The author of more than thirty books, Land has been called “the greatest thriller writer alive today” (Bookviews). His novels are based on extensive research as well as his twenty-five year career in martial arts and his role as an associate member of the US Special Forces. Land graduated from Brown University in 1979 and continues his association with the school as an alumni advisor; it was at Brown that he began writing career after convincing the faculty to allow his technothriller to serve as his honors thesis. Since that time, Land has written multiple series, and his popular protagonists include Blaine McCracken, Ben & Danielle, and Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong (the Strong series). Also a screenwriter, Land makes his home in Providence, Rhode Island.
The tenth entry in the Blaine McCracken series, Pandora’s Temple (Open Road Media, $16.99), was published last November – after a fourteen year hiatus. The book was met with eager anticipation among longtime readers as well as enthusiastic praise from the author’s contemporaries. Bestselling author Douglas Preston noted, “Jon Land’s dazzling new novel…carries the reader on a wild tsunami of a tale through a world of assassins, doomsday cults, and killer robots, all focused on an ancient and terrifying mystery hidden at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea. The story is fascinating and utterly original, with vivid characters and a compelling, high-technology backdrop. I loved this book!”
From the publisher:
What if Pandora’s Box were real? Blaine McCracken finds himself facing this very question—and the greatest threat to mankind—in his long-awaited return to the page
Rogue special-operations agent McCracken has never been shy about answering the call, and this time it comes in the aftermath of a deepwater oil rig disaster that claims the life of a onetime member of his commando unit. The remnants of the rig and its missing crew lead him to the inescapable conclusion that one of the most mysterious and deadly forces in the universe is to blame: dark matter, both a limitless source of potential energy and an unimaginably destructive weapon.
Joining forces again with his trusty sidekick Johnny Wareagle, McCracken races to stop two deadly enemies who want the dark matter at all costs. A powerful energy magnate and the leader of a Japanese doomsday cult both seek the ultimate prize for their own nefarious reasons, and McCracken and Wareagle’s mission to defeat them takes the duo on a nonstop journey across the world and thousands of years into the past where the truth lies in the ancient Pandora’s Temple, built to safeguard the world’s most powerful weapon.
McCracken’s only hope to save the world is to find the mythical temple. Along the way, he and Wareagle find themselves up against Mexican drug gangs, killer robots, an army of professional assassins, and a legendary sea monster. The hero of nine previous bestselling thrillers, McCracken is used to the odds being stacked against him, but this time the stakes have never been higher.
Now, Jon Land tackles a Pandora’s box of questions…
1) What inspired you to write PANDORA’S TEMPLE? Why resurrect Blaine McCracken – and how do you feel that his age (60) enhances the narrative?
All those questions are connected, but let’s start with the first. I’d had the rights back to my thirteen backlist titles for quite awhile with nothing to do with them until I found out about Open Road Media. Open Road brought all thirteen titles out again as E-books and the ones that performed the best out of the box were the first five books in the Blaine McCracken series. Well, it just seemed like a natural fit to do an original book for Open Road to not only re-launch the series, but also further stimulate sales of the older titles. Moving on, I stopped writing McCracken books in the late 90s after the Cold War had ended had the appetite for thrillers like this in general had badly waned. Then 9/11 happened, conjuring up the kind of terror in reality even the best thriller fiction can’t do justice to. All of a sudden there was a demand for the kind of book again, a trend exacerbated all the more by the success of THE DA VINCI CODE. And, more to the point, there was a demand for heroes, big heroes who could handle big villains again, and a sudden thirst for the kind of speculative thrillers Dan Brown brought back into fashion. As far as aging Blaine naturally, I really didn’t have a choice. I’d so clearly established his Vietnam background in the first nine books in the series that it would be disingenuous to the reader not to work with his real age—hey, if I made him 40, that means he would have fighting in Vietnam at the age of 10! By the same token, though, I found this to be a terrific metaphor for what so many talented individuals of this age are experiencing today thanks to downsizing and outsourcing. When PANDORA opens, McCracken’s phone hasn’t rung for a while and he’s starting to wonder if it ever will again. That’s all too real for too many truly talented and exceptional men and women today who are the same age.
2) You do extensive research for your novels. How have your experience, including those with martial arts and your relationship with the US Special Forces, informed the manuscript? Also, what role does mythology play in storytelling?
The martial arts background has always helped with the choreography of action scenes, especially the kind of fight scenes I pride myself on. As far as the Special Forces is concerned, all my association is strictly honorary, based on many Special-Ops vets becoming big fans of McCracken through the 80s and 90s. I began corresponding with several of them and actually attended a few of their annual conventions after dedicating DAY OF THE DELPHI to them in 1992. Sure, I strive to get the weaponry, ordnance and training right in my McCracken books. But even more to the point, I try to accurately capture the mindset and sensibility of Special Forces troops. How they think, what they believe, their intelligence and commitment. If I don’t get that right in portraying McCracken, then nothing else I achieve matters. As far as mythology, the greatest two words in the English language for a thriller writer are “What if?” And penning speculative thrillers in which mystical artifacts resurface or ancient mysteries are solved make for a great backdrop. Reading a thriller like PANDORA, about the search for the mythical Pandora’s jar (not a box, as most think), means suspending disbelief and surrendering to the writer’s ability to captivate and enthrall. You become like the child who begs to have a story read to them before he or she falls asleep.
3) You have been called “The greatest thriller writer alive today,” and PANDORA’S TEMPLE certainly qualifies as a high-octane adventure. What do you see as being the essential elements of the genre – and how do you balance reader expectations with a sense of freshness?
The essential elements begin, in my mind, with what the great John D. McDonald defined as story: Stuff happens to people you care about. But a thriller goes way beyond that by raising the stakes. A lot of lives, the country or the world even, may be at stake. The hero isn’t concerned so much with figuring out what’s already happened as in mystery, but in preventing something much worse from occurring while their own life is threatened. Think about any great contemporary thriller and it pretty much will fit that paradigm to varying degrees. Freshness comes from never letting your characters go stale, from reaching deeper inside them to the core of their emotional development to get at what motivates and concerns them. Coming to grips with turning sixty for McCracken in PANDORA, as an example. Beginning to question whether he can continue doing the things he’s always done. Take the emotion out of a story and you’ve got no story, because why should the reader care?
4) Tell us about your association with Open Road Media. Why did you choose them as the vehicle for this project – and have you found that releasing PANDORA’S TEMPLE as an e-book has introduced McCracken to a new audience?
Those are really, really good questions. I kind of covered my initial association with Open Road above, but the real key is that they’ve really figured out how to market books in the digital world. They’re just way ahead of the curve in that sense than traditional publishers. I feel like in the past I’ve always gotten to the dance late but this time I arrived at the perfect time. I think the sales of PANDORA are probably split pretty much down the middle between old McCracken readers and new, which is wonderful in how it sets up future series entries while continuing to stimulate backlist sales. Because that’s the greatest thing about publishing in the E-world—the books never go out of print and you’re not fighting anyone for shelf space. You can develop ambitious strategies for marketing and promotion that continue to feed off each other and show results, as opposed to a single intense month when a book is released in more traditional hardcover fashion, like my Caitlin Strong Texas Ranger series. Hopefully her audience will move over to McCracken and visa versa!
5) In addition to being a novelist, you are also a screenwriter Do you find that these distinct crafts influence one another? Or do you feel that they’re best left separate?
Well, the forms are simply apples and oranges with very little in common. That’s why so few novelists make great screenwriters and visa versa. But as a writer, both technically and structurally, I know I’m a much better novelist as a result of my screenplay work and I like to think the reverse is true as well. A screenplay is all about structure and that kind of discipline has really honed my ability to craft a coherent beginning, middle and end with the kind of visuals that make thrillers really pop. By the same token, writing novels has honed my abilities as a storyteller (Remember John D. McDonald’s definition of story above!!!!), and that in turn has hopefully made me a better screenwriter. But I’ve only had one movie actually produced and over thirty books published so it’s pretty clear which is my bread and butter!
6) Leave us with a teaser: what comes next?
Ah, my favorite question! Come August, we’ll see Caitlin Strong returning for the fifth book in that series, STRONG RAIN FALLING, pitting our favorite female Texas Ranger against a Mexican billionaire intent on wreaking destruction across the United States. And I’ve just finished the first draft of the next McCracken book, THE TENTH CIRCLE, which will probably be published just in time for the Holiday Season of 2013. Seems too far away to even think about, doesn’t it?
With thanks to Jon Land for his generous contribution of time and thought.