Interviews

AOL's "The Book Report"
April 9, 1997

This interview is Copyright © 1997 by The Book Report, Inc., and is reprinted with permission of the producer, Sean Doorly. The interviewer was Sean Doorly.



Sean Doorly
Welcome, John. Why The Night Crew and not another Prey book?

John Sandford
Because I got tired of doing Prey books. I had done one a year for eight years and, at the time, that was enough. Now I've started another Prey book and it's going very well... better than if I just continued with the Prey books without a break.

Sean Doorly
Your main character in The Night Crew is a woman. How was it writing a female hero?

John Sandford
Very different. But the differences weren't what I expected them to be. I expected there to be a problem with love scenes because the differences are so peculiar to male and female. Now I had to think like a woman in the love scene. Though I feared that problem, it wasn't a problem. In the books that I write, love scenes are usually just indicated instead of being long and drawn out. I do that for a technical reason... books develop their own cadence and my books are very fast. A love scene by the sense of it is very slow, so I very quickly indicated the love scenes and that was no problem. But the problem that I didn't expect was the different ways men and women deal with violence. This a violent book. And Anna has a hand in the violence in The Night Crew. So there's a psychology that I had to work out of how a woman would relate to taking part in these very violent acts.

Sean Doorly
Are you going to continue with the characters from The Night Crew?

John Sandford
The next two novels I think will be Prey novels. Three novels from now, I'll continue with the Night Crew.

Sean Doorly
Video crews are everywhere today. How do you think that affects journalism?

John Sandford
It's not really journalism. Television is like looking out an electronic window. Journalism is much more digested.

Sean Doorly
So you have a Pulitzer and bunch of best-selling novels — what's next?

John Sandford
Get taller and better looking! I work on an archeological dig in Israel near the Sea of Galilee and I've been spending a lot of time there. I went to a technical school to become a land surveyor. I work as part of the survey crew and as the photographer. If anyone would like more info about the dig, we have a web page at http://www.rehov.org.

Sean Doorly
Are you planning on setting any future novels on an archaeological dig?

John Sandford
I don't know yet. Possibly because it is part of my experience.

Question
What kind of formal education have you had and how has that affected your writing?

John Sandford
I have a B.A. in American History and a Masters in Journalism. The History degree, which involved a lot of American Lit., probably had more effect than the Journalism degree, which was vocational.

Question
Will you use what you've learned in Israel in a future novel... something maybe more exotic than Minnesota?

John Sandford
I like to write about what I can see. Israel is a different place for me. I find it exotic. It's not a place I'm ready to write about.

Sean Doorly
So why a pen name? Any story behind it?

John Sandford
Without going into details, it was a marketing device. I was writing for two publishers — they wanted to be separate from each other. One was putting a lot of money into me and didn't want the other riding on those coattails.

Sean Doorly
Have there been any movies made of your novels? Any interest in that?

John Sandford
No, not yet. The first book, Rules of Prey was sold to a movie company. They own the rights to the characters until a movie is made. Because they were unable to make a movie and weren't selling the rights, then no movie could be made. Now another company has bought the rights from the bankrupt company. It looks like a television or HBO movie will be made of Mind Prey.

Sean Doorly
How did you research The Night Crew?

John Sandford
Spent a lot of time in L.A. I don't know if those crews exist on a big-time freelance basis. So I just made that part up.

Sean Doorly
How did you come up with Lucas Davenport?

John Sandford
It was mostly engineering. For me, the creation of a new character is an intellectual process. It's not simply a matter of finding one. It has to be a character who will naturally find himself in trouble; therefore, a cop or media person. Or with other authors, you have intelligence agents or military men or private detectives. Or, with Cornwell, a pathologist. They are people who deal with conflict in their daily lives.

Sean Doorly
Who do you like to read?

John Sandford
I read a lot of non-fiction. I am a Civil War buff and I have a large Civil War library. I also read a lot of archeological stuff. In fiction, I read mostly my competitors — commercial thriller writers. Robert Parker is phenomenal and the new one is the best Parker in several years. I like Carl Hiaasen. He's a friend of mine. I like Robert Crais, Randy Wayne White, Patricia Cornwell, and a lot of people... Grisham, Clancy, King, I read them. Most of the writers I like are commercial writers.

Sean Doorly
Was this true before you wrote?

John Sandford
Most of the people I really like are former journalists. I think we understand each other's writing, is what it amounts to.

Sean Doorly
Do you miss journalism?

John Sandford
I still do some for the Pioneer Press in Saint Paul.

Sean Doorly
Of all the Prey books, which was your favorite?

John Sandford
I don't have a favorite. The second one, Shadow Prey, which I believe was the least successful commercially, is the one I think was the most distinctive. I have a soft spot for it.

Sean Doorly
When you begin to write your Prey novels, did you begin keeping "bio's" on your characters, or did they just evolve? Do you keep bio's on them now?

John Sandford
They just evolved. And sometimes they got out of control. Sometimes characters I didn't see as major characters become major.

Sean Doorly
Can you give me an example?

John Sandford
I would like to find out how many people picked up a major Prey character, whose name was taken off of a keyboard... it's Del Capslock. I think I may have been up a little late. I always liked it, and I always make a point of having both his first and last name in the books, but never together to see if people pick up on it. A few have noticed it.

Sean Doorly
You write about serial killers. Ever interviewed any?

John Sandford
Yes. Actually I've done a lot of work with killers in my career. And I've even known a few before they were known as killers. It was a very public event. I had written a long article on the front page a few weeks before it was revealed the man I profiled was a murderer. My article was very laudatory, so I was somewhat taken aback.

Question
Are there parallels between your archeological work and your writing? Do you use it as a respite from the writing, or does one feed off the other?

John Sandford
Mostly as a respite. I need some other kind of a life. I'm almost reluctant to write about archeology because I'm afraid of the crossover.

Sean Doorly
I surfed the internet today and came across a few of your sites... have you surfed?

John Sandford
I'm on the internet constantly. I've been involved with computers since 1979. I've always had a linear relationship with the Net. Surfing is jumping too much. My son has a little site about me.

Question
Do you ride with Minneapolis Police as part of doing research?

John Sandford
Not as part of my research. But I've ridden with cops numerous times as a journalist. I have friends in the force.

Sean Doorly
What is it like riding with them?

John Sandford
That depends on the circumstances of the ride. Sometimes it's very routine, but if you're going out with a SWAT group... that is pretty intense because they don't know what will happen. If you go to a murder scene after the fact, that's usually just pretty gross.

Question
The Empress File characters are a real change from the Prey books. Which did you write first?

John Sandford
Those were my first two books and they are very out of date — written in the late 80's. I'm now embarrassed that most of the forward-looking computers mentioned in those books are now gone.

Sean Doorly
How is your book tour going?

John Sandford
Really very well so far. I've been seeing a lot of people but I've got a feeling I'm going to be wrecked by the time it's finished.

Sean Doorly
Which is your favorite bookstore to read at?

John Sandford
I really like the fan stores, the mystery bookstores. I know a lot of people don't like Barnes & Noble and Borders because they're so big. But I've had a series of really good talks at them and I'm really impressed.

Sean Doorly
Were you always a writer... even as a child?

John Sandford
Yes, I was. I wrote, like all kids. In 5th grade, I wrote most of the class program. That's when I became aware that I had the skill. I realized the effect that words had on people.

Sean Doorly
Did you have encouraging teachers?

John Sandford
I was just talking about my teachers tonight. At the end of 11th grade, one teacher, who had never said much to me, said, "You have a nice talent for writing. I think you could make a living at it." That felt very nice and it came at a time when you're just starting to think "What am I going to do with my life?"

Question
How long does it usually take for you to write a Prey book?

John Sandford
About seven months for the writing and two more for the editing.

Sean Doorly
What is your writing day like?

John Sandford
I write late at night — 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. When I work on a book, I work every day. Basically, I try to physically write four hours a day.

Question
What made you decide to be a writer?

John Sandford
It just sort of evolved. I could have been a lawyer. I entered the Army and they sent me to journalism school. After leaving the Army, there were jobs open as newspaper reporters... so I took one.

Sean Doorly
How did you like the dailiness of writing for a daily paper?

John Sandford
Alternately, I would write huge long project pieces that would take weeks to research and write. Then I would go back to daily assignment journalism. I liked having a few months of the daily and then the few months of a longer piece. The daily work is more exciting because you never know what will happen. It's hard to do after about 40. You lose the stamina or something.

Question
Do you keep a journal?

John Sandford
No. I think it's neat, and I've tried several times. I can usually get 3 days, then day 7, then day 15, then day 326... then I lose it.

Sean Doorly
Have you ever used anything from these, though?

John Sandford
No, never used anything.

Sean Doorly
Have you ever thought of writing a non-fiction book?

John Sandford
I've written two already. One on art and one on plastic surgery.

Sean Doorly
What prompted those?

John Sandford
I'm an art freak — and I was offered the job by an art museum. At one point in my career, I got interested in medicine and started watching a lot of plastic surgery and wrote a book.

Question
Do you plan to expand the parts of any of the minor characters from the Prey series? My interest is in Sloan.

John Sandford
That question has been asked before. At this point, I don't think so. Sloan would make a good character in an Ed McBain novel though.

Sean Doorly
Thank you, Mr. Sandford, for coming.

John Sandford
Thank you for inviting me.