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Some fast facts on him:
- He currently serves as the co-president of the International Thriller Writers.
- Child’s novels have sold over 80 million copies and have been translated into 41 different languages.
- In total, he’s written 19 Reacher novels.
- He’s also written many short stories.
- Born in England.
- Went to Law School in Sheffield, England.
- Was a British television director.
AMIE FLANAGAN: Do you plot out your storylines?
Lee Child: No, I never plot, never outline, never plan never prepare anything. I just try my best to get a good start and take it from there.
AF: That’s surprising because weren’t you a screenwriter at one time?
Lee Child:I was a director but I did lots of rewrites. I didn’t write any original stuff on television at that time, but there’s not much connection between screenwriting and book writing anyway. I’ve done both subsequently. I think for a book I prefer to start some place and let it expand organically, just find out where the story’s going in the same way the reader is going to.
AF: How do you choose the best concrete details to create a striking visual image with your work?
Lee Child: I think they emerge spontaneously from a mental database of knowledge that if you’re writing from a particular location or scenario or a bunch of characters you’re going to have an idea in your head about those details.
AF: How do you decide on your choices of locations? I’m going to use Killing Floor as an example because I’m actually from Atlanta. Had you ever visited Atlanta prior to writing Killing Floor?
Lee Child: Not with Killing Floor. The location of that book was based on a larger geography. I wanted it to make sense in terms of the route down to Florida and then down to the Caribbean for money, which was a well-established route at that time down the east coast and out of Jacksonville. I sort of had to pick Georgia, but I set most of it in a fictional place, somewhere south of Atlanta so I could sort of get away with anything specific.
AF: You did a very job with the 285 and 75 interchange down near Hartsfield.
Lee Child: Back in those days, before Google Earth and all that, you had maps, and I’m a good map-reader, and you can find a lot of good information from maps, more than you might think.
AF: I’m going to step back for a moment and ask you about your characters, however, I’m not going to ask about our good friend Jack [Reacher] because I feel you are always asked about him. How do you form new characters in each new book?
Lee Child: The whole cast for each book is new. It kind of depends on what the scenario is and what the set up is. Do I use people that I actually know? In a way yeah, because you met people and you regard them as meta-typical as one thing or another – so as a large extent, yes, they are based on people I’ve met but not specific individuals.
AF: You do an amazing job on your opening lines. They instantly draw the reader in. How do you choose which opening line to use for your books?
Lee Child: That is a great question. I don’t really know how to answer it. I always start writing in September. In August, beginning of August, I have no idea about it, but in August, I start turning things over in my mind a good opening line but typically it just pops in my head, and at that point I have no idea what the story is going to be following it, but I agree the opening line is so important. If it’s a good line, interesting and provocative and suggestive of excitement to come, then I will just use it. Then once that’s down and the opening paragraph and the opening page is done, then it’s a question of what the rest of the book is and what can follow on from this.
I never change that line either. I don’t change much at all when I’m writing. Certainly not the opening. The opening, in my opinion, is always best if it’s the spontaneous first draft opening. I think that reads better.
AF: How do you maintain different voices in the characters while still maintaining a form of uniformity within the dialogue?
Lee Child: Dialogue is one of those things that’s very strange really because we get praised for writing natural dialogue, so called, and people say that dialogue is really good, but of course bears no relation at all to how real life people speak. You know, one of the really interesting things to do in life is to eavesdrop on a conversation and imagine it written down on a page, and it would be bizarre because you have all kinds of pauses, stops and starts, repetitions, stumbles and changes in direction, and it would look really strange on the page, but that is real dialogue.
What we do is highly unreal dialogue, because typically it’s coherent or succinct and there are no stumbles or repetitions and pauses and all that. It’s technical, literally unreal dialogue and it somehow looks real. That’s one of the great conundrums of writing, really, is that it’s not accurate but it looks very convincing.
The answer to the question really is, while I’m writing the book, those people are real, they really exist, I can hear them talking, and so I just write down what they are saying.
AF: What is your biggest difficulty as a writer and how do you overcome it?
Lee Child: The biggest difficulty for me is stylistically, is coming up with character names. I’m just really bad at that. So what I do, in the old days, I’d use a phone book and now I use random name generators on the Internet, and I try to pick a good sounding name. I find it very difficult. Fortunately, what we do now is donating names to a charity auction. The auction winner can have his or her name in the book and that helps a lot because then someone has given me a name.
AF: I hear you’re a voracious reader. What type of books do you enjoy reading?
Lee Child: Oh literally every kind of book. Literally, I read everything: fiction, nonfiction, genre fiction, literary fiction, history, politics, technology, I just love to know about as much as I can. I got thousands of books and I just love to read.
AF: I realize you get asked this a lot, but I ask every author I interview this question. What is the best advice you can give to an aspiring writer?
Lee Child: If a book is going to succeed, and it cannot be guaranteed, I mean there’s no guarantees in this business but if you want to at least get to the starting line, then the book has got to have an organic integrity of it’s own, it’s got to be the product of one mind, in other words, the writers mind, so my advice is really, to ignore advice, because if you have something in mind and you are somehow inhibited from doing it because Lee Child says to do it differently, or Stephen King says to do it differently, or someone else says don’t do it at all or someone else says do it later in the book, if you start to listen to those voices of doubt, then it’s no longer an organic product, it’s a committed decision, so my advice is to go for it, and write the book exactly how you wanted to write it, and if it is exactly what you want then that’s exactly what one human being that likes it, and nobody is all that unique, so if you like it, then there will be other people who will like it too. If on the other hand write it in a way that’s compromised and committed decision, then your not really going to like and nobody else will like it either.