'Strong to the Bone,' A Conversation with Jon Land

Jon Land is the prolific USA Today bestselling author of more than forty books. His thriller novels include the Caitlin Strong series about a fifth-generation Texas Ranger, and the Ben Kamal and Danielle Barnea books featuring a Palestinian detective and an Israeli chief inspector of police. He also has penned the Blaine McCracken series, many standalone novels, and non-fiction books. Jon was a screenwriter for the 2005 film Dirty Deeds. He is an active member of the International Thriller Writers Organization.

Strong to the Bone is the ninth installment of the critically acclaimed Caitlin Strong series. Caitlin, a third generation Texas Ranger, unearths the residue of a deadly plot rooted in 1944 and the Nazi regime of Germany. The planned chaos of the present day is spearheaded by a neo-Nazi movement determined to destroy America’s way of life. To stop a cataclysmic rewriting of history, Caitlin must fight and win a war the world thought was long over.

“Strong to the Bone” has some of the most compelling action scenes I’ve ever read. Talk to us about writing them.

My action scenes are very visual. I’ve always been something of a writer who novelizes non-existent movies. In Strong to the Bone, the action scenes aren’t just visual, they’re visceral. They’re emotional. The pivotal action scene in the book is only three-and-a-half pages long, yet it feels like it’s thirty pages. It’s the scene where the family is attacked by five gunmen with automatic weapons. According to many people, the definition of heroism is the willingness to sacrifice yourself for others. In this scene, the gunmen have come to kill Cort Wesley’s son, Dylan. Caitlin and Cort Wesley are outnumbered and outgunned and they’re taken by surprise. That creates a gut-wrenching sense of action—something that hits the reader in various ways. Caitlin knows she’s in a gunfight with young men and she doesn’t want to kill them. But, does she have a choice?

“Strong to the Bone” challenges Caitlin in a way she’s never been tested before by having her deal with a traumatic incident that has haunted her for years. Tell us about challenging your characters.

If you don’t challenge your characters in a series, the series risks falling flat, getting dull, and being repetitive. I would ask readers how many series they’ve given up on because they got bored. What makes James Lee Burke’s book different? What makes Lee Child’s Jack Reacher books fresh and vital, no matter how many of them there are? I think the answer is these authors challenge their characters by asking them to do more and to do something different. Reacher’s set-ups are always different. Jack Reacher gets dragged into situations in ways he could never have anticipated, and he’s challenged in each book.

Caitlin is challenged by a demon from her past. It appears that the man who attacked her eighteen years ago has returned. She must struggle with this development because it’s a two-edged sword. She wants to overcome this dragon, but in a sense, she’s afraid to catch him. She fears if she is successful, her core inner-being that has fueled the edge making her ‘Hurricane Caitlin’ or the ‘Dirty Harry’ of the Texas Rangers, may be lost. It’s almost as though she wants to catch him, but then release him—a catch and release scenario. How she deals with and overcomes this problem may not be resolved until the next book.

Among other things, “Strong to the Bone” deals with timely issues of today: among them are drugs, and nationalistic populism. Will you talk about them?

Drugs are the cash crop of organized crime. Drugs fuel hate, which is the link to these white nationalist movements. These groups exist on hate. They define themselves by hate and are the antithesis of everything America is and has always been.

The drug distribution network is among the least violent of the crime industries. Violence is bad for business. And these guys are businessmen. The Hells Angels out of Canada are among the biggest drug dealers in the world, pushing drugs across our northern border. They also own an office building in Chicago. Some of them go to work in suits. They’ve civilized the drug distribution business.

In Strong to the Bone, Arman Fisker, the white nationalist biker villain, abhors violence only because it will bring attention to his nefarious activities. He's a despicable human being who was willing to do something unimaginable to his own son; and of course, he seeks out Caitlin to exact revenge for something she did.

How did you develop your interest in the Texas Rangers?

Three reasons:

First, I wanted to write about a female action hero. It’s very difficult to find one. Lisbeth Salander is one, but there are very few of them.

Second, a female action hero can’t be a Navy SEAL or a member of the Delta Force. Women don’t serve in forward operating situations. So, she’s a Texas Ranger, and is defined by the mythos of the Texas Rangers and by the gun she carries.

Also, I’ve always been a fan of westerns. Sci-Fi and westerns are the creative roots of the modern-day thriller. They grew out of quest stories, which is what thrillers really are. At their heart, all great thrillers are basically westerns. They involve a hero with a dark past he cannot shake off. At their core, thrillers involve heroes discovering their true natures.

If you could meet any two fictional characters in real life, who would they be?

I must give you a few more than two. I’d really like to meet Jack Reacher. I’d like to meet Danny Torrance from The Shining. I’d also like to meet Huckleberry Finn because he’s such a dynamic character. I’d love to meet Lisbeth Salander; she’s so odd, that in person she’d be incredibly sexy and also quite scary. I’d also like to meet John Rambo, though I don’t think he’d be much of a conversationalist. [Laughter]. And here’s another one…I’d love to meet Hannibal Lector, but I wouldn’t turn my back on him. And I certainly wouldn’t lie down on his couch. [More laughter].

Will you complete this sentence: Writing novels has taught me_____________.

Writing novels has taught me humility. I appreciate and love the process of writing, but the fact that it’s so hard to reach the level to which I aspire, is a humbling experience and it makes me a better person. I think the only way to get to where I would like to be is to stay passionate, and humility keeps me passionate. It makes me hold on to the right perspective.

What’s coming next from Jon Land?

Strong as Steel will be the next Caitlin Strong novel. It’s more of a James Rollins-type thriller involving speculative fiction and some science.

And, a new development has come about for me: I’ll be taking over writing the Murder She Wrote series of novels, written by Donald Bain, who died recently.

Congratulations on penning “Strong to the Bone,” a high-octane tale that blasts out of the gate, never lets up, and is the ninth book in a series Nelson DeMille called, “One of the best female thriller series written today.”

Mark Rubinstein’s latest book is ‘Mad Dog Vengeance,’ a psychological suspense novel.

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