PW: What was your inspiration for your atypical leading man, Jack Reacher, in Without Fail?
LC: Well, I knew what I didn't want him to be. Too many thriller heroes are walking about with a literal or metaphoric bullet lodged near their hearts. I wanted a cheerful, strong, capable, uncomplicated hero. Of course, I wanted him to be appealing, but you can't force that sort of thing. Too calculated an attempt might read like a laundry list of this year's approved virtues. So in my first book, Killing Floor, I just let him rip—and ended up very worried. I thought he was too much of a barbarian to appeal to women and too untroubled to appeal to anybody. But—happily—I was completely wrong. Women are the series' biggest supporters, and I realized that he does in fact have a lot of troubles, but he doesn't actually know he's got them. He's got the depth without the tiresome navel gazing.
PW: What about his fierce independence? Any similarities in that respect between Jack and Lee?
LC: There's a tiny corner of my mind that wishes I could just take the next Greyhound to wherever it's going. That's why I like book touring so much: a different city every day. But mostly I'm happy to stay home and let Reacher do my wandering for me. As far as his general skepticism goes, that's written from life: I'm old enough not to believe most of what I hear. And the things he does—classic wish fulfillment. If I could get away with it, I'd be doing it, too.
PW: Reacher's been romantically involved in a few of the novels. Any chance he might settle down?
LC: My guess is, he'd like to: he knows he's missing something. But he knows he'd then live every day with an awful conflict. And it's not just his decision—the sort of smart woman he hangs with is just as aware as he is that he'd be a handful cooped up somewhere. Readers are pretty split about it. Some want him to shack up, others would equate that with killing him off.
PW: Why did you choose to do a series?
LC: That's what I've always loved as a reader. Nothing better than enjoying a book and then finding out that it's part of a series. You go back to the store with a real thrill. You know you're more or less guaranteed six or 10 more great reads. But my series is slightly different because it features only one repeating character. There's no "soap-opera" thing, no repertory cast of characters. That's the downside to my decision—and being an old TV hand, I know the narrative strength of soap opera. The upside is that I can pitch the story anywhere, both geographically and in terms of "weight." I can have a lonely, dusty, small-cast family story in West Texas, like Echo Burning, or a glossy big-government federal agent narrative like Without Fail.
PW: Though you're a native Englishman, you've said that you decided to "write American" because that's where the audience is—how did you learn to do that?
LC: It was a half-a-lifetime thing—reading, movies, music, TV, radio—just "tuning in" generally. Writers love language, of course, and if you love language you love variation and nuance and subtlety, and you love trying your hand at different things. Plus I'm married to an American, and I've been listening to her talk for 28 years now and visiting her family all over the States. But it's more than just words—the pavement/sidewalk, tube/subway thing is absolutely the easiest part. It's really about rhythm and cadence and emphasis. It's about structure and lilt. That's hard to capture, anyway, on the page, and to reproduce an accent in print is one of the most fascinating challenges to a writer. I love writing dialogue, and I love writing the small throwaway phrases that really clinch origin and location.
PW: You've worked in the movie business. How would you feel about a film version of your books?
LC: I'm not like some writers. I don't disparage Hollywood in the least. In my experience, they're a bunch of talented, hard-working professionals who do a great job. So if a Reacher movie happens—and there's been a lot of talk—I'm not going to be nervous at all. Given that a book is not the same as a movie, I'm really looking forward to the experience.