A Q&A with Jon Land, author of
Black Scorpion: The Tyrant Reborn
Release Date: April 7th, 2015
448 Pages, Forge Books
1. Can you tell us a bit about Black Scorpion: The Tyrant Reborn? I think it’s the most ambitious book I’ve ever done in terms of character, emotion and story. I say that not only because of its epic-like structure, but mostly because I’ve never written a book before that challenges its characters in so many ways. It challenges them with truth and the reality of their own natures contrasted against their fates, testing especially Michael Tiranno’s capacity to exceed his own limitations. He has become a classical, almost mythic hero in terms of the losses he suffers and stunning revelations about his own fate he must accept. All the while confronting a villain just as powerful as he is with whom he unknowingly shares an indelible bond. Great villains, they say, make great heroes and that’s truly the case here as Michael confronts an all-powerful criminal organization with a plot to do incredible harm to the country and world in the offing. To stop them, Michael must become a different man than he is when the book starts out, he must evolve, literally, into something more and accepting that fate comes to define both him as a hero and the story as a whole.
2. What drew you to write thriller and mystery novels? Well, as the great Robert Louis Stevenson once said, You can only write what you would read if someone else had written it. So when I chose to be a writer, or should I say when writing chose me, I gravitated to what came most naturally to me. I’d grown up reading all of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels while away at camp for the summer, this after falling in love with the early films starring Sean Connery as Bond. The structure of those films has been more influential in my writing than any other individual factor. As I got older while in college, I began devouring the books of Stephen King, Robert Ludum, Clive Cussler and David Morrell—all great storytellers above everything else, and I realized that’s what I wanted to be too.
3. When did you first start writing? This is kind of interesting, because not until college at Brown University. And even then I never took a writing class. I majored in English and American Literature and fell under the influence of some incredible professors who introduced me to the novel, the whole concept of structure. Around the same time, I realized how much I actually loved the process of writing. I did a term paper on Huck Finn that the professor liked so much he recommended I try publishing it. A light bulb went off in my head and from that day I’ve been obsessed with seeing my name in print, especially in big bold letters on my book covers! I actually wrote my first novel as a senior thesis. It wasn’t very good, but I proved to myself I could do it and was able to work out all he kinks while receiving course credit for it. The best of both worlds, you might say and I remain eternally indebted to Brown for providing the liberal educational experience that allowed to be what I’ve become. It was always about the process and I fell in love with starting with the a blank page of paper and watching what happens from there.
4) What are your other interests besides writing? I’m a gym rat, especially when it comes to weightlifting. Healthy mind, healthy body as the saying goes. I also remain very active at Brown volunteering in any number of capacities that allow me to remain close to the undergraduate community. I’m Alumni President of my own fraternity, Delta Phi, and serve as Alumni Advisor to Brown’s entire Greek System. I’m also Vice President of the Brown Football Association and sit on the board of the Friends of the Library. Libraries are another passion of mine, as they should be for all writers. Libraries are ambassadors of the written word and its sustenance and at Brown I organize big events around name authors like George R.R. Martin to share my love for books and the place of books within pop culture as a whole. I also serve on the board of the International Thriller Writers organization, ITW, because another passion of mine is helping to promote our genre in general and ITW member authors in particular. ITW’s mission statement is all about the haves helping the not-yet-haves in a very difficult profession and I remain very passionate about that as well.
5) When do you find the time to write? Well, it’s my job. When does a doctor find the time, a lawyer or a teacher? Just because I love what I do doesn’t make it any less of a job, any less of a profession. I can’t see my name in those big bold letters if I don’t write the book. I’m very disciplined about my work but, fortunately, I also write very fast to the point where I can finish a first draft in 7-8 weeks. Of course, great books are made in the rewrite process and that’s where I truly excel. To me the first draft is about getting it down and the rest of the process is about getting it right. And that’s the thing about a career as a writer. It’s not just the writing, but also the promoting, the conferences, the book festivals, the signings, Twitter, interviews, Q & As. But here’s the thing about me: I enjoy all of that, every part of it, especially any opportunity I have to interact directly with my readers.
6) Where is your favorite place to write? The second bedroom in my townhouse is my office and it’s pretty much where I do all my writing. The key in this business, any business to some extent, is to find your comfort zone—where, how and when you best excel. I know where all the bodies are buried in my office and it’s very easy for me to bounce around between different things demanding my attention because I’ve laid all the clutter out in a way that facilitates that. I’ve got everything placed just where I want it and where it needs to be. If only life could be that simple!
7) You have written a number of series; is this one of your favorite to write? Frankly, no, that would be my Caitlin Strong Texas Ranger series. I’m not saying the books in that series are better than Black Scorpion because I think in many ways Black Scorpion is the most ambitious and best realized book in terms of vision I’ve ever written. I’m talking about the process. Black Scorpion is work for hire and I have an obligation to serve the needs of the Tyrant character’s creator, Fabrizio Boccardi. That robs this series, and me, of the spontaneity that defines me as a writer, since I don’t outline. Writing with someone looking over your shoulder isn’t nearly as fun or gratifying. But, that said, the end result of both this book and its prequel, The Seven Sins, proves I’m capable of adapting. Fabrizio isn’t a writer or a storyteller and he doesn’t grasp all the intricacies of structure. But he has wonderful instincts that are right more often than not and form the perfect complement to my experience and talents. Look, Michael Tiranno is his baby. He turned him over to me to build but he could never be expected to let him go altogether. Ultimately, I think we work so well together because our passion is balanced by our willingness to compromise toward telling the best story we possibly can. It may drive me crazy at times, but the ends justify the means.
8) How do you approach writing a book like Black Scorpion? It all starts with the hero, Michael Tiranno. I started Black Scorpion with the premise that in the five years since the events depicted in The Seven Sins, Michael hasn’t changed very much. He’s still pretty much the same man we left at the end of the first book, a tyrant consumed by his desire to expand his empire and holdings. The whole essence of Black Scorpion is watching him evolve into something entirely different—still a tyrant, yes, but a tyrant for good. A superhero without a mask or cape. We watch his view of his entire place in the world change, forced upon him by the shattering truths and tragedy he encounters along the way. And in that respect his quest changes from the pursuit of riches and power to self-fulfillment and self-actualization. So now, above everything else, Michael Tiranno’s character is defined by his obsession for standing up for those who can’ t stand up for themselves. Bullies aren’t confined to the schoolyard and he won’t tolerate them under any circumstances. He’s spent his life trying to find the security he lost that day his parents were murdered and once there he uses the power that comes with it to defend those who need him the most. My point is your hero defines the very nature of a book with the sprawl and ambition of Black Scorpion. The book will rise or fall based on how the audience responds to him and you have to approach a book like this with that in mind.
9) Is there anything you would like to say to your readers and fans? Thank you, because without you I’m nothing. I can only be a writer if you’re reading what I’ve written. And I remain extremely humbled by the whole nature of the relationship between the writer. It’s a sacred pact, not much different than reading or telling a child a bedtime story. It comes with an intimacy that defies explanation. That a reader is wiling to bring me, through my work, into their lives by letting me entertain them, sweep them away from the mundane world into one of my own creation, brings with it an awesome responsibility and the very worst thing I can do as a writer is disappoint my audience—the moral equivalency of breaking that sacred pact.
10) Tell us where we can find your book and more information about you. To use the cliché, accurate in this case, wherever books are sold or is most convenient for you. As for me, you can find me on the Web at jonlandbooks.com or follow me on Twitter @jondland. I promise to keep you entertained there too!