Strong Return for Land’s Popular Series Character
By J. H. Bográn
Bestselling author Jon Land returns to his Caitlin Strong series with STRONG AS STEEL.
This time the plot thickens with two timelines, one in 1994, where Texas Ranger Jim Strong investigates a mass murder on a dusty freight train linked to a mysterious, missing cargo for which no record exists; while in the present, fifth generation Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong finds herself on the trail of that same cargo when skeletal remains are found near an excavation site in the Texas desert. She’s also dealing with the aftermath of a massacre that claimed the lives of all the workers at a private intelligence company on her watch. These two cases are connected by a long-buried secret, one that men have killed and died to protect.
Land says he’s always looking for the “MacGuffin” of the next Caitlin Strong book. And while searching for something else entirely, he came across a title which felt like an epiphany: Burial Boxes Marked with Jesus’ Name Revealed in Jerusalem Archaeological Warehouse.
“BOOM!” Land says. “I knew I had found the conceptual engine to drive Caitlin’s next adventure. Coincidentally, I’d wanted to make STRONG AS STEEL a more traditional thriller cut from the cloth of James Rollins and Steve Berry, and envisioned a scene with something long buried in the Texas desert getting dug up to fuel the story.”
Land has been a lifelong fan of the Texas Rangers mythos, the legend and lore associated with them. And while there are other crime-fighting organizations, Rangers remain special because of their unchanged attitude and the way they’re revered and respected.
“Beyond that, my publisher speaks often about how thrillers derived from Westerns, so casting a female Texas Ranger as the lead in this particular series is about paying homage to that fact,” he says. “Better than anyone, Stephen Hunter has defined the notion of the modern-day gunfighter in his superb Bob Lee Swagger series. That also defines Caitlin. And it allows me to cast her as a gunfighter in the classic sense, transposed onto modern times.”
Caitlin was born at a marketing meeting where Forge’s 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—for example, a female Jack Reacher 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?’ The rest, as they say, is history,” Land says. “I even came up with the name Caitlin Strong at that same marketing meeting, the idea being that the word ‘strong’ would be in every title. What used to be called shameless self-promotion in publishing is now called good business.”
Fans of the series are familiar with the rapid-fire dialogue, and the snappy comebacks that make it a delight to read. Land swears he never types dialogue, but rather takes dictation of what his characters whisper in his ears.
“I eliminate redundancies and long monologues—what my editor not-so-affectionately refers to as info dumps—but I find that if you over-edit dialogue you risk losing the natural rhythm, spontaneity, and flow of the exchange.”
Just as the old radio show of The Lone Ranger created the character of Tonto as a requirement to carry on a conversation, Strong is seldom alone, and sometimes the secondary characters are even more interesting and fun than the heroes.
“In the Caitlin Strong series, Cort Wesley presents her with the opportunity to have a private life helping him to raise his sons, which creates a push-pull dynamic as she battles dueling instincts to be a gunfighter and mother figure at the same time,” Land says. “Guillermo Paz, meanwhile, pretty much takes over every scene he’s in. There’s a wonderful vibrancy and energy about his character.”
With several books published every year, Land still revels in the process of writing. He’s a confessed “pantser” who doesn’t have an idea of what’s going to happen next, and thus his writing process doubles as a wonderful journey into self-exploration.
“Beyond that, I’ve recently found the best way to avoid the agony of starting the process is never to stop it. I’ve just written three books literally one after the other with no break at all over the past six months or so,” he says. “And I never felt stale and burnt out for a single page, because every day there was a different scene to write and challenge to overcome. Kind of like running a marathon: so long as you don’t stop, you know you’re going to finish.”
Although Caitlin Strong and Jessica Fletcher are strong characters, even relentless when it comes to the pursuit of justice, they couldn’t be more dissimilar to portray and to write. Moving from one to the other should be a difficult task.
“The fact that they’re so distinct from each other in virtually every way is actually what makes them so easy to switch between,” Land says. “But there’s also the issue of point of view. I write the Caitlin Strong series as multi-plotted classic third person POV thrillers. But the Murder, She Wrote books are all written in first person from Jessica’s exclusive POV, which means she’s present in every scene.”
In the March edition of The Big Thrill, author Heather Graham spoke about her experience working with Land. Now he shares his side of the partnership.
“Here’s all you have to know about co-writing with Heather Graham: when The Rising came out, the original listing on Amazon said By Heather Graham & Other,” he says. “Well, based on the way that book sold compared to my other titles, I should seriously consider changing my name to ‘other.’”
No, sir, we can’t picture Caitlin Strong being written by anyone other than Jon Land.