Interviews

MSN Books & Reading forum
June 1, 1999

This interview is Copyright © 1999 by MSN, and is reprinted with permission. The online hosts for MSN were erma, Lizbooks, and Steveo.



MSN Host Stevo
John Roswell Camp, aka John Sandford, was born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa and graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in American History. After a stint as a journalist in the Army, Sandford received a master's degree in Journalism and worked for newspapers in Missouri, Florida, and Minnesota, where he won a Pulitzer Prize.
Shortly after, Sandford began penning longer works, one with his right hand and one with his left. Both got published, and Sandford became the first author in history to have two debut novels: Rules of Prey and The Fool's Run. Actually, "Fool's" came out under John Camp, and "Rules" came out under the pseudonym, John Sandford.
The pseudonym stuck, and nine "Prey" novels later (with three forays into stand-alone novels), Sandford has become a master of suspense. In his latest book, Certain Prey, Lucas Davenport confronts an entirely new kind of adversary. Her name is Clara Rinker, an attractive Southern woman — the best hitwoman in the business.

Milmar2
I love Sandford's stuff. It's great.

MSN Host Stevo
Welcome, John, to Microsoft Network's Books and Reading Forum chat room.

John Sandford
I'm happy to be here

MSN Host Lizbooks
Tell us about Certain Prey. How has Lucas Davenport changed the most over the 10 novels that feature him?

John Sandford
He's become mellower.
In the first novels, Davenport was sometimes almost as crazy as the people he was chasing.
I think readers liked that
But when it became apparent that this would be a long series, that tension became impossible to sustain.
In the current novel, I have shorn him of any serious relationships and just left him by himself surrounded by emotional quiet, possibly for the first time in his life.

Clarafan
I like him alone.

joanne2
That will seem strange to me -- I like the edginess.

bongo
Has any of your work been considered for a screenplay, John?

John Sandford
One of my novels, Mind Prey, was made into a TV movie that was broadcast on ABC earlier this year.
All of the novels have been optioned at one time or another but that's the only one completed so far.
At present, there is nothing being considered for the big screen.
There are always rumors, but after 10 years in the business, I can't waste much energy listening to rumors.

inaminit
I personally don't consider movies the crowning glory of success for a writer.

MSN Host Erma
You've come up with some of the most violent (and memorable) villains of any thriller series. Where did you get the idea for Clara?

Clarafan
My personal favorite. ;-)

John Sandford
I don't really know, Erma.
I have visited a women's prison, but the woman I spoke to there was not violent at all.
I actually haven't known any women who were violent criminals, though I know they exist.
Clara just arrived out of the blue as a standard model for an icy cold mob killer.
As the novel developed, she just grew on her own.

Clarafan
Will Clara be back?

John Sandford
I don't know for sure if she will be back.
I have a good final scene involving Clara and Davenport in the novel in my head, but I don't have a beginning scene or anything else.
Bringing her back is a definite possibility, though.

joanne2
Sounds like a sequel, then. (G)

MSN Host Erma
Will Davenport ever get back together with Weather Karkinnin?

John Sandford
I have often thought about how I would end the Davenport series in the future.
I don't know how many books there will be.
I know that there will be at least three more, and possibly as many as five or six.
But at the end of the series, when it does end, I don't want to kill Davenport off, but I would like to see him go out with some kind of good relation with a woman and the possibility of long-term happiness.
That could be with Weather.
Or someone else.
I just haven't figured that out yet.

bongo
What sort of books do you read for your own enjoyment John? Do you like biographies; history; fiction; nonfiction etc...?

John Sandford
I'm reading a lot of history right now.
Most of it involving the period before the Roman Empire, specifically the history of the Ancient Near East.
I am also a Civil War buff,
Of course, one of the major streams of my reading involves the usual crime bestsellers.
I read Robert B. Parker, Robert Crais, Randy Wayne White, Carl Hiassen, Chuck Logan, Larry Millett, Mike Connelly, James Patterson, Jim Hall, and on and on.
I read a lot of those guys.

Talya
What would you say is your favorite characteristic, or trait of Davenport and is there any of you in him?

John Sandford
Not much, Talya.
Davenport is an amalgam of cops I've known, a couple of movie stars, and the characters in any number of thrillers I've read in the past.
There really aren't any cops like Davenport, because he's just too much.
Just like Sherlock Holmes, he's a little over the top.
I like him and I think of him as a friend that I haven't seen for awhile, but he's not really based on an actual person.

SuperDee
Have you ever considered writing a novel jointly with some other author in your genre?

John Sandford
If so, it wouldn't be another author that I didn't know well.
I think it might be an impossibility, at least for me.

SuperDee
I just find the idea intriguing.

John Sandford
However, I am currently working with my son to write another Kidd novel - a series which I suspended almost 10 years ago.
Kidd is actually a criminal who does industrial espionage to support his watercolor painting habit.

SuperDee
Oh yes, I remember him. I just read a Kidd book recently. He was very cool.

John Sandford
I think he's a good hero or anti-hero, but I didn't plan to do much more with him.
My son kept bugging me, though, so I finally told him that if he would block out the novel ahead of me, I would try to write it.
We have done 30,000 words so far.
I think it's pretty decent, but working with someone else is also a tough thing to do.

SuperDee
I imagine so.

John Sandford
Even with somebody as close to me as my son.

MSN Host Erma
Many people call you an "elegant" writer. How do you cultivate this?

John Sandford
I didn't know I was called that, so I can't say I cultivate it. I don't know if I'm elegant, but I do work hard at my writing.

carmel
Kidd made a cameo appearance in Eyes of Prey, didn't he?

John Sandford
Yes, carmel. Not many caught it, but he did.
I considered having Davenport make an uncredited cameo in the new Kidd novel, but it didn't work out.

carmel
And you tipped your hat to Hiasson in last year's "Prey" novel, too.

MSN Host Erma
What do you think of the television adaptation featuring Eriq La Salle from "ER?"

John Sandford
It was too bleak.
The most controversial aspect was that LaSalle played Lucas.
Eriq is black, and in the books, Lucas is white.
That change didn't bother me because I felt that Eric had the ability to project intelligence and he carried with him the potential for happy violence.
The main problem with it was that the bleakness had no relief.
Even the cinematography was almost black and white.
And in the end, after all the killing, Davenport's girlfriend leaves him.
It was just too bleak.

joanne2
Dark and dreary --- too darkly colored.

snooped34
Have you ever thought about writing a story about a peanut farmer and his brother who used to be a lawyer but got kicked out of business cause he kicked the judge in the jimmy. so he had to go work for the brother as his business consultant and they have crazy adventures together?

John Sandford
No, snoop.

MSN Host Erma
Will you ever go back to newspaper writing?

John Sandford
I still do an occasional piece of newspaper work, and I still hang out around the newsroom.
Most of my best friends are journalists.
I hang around at the St. Paul Pioneer Press or the Miami Herald, where Hiassen, Dave Barry, and Edna Buchanan work.

MSN Host Erma
Should make for fun days. (G)

John Sandford
I can't say, though, that I'd really want to go back to heavy duty journalism.

carmel
What kind of newspaper pieces do you do, now?

John Sandford
I just write pieces that come my way
An outdoor piece, etc.

MSN Host Erma
Was it harder to write a book with two villains?

John Sandford
Yes, Erma, because you have an extra critical relationship: the relationship between the two bad guys.
But I sort of like that stress.
The new which I just started will also have two villains, but in this case, they are a married couple who are almost sickeningly romantic with each other.
I don't have their personalities entirely worked out, but already they are pretty interesting.

joanne2
Is the new book a "Prey," a "Kidd," other?

John Sandford
It's a "Prey" book.
Here's the way it will work: I started writing new Kidd book on Jan. 1 as my son blocked it out in front of me.
We got about 25,000 words done and we realized that the pacing was too slow, so we tossed most of it
We then started rewriting and got 30,000 words into it.
But I have a commitment to deliver a new "Prey" novel by the end of the year, to be published next May.
In order to do that, I have suspended the "Kidd" novel and have begun work on the new "Prey" book, the one with the married villains.
I should finish it around Christmas, and during the first part of 2000, I will start again on the "Kidd" book and hope to finish it by May.
At that point, I will start a new "Prey" book.

MSN Host Erma
I hear that you are soon leaving for Israel to work on the Tel Rehov dig. Tell us about your association with it and what do you plan to do there this year?

John Sandford
I am the photographer on a dig at Tel Rehov, in Israel
I have dug there for several years, under the auspices of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
We recruit healthy people between ages of 18 and 65 to come help us dig.
all the details on this can be found at the Tel Rehov website.
What we are doing is trying to straighten out the chronology of the late Iron Age 1 and first half of Iron Age 2, from the 11th Century BC through the 8th Century BC
This covers the time in the Bible from King Saul through about the time of Ahab and his wife Jezebel.
The work is very interesting.
We have a great combination of people on the dig.
Americans, Europeans, Australians, Israelis, fundamentalist Christians, and two non-religious scientific archaeologists.
Take a look at the web site.

Fox
In Certain Prey, Lucas seems to operate more in the background of the plot. Did you do this on purpose?

John Sandford
No, not really, Fox.
Several people have mentioned this to me, and the fact is that the two women bad guys sort of took the book away from Lucas.

Clarafan
Yes, they did. (G)

John Sandford
If I had more time to consider it, I might have tried to build him up more, but I'm still not sure what I would have done.

carmel
They were great.

John Sandford
In writing thrillers, it's hard to keep a really great bad guy from upstaging the protagonist.

MSN Host Erma
Are there any inside jokes in Certain Prey that only you know?

John Sandford
No, there are no in-jokes in Certain Prey that I remember, although there have been a few in the past.
A lot of people have picked up on the fact that Del's last name is Capslock and realized that the combination came right off the computer keyboard.
I will tell you that there is a minor logical error in Certain Prey.
It was first spotted by a reader, but I won't tell you what it is. You'll have to find it.
:-)

london
If you were forced to choose between hitwoman Clara Rinker and attorney Carmel Loan, who would it be?

John Sandford
It would be Clara.

Clarafan
;-)

carmel
Darn.

John Sandford
She is a sweetheart.
She's a person who turned lemons into lemonade, but not exactly in the church-prescribed way.

MSN Host Erma
Mr. Sandford, please give Lucas Davenport a love interest. Will the next Prey novel have more shewie?

John Sandford
Could be, Erma, but I haven't figured out a love interest yet.
One guy wanted me to doll-up the nun character and have her move in with Lucas.

Clarafan
I love the nun character. (G)

John Sandford
I'm thinking about having Clara kill the guy.

joanne2
I like the nun, too.

Clarafan
My favorite next to Lucas.

Norris
What do you think of your son writing the scripts for your web pages? BTW: it's one of the best author sites I've seen.

John Sandford
I don't look at the web site too often, but sometimes when I do, I get a little nervous.
The perceptions on the web page are not mine, they are my sons.
He's a fairly decent reporter, but he does interpret things differently than I would.

carmel
He does a wonderful job... and he does present them as his.

John Sandford
It also gives me a creepy feeling of being watched.
I have a question for the people here in the room who have seen the page.
Both my son and daughter are interested in becoming professional writers, and they have, from time to time, asked me about writing technique.
I've saved them as e-mail, along with my answers, and I'm wondering if I should put up a writing technique discussion on the web page. What are your thoughts?

MSN Host Erma
YES!

MSN Host Lizbooks
Sure, I think that's a good idea, John

MSN Host Erma
I think it would be a great idea.

joanne2
Yes!

Talya
I think it would be extremely helpful to future and present writers.

carmel
I would enjoy that.

John Sandford
Then look for it.

mikd6
Cool.

John Sandford
If I can talk my son into it, we'll do it when I get back from Israel in July.
My son has written a script for "Diagnosis Murder."

MSN Host Erma
Goodie!

What can you tell us about yourself that not a lot of people know?


John Sandford
I'm very tall and good looking. ;-)

MSN Host Lizbooks
Lol.

MSN Host Erma
We KNEW that. (G)

John Sandford
Actually, I think of myself as being pretty serious about life.
I'm interested in politics, in history, in culture.
But somehow as a thriller writer there's a tendency for serious people to dismiss you as hack.

MSN Host Erma
If John Sandford is a hack, then heaven help the other writers out there! I can't believe ANYONE would say that about his work!

John Sandford
What I do is really pretty hard, and I appreciate it when people take my effort with some degree of seriousness, as well as enjoying the stories.

Clarafan
Have you thought of running for office? You do what you do as well as any, by the way.

John Sandford
No, Clara.
I would not be a good politician, although I do admire good ones.
But being a good politician requires the ability to sit for a long time and listen to a lot of stupidity.
I couldn't even do that very well.

Clarafan
AMEN.

John Sandford
I already had to do that as a newspaper reporter covering various legislatures.
So, politics is not in my future.

MSN Host Erma
What are you reading right now, and what is the best book you've read so far this year?

MSN Host Lizbooks
What words of wisdom do you have for Books and Reading Forum readers and writers?

John Sandford
Readers: take yourselves as seriously as writers take you.
Readers are the other half of the essential storytelling partnership.
What writers do is create the skeleton of a dream, which is dreamt in full by the readers.
The reader's dream is just as creative as the writer's.

MSN Host Erma
Thank you, John, for chatting with us in Microsoft Network's Books and Reading Community. Certain Prey is available in bookstores or at a special price from Barnes and Noble. Stop by John Sandford's web page.

MSN Host Lizbooks
Thanks for coming again, John.
Keep those Prey books coming out - we really love them.

John Sandford
Good enough. Thanks for having me again.
Good bye and good reading.

Talya
Thanks!!

joanne2
Thank you.

carmel
Thanks.

mike6
Ditto.

John Sandford
I was late because my cat had breast surgery. Not an excuse, it's true.

MSN Host Erma
Poor kitty.