Reacher says. “Once in a blue moon things turn out just right.”

Unfortunately, this isn’t one of those times.

When Reacher steps off the Greyhound to help an elderly couple in trouble, it’s Reacher who ends up the wanted man—and these loan sharks, thugs, and assassins may be the most dangerous enemies he’s come across yet.

In this The Big Thrill interview, there is no brown couch, but Child takes time out of his busy schedule to talk about BLUE MOON, the new upcoming Reacher TV series, and the challenges of writing a longstanding series.

This is your 24th Reacher novel—and for so many readers, it’s an annual staple. An enviable place to be in as an author, but what are some of the challenges you face as you sit down to write each new instalment? 

Lee Child
Photo credit: Sigrid Estrada

Any long-running series has a built-in challenge, which is that the reader pretty much knows for sure the main character is going to survive for next year’s story, which as you kindly say is an annual staple for many readers, so that any genuine sense of peril is pretty much self-canceling. I think the Reacher series, as an example, has evolved away from the question “Will he prevail?” to the question “Exactly *how* will he prevail?”

As a series reader myself, I think a lot of the pleasure is enjoying the moves and the personalities, rather than worrying whether the guy is going to die in chapter 30. The second challenge any series faces is re-introducing the character each time. I can’t bore the reader on her 24th book, but I have to inform the reader who picks up the 24th book as her first.

On top of all that, for me specifically, Reacher has no job or position or any legitimate reason to ever get involved in anything. Every chapter one, I have to sell a pretty big wrong-place-wrong-time coincidence to get the story rolling. But again, I think readers are happy to buy into the quirks of the various universes they love.

Authors often have favorite books they’ve written—where does BLUE MOON rank for you?

I think it’s solid. It’s above the line. But no book comes out as good as you hoped. Which is why my actual favorite is always the next one—I haven’t screwed it up yet.

What can you share about the upcoming Jack Reacher TV show? It’s no secret that fans balked at Tom Cruise filling Reacher’s shoes in the movies—I assume Tom won’t be reprising that role this time?

Cruise is on board as an executive producer, which I wanted, because apart from all the other hoopla, the guy has an unbelievable sense of story. Discussing scenes with him is an education. But he’s strictly a feature film actor, so we’ll have a new Reacher for the TV series. Hopefully we can announce who it is pretty soon. Progress is good.

Child (right) with Karen Dionne and R. L. Stine

Do you think the emergence and popularity of streaming services such as Netflix presents more opportunity—or more competition—for aspiring authors?

Opportunity, for sure. The showrunner is king. Which translated into English means writers are now slightly higher in the heap than they used to be. And there’s a lot of demand right now. All good, except binge watching takes time, so binge watchers buy fewer books than they did back in the day, so one medium begins to cannibalize another.

I recently learned that there is a Jack Reacher custom coffee blend—true? Obviously Reacher is famous for his coffee drinking—and you knock back a few mugs yourself. Do you drink Reacher blend? Describe your perfect coffee.

Actually now we have two franchises, northern and southern hemisphere. Battle-tested Reacher coffee. You can even get it in those weird little pods. My personal tastes are very basic. I like a bitter bite and plenty of caffeine.

Twenty-four books is a lot for a series and I can’t imagine it ever stopping—but of course, every protagonist/series must have an expiry date. What do you envision for Reacher over the next couple of years? 

I’m pretty sure he can manage another couple of years. Maybe another couple after that.

A couple of years ago, when asked whether you’d consider writing a standalone or start another series, your response stuck with me—you said, ”Why would I? I’m the Reacher guy.” Is this still your position, or have you had the stirrings of a new series or standalone book? 

It’s still my position. I mean, look around at the next ThrillerFest. Hundreds of authors, collectively covering every base you can imagine. It’s not up to any one of them to do it all. We all have a niche to fill. We’re all the best in the world at writing our own books, and pretty lousy at writing someone else’s.

What books are on your nightstand right now?

I can’t read in bed—if I try, I stay up all night reading. My equivalent is the left-hand edge of my desk. Teetering there right now are three stacks totaling 32 books. The uppermost titles are Seasonal Associate, a novel by Heike Geissler; First, a bio of Sandra Day O’Connor by Evan Thomas; and Beethoven’s Symphonies, a critique by Lewis Lockwood.

I know you’re a pantser by nature, but is there anything you can share about Book #25?

I don’t know much about it yet. I may never know. Seriously, I believe the reader decides what the book is about, not the writer. Certainly for me, reviewers see things the writer didn’t, and over time they coalesce and become a kind of truism—”That book was about X,” when maybe the writer never had X on his mind for a minute.

 

Dawn Ius

Dawn Ius is the author of three young adult novels with Simon Pulse (an imprint of Simon & Schuster), the latest, Lizzie, being a modern re-imagining of the infamous Lizzie Borden hatchet murders. She is the Managing Editor of The Big Thrill, a book coach with Author Accelerator, and is a staff writer for the animated TV show Rainbow Rangers. When not slaying fictional monsters, Dawn can be found geeking out over fairy tales, true love, Jack Bauer, muscle cars, kayaking, and all things creepy. She lives in Alberta, Canada with her husband and two giant breed dogs. Connect with her on Twitter via @dawnmius, or get the full scoop at www.DawnIus.com.
Dawn Ius

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