Lee Child Answers Listener Questions About Jack Reacher
We asked Audible listeners which author we should interview next, and the response was overwhelmingly "Lee Child!" Here, the prolific creator of the popular Jack Reacher series answers their questions.By StaffJan 12, 2017 9:04 AM
Audible: Listener Ross asks, “Why did you decide to write the Reacher novels?”
Lee Child: Because I was out of work. It’s as simple as that. I was a television director and I lost my job due to corporate downsizing, which was something that happened a lot in the middle ’90s, and unfortunately still happens now to plenty of people. It was a question of what else could I do that would keep me in the job where I could have the satisfaction of entertaining people? My skills were all out of date in terms of television, and I didn’t really have any other ideas. I thought the best thing to do would be to write a book and see if it worked. It was about making a living.
A: Listener Kitty asks, “Where does the inspiration for your characters come from?”
LC: The inspiration for Jack Reacher comes from all of us, in a way. That we wish we could do the right thing at every turn. If we see a person in trouble or being treated unjustly, we want to help because we’re all decent people. Most of the time, we can’t because we are either inhibited in some way, or incapable, or not strong enough, or it’s a bureaucratic situation where you’re going to get fired if the problem is at work or something. Generally speaking, in real life we’re a bit frustrated about that instinct. We’d like to do the right thing but we can’t. I wanted to invent a character who would do the right thing all the time, come what may. I think readers get a lot of satisfaction, really, from cheering him on. They would either like to be him or know somebody just like him.
A: Do you ever think of yourself when you write him?
LC: I think, inevitably, all writers have to put themselves into the characters. Certainly, yeah, I would always like to stick up for the little guy wherever possible. I get a lot of personal consolation out of it as well.
A: Listener Byron asks, “For research, do you travel to the locations that you write about?”
LC: Yes, I do visit places that I write about, but often in the opposite way from what people would think. It’s not that I decide to set a book in a certain place, and then go and visit with a notebook and a camera. What I do is, I’ll see that it’s another reason. Maybe promoting a previous book, or just travelling, or a vacation or something. The impression of the place settles in my mind and becomes part of my mental database. It could be years later that I need a location for a book and I think, “Yeah, that place would be just right.”
A: Has Jack ever visited any places that you haven’t been to?
LC: He went to Hawaii at one point to a government laboratory there. I’ve never been to Hawaii. Pretty much everywhere else he’s been, yeah, I have been.
A: Listener Melvin asks, “Between book six and seven, why did the voice shift from third person to first person?”
LC: The first book Killing Floor had been first person. Then books two through six were third person. In a way, I wanted to kind of reset or reboot the series with book seven because I felt that there had been a progression in the first six books that had become almost calm in a way; quite cerebral. I thought I should reset it to bring back the higher body count, the more dramatic action, so I went back to the first person for that seventh book to kind of recapture that feeling.
A: You go back in time a little bit as well in some of the books. Is that done for the same reason?
LC: Yes. I’ve done that three times out of 21 books, so it’s not frequent, but it is very interesting for me to do. It’s, again, really a response to readers’ feelings. They have often mused to themselves or to me. They say, “Okay. We get what Reacher is like now, but first of all, how did he become that person? Secondly, what on earth was he like when he was inside the military machine with Will [Fallow] and people to cooperate with him.” It’s really kind of an answer to those questions. These are the things that molded his life and this is probably what he was like when he was in the army.
A: Listener Rudy asks, “How do you think Jack would feel about the election?”
LC: I think, Rudy, I think he would feel very skeptical about any election. It’s so dominated by money and all the things that Reacher is suspicious of. I think he would survey the candidates that we’ve had for the last many elections and think this is a pretty rotten bunch.
A: Listener Steven asks, “Were you involved in casting the audiobook narrator Dick Hill? What do you think about his narration?”
LC: I was not involved at the very beginning because, you know, when you’re a starting out as a writer you’re happy to get whatever deal you can. It was with a company called Brilliance Audio that was up in Grand Rapids, Mich. They had signed the project to Dick. Then eventually, Random House wanted the audio rights, but I said that Dick must continue reading it. I suppose, to that extent, for the last 11 books I was responsible for it, and definitely that’s the way I wanted it because Dick is a fabulous reader. He is really the voice of Reacher for a lot of people.
A: He really is. Are there any other particular characters besides Reacher that you think he’s brought out in a really interesting or different way than how you would have expected?
LC: All of them, really. The huge difficulty with single-voice audiobooks is amending the women characters. Dick does that pretty well. In a funny way, I find [them] the most interesting from the point of view of his interpretation. He does seem to really make them individuals even though he’s the wrong gender.
A: A lot of your fans were kind of surprised by the movie casting of Tom Cruise for Jack Reacher. How do you feel about that?
LC: I feel extremely relaxed about it, really, because in my mind the book is the primary product. The book cannot be altered, or in any way replaced or superseded by any other version, whether it’s an audiobook, or a movie, or a graphic version or whatever. The book is the thing. The movie is a kind of a parallel project that comments on it. It’s a version. It’s somebody else’s opinion. We were faced with a big problem with casting because there really are no huge actors that are sort of big and ugly as Reacher. Who could we get? After a long time of thinking about it, we decided to not worry about the physical representation exactly. We wanted to just go with an actor who was talented enough to bring out the inside of Reacher and put it on the screen. I think that’s exactly was Cruise does. He does it very well.
Overall, yeah, I’ve very happy with it … If I was a musician, I would regard it as a cover version and I would say it’s very interesting.
A: I think that makes a lot of sense, particularly when you look at how Dick Hill is reading your audiobook and Tom Cruise is bringing your book into a movie. You have all these interpretations of your original product that bring it to life in different ways. Do you want to talk about that a little bit?
LC: Very much. It’s about the book, and then its “cousins.” The audiobook is one, and Dick handles it in a certain way. The movie is another cousin, and Tom Cruise handles it in his particular way. As long as we understand that the book will never be replaced, then it’s really interesting to watch the commentary, if you like, coming in from the side.
A: If someone hasn’t read any of the Jack Reacher books yet, which one would you recommend starting with?
LC: I designed the series around Reacher’s character; he’s never really very interested in what happened yesterday. It’s all about what’s going on today and possibly tomorrow. The books don’t need a background. You don’t need to have known the previous books to understand the current book. You can start anywhere. Literally, just grab any one.
A: Do you have the full arc for Reacher planned out in your head?
LC: No, not even remotely. People wonder if I have each individual book planned out in my head. The answer to that is no, as well. I just start somewhere and see where it goes. It’s completely organic. No, I’ve got no clue what will happen on the next page, let alone in the next five books.
A: The suspense is killing us — do you have any hints at what we might see next?
LC: I think what we’ll see in next year’s book is a lonely sort of empty landscape story. Back to the time of day; Reacher just wandering somewhere, probably in the west, and getting mildly interested in a little discovery that he makes that leads from one thing to the other, into some big, big problem. I’ve got no idea what the problem is yet, because I haven’t got that far.
A: How do you sustain a good thriller series for more than 20 books?
LC: I think I’m very lucky with the nature of Reacher in that he has no fixed job and no fixed location. Every book can be whatever I want it to be. He can be anywhere and do anything. It can be sometimes quite bland, with the White House involved maybe, or the FBI or government. Or it can be incredibly lonely, just a small dusty town, nothing much going on. The flexibility is huge. Each time I sit down to write a new book, it’s with exactly the same excitement as the first one simply because there’s no fixed formula.
A: Do you think you would ever write from a different character’s point of view about Reacher?
LC: That’s a really intriguing suggestion and I often thought about it. Maybe a woman who comes into contact with Reacher; let’s see him through her eyes. I think that could be really cool.
A: Do you listen to audiobooks yourself?
LC: I do now, because of the one technological invention that I really love, which is the way you can increase the speed. I’m really an incredibly fast reader. Obviously an audiobook has to be made for the audience as a whole, and most people want a slower pace than I want. Now you can jack it up one and a half times or two times speed without the pitch going up. It doesn’t sound like Minnie Mouse.
A: Yes. It’s not chipmunky anymore.
LC: I love that. That’s really been a night-and-day thing for me.
A: That’s one of my favorite Audible features, too. How fast do you listen?
LC: Not quite two times, but somewhere over one and a half.
A: What’s the best book you’ve listened to recently?
LC: I would say probably The Mandibles by Lionel Shriver.
A: What book are you reading right now that you can’t put down?
LC: Right now I’m reading an advanced copy of my brother’s book, which comes out in January, called False Friend by Andrew Grant.
A: Who is your favorite protagonist in fiction?
LC: Oh gosh, I think, like a lot of mystery and thriller writers, I’d have to say Sherlock Holmes. He was the beginning of everything in so many ways.
A: Do you think that Reacher is in any way inspired by Sherlock Holmes?
LC: Yes. He’s totally influenced Reacher, but I think that goes for every protagonist in the genre. Sherlock Holmes is this giant figure that really has influenced everybody.
A: Have you ever experienced anything specific that you had to put into one of your books?
LC: I think a lot of the feelings in the book are specific. You hear advice saying write what you know, which I think is bad advice because we don’t really know enough to make an exciting thriller. Very few people in the world have experienced this stuff. We can rely on writing what we feel. For instance, if you’re a mom or a dad and you go to the mall: You look around and suddenly your kid is not there. You know that feeling of utter panic you have for a split second? Then you glance the other way and there he is, safe and sound. No problem. If you remember that awful panic feeling and then expand it, make it worse, make it longer, then you can understand how a character would feel if their child had been kidnapped or had disappeared, or something like that.
A: “Write what you feel,” I love it. Has anything that you’ve put into your story ever inspired you to do something different in real life?
LC: It’s usually the other way around. People get intrigued about Reacher’s attitude to clothing, for instance. Buys cheap stuff and throws it away. That’s what I’ve always done. He presses his pants under the mattress. That’s what I always did, too.
A: What has been your favorite scene in the series to write?
LC: I think one of my favorites was way back in the second book where … again, on the subject of writing what you feel, I’m capable of feeling extremely claustrophobic. Not in a phone booth or an elevator or something, but in extreme circumstances. I have Reacher trapped in a scene with rock. He was trying to get through a tunnel. He was physically jammed in there, unable to move. That would terrify me, so I think it was a very effective scene, written directly from the heart.
A: Is there a particular scene in the series that you think listeners will jump at from Dick Hill’s narration?
LC: Dick’s so good that I think a lot of them, frankly. I’d be disappointed if there weren’t three or four in every book. So far he lives up to it.
A: Thank you so, so much for your time. This was so wonderful. Our listeners are just going to love it.
LC: It’s been my pleasure.
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