Virgil Flowers, an agent with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, makes his ninth starring appearance in Sandford’s Escape Clause.
Your real name is John Camp. How did you become John Sandford?
In 1989, two novels of mine, one from Holt, the other from Putnam, happened to appear almost simultaneously. Putnam asked me to use a pseudonym, and that’s where the John Sandford name came from. Henry Sandford was my great-grandfather and fought with the Iron Brigade during the Civil War.
Recently, you’ve been publishing two adult novels a year, plus young adult novels. How do you it?
My wife, Michele Cook, has been extensively involved with the YA novels. For the past three years, we’ve written a trilogy together. Though jointly credited, she really carried the load on the YA novels. But she also reads my other books and makes extensive suggestions, both to fix problems and to help with the search for the plot line.
With more than 25 years and more than 40 novels to your credit, do you find publicity demands require more or less of your time and effort?
Generally, less. Before the Internet became so powerful, I toured extensively. With the rise of the Internet, touring apparently has become less important. When you’re writing two books a year, you really need some time off and don’t want to use that down time for touring. I do like talking with readers, though; they can tell you important stuff.
Can you give an example?
If readers tell you that stretches of dialogue or narrative were too long, that they couldn’t tell who was talking, that’s something that can be fixed.
Like many well-known mystery writers, you were a journalist before you were an author. What journalism skills helped you as an author?
The practice of writing almost every single day, and being edited every day, really helped. As a journalist, I interviewed people, and you begin to feel different rhythms in speech, and you can use those things to help carve out a character. I also spent four years as an editor, and so I learned to spot and fix others’ writing, and so more easily spot the soft spots in my own. The most valuable thing about journalism, though, was the store of images you build up: what a shooting scene looks like, what a press conference looks and sounds like, how cops talk. I occasionally talk to young would-be writers. I tell them that after they get out of school, they should consider the possibility of joining either the Army or a police force, or becoming a journalist, simply to gather images.