Interviews

Barnes & Noble (2)
May 29, 1997

This interview is Copyright © 1997 by Barnes & Noble, and is reprinted with permission. The online host was Brian Knapp.



Brian Knapp
Tonight, barnesandnoble.com welcomes John Sandford, author of The Night Crew and the bestselling Prey series! Use the "Submit Question" button above to enter your questions.

Atalya from New York City
I loved Rules of Prey and am looking forward to reading The Night Crew . . . why do you use a pseudonym and not use your journalism name?

John Sandford
The pseudonym is purely a marketing device. When I first started writing novels, with the Kidd series, I was being published by Henry Holt. The Prey series was sold to Putnam, which planned to put a lot more energy and money behind the books. The people at Putnam decided they didn't want Holt trying to ride on the advertising for the Prey series with books that were considered "smaller." So they asked me to pick a pseudonym. Sandford is my great-grandfather's name . . .

Dave from Ft. Lee, NJ
What contemporary authors do you read?

John Sandford
Actually, I read a lot of non-fiction — I just finished a three-volume history of Byzantium by John Julius Norwich. I do read most of the people who I considered competitors (although I don't really think of them quite that way — I'm also a fan.) I read Robert Parker, Stephen King, John Grisham, Carl Hiaasen, Robert Crais — just finished his newest novel last night, and it's excellent — Randy Wayne White, Chuck Logan, Larry Millett, M.D. Lake . . . lots of guys. I grew up with Ross Thomas and John D. McDonald, and though I suppose most people dream about being literary writers, and I was a literature/history major in college, I've always read popular mystery/thrillers, and I guess I always will.

Caroline from Hoboken, NJ
Are you going on a reading tour and are you coming to NJ or NY?

John Sandford
Just finished a tour — damn near killed me — and I was in both NY and New Jersey. I've been whining to my editor about it — the perils of a tour — but he tells me they're probably gonna put me back on the road next year. And New York is almost always on the list . . .

Webster from Washington, DC
Why did you decide to stray from your Prey books?

John Sandford
I was starting to burn out on them. You have to treat each book as though the person who picks it up is a first-time reader; so you have to write and rewrite that second and third chapters (where you introduce Davenport and his associates) — over and over again. I just wanted some new characters and a new setting for one year . . .

Cathie from Palm Beach, FL
Is your next novel going to be a continuation of The Night Crew?

John Sandford
No. My next novel — which I'm about three or four chapters into — will be a Prey novel. And it feels pretty good — like it'll be a good one. The writing is going well and the characters and plot ideas seem fresher than they had for a while. I would like to do another Night Crew story, but I would also like to do more Kidd books. Everything depends on how much time I have to work . . .

Hootie from Hot Springs
Did you go out with a night crew of a TV station while researching this book? Also, where did the voice of the female protagonist come from? Thanks!

John Sandford
I was a newspaper reporter for a long time, focusing a lot on crime and cops, so I'd see TV crews working. When I started the book, a cameraman at a local TV station was good enough to really run me through the routine with the equipment, the trucks, and so on. Actually, I thought I was inventing the idea of the Night Crew – I didn't realize there were such things until I was on tour in NY, and met some guys . . . although they are smaller in scope than my crew . . .

Donnie from Houston, TX
I work at a bookstore here in Houston and we have author readings all the time, do enjoy doing readings?

John Sandford
I don't read, but I talk. I really enjoy talking to people about writing, and listening to other people who are writing tell about their troubles and insights and so on . . . Usually, when I go to a bookstore we have a pretty good time. I was at a B&N out in Sioux Falls, S.D., last week and we had a hundred or so people show up, and the talk and argument must have gone on for close to two hours before we even started signing . . . and then we moved on to a local restaurant afterwards. But reading is tough when you're dealing with a thriller novel. Everything is linked to everything else, so there's no good starting or stopping places. No set literary-type scenes.

Vicki Ledford from Kentwood, Michigan
Mr. Sandford, I really enjoy your books. I think I'm in love with Lucas. I just finished The Night Crew and hope to see Anna and Creek and the crew again soon. My question is, as successful as your novels are, why do you use a pen name?

John Sandford
Basically, for marketing reasons, having to do with the fact that I was writing another series under my real name. Never has been a secret, really — John Sandford is sort of a brand name.

Joan from Birmingham
I read that you were a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist. Did your experiences in journalism inspire much or any of your fiction?

John Sandford
Yeah, it inspired me to search for another job. ;-)
Not really. The thing was, I was in my early 40s and I'd been on the street for 20 years or so, ever since I got out of the Army, and I was totally toasted. I tried writing non-fiction, which was okay, and I published a book on art and another on plastic surgery, but I was always more interested in fiction. After a false start — a manuscript that still sits under my bed — I got going with the Kidd series (The Fool's Run, The Empress File) and never looked back. Well, actually, I do look back once in a while, writing journalism for one of the local newspapers; and most of my friends are newspaper guys.

Montey from Bellingham, WA
So do you prefer giving interviews via chat or would you rather be on radio or TV?

John Sandford
Hate TV. Somebody once told a lady TV personality that I'd written a big book; so we got on camera with no time to talk beforehand, and she held up my book and said brightly, "Mr. Sandford, is there something unusual about the size of this book?" I coulda answered any question in the world except that one . . . I do like radio, because I naturally like to b.s. I don't know about the on-line stuff yet, since this is my first time, but I have been on various nets and bulletin boards since the early 80s . . . even once spent time on a bulletin board (and did a story about) a sysop who turned out to be a killer . . .

Reed from Los Angeles
Any chance we'll see Rules of Prey on the big screen?

John Sandford
Looks like small screen. The rights have been purchased by a company that does TV movies. We're moving on an ABC movie, but the story will probably be Mind Prey rather than Rules of Prey. I read the script, and unlike what you'll hear from other authors, I [gulp] thought it was pretty good.

Robert from Rochester, NY
I am going to ask you the obvious question . . . did you find it difficult as a man to make your main character female?

John Sandford
Yup. But not for the most obvious reasons (like, how do you handle the sex scenes.) The hardest stuff was like, how does a woman relate to violence, especially when she's about to inflict it on somebody. It was not something I'd contemplated much. In my reporting days, when I'd seen women involved with violence, it was usually because she was stupid or drunk, and there wasn't much to explore . . . how a sensitive woman handles it created some interesting problems, shoewise. (Putting yourself into her shoes.)

Brian from Hoboken
Mr. Sandford, I love your Prey books and plan on buying The Night Crew. Question: Do you use the Internet to research your books, or for pleasure, entertainment? What do you think of the Internet craze?

John Sandford
I use it for all of those things. I've been on different nets and bulletin boards ever since the early 80s, using TRS-80s and color computers (anybody out there old enough to remember CPM?) We started using computers in newspapers in the early 70s, so I've been on them for a while. Actually, the Internet craze is driving me crazy; it used to be so quiet out here. Now I get up in the morning and find all this spam in the e-mail, (Now you can see three gorgeous sex-hungry babes yadayadayada . . .) I'm getting a little tired of it.

Darryl from Raleigh, NC
What advice would you give to a journalism major, trying to make the transition into creative or fiction writing?

John Sandford
To persist
Basically, it's that simple. Most people who write well enough to be decent newspaper reporters also write well enough to do thrillers/mysteries. And a lot try, but can't deal with the long-range aspect of writing books: you don't get that instant gratification of a daily story hit. It takes months to write a book, and sometimes you can't seem to remember the beginning, or see the end coming up...so you quit. I personally think my greatest ability is not any writing talent or anything like that, it's simply a will to persist in doing what I want to do.

Aimee from Cleveland
Do you think that "Night Crews" are having a positive or negative affect on journalism?

John Sandford
I oughta take the fifth on that one . . . but basically, television has little to do with reality. If you want to learn something about reality from watching TV, watch Baywatch or 90210, but for God's sakes, stay away from the News. (I suppose the weather is all right.) Garrison Keillor was quoted somewhere saying that you learn less about the world from watching TV news than you would from drinking gin out of a bottle, and that's about exactly my feeling. My Night Crew people do it because they are good at it; that's about their only excuse. Even they don't feel that they're doing any big public service: they're just staying alive.

Vicki from Kentwood, Michigan
In your first Prey, Lucas' girlfriend got a scoop on a story by listening in on an extension while Lucas discussed the case. As a journalist yourself, did you ever run into that sort of thing?

John Sandford
I once got a piece of a story when a lawyer coming out of a grand jury room dropped a piece of paper as he was getting onto an elevator I was also getting onto, and I stepped on it until he got off; the paper gave me some names of people also appearing before the grand jury, which gave me an idea of what the jury was looking at. I've also been fed information that I wasn't supposed to have by parole officers, judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys. I don't suppose I'd listen in on a phone call, because that's private. My basic operating theory was that if the government was spending money on it, taxpayers have an absolute right to know about it. And I still think that. But stuff between two people is private . . . What would happen if I accidentally picked up an extension and heard two people talking about something I was vitally interested in? I dunno. I might listen — I'm only human.

Sharon from NYC
I love Lucas Davenport! What inspired you to create such an interesting character?

John Sandford
Desperation, mostly — I needed to get off the street. He's sort of a combination of cops, lawyers and a couple of movie stars . . . glad you like him.

Tod from Seattle
What are your hobbies? If you weren't a best-selling author what would you be?

John Sandford
I've got so many enthusiasms I can't keep up with them. I'm a serious student of art and archaeology; I like the outdoors — I'm a hunter and fisherman and I have a cabin in the North Woods; I'm a canoe paddler — I once paddled from the headwaters of the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico (took me 69 days); I'm a photography freak, and will work as the photographer on an archaeological expedition this summer in Israel — check http://www.rehov.org; I have a black belt in karate, though I haven't studied in several years. I take piano lessons. Last year I spent three quarters at a technical college learning land surveying (for the archaeological dig); and of course I mess around with the Net, and travel a lot . . . my wife runs around almost as much as I do. She's an endodontist, teaches at the U. of Minnesota, and is just finishing her Ph.D in immunology . . . so I do a lot of stuff . . .

Risha from Texas
Where do the ideas for your books come from?

John Sandford
Basically, from my background as a reporter. Almost any job will give you the background for a couple of thrillers, but some jobs — reporting, police work, medicine, law — will give you the background for lots of them . . . I suspect a background in the ministry would do the same. I've thought that there might be a place in the world for thrillers built around a priest or a minister or a rabbi — not these cutesy things, but a person who is really committed to helping people with spiritual problems . . . not something for me, but it could be something for somebody . . .

John from Long Island
How do you approach a new writing project? When do you work? How long does it take to put together?

John Sandford
I usually start by simply reading papers for a couple of months, watching TV, kicking ideas around with my kid as a sounding board. When I get a beginning scene, I then start to think about turning points . . . eventually, I have some half-baked concepts in my head, and I start writing. The writing itself is an exploration . . . the writing helps the thought processes, and vice-versa. I work late at night, usually 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., every night while the book is underway — but every writer I know does something different. A book will take 7-9 months, including one rewrite and a couple serious rounds of editing.

Robert from Queens
What would you consider to be the best book ever written?

John Sandford
The Illiad or the Bible, I suppose. Both of them are endlessly fascinating. If you want to read a story by somebody who has actually seen a guy run through with a sword, check Homer: he's been there. Here's a related idea — who'd you like to be in history? And I think I would have liked to have been Sinbad . . .

Jill from NYC
Mr. Sandford, boxers of briefs? :)

John Sandford
Briefs; I think all people who do high-speed, tightly-written thrillers are briefs people. On the other hand, the slowly unwinding tales would be boxers — Grisham, I'd bet, is a boxer guy. The key revealing factor is in the intensity of the prose, for reasons I won't get into... :-)

Michael from Boston
What can we expect from your next Prey book? Can you give us a little taste . . . At least the title? :)

John Sandford
No title yet; big-shot banker, who is about to push through a merger that will cost several thousand people their jobs, is blown out of his tree stand while deer hunting. It's murder, with lots of suspects. Then Davenport gets a letter that not only names the killer, but says that he has killed several other people in the course of his career, to further that career . . .
I can say no more (though I'm considerably beyond that) because there's gonna be a little trick in here . . . see you in a year.

Brian Knapp
Thank you for joining us tonight. Buy your copy of The Night Crew now!
Mr. Sandford it was great having you tonight. Thank you for coming.