This week we salute BLOODLINE by Mark Billingham as it hits bookstores in paperback. The New York Times Book Review raved that BLOODLINE offers a “psychologically twisted and strikingly original plot” with a “relentlessly swift pace and high emotional pitch.” Here, we present Part I of a conversation with Lee Child, the #1 bestselling author of the Jack Reacher series. And don’t miss the newest Tom Thorne novel THE DEMANDS, now available in bookstore everywhere.
Mark Billingham: I was thinking a lot about series and the demands that writing a series makes on you and the benefits of it. Obviously in the last week or so there has been heaps of internet chat in response to the rumor that Tom Cruise might be about to play Jack Reacher. Whatever your thoughts are about that, it’s an incredible testament to the power of the series and the ownership readers feel they have of the character. Do you feel that Reacher is yours? Do you feel like you share him?
Lee Child: That’s a great point and it’s something I’ve been very aware of as the years have passed because it’s completely a progression, obviously. On Day 1, nobody in the world knows anything about Reacher apart from me because it’s the first book. It’s a work in progress, it’s not finished, and nobody has seen it. Then, the first book gets published and then the second and the third. And gradually the ownership of the character does migrate outwards into the public realm. I was very aware actually of the particular point which was after eight or nine books, maybe ten books. Previously to that people were kind of deferential. They thought Reacher was an independent entity, but they knew somehow he belonged to me. Then, after about the tenth book, he became totally publicly owned to the point where I now get abused just like any other fan with a different opinion. I count for nothing anymore. Reacher is completely independent and completely out there. And you’re right, the casting choice in Hollywood is being made right now. My attitude towards that was whoever is cast, whoever it was, 99% of the fans would be outraged because it would be a sheer coincidence if whoever it was matched their own personal image. I think it’s just proof actually of how tightly owned a series character becomes by the readers, which is great really because that is the advantage of a series. This is a tough trade. Launching one book every year is a new mountain to climb every time and if you can get any help at all carried over from previous years you need it. Of course, one of the great helps is, if it is a series, (to borrow the language of credit card companies) the new book is kind of “pre-approved.” The readership thinks, “Well, I liked the last six, so I’ll probably like this.” It’s a much lower hurdle to get over. I think with people who write standalone books, the author’s name obviously continues and counts for something, but you’ve got a slightly higher mountain to climb. Are they going to like it? Is it the same as what you’ve done before? You’ve mixed it, haven’t you? How have you felt about that?