Articles

Double Identity: 'Prey' author on why he had to reinvent himself
by Curt Schleier
The New York Post
June 2, 2002

John Sandford, author of the best-selling Prey series, wasn't always John Sandford. He began his career as John Camp, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist.
The dual identity began in 1989, when Camp sold two different novels within months of each other. The first, The Fool's Run, was written under his real name and featured a crime-fighting computer hacker [1]. It never took off [2]
But shortly after he sold it, another publisher bid on Rules of Prey, Camp's story about a hard-nosed Minneapolis detective named Lucas Davenport.
His agent, Esther Newberg, told him that Putnam didn't want to publish the Prey book under the Camp name, as the novels would be selling simultaneously. So the author decided to use his middle name instead [3].
And thus he tossed off his old identity and reinvented himself as Sandford. Such is the price of becoming a hit author.
"It was just a marketing decision," Sandford, 57, told The Post in a phone interview from his home in Minnesota. "It's like a brand name. I don't care. My ego is only tied up in how high the name goes on the best-seller list."
Sandford it as, and Sandford it remained. As each of the Prey books (the 13th, Mortal Prey, was just released) steadily worked their way up the charts, becoming hugely successful.
Over the years, there have been more than a few Camp/Sandford mix-ups.
"When your airline tickets are reserved under the name John Sandford, and you show up with an ID that says John Camp, they look at you as though you're going to hijack the plane," he said.
Once, Sandford managed to talk his way onto a flight because he had a copy of a Prey novel bearing his picture.
The author's pseudonym has also been the cause of confusion at hotels, lost faxes and car rental difficulties.
Sandford has handled each of these situations with greater civility than one might expect of his fictional hero, Davenport, a straight-shooter who's more comfortable with street justice than prolonged discussion [4].
Sandford said he first thought of Davenport as a sociopath.
"He had a problem with women. Even when he was in a relationship, he'd [have an affair with] some [other] women. But then he changed, mellowed out. He began to seem like he was searching for something."
Sandford paused for a moment to reflect. "I want him to have a happy ending. I don't want him to wind up a bitter, lonely guy."
Davenport may be bitter, but he won't be lonely. The character's unflagging sense of right and wrong has earned Sandford throngs of devoted fans.
"I've read every book he's written," said Samantha July, a New Jersey bookstore manager. "What makes the books so appealing is that Davenport is human. He takes the crimes personally. That's why he tries so hard to solve his cases."
Before turning to novels, Sandford won the Pulitzer Prize in 1986 for a series in the St. Paul Pioneer Press about the farm crisis in the Midwest. He was also a Pulitzer finalist in 1980, for his coverage of Native American communities in Minnesota and North Dakota.
But by the late 1980s, his childhood dream of being a newspaper reporter had dimmed.
"I'd been doing it for 20 years. You can only be a reporter for so long before your brain starts to shrivel up."
So he tried his hand at fiction. He sent a first novel to his agent, who liked his style but felt the book lacked focus.
"She was right, and it made me realize I had to sit down and think about the way books are written," he said.
Fans of the Prey series are glad he did.



Footnotes

1. I would have said that he's actually a criminal-of-sorts, rather than a crime-fighter. Sure, he's stopped crimes. But they've usually been for selfish or defensive reasons rather than "because it's the right thing to do". And it's not like Kidd never breaks the law himself.

2. Well, actually it did take off, but not until years later, when it was reprinted under the Sandford name.

3. No, no he didn't. He used his dad's middle name, which comes from way back in the family tree. I think that it's his paternal grandmother's maiden name (another article says maternal grandmother, but then it'd be a heck of a coincidence that his dad has it as his middle name). In any case, it's not my dad's middle name. That happens to be "Roswell".

4. I suppose it's true that my dad handles that kind of mix-up more cooly than Lucas might. But then, Lucas might shoot someone if he got mad enough, so I don't know if that's really saying much.