An in-depth discussion between Lee Child and George Martin in Santa Fe, New Mexico, November 2018.
George Martin: Welcome, Lee Child. We are very honoured to have Lee here in the Land of Enchantment. I think it's his first visit to the city of Santa Fe.
Lee Child: Yes it is. Thank you.
George Martin: I met Lee just recently in New York City at the ThrillerFest, where I was given the Thriller Master Award, and he was the previous year's Thriller Master so he presented it to me. I knew, before I met him, that he was the author of the Jack Reacher books, but I never actually read any of them. So I said, 'Well, I ought to read one of these books so I know this guy who's going to give me this award here'. So I read one of the Jack Reacher books. And then I read another one, and then I read another one, and then I read another one. This guy is a crack dealer. These books are absolutely addictive. When you pick them up, you can't put them down. You stay up all night reading the books. And then you want to read another one. And I'm not sure I'm reading them in the right order. But it also seems to me that you were writing them in random order.
Lee Child: Yeah. Everything I do is completely random. And I did that deliberately for two reasons. Number one, I cannot stand a mystery series where the characters talk to each other about past cases. You know, where they say to each other, 'Do you remember the affair at the Jean Cocteau Theater in New Mexico?' And they have this conversation about something that is obviously significant to them but means nothing to you, because you didn't read that book. Number two, it's the characterization of Reacher. He's not interested in what happened yesterday. He's not particularly interested in what happens tomorrow. It's all about today, for him. So he would never refer back. Therefore you can pick up the series anyplace. The books are self-explanatory. You can start anywhere. You can read them in any order. It’s more challenging for the author in the sense that you've got to introduce the character each time; sufficient for a brand new reader, but not to bore the readers that have read 22 books in the series already.
George Martin: How many... what number is the new one?
Lee Child: That's number 23.
George Martin: Okay. That's quite a few. Did you plan on that many when you started? Or were you just hoping, 'I'm going to write one and see if anyone likes it?'
Lee Child: Plan is a big word, isn't it? And as you know, as everybody who's in any way connected with entertainment, you can't make a plan. If in the middle-1990s, I'd have said, 'Yeah, I'm planning a 23-book series', they would have sent in the guys with the straitjacket. The first book was a two-book deal. Because what publishers do, they take a chance on the first book; they promote it as best they can, but they do not want another publisher to reap the benefit for the second book, so they usually buy two. And I remember at the time thinking, 'Great! That's two years before I've got to get another job.' And now, after 23 books, I'm just beginning to think, 'Maybe I'll never have to get another job.'
George Martin: I would hope not. I started writing when I was a kid in grade school, little stories for the neighborhood kids and all that. But you actually had another job. You had a whole other career before you started writing books. You were a television producer weren’t you?
Lee Child: Yeah. You know, one of the standard questions you get asked is, 'When did you know you wanted to be a writer?' Lots of people are like you, George. My friend Harlan Coben, for instance, has a line about this: 'There are some writers who have composition books full of four-page novels from when they were seven.' And then the next author says, 'Oh, I knew it when I was five.' Some authors knew that they wanted to be writers when they were still fetuses. I never wanted to be a writer. I never did. What I wanted to be was, broadly speaking, an entertainer. I wanted to do something that made people happy for an hour, or a day, or two days. I am trying to get, from you, the readers, the love and approval I did not get as a child. Lots of writers are like that. Lots of standup comedians are like that. Lots of actors are like that. They lacked something in childhood and they're trying to make up for it now. And I'm completely open about it, that's what I'm doing. My mother and father hated me, so I hope you like me.
George Martin: I think you want their money too.
Lee Child: Yeah, at the beginning that was what it was about. I was broke. I had a career in television. I worked for a company called Granada Television, in Manchester, England. And it was a fabulous, fabulous place. We made great shows. Jewel in the Crown, Brideshead Revisited, Prime Suspect, Cracker. Fabulous stuff. It was a great place to work. And no doubt I would still be there, except one day my boss said something to me that made it just impossible for me to continue. He said, 'You're fired.' And not for any misdemeanor or felony on my part, I assure you. And it was not just me, it was 300 people. It was that thing that happened in the mid-'90s; happened to millions of people, still happening to millions of people, sadly. I was 39 years old, an expensive veteran. I had benefits, a pension, I had a great salary. And they discovered, 'Hey, we can find some kid who will do this for a 10th of the price. Or we could maybe program a computer'. And so we were all out of work.
And so the question was... can I retire at 39? The fundamental thing you've got to understand about me is that I come from England, therefore I have no work ethic. But sadly, I felt several million dollars short for that. So I thought, 'All right, I’d better get another job.' If I really enjoy something, then I want to be doing it myself. And that isn’t always possible. I will probably, sadly, never play center field for the Yankees. But I had, all my life, been a huge reader. When we were kids, it was the only thing in our lives… in Birmingham, England, where I lived, there was nothing to do back then, other than read. Curiously, I had never, ever really wondered where books come from. I thought they were just there, in the library. So I was literally 35 years old before I ever thought, 'Wait a minute. Somebody's actually writing and publishing these.' And I thought, 'Well I could do that too, maybe.'
George Martin: So what you chose to write when you started were mysteries, or thrillers. I'm never quite sure of the distinction between them.
Lee Child: The difference between a mystery and a thriller, so they say, is an extra zero on the advance, for a thriller.
George Martin: But had you always loved those? Did you grow up reading Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, people like that?
Lee Child: Yeah, and Sherlock Holmes. And there was a British kids author called Enid Blyton. I'm never actually certain whether she was a real woman, or whether she was some kind of sweatshop with about 130 writers, because her output was phenomenal. There were like hundreds and hundreds of books, broken down into certain series. The most famous, probably, was The Famous Five, which was about four kids and a dog, and transparent wish-fulfillment inasmuch as the parents were always absent. And so these kids were just having a great time on their own. But then there was another series called The Secret Seven. And that was really a Mystery 101. It was full of clues, deductions, disguises, how to get out of a locked room, all that kind of a thing. It was a kind of a primer for mysteries, and I did love it.
And then I graduated to a Scottish writer called Alistair MacLean, who was a really popular, solid thriller writer at the time. And then I moved onto Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, John D. MacDonald. Yeah, I'm basically a mystery writer. I like the idea that you will have a problem, and solve a problem. Because I think that is the consoling thing, it's why people love these books, because real life is terribly unsatisfactory. In real life, nothing ever gets fixed. If your car gets stolen, you'll never see it again. If your house gets broken into, they'll never find the guys. You'll never get your stuff back. That's the reality. So we live with this constant buzz of frustration. But in a book, you bet you're going to get your car back. And you bet Reacher is going to find those guys and he's going to shoot them in the head. And we love that consolation, that satisfaction.
George Martin: You were English; grew up in Birmingham, worked for Granada, all of that. But Reacher is a very American character. He's not Sherlock Holmes-y in the least and he's certainly not Hercule Poirot, he's not solving the murder of the vicar in the library. He seems much more in the tradition of Hammett, Chandler, Travis McGee, Spenser. Was that a conscious decision?
Lee Child: People say, 'Yeah, Reacher is a really American archetype.' Actually a little bit cheeky, in my opinion. Because he is really a timeless character, the noble loner, the mysterious stranger. Although if you go back 120 years to the westerns, they absolutely use that character over and over again. Zane Grey. Do you read Zane Grey?
George Martin: Sure.
Lee Child: The typical Zane Grey scenario is there's a lonely homestead somewhere on the prairie, and all the men are absent on a cattle drive somewhere, a thousand miles away. Only the women and the children are there, and there's a desperate peril coming and everything is about to go really, really bad. And then a mysterious rider comes in off the range and, in exchange for a woman-cooked meal, he will unsheathe his rifle, he will take care of the problem. And then, crucially, he will ride off into the sunset: because the riding off is the most important part. Because what do you do with the guy if he sticks around? There's all those gratitude issues.
But that character was not invented by the westerns. That character was inherited from medieval Europe. Instead of the prairie out west, it was usually the Black Forest. And instead of defenceless people on a homestead, it was a band of pilgrims. Travelling through the Black Forest, this huge, uncharted, dangerous terrain, there's some kind of terrible problem, and it's all about to go really bad. But at the very last minute, a knight rides out of the trees, takes care of the problem and rides on. And medieval Europe didn't even invent that hero. Scandinavian sagas had him first, and then Anglo-Saxon poems had him. You could even go back to religious myths, the arrival of a saviour. You can go back to the ancient Greeks, the Odyssey. Japan also has this myth, the ronin, a samurai that has been disowned by his master and sentenced to wander the land, doing good. So it's a totally timeless and universal character... And so I figured it's been market-tested for 3,000 years. It works.
He was driven out of Europe when Europe became settled, densely populated, relatively safe. Now the Black Forest is a cutesy tourist attraction. You're not going to get in trouble there, anymore. So this hero character was shoved out to where there was a frontier, which was the US – actually Australia, as well.
George Martin: I think, within modern mysteries or thrillers though, Reacher is unique. Because most of the other big series characters are definitely grounded.
Lee Child: Oh, sure.
George Martin: Spenser is there in Boston with Hawk. Travis McGee is living on a houseboat in the Florida Keys. Other people are gumshoes in Los Angeles; they're waiting for someone to come through the door and say, 'Here's the case.' Reacher is just wandering around the US with no luggage, buying fresh clothes every three days, which is just amazing. It still astonishes me every time I come on that. He has nothing but his toothbrush and his passport, if I understand.
Lee Child: Yeah.
George Martin: That's pretty astonishing.
Lee Child: It is. If you look at what everybody else is doing, it's essentially a soap opera, and I say that with no denigration whatsoever. A soap opera is an incredibly sophisticated way of telling a serial narrative drama. And, again, without any denigration, soap opera audiences – because I made my living for nearly 20 years from television audiences – soap opera audiences are extremely sophisticated, also.
I thought, 'I've got to do something different.' Because again, I was broke. I was out of work. It was not a hobby. When I got kicked out of TV, they gave me a certain amount of money, a severance. And by the time I'd paid everything off, I had seven months’ mortgage payments left in the bank. And so I had to get this done within seven months, otherwise I'd have been losing my house. And so it had to work. And so I thought, 'Be distinctive. Do something different. Don't do the same as everybody else.' So I gave all of that up, to try and be distinctive. And again, I was really, really aware, from working so long in entertainment, that it is not the author who decides whether the character is cool, it's the reader. It's not the writer. And in fact, it's terrible when the writer tries to push it too hard. You know, 'Hey, yeah, my guy's really cool.' That's just awful.
George Martin: Well, the first book, you had considerable challenges. You were talking about some of them last night at dinner... promoting it, getting it out, the initial print runs.
Lee Child: Yeah, dinner last night was real fun because we went over the early days. It's been 21 years since the first book came out. When I look back, yeah, it's insane. The first print run of Killing Floor was 18,000. And these days I get 18,000 shoplifted in Manhattan, alone. And the first years were all about, 'Please, I insist. Notice me. Read these books.' And we would do stuff like giveaway... we bought 500 Killing Floor paperbacks and gave them away at Grand Central and Penn Station to people going on the train. We did the same in London. On the train that runs from London to the airports, Gatwick and Heathrow. We gave books away.
George Martin: And then they tried to stop you, 'What do you think you're doing here?', right?
Lee Child: Yeah, yeah. They always do that. 'What are you doing here, giving stuff away? You probably need a permit'... It was hard-going at first. And you go to conventions, fan and writer conventions, don’t you?
George Martin: Right.
Lee Child: The first one for mystery writers I ever went to was Bouchercon, named after Anthony Boucher, who was the New York Times Book Reviewer, probably the first person who took mysteries seriously. I remember sitting around with a bunch of other authors, and obscurity would have been a giant leap forward for any of us. We looked at each other and we decided, 'Yeah, if we just keep on working, keep on showing up, one of us might make it.' And that bunch of people... there was Michael Connelly, Harlan Coben, Dennis Lehane, George Pelecanos, Laura Lippman, and me.
George Martin: It's too bad none of them ever made it.
Lee Child: But I really remember that feeling, 'Show up. Keep showing up, and one of us will make it.' And it was a great generation. But we were coming in on the very end of the old style of publishing because we were all supported for years before the publisher made any profit, on any of us. But they were playing a long game, back then. Not anymore. So people look at my career and think, 'Yeah, it's possible.' But sadly, it's a little less possible now than it was when I started.
George Martin: But you started pretty quickly. That first book of yours won a couple of awards, as I recall.
Lee Child: It did. It was a really solid cult hit inside the genre community. And then the second one a little bit more, and the third one a little bit more. And then it broke out sporadically in different countries. New Zealand, for instance, on the third book. New Zealand is the world capital of Reacher madness. It just went crazy there after three books. And Bulgaria. I remember thinking, 'At least I can put that on my tombstone: "He was huge in Bulgaria".' It was insane in Bulgaria. It would always come out in October, the book there. And it would go straight to number one, and it would stay at number one until the next October when the next book would come out at number one. I thought, 'How is this happening?' because maybe I could bottle it and reproduce it in other countries. So I went there and the reason was, there was a guy who did the Tonight Show in Bulgaria; it was an exact facsimile of the Jay Leno-style Tonight Show, except it was this guy called Slavi Trifonov. And he was a mad Reacher fan. And for five nights a week, in peak time, he talked about nothing else.
George Martin: You can't buy that kind of publicity.
Lee Child: You really can't. God knows we've tried.
George Martin: So Reacher... he moves around, the knight errant... instead of a lance and a shield, he has a toothbrush and a passport. He's also got to be one of the most physically formidable characters ever seen in... When I'm reading a Reacher book and eight bikers are coming around him in the parking lot, I'm sorry for the eight bikers.
Lee Child: Yeah.
George Martin: They're in trouble, whether they know it or not. Did you give that a lot of thought, to make him so physically tough? In one of the books that I read recently, some of the other characters are calling him the Incredible Hulk and Bigfoot.
Lee Child: Yeah, I really did. As a reader of the genre, I was getting really bored with the dysfunctional hero which started 30, 40 years ago. You might say James Lee Burke... David Robicheaux was the first one of these wounded heroes. Alcoholic, or recovering alcoholic. And the problem with that is that –
George Martin: Matthew Scudder?
Lee Child: Yeah, Scudder. There you go. The problem with that, though, is that the first time around it's good, it’s fresh, it's new, it's exciting. But then subsequent writers would imitate it and fall prey to a kind of misery inflation, so that after five years or ten years, they were super miserable. They were recovering alcoholics, they were divorced, they all had teenage daughters who hated them; some of them had made a mistake... they'd been cops, there had been a stakeout in the dark at night, they'd shot at a fleeing shadow which turned out to be a 12-year-old boy, and they were so traumatized that they had to go and live in a cabin in the woods and talk to nobody. It just got more and more and more miserable. And I was thinking, surely, we don't really want to read about miserable people. So what I wanted to do was skip way back to when the hero was a fairly plain and uncomplicated person, with no problems.
Lee Child: And then I thought, well why not take that even further? Because all novels have got to involve conflict, at the core. Even in a literary novel, there might be a conflict between two philosophical poles, or two feelings or something. There's always a conflict. And the greatest conflict paradigm of all time is the story of David vs Goliath. As a kid I read that story, and I really liked Goliath. I wanted Goliath to be the good guy. And I just thought, how would it work if we had a non-miserable hero who was actually physically unafraid of everything, so that he didn't have to be worried or miserable? Would that work?
Theoretically, it really shouldn't work, because a character needs an edge. But the thing about Reacher is that he is actually fairly odd, but the crucial thing is he doesn't know that. He thinks he's perfectly normal. And so you get his characteristics without the navel-gazing. He just goes about his business. But I did want that feeling, again, consolation for the reader. Because all of us, I think, have been in situations where it's late at night, you're walking down a city street and you see somebody coming toward you, you get a little bit nervous; a little bit, 'Is this going to be all right?'
Suppose you didn't have to feel like that? Suppose that you just knew that it was a million to one that the next guy to come around the corner wouldn't be any trouble to you? I would love to be like that. And I can, a little bit... you can put it on. Because I remember, when I went to college, I was at a party and left real late and I was walking home at about five in the morning down this bad street. And in the distance, I saw this really nasty looking guy walking toward me on the same sidewalk, and we were getting closer and closer to each other, and I was thinking, 'Oh, no.' And then I thought, 'I cannot cross the street to the other sidewalk because that's just a confession of weakness. That's just an invitation.' I thought, 'I'm gonna have to stay and confront him.' We got closer and closer and closer, and then he crossed the road to the other side.
George Martin: I've wondered about your own background. I mean, the fight scenes, the action scenes in the Reacher books are really first-rate, and there's a tremendous amount of seeming expertise. I'm not expert enough to judge whether you're getting it all right or not, but all the stuff about guns and ammunition and all that. Do you have considerable background in guns and shooting and weaponry and police techniques? Because Reacher certainly does, and the books have a tremendous sense of verisimilitude in that way.
Lee Child: Yeah, they do, and it's all completely made up. I mean, I have no expertise at all with guns. I love machines. I love manufacture. I grew up in a manufacturing town where they did, in fact, make guns. BSA, British Small Arms, made guns and eventually motorcycles. So I love the idea of a precision machine that feels really good in your hand, but I have no real interest in guns myself. I don't own one. I have never fired one. I've never even held one, apart from when a photographer wants me to pose with one.
So the gun thing is a question of, I mean, not research in a painstaking way. Because like I said, I like small machines. I understand how they work, and it's very easy to figure it out. People volunteer their assistance.
And one year, there was a bookshop event in Little Rock, Arkansas, a retired business guy volunteered to pick me up at Little Rock Airport. When the event finished, he said to me, 'Do you want to have a pizza?' And I thought, 'Well, it's five o'clock on a Sunday afternoon in Little Rock, Arkansas. What else am I gonna do?' So I said, 'Sure, George, let's go and have a pizza.'
So we go back to his house, and I see his dining room table is covered with guns. And he says to me, 'Lee, this is one of every gun that Reacher has ever used in your books.' And I thought, 'Who knows I'm here?' He was a very nice guy, he was relatively sane. I said to him, 'George, surely it's nice of you to buy the books, but please don't tell me you bought all the guns, as well.' He said, 'No, no, no. They're for my collection.' And he took me into his garage, which just had rack after rack after rack of guns. He was a big gun collector. He had some of those Al Capone Tommy Guns and a perfect condition 1873 Colt Peacemaker, alongside a rusted out frame of the same thing that he'd found in a stream bed. The hammer was rusted in the back position so that presumed that this had been a gunfight. Somebody was about to shoot at somebody else, they got shot instead, died in the stream, the gun was left behind.
He said if there's anything that I wanted to know about guns, I should just ask him. And he gave me a kind of free example. He said, 'Did you know that the two main types of revolver from the two main manufacturers of revolvers in the US, Colt and Smith & Wesson, have cylinders that go around in opposite directions?' Now I did not know that, and so I thought great, I'd put it in the next book.
But that doesn't always work because a little while later, I was in London, and I had dinner with a writer called Andy McNab. He became famous for a nonfiction memoir about the first Iraq war. He was a member of the SAS. At the time he left, he was the most decorated soldier in the British Army. I was interested in a professional's attitude towards guns because guns are so generally fetishized. Here's a guy who's really walked the walk, and I wanted to ask him how he regarded guns. And he said he didn't care. He would take any old gun out of the store, he had one rule only, which was that he would not use an automatic weapon that was already loaded because he was worried that it had been left loaded a long time, the spring temper might have been lost so that it would not load the second round.
And I thought great, here is the most decorated soldier in the British Army giving me some really good technical information. So I put that in the next book, that Reacher would never use a preloaded automatic because he was worried about the temper of the spring. And immediately, I got like 10,000 emails from Texas alone saying, 'You limey asshole, my granddaddy's had a gun that was loaded since 1947, and it works just fine.' So you cannot win with research, you cannot win.
George Martin: I mean, you mentioned the Army, and that's another thing. Most of the Reacher books are set after his military career is over, where he's traveling around the United States with his toothbrush. But there are a few that are set during his career as an MP, rising quite high to Major, I believe, in the military police. Once again, there's a real sense of verisimilitude there that you really know what you're talking about inside the military. Have you ever been in the service yourself?
Lee Child: No, I never was. My dad was in the British Army in World War II, and my grandfather in World War I. But my dad remembers nothing about the military police, other than they would jump out of a Jeep outside a bar and hit everybody over the head with a stick. So I just figured that police departments regard themselves as tougher and more efficient than the population as a whole because they got to police you. And so I figured same was true for the Army, that the military police, especially the CID elite units, are going to be tougher than the general soldier population, and so I took it from there.
Actually, Reacher is a West Point graduate and a Major. And I made him that because of fealty to the myth of the knight errant, because to be a knight errant, first of all, you got to be a knight. And therefore, he had to have significant rank, and so I felt a commissioned officer, a Major, would fit the bill. Whereas the stuff that he talks about having done is actually less like what a Major would do, much more like what a warrant officer would do. But that is part of what we have to do as writers. You get it slightly wrong in order to get it right in a larger sense.
George Martin: I'm often asked about my fantasy novels, if I have charts and notes, because it's very complex, there's a lot of characters, there's a lot of history etc. And I wonder the same thing about Reacher, with 23 books now, plus short stories, that you've done, do you have a big chart of Reacher's entire life and, well, this is what he was doing in November of 1994, and then this is here he was in 1997, and in 2012 this happened to him?
Lee Child: No, absolutely not. And I made a bad mistake one time. If you trace back his alleged promotional path, Second Lieutenant, Lieutenant, Captain, Major, then he went back to being a Captain at some point. That was just a pure mistake. And so for one of the books, The Enemy, I think, part of the plot becomes that he's demoted, he's dropped a rank. So people think, 'Wow, he’s really organised', like I planned that eight books in advance. But actually, no, it was just a complete mistake. But since then, there's a retired school teacher called Dot who is a big fan, and she maintains a mental database, and if I need to know what Reacher was doing in November 1994, I just email her and say, 'Dot, what was Reacher doing in November 1994?' And she tells me.
George Martin: I have those, too, a couple fans in Sweden. I particularly make a mistake with people's eye colour. I'm constantly changing eye colour, though once a horse changed sex between two books. My fans write me letters about that. But now I write to my fans in Sweden and say, 'This character, I think he was in the third book, what colour were his eyes?' And they tell me. It's very useful to have these uber-fans.
Lee Child: Very useful.
George Martin: Do you have Reacher's life plotted out?
Lee Child: I don’t even have an idea what the next sentence is going to be. Other writers do it differently, for instance, Jeffery Deaver. Anybody read Jeff? Really nice guy, good friend of mine, but he is the exact polar opposite of me because he will do 300-page outline that then he turns in to a 500-page novel. I couldn't do that because for me it's the story. I just love the story. I have always just told myself stories, daydreamed stories. I never drive to the store. I'm always piloting a fighter jet through hostile territory. I'm never driving here or there. I'm always going to checkpoint Charlie in Berlin to pick up some secret agent. Just living in a fantasy world, and all I got to do is write it down. So for me, if I knew the story in advance, even if I made one page of notes, even if I said this happens, then this happens, but really it was that then I've told myself the story, and I'm done with it, I want the next story. So instead I just make it up, literally, as I go along.
And I have no clue whatsoever what is going to happen. The story just works itself out. And for me, that's really important because if I had a plan, I'd get bored with it, and the boredom would show through in the writing. And I also feel that there are so many glorious byways and highways that you can take, just odd little things, changes of direction.
George Martin: And you write one of these a year, right?
Lee Child: Yeah, which is, people say that with some kind of wonderment. I'm not going to point out that not all writers do a book every year, but...
George Martin: I'm only seven years late on a new one.
Lee Child: I'm far too polite to point that out. But people think one a year is a big deal, and it really is not. I came from live television where your deadline is zero, or at best, five seconds. There's a scene in, is it in Broadcast News, that movie where somebody is literally dictating into the anchor’s earpiece, and he is saying the words a second later? Those were my deadlines in the past. So a deadline of a year is an absolute luxury. And it compares very badly to those people we were talking about earlier, those old pulp writers. I'm regarded as this grizzled old veteran because I've done 23 books. People used to write hundreds, hundreds of novels. And so the modern style, one book a year, is really very, very easy. It is better than digging a ditch, believe me.
George Martin: Although I've read by this point a considerable number of the Reacher novels, I haven't read all of them yet. But he does seem to travel around Maine and Pennsylvania, the Northeast there, I've seen that. You've gotten him out to the Dakotas and all that. But maybe they're just in books I haven't gotten to, but I haven't seen too many in the deep South, and I don't think he's been out here to the Land of Enchantment yet.
Lee Child: He has not, he's never been to New Mexico. Well, he might have been, because he doesn't tell me everything. But I think he's certainly been to Georgia; he's been most places. Texas, he's been; Wyoming, in the last one.
George Martin: And do you go to all these places before him?
Lee Child: Yeah, yeah. But I don't go for the purpose of research. The thing about research, especially the location research, you've really got to let it percolate for a long time until you understand which are the important parts and which aren't. It's like that iceberg thing. You got to throw away 90% of it and use the 10% that means something. And that takes a certain amount of time to become clear in your mind. So I will always do it backwards. When I start to write a book I'll think, 'All right, what sort of feel do I want for this?' And that starts to dictate the location based on what I've seen before. If it needs to be grey and cold, it might be the coast of Maine in the spring. If it needs to be hot and sweaty, it will be Texas in the summer or somewhere like that. And so it's based on what I already know, rather than fresh research. Because fresh research just sticks out like a sore thumb. We've all read books where you can hear the author saying, 'I've done the research, I'm gonna put it in, damn it, whether I need it or not.'
George Martin: So in other words, we're going have to wait a few years before we see Jack Reacher visiting Santa Fe and eating green chile?
Lee Child: Yeah, probably. It could be a few years.
George Martin: Would he like green chile?
Lee Child: I'm sure he would. Although, he's no real gourmet. What he likes best is a cheeseburger and a peach pie or something like that. Yeah, and coffee, of course.
Member of audience: Thank you for coming to Santa Fe. I may be your greatest fan, but I don't know. There may be 129 others here who think the same thing. The very first one I ever read was 21 years ago. I am a Reacher creature. I'm very proud of that, and I want to tell you what I love about him... what you have done with the right and the wrong, the good and the bad, that the right and the good always wins. I love that, particularly today in our world, where there is so much corruption. And I love that Reacher has such a sense of dignity and integrity, whether he's in his clothes of three days or has just finished basically beating someone to a pulp. I love that there is so much dignity in that. I don't like violence, but I root for him when he starts in on someone. Seriously.
Lee Child: Well, that's really nice to hear, obviously. One thing I learned very early, and it's really well summed up in a book by David Mamet, a screenwriting guy from Hollywood, called Bambi Versus Godzilla. The point he makes – he's actually talking about actors, but I think it translates just as well to characters in a book – when the character in the book steps on stage, it's a basic subliminal, psychological transaction. He steps on the page, and he says, 'Hi, I'm the main character.' And the audience says, 'Oh, are we gonna like you?' And the absolute worst answer is, 'Yes, you will, and I'll tell you why.' The best possible answer, says Mamet, and I agree with him, is, 'You might. You might not. And I really don't care.'
That is the only way to make a convincing character. But it's a leap of faith because you are not trying to curry favor. You're not trying to make him likable. You just present him and then you cross your fingers and you hope somebody will like him and I'm very happy that you do. Thank you.
George Martin: Now, Kipling once wrote a famous line, 'There are nine and sixty ways of constructing tribal lays, and every single one of them is right!' And I think that really covers writing, too, because listening to Lee, you know, my own philosophy is so different in my books. The guy steps forward and says, 'Hi, I'm the main character,' and six chapters later I kill him. Then the reader says, 'What? You can't do that. He was the main character. He was supposed to go through all the way.' Then they're afraid for the rest of the book, which is what I like. But 'There are nine and sixty ways of constructing tribal lays, and every single one of them is right!' What you do is right, too, and we are very lucky to have had you with us here today. Lee, thank you for coming to the Land of Enchantment. It’s been great.
Lee Child and younger brother Andrew have collaborated for the first time on The Sentinel and Jack Reacher fans are in for a treat.
An exclusive Lee Child short story to celebrate the release of No Middle Name.
How do you stack up against Lee Child’s renegade hero?
Bestselling author of DEADLY, UNNA? on his latest coming-of-age YA novel, THE BREAK.
Bursting full of children’s curiosity Everything Under the Sun is a glorious celebration of life on earth.
Five minutes with one of Australia’s most beloved children’s authors
'I want reading my novels to feel like walking through a forest or swimming in the ocean, to offer a breath of fresh air and remind readers of the beauty that still remains in the world.'
The debut author of the YA novel soon to hit Netflix on discipline, working with Daniel Kaluuya, and the complications of writing about time travel.
The Penguin Literary Prize winner on inspiration, advice and what's next.
Meet the author-illustrator and autism advocate behind A Different Sort of Normal.
Meet Anna Zobel, author and illustrator of Little Gem.
The bestselling author discusses tapping back into Jack's world, twisty-turny stories and her favourite crime dramas.