Lee Child: "A Wanted Man" & "One Shot", Authors at Google

Uploaded by AtGoogleTalks on 05.12.2012


RICK KLEFFEL: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for
joining us here this afternoon.
My name is Rick Kleffel and I have a website called The
Agony Column at agonycolumn.com.
And I have the great privilege to have with me as my guest
and yours, Lee Child.
He's the author of 17 Jack Reacher novels, from "Killing
Floor," his very first novel-- in first edition hardcover--
to his latest novel, "A Wanted Man." Thank you
for joining me, Lee.
LEE CHILD: My pleasure, although this is very
Not only am I the best-dressed, which is
completely unusual--
LEE CHILD: Because I had a very smart event last night,
and I don't carry a bag.
And so what you see is what you get.
I'm almost the oldest person here, and the dumbest person
here, probably.
So this is all very unusual.
RICK KLEFFEL: Lee, I'd like to have you read this little
paragraph here from the very first book, which I think will
give our audience a good taste of how you write and who this
man is you write about.
LEE CHILD: Yeah, this was obviously--
this was probably written in 1995, I would think, this
part, when I was trying to establish the
character or Reacher.
Told in the first person, and this is how it goes.
"The coming storm chased me all the way back east.
I felt I had more than a storm after me.
I was sick with frustration.
This morning I had been just one conversation away from
knowing everything.
Now I knew nothing.
The situation had suddenly turned sour.
I had no backup, no facilities, no help.
I couldn't rely on Roscoe or Finley.
I couldn't expect either of them to agree with my agenda.
And they had troubles of their own up at the station house.
What had Finley said?
Working under the enemy's nose?
And I couldn't expect too much from Picard.
He was already way out on a limb.
I couldn't count on anybody but myself.
On the other hand, I had no laws to worry about, no
inhibitions, no distractions.
I wouldn't have to think about Miranda, probable cause,
constitutional rights.
I wouldn't have to think about reasonable
doubt or rules of evidence.
No appeal to any higher authority for these guys.
Was that fair?
You bet your ass.
They were bad people.
They'd stepped over the line a long time ago.
Bad people.
What had Finley said?
As bad as they come."
And that gives you, in a nutshell, Lee's main character
in these novels, Jack Reacher.
And I think that these novels--
I was thinking about it today.
These novels and this character are an absolute
monument to the appeal and the power of pragmatism.
Because I think that Jack Reacher is the ultimate
LEE CHILD: Yeah, he is.
Inasmuch as the character in the book, he's a total
He will do whatever needs doing,
whichever way it will work.
As a wider issue, I think it goes beyond pragmatism to a
kind of consolation for people.
Because what Reacher does, Reacher is the judge, the
jury, and the executioner.
And people say to me, don't I worry that I am somehow
setting a bad example?
That you shouldn't really walk up to somebody and shoot them
in the head?
And so am I not suggesting that this is
something that is not good?
And I say no.
Because actually, I worked in television for a long time and
I've been a writer for a long time now.
And the thing that you eventually learn is that even
the most ordinary people, the mass audience as a whole, is
very sophisticated at a kind of instinctive level.
And they understand completely that we live in a civilized
society where we do need to have rules and laws and rights
for the accused and procedures.
We absolutely need to have those things.
People understand that, and they do not disagree with it.
But at the same time, it's intensely frustrating.
So they turn to fiction for an alternative,
an alternative view.
Where you catch the bad guy in real life, obviously, yeah,
you arrest him, you read the Miranda rights, he has a fair
trial, and so on and so forth.
People understand that's necessary.
But it's boring, so for fiction, they want to see the
guy shot in the head.
But the very fact that it's fiction means that they
understand that they can't have it in real life.
They understand these are not textbooks for how to live.
They are kind of consolations for how
frustrating real life is.
RICK KLEFFEL: But I think one of the appeals of these books
is the textbook-like manner in which you immerse us in Jack
Reacher's thought process.
It is so much fun to read the prose that you write to be in
Jack Reacher's head.
And he's like a ticking--
tick, tick, tick.
He's like an instruction manual for how
to get back at people.
LEE CHILD: Oh, he sure is.
I mean, these are basically revenge stories.
Because I love revenge.
I think that if somebody stepped out of line, then you
go get them.
And so I love that kind of story, and Reacher is really
good at that.
But Reacher--
I mean it's real funny being here at Google, because
somebody said to me not long ago, Reacher is a very analog
guy in a digital age.
And he really is.
He sticks to his old-fashioned routines, his old-fashioned
notions, and there's no gray with Reacher.
It's all black or white.
And as far as that goes, he's a real throwback, hundreds if
not thousands of years.
RICK KLEFFEL: Well, I think that kind of a primitive
nature to him is, again, a big part of this appeal, because
it cuts to our own kind of reptilian reaction.
And I'd like you to talk a little bit about just creating
that prose voice.
Because you did this in the first person in the first
book, and then leapt to the third person
in the second book.
Talk about just finding that right voice.
That isn't something that came to you easily, I'm guessing.
LEE CHILD: Well, it was a conscious decision, really.
The prose had to create the character,
to a certain extent.
And I was imagining a character who is intelligent,
who is knowledgeable, and so on.
But he's very antisocial.
He's very isolated.
And he doesn't talk a lot.
And I've met one or two people like that, and their manner of
talking is very fractured, very fragmented, because
they're not accustomed to having conversations.
And so they're somewhat incoherent, somewhat
stop-start in the way they communicate.
So for the purposes of creating the character, I
wanted that kind of naive style, as if this is an
inarticulate intelligent person talking to you.
I also wanted, frankly, to be distinctive commercially,
where I wanted a style that was identifiably mine.
So I developed that very terse, stripped down--
I use a lot of sentence fragments.
I ignore most of the rules of grammar.
Just to try and make it a unique voice.
Because voice is what storytelling is all about.
And if you go to a MFA or some kind of university class, and
people talk about voice, what they tend to mean is just a
vague concept about style.
Voice and style become almost interchangeable.
And it's really not that at all.
Voice is literally a voice.
Because one of the things that fascinates me is the history
of storytelling, which is one of those things that we
actually don't know anything about.
Because as soon as language was developed amongst humans,
which is several hundred thousand years ago, as far as
we can tell, at some point after that, then storytelling
was evolved.
And we don't know when that happened, either.
It's perfectly reasonable to think it could have been
100,000, 150,000 years ago that we started using
syntactical language abilities to start talking about things
that had not happened to people that don't exist.
In other words, making up fiction.
But of course, as soon as that first happened-- there's no
record of it, there's no audio recordings, we don't know
anything about it.
But what we do know is that it was clearly, for almost its
entire history, up until possibly about 170 years ago,
storytelling for most people was mostly oral.
It's really only the middle of the 19th century where most
regular people started to read off the page.
And so almost 99.99% of
storytelling's history was oral.
And the bestsellers, so-called, of their day were
people with a compelling delivery, with an attractive
voice and a compelling style.
Would be sitting around telling a story, and they had
maybe 30 people listening, and the next guy along had 10
people listening, so this guy is the bestseller of his day.
So storytelling is totally about voice, and voice is a
very literal and specific thing.
It's the voice of the person telling you the story.
The more attractive it is, the more into the
story you will be.
So I felt that developing a voice was absolutely key.
And I think you can tell that subliminally.
The books that you like, the writers that you like, are
likely to have some kind of distinctive delivery to their
story, rather than just a sort of bland normality to it.
RICK KLEFFEL: Well, what you say is so true, because humans
are a narrative species.
We define ourselves through stories.
If I ask you, who are you, you're going
to tell me a story.
Maybe some fiction or fact in there.
LEE CHILD: Yeah, I mean, that's true.
There's a movement, actually, amongst anthropologists, Homo
sapiens is what they call it.
They want to call it Pan narrans--
in other words, the storytelling ape.
And it does seem absolutely key that we do tell stories.
RICK KLEFFEL: Now the stories in your books are
driven by this man.
One of the things I think is very interesting about these
stories, they're very America.
You obviously are less so.
LEE CHILD: Can you tell?
RICK KLEFFEL: But you do a great job of incorporating, I
think, the British contribution to the mystery
genre and incorporating it into your American character.
I know I'm not the first person to comment on how
Jack's a walking Sherlock Holmes.
And everything he does--
the plots of the books are affected by the fact that
everything he looks at, everything he sees, he starts
making deductions about.
LEE CHILD: Yeah, I mean, it's fascinating that people say,
this is a quintessentially American character.
And that's only true in passing.
I mean, Reacher is a mythic and legendary character that
has been around in fairly similar form for literally
thousands of years.
Every culture that we know about that has a narrative
tradition has invented this character over and over again
over the centuries--
the mysterious stranger, the noble loner, the knight
errant, the person of some kind of odd nobility who is
banished from his milieu and sentenced to wander the land
to do good, either as an imperative or just as a
product of his nature.
That happens in Japan, the ronin stories where a samurai
is disowned by his master and then just wanders as an
It happened all through the Middle Ages in Europe, the
knight errant.
Various key components, the idea of fallen nobility.
And Reacher was a West Point graduate and a major in the US
Army, and that was supposed to give that hint of some status
from which he's fallen.
And so he is American, only in the sense that that character
has to have an empty, dangerous frontier feel in
which to operate.
Which was fine in Europe 700 , 800 years ago.
Europe was an empty, dangerous continent with a frontier.
But of course, over the centuries, Europe became no
longer that.
So that character was essentially forced to migrate
to somewhere where there still was emptiness and a frontier.
And suddenly, those myths started to show up in
Australia and the US, especially in
19th-century Westerns.
That character, the classic character from the Westerns,
you see him all the time in Zane Grey's stories.
The rider that comes in off the range at exactly the
crucial time.
In exchange for a woman-cooked meal, he unsheathes his rifle,
takes care of the problem, and rides off into the sunset.
Now, that character seems so American, but
it's actually not.
It was a direct import from medieval Europe.
And it wasn't invented in medieval Europe, either.
Is was there a direct import from Scandinavian sagas and
legends and even older Anglo-Saxon legends.
Clearly, there's a need amongst the audience to have
that character, quite clearly because we would like to have
that character.
If we're in deep shit, then it's great if we could imagine
that somebody will show up in the nick of time and solve our
problem for us.
So we've invented that character repeatedly.
And all I did was to give it a kind of reality-based
plausibility in the 21st century.
RICK KLEFFEL: Now one of the things that I think does make
your work really convincing is you have a great vision of
America, in that you look at the places that most people
don't look at.
And I'm wondering, you know--
the suburbs, the kind of empty parts of the bad cities, the
sin city in the latest book, the unky part of the cities
where people don't go.
And I'm wondering, when you create these places, do you
create them with an idea of, I'm going to have to stage a
scene here?
Are you like an architect and a city planner
as well as a writer?
LEE CHILD: Yeah, kind of.
Although a lot of that is just fascination generally.
Being an outsider, I see everything with a fresh eye.
And that is so valuable, I think.
I gloss over nothing, because I've never seen it before.
Any place I go to, I'm seeing for the first time, probably,
and it makes an impression.
And I see the parts that other people no longer see.
And I think that really comes through.
I think that's very important.
But yeah, I love the whole thing.
I love every scuzzy little thing, every big thing.
I was in Vegas one time, and we were in
this terrible hotel--
actually, I liked the hotel, but everybody else thought it
was terrible.
But across the street was this bar that was nothing but a
sort of rectangle made out of cinder blocks, painted dirty
white, probably painted white 18 years ago,
and it was all filthy.
No windows or anything like that.
It had a door-- it had no sign at all, but it had,
hand-painted with a fat paintbrush on the wall was its
Four words--
"Cold Beer,
Dirty Girls." [LAUGHTER]
LEE CHILD: What a place!
That's the sort of place that I love.
RICK KLEFFEL: Now I'd like you to talk a little bit about
plotting these books.
How much of this--
each of these books, what's so much fun is that we know
pretty much what to expect going into every book.
Yet you manage to, for 17 books, write books that each
book feels fresh.
They're fun, they're enjoyable, there's a really
powerful vision of America and a gut connection for the
reader there.
It seems like, as a writer, you must have a kind of Jack
Reacher nature, just to adapt to what you have to do.
LEE CHILD: Well, they're fresh because I took one key
decision at the very beginning, which was really
because I did not want to jump into the same river that
everybody else was in.
I saw no point in going head-to-head with established
people, in terms of the shape of their series.
And everybody else who writes a series, I think literally
everybody else at that time anyway, was writing a series
that was, broadly speaking, a soap opera--
either location-based or employment-based or both.
And typically, you would have a cop in LA or you would have
a private eye in Boston, or you would have a police
lieutenant in Chicago, and that was the series.
And it seemed to me that they were being done so well, why
compete with that head-to-head?
Plus, it also seemed to me the one smart thing I ever did,
the one inspired piece of thinking that I ever did, is
I'd looked ahead.
And you can't ever say, yeah, I'm going to write a book, and
18 years later, I'm still going to be doing it.
Because that's ridiculous.
That's very unlikely to happen.
But you have to take into account, maybe you will.
Maybe it might work, and maybe you will get 15 or
20 years into it.
How are you going to feel then?
And I felt that if I had done something that was
specifically based somewhere, in something, it would've
gotten very boring after, say, 10 books.
So if he had been a cop in New York, that would have limited
me to cop stuff in one particular city.
And I foresaw a problem with that, so I decided he would
have no job and no location, so that he could be anywhere
and do anything.
And that's what keeps it fresh for me.
And that also then liberates me to do the method that I
use, which is not to plot anything.
I don't plot, I don't outline, I don't think about it.
I just start him out somewhere and see what happens.
I have literally no concept of what the story is going to be
about or what the thing is going to be or how
it's going to end.
People say, what, you don't know how it's going to end?
I don't know what's going to happen in the next line.
And I don't want to know.
Because for me, the story is the magic.
And if I outlined it, which lots of writers do--
you know, they make an outline of varying degrees of detail.
If I did that, then I would have told myself the story.
I would know how it came out.
And I would be bored with it, and I would want to go on to
the next story.
If I then had to sit down and type out 500 pages worth of
that story, I would be bored, because
I know how it finishes.
It would be like doing it twice.
I only want to do it once.
So I start at the beginning with some kind of good idea
for the beginning, and then I see what happens.
And what happens is like real life.
We don't know.
We have no idea what's going to happen.
You don't know what's going to happen in one hour from now.
And that's how I write.
Page by page, it's all new to me.
RICK KLEFFEL: Well, one of the things I think you do very
well, too, is in the characters who appear, the
one-book characters, you do a great job of giving us
characters who have different levels of their faults.
They're incomplete.
In the latest book, we have Sheriff Goodman and we have a
couple of agents, and they all have problems.
They say, oh man, I made a mistake.
These are kind of flawed characters.
And I'd like you to talk about just crafting a novel where
the flaws of your characters help create the plot.
LEE CHILD: Well, we're very, very weird, writers, because
I'm not making up a character at all.
I'm meeting people.
These are real to me.
And that's the admission that you have to make.
You're sitting there at the computer, dealing with people
that are real.
To me, anyway, the events are real.
And often, my editor will say to me something like, wouldn't
it be better if this happened after that?
And I say, well, yeah, it probably would be
better, but it didn't.
LEE CHILD: Because it's really happening.
For the six months I'm writing the book, this is real.
And so these characters are just real people to me.
I sort of dream them up, but then there they are.
And I describe them, I let them do whatever it is they're
doing, and yeah, they're regular people.
They're good at some things, not good at other things.
And the flawed stuff-- you know, I try and stay away from
"flawed," in terms of, you know, how
literary theory goes.
You've got to have these flawed characters.
I don't like flawed characters.
I don't like miserable people with defects.
So as far as possible, I make the characters good at their
jobs, decent people.
But they do, they make errors, they make mistakes, they have
blind spots.
And that then creates opportunities
for the story, yeah.
RICK KLEFFEL: One of the things you've done very well,
too, is move through all sorts of different kind of genres, I
think, within your books.
The first book has, I think, a distinct element of the horror
genre in it.
It's the small town with a secret.
And you've had other books where they're
more a military slant.
Some are more a mystery slant.
And I'm wondering, is that something you just
discover as you write?
Or do you think, maybe it's time to do this kind of novel.
LEE CHILD: No, I'm fairly impatient about genre.
I think that this endless passing of genre--
is this suspense or is it romantic suspense or is it
horror or is it this or that--
I pay no attention to that at all.
Because for me as a reader--
and everything I do is based on how I feel as a reader.
For me as a reader, there are only two kinds of books.
There's the kind that will make you miss your stop on the
subway and the kind that don't.
It's that simple.
And the kind that make you miss your stop can be
nonfiction, could be history, could be politics, sociology.
If it's an engaging argument well told, then
you're in that book.
So I have no patience at all for, oh, I better do something
that's slightly more horror or slightly more mystery.
Like I say, just start at the beginning and
see what comes out.
And the image that I use to explain it is, you're like a
movie stunt man.
You've got to fall off that high building.
And out of sight of the camera in the street, there's a fire
department airbag that you're going to land on, or hopefully
you're going to land on it.
And it's a large airbag.
And in one corner it's marked "thriller," in one corner it's
marked "mystery," in one corner it's marked "suspense,"
in one corner it's marked "crime fiction." You're going
to land on that bag, but you don't know exactly where.
You might be nearer one corner than the other, but you only
know that retrospectively.
I don't set out thinking, OK, I'm going to write a
sociologically gripping crime fiction book.
I just write a book.
And somebody else reads it and says, oh, this is a
sociologically gripping crime fiction book.
And I say, OK, fine, whatever.
RICK KLEFFEL: As a keen observer of American society
and mores, I think one of things you do is really give
us a raw feeling for the way we look and the way we live.
And I think that's really part and parcel, that's probably
why your books are described as
quintessential American books.
LEE CHILD: Yeah, probably.
It probably takes a foreigner to observe this stuff in that
kind of detail or with that kind of perspective.
I don't know.
But you mentioned Sherlock Holmes earlier on, and that's
indicative of the relationship that a writer has with the
apparent effect.
Because Sherlock Holmes, I love Sherlock Holmes.
But from a writer's perspective, it's just the
most outrageous con trick of all time.
Because you've got Sherlock Holmes, who's whatever he's
doing, smoking his pipe, he's looking out the window of
Baker Street, and he sees this guy walking towards his door.
And he says to Watson, ah, Watson, clearly this is a
baker from Shoreditch whose been out of work for exactly
nine months.
And sure enough, the guy shows up in the living room, and he
says he's a baker from Shoreditch whose been out of
work for nine months, and Sherlock Holmes
looks like a genius.
Except it's Conan Doyle who's writing both ends of that
Of course he's right.
In reality, the guy would come up and say, no, I'm not.
I'm a bricklayer from Islington, or
something like that.
So with all of this so-called perception, it looks great,
because I'm defining both ends of the deal.
So it's largely an illusion, more than anything else.
RICK KLEFFEL: Oh, that's, I think, the real key to being
an effective writer of anything is the release of
And one of the things that you do very well, especially in
the latest book, is we see this set of events and we know
this, and we see that set of events and we know that, and
we know everything that's going on.
And as readers, part of the fun for us is to see the
characters catch up with us.
LEE CHILD: Yeah, there's two ways of doing it.
You either state the circumstances and let the
reader be more powerful than the characters, or vice versa.
You have a kind a confusing mystery and the characters
lead the reader through it.
Both ways work really well.
Because there's really only one technique that works in a
book of this type, in my opinion, a suspense book.
I mean, suspense is a strange word to use for a book,
because all books have suspense in them.
Otherwise, why would anybody ever finish one?
There's got to be some reason why you keep going to the end.
But I suppose what we call suspense fiction emphasizes
the suspense.
And you get into all kinds of--
there are dozens of classes and dozens of courses, and
they all have--
one of their modules is entitled, how
do you create suspense?
And my feeling about that is that the very form of that
question immediately leads you down the wrong path.
Because the form of the question, how do you create
suspense, is a kind of active question, similar to how do
you bake a cake?
And we all know how to bake a cake, or at least,
theoretically we do.
Not that I've ever baked one, but I've seen it done.
And what you do with baking a cake is you have some
ingredients and you have the clear implication that the
higher quality the ingredients, the better the
cake is going to be.
You've know you've got to mix these ingredients together,
again with the clear implication that the more
thoroughly and conscientiously you mix them together, the
better the cake will be.
You then put it in the oven, with the implication that the
more exact the temperature and timing, the better
the cake will be.
So you immediately start to think of that
as a process question.
And it's the wrong question for suspense.
The real question is not how do you bake a cake?
It is, how do you make your family hungry?
And the way you make your family hungry is you make them
wait four hours for dinner.
And that's what you do with a book.
You imply a question, and then you do not answer it until the
end of the book.
And you do that, as you go along, in miniature.
You imply a question and you don't answer it until the end
of the chapter or the end of the paragraph.
Or even your sentence construction, you flip it
around so that the first half of the sentence is answered by
the second half of the sentence.
And that creates this unstoppable momentum.
Because if there's one thing that humans are hard-wired to
do, it is to wait around for the answer to a question.
We learned that in television a long time ago.
I worked in television from the end of the '70s to the
middle of the '90s, and a huge revolution went on in
the way we did it.
There was something that nobody had in 1980 that
everybody had in 1990 that absolutely revolutionized the
way that we worked.
And you notice I haven't said what it was.
You're now thinking, well, what did nobody have in 1980?
Because I've implied a question, and I'm not
answering it.
And you want to know, right?
What nobody had in 1980 and they did have in 1990 was a
remote control.
So in the old days, your sequencing of programming, you
could get away with a lot.
Because if somebody wanted to change the channel, they'd
have to get their ass off the sofa and go and do it.
And you could rely on the fact that they probably wouldn't.
By 1990, it was dead easy to change channels.
They would be flipping around to see if anything stopped.
The end of a part, a commercial, anything, they
would be changing channels like mad.
And we had to work out a way of defeating that.
And we started out, we invented a process that still
exists in sports now.
Its last remnant is visible in sports, particularly baseball,
where during the fourth inning, typically in the
fourth inning of baseball, people have got some idea of
the way the game is going.
Their initial impulse to watch baseball is fading away.
So at the end of the top of the fourth, you
ask a trivia question.
Like, who was the pitcher who gave up Lou Gehrig's first
grand slam?
And then you do the commercials, and then you
answer the trivia question at the beginning of the bottom of
the fourth.
And even if you know who gave up Lou Gehrig's first grand
slam, even if you don't care, even if you've never heard of
Lou Gehrig, even if you don't know what a grand slam is,
there is something that makes you want to stick around for
that answer.
And that's very powerful with humans.
And that's the way to create suspense.
You ask a question, and then you refuse to answer it for
hundreds of pages.
And people will stick around for it.
And the key text in that area is a book by John Grisham.
You know, John Grisham's a very popular author, often
overlooked in terms of quality.
But he's a very smart guy, Grisham, I think, and
underestimated in terms of how experimental he is.
And he did this one book called "The Runaway Jury." And
none of the classic elements are present in "The Runaway
Jury." People tell you you've got to have sympathetic
characters that you care about, so you follow them
through their perils, and all that kind of stuff.
"Runaway Jury" has got no sympathetic characters.
It has bad guys and worse guys.
It has nothing in it whatsoever, except what is the
verdict going to be in this trial?
And that's the only question.
And you read that book like a locomotive, because you need
the answer.
RICK KLEFFEL: Now, what shows did you work on?
LEE CHILD: When I was in television?
I worked for Granada Television in Manchester,
England, which was at that time a tremendous drama
producer, also documentary producer.
But drama-wise, you saw it all over "Masterpiece Theatre." We
did "Brideshead Revisited," "Jewel in the Crown," "Prime
Suspect," "Cracker," all those great British shows.
RICK KLEFFEL: Well, that explains that.
Now one of things that I think makes these books really fun
to read, too, is you have a very absolutely
deadpan sense of humor.
I mean, it's just smashed to the ground and so flat we can
barely see it, but it's really there.
And your books, they're hilarious.
LEE CHILD: I think so, yeah.
I mean, a lot of people wouldn't--
you know, humor is not the first thing people think about
when they think about a Reacher book, but I think he's
very funny.
But yeah, very subliminal stealth humor, very sardonic.
And I like those parts a lot.
I liked writing them, yeah.
RICK KLEFFEL: As you've been creating the character, one of
things that's nice about him is that even though he lives
entirely outside of society, and he's I guess what you'd
call off the grid, he has none of the kind of unsavory taint
of a survivalist or somebody who claims to be off the grid.
And that's a delicate balancing act,
I think, for you.
LEE CHILD: Yeah, I mean, off the grid does imply that
you're some kind of weirdo or you are planning secession,
you know, you want to make Montana a
separate country or something.
And he's not that kind of off the grid person.
He just doesn't want to live anywhere.
He doesn't want the hassle of owning a house or
dealing with anything.
So he takes advantage of the available infrastructure,
which is fantastic in America.
You have a constant parade of diners and motels and little
stores and diners and motels.
Why would anybody do it any different,
is Reacher's opinion.
For $20 a night, you can find a place to stay.
You can buy a new outfit for $25, $30.
You can eat in a diner for $4 or $5.
Why would he want a house?
He has this rigorously logical approach.
What would a house bring him that he wants?
And the answer is nothing.
So it's not so much that he's off the grid.
He is just a wanderer.
RICK KLEFFEL: Yeah, that's true, because it's not like
he's opposed to government or the rules of society.
LEE CHILD: No, he was respectful of the
hierarchy in the Army.
He's got no problem with hierarchy in general or
government or anything like that.
It's purely utilitarian for him.
Why doesn't he carry a cell phone?
Well, who would ever call him?
There's no point in it.
So he won't do anything that there's no point in.
RICK KLEFFEL: Well, of course if you told everybody here 20
years ago the government's going to strap a radio control
device so we can locate you at any moment?
And I think that's in this book, too.
LEE CHILD: Yeah, I think that is fantastic, actually.
You know, think back 20, 25 years.
If a bill had gone to Congress saying that every American
must wear a wireless transponder so they can be
tracked everywhere all the time, there would have been
total outrage.
But of course we've done it to ourselves voluntarily, which
is very strange.
RICK KLEFFEL: Along with ubiquitous
surveillance, too, since--
LEE CHILD: Yeah, but not as bad as it is
in London, for instance.
I mean, that really is a surveillance society.
One quarter of the entire planet's CCTV
cameras are in London.
And any person, anyone of you goes to London for some
reason, you are on some camera all day and all night.
It's really bizarre.
RICK KLEFFEL: Now, do we have any
questions from the audience?

So this is not quite about your writing style, but more
about sort of your opinion.
So as you know, there's a movie coming out, and I was
curious to know your thoughts of the casting.
I bring this up because, obviously, Jack Reacher is
6'5" and he's fair-haired and blond-eyed.
And then in the movie, he's not quite
depicted the same way.
He's a lot shorter, and darker-haired, et cetera.
So I also saw his face on one of your books at the airport,
and so I was like, oh my god, that's like totally not
So I was just kind of curious of your thoughts on that.
Like did you have any say?
Or was it just kind of like, surprise!
LEE CHILD: No, not contractually, not legally,
because typically, a movie contract is very, very
And a movie contract is a hilarious thing, legally.
It's, generally speaking, longer than the book.
And it has all kinds of bizarre clauses.
By the time you reach page 400, you realize what it is
you're actually selling.
And What you're selling is a license for a dramatic
production to be shown anywhere
in the known universe.
And then there's a rider saying, "or parts not yet
It's an immense, it's a huge, binding
thing, a movie contract.
Really, if an author asks for approval or veto or anything
like that, that's the same thing as just not selling it.
Because they won't do it.
Because it needs to be done--
it can't be done by committee.
This is their project.

But having said all of that, the people that made this
movie are out and out crazed Reacher fans.
They totally are.
They know as much as he does about the books.
They have read the books obsessively.
They love the character.
So they were very, very nice to me.
They included me at every step of the way, I bet more than
any author has ever been included.
And of course, there were two key points.
People say, did I have a say?
And I say, yes I did.
I had 100% total control.
Because it was my choice whether to sell it or not.
If I sold it to the movies, that's one decision.
If I didn't, that's another decision.
So there is 100% control.
And then what happened, the movie took a long time to get
off the ground.
Because it's complicated making movies.
Everybody's got to say yes on the same day.
And then the odds against that happening are like winning the
Power Ball.
So it takes years and years and years.
And of course during those years and years and years, the
books were doing very well.
The books were growing bigger and bigger and bigger as a
book franchise.
So by the time the movie actually went into production,
the books were important enough in the world that they
had to approach it very respectfully.
Not that they wouldn't have wanted to, because like I
said, they were big fans of the books.
But it did mean I was included more.
Not so much because they needed my input on anything,
because they were completely sure about how to do it.
It wasn't that they wanted my input.
They just wanted to kind of celebrate with me.
Look, we're doing this.
This is happening, it's working,
it's going to be here.
So I was very involved.
And again, there was a point where the financer was there,
the whole thing was rolling, it was just about the cast,
who was going to be cast.
And we went to dinner, and they said, we want Tom Cruise
to play Reacher.
And I know for a fact that if I had freaked out at that
point, they would have abandoned it, I'm certain.
But I didn't freak out.
Because in a wider sense--
and this is something, again, that fascinates me, that a
book exists entirely in the imaginative realm.
And I honestly believe that a book is a two-way transaction,
that my imagination, specifically, and your
imagination, specifically, together create the book.
I've put something into it.
The act of reading, you've put something into it.
Then the book exists.
And it can be incredibly vivid and incredibly detailed and
But it's in the imaginative realm.
There is no reality to it.
Then if you want to make a movie out of it, even though
the movie is, again, fiction and it's a story and it's full
of magic and tricks and all that kind of stuff,
fundamentally a movie exists in the physical world.
It's no longer purely imaginative.
It's in the physical world, because you've got to have
real people and they're acting in real spaces.
And so you jump from the imaginative to the physical.
And as soon as you do that, the physical reality starts to
define things.
In terms of the casting, for instance, the physical reality
is that the actor has to exist.
It's that simple.
You've got to choose one of the pool of existing actors.
And so yeah, Reacher is 6'5" in the books, and he's ugly,
and he's got scars, and he's generally speaking a little
bit sort of beat-up-looking and huge and so on.
So you think, fine.
So you go to Hollywood, and you start to
look for that actor.
You're not going to find that actor, because that
actor does not exist.
There's something about the technology of film, and
cameras in general--
and again, I learned this years ago on television--
there is something odd about the lens that will not
accommodate big people.
Which is really why there are no big actors.
There are literally no big actors, none at all.
And so if you're going to make a movie, you've got to deal
with the existing pool of real physical actors, and you've
got to pick one.
And therefore, it becomes immediately apparent that
there's no way we're going to get an exact physical match
for Reacher, because that actor does not exist.
And you can say, well, yeah, but what about this guy?
What about that guy?
What about this other guy?
And that conversation has been going on for
a year and a half.
What about this guy?
Well, that guy's dead.
LEE CHILD: What about this guy?
Well, that guy's 103 years old.
And so it goes back and forth, and you end up with a kind of
short list of potential suggestions, all of whom are
not very big.
Because as I said, there are no big actors.
You're talking about this guy who's two inches bigger than
this other guy, and they're both eight inches shorter than
Reacher, so why worry about it?
So what I wanted to do, ultimately, in that
split-second that I had to think about it in that
restaurant when they told me that they want to cast Tom
Cruise, is it was clear that we were never going to get the
outside of Reacher, because that is just not available.
So what I wanted to do was to get the inside of Reacher, as
close as possible.
And again, I know actors.
I've worked with them all my life.
When I was 22 years old, almost 23 to be fair, I worked
with four actors--
Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud, Alec Guinness, and
Ralph Richardson, who were pretty heavyweight actors.
And so I'm familiar with actors.
I know what they can do.
You can sort of look at their past body of work and you can
figure out what are they capable of.
And I felt that Cruise was absolutely 100% capable of
doing the inside of Reacher, the stillness, the quiet, the
menace, the intensity--
he could do that.
And therefore, I was really happy about it.
Really happy about it.
And I've seen the movie twice, and he absolutely nails it.
So it's this very strange thing.
It's like looping the loop in a small airplane.
You have to go away from the book in order to
come back to it.
And you know, the casting has caused a lot of consternation.
And I'm deeply grateful about that, frankly, because the
idea that I've created this character that people actually
care who plays him in the movies is a wonderful thing.
That's the biggest possible compliment.
I'm thrilled by it.
But we are in this awkward situation at the moment where
the movie comes out December 21st.
And I sincerely hope you go see it, because if you do see
it, you're going to think, you know what?
That was pretty good, because he nails it.
RICK KLEFFEL: Well, one of the things that struck me when you
were talking was how vivid your books are as reading
And I think that's one of the things that makes them so
powerful to us.
And I think this kind of work stands right next to any
kitchen-window epiphany piece of literature, I think, in
terms of connecting to our narrative reading instincts.
So I'd like you to talk a little bit about connecting
with readers on that level of language, that kind of reptile
level of experience.
LEE CHILD: Yeah, well, I think that part of the answer to
that is what I said earlier, at the beginning of the movie
answer, which is that it is a two-way street.
I don't think we can underestimate that.
I don't mean in terms of the work done.
I do all the work.
You have all the fun.
But your imagination is just as crucial in this transaction
as mine is.
It's a collaborative exercise.
RICK KLEFFEL: It's what you leave out.
And therefore, actually, if you leave stuff out, if you
leave the characters and the situation as an empty vessel,
to a certain extent, that leaves room for the reader's
imagination to swarm in there and fill in the details with
their own convictions.
And I think that's what makes a successful reading
Give the reader enough room to do some of it themselves.
Because Reacher, for instance, is never really described
other than very vaguely.
His general shape and size, his general hair color or
whatever-- he's not really described at all.
And yet everybody has a very specific image of what he
looks like, and that's because they're investing.
You know, the room is there, and they're occupying it with
their own projection.
And I think that is what makes--
it's my reptile brain connected to theirs, and
together, we're creating the story.
And I think the sort of books that don't work are the sort
of books that over-specify everything and try and
dominate the reader, try and command the reader, rather
than give the reader room and opportunity.
RICK KLEFFEL: Now, one of the things that we like about
these books is the way, from book to book, we never know
what's going to happen with Reacher and the
women in the books.
And I think you seem to have a little bit of a devil in you,
with regards to that.
LEE CHILD: Well, you know, the women in the books, there's
been a couple of books where he does not get laid.
And you know, that is a tragedy, really.
LEE CHILD: But like I said, I don't plan it.
And it got to the fifth book, I think, and
there was this lawyer.
I think she was called Alice.
She was a lawyer down in Texas.
She was from New York, and she's representing
disadvantaged people in Texas.
And she was this really nice character.
So I was imagining, sure, OK, here we go.
This is the love interest in this book.
But then she sort of turned out to be gay.
There was this little exchange where she just, she was gay,
and that was that.
And so he was unrequited in that book.
But generally speaking, yeah, you know, think about it from
my point of view.
Like I said, these people are real to me.
So I'm sitting there in my office, and I'm going to spend
five or six months with a made-up woman.
And you'd better believe she's going to be cute.
LEE CHILD: I mean, why would I make up a
woman that was a dog?
You know?
I want to have a good six months.
So I'm sitting there with this made-up person, and yeah,
she's going to be cool.
And so I'm into her, Reacher's going to be into her.
RICK KLEFFEL: I believe that our time
is up for this afternoon.
Ladies and gentlemen, we've been privileged to have with
us one of America's, and the world's, foremost
writers, Lee Child.
And you can buy his books.
He'll sign them.
I'd say buy this one.
If you've never read him before, you have 16 fabulous
books to read.
It's the thrill of looking forward to
stuff, to these books.
You'll find out.
You will find out.
LEE CHILD: Thank you.
RICK KLEFFEL: Thank you very much.