by Jon Land
Crafting solid fiction these days, especially thrillers, inevitably means relying on facts. But STRONG DARKNESS, the sixth entry in my Caitlin Strong Texas
Ranger series, has several crucial plot points drawn from the newspaper instead of purely my imagination. Let’s begin from where the book’s concept came.
Did you know that the Chinese built America’s 4G wireless network?
Hey, don’t feel stupid; I didn’t know it either, but they did. It was constructed by a Chinese-owned company called Shinzen based, coincidentally, in
Plano, Texas. The night I saw that story on 60 Minutes, STRONG DARKNESS was born with the prototypical What if? question; in this case
what if a powerful Chinese billionaire wins the contract to build the 5G network as part of a plot to seek vengeance against the United States? No way I
could have pulled that off in fiction if it didn’t have an actual basis in fact, no way. But it did, lending the book added relevance and establishing the
kind of credibility that’s crucial for a thriller to succeed. When somebody says, “You can’t make this stuff up,” they might as well be talking about that.
So why does Li Zhen, the book’s villain, hate America so much? Glad you asked! And to answer that question I went back into the past, incorporating a
historical subplot based in 1883 when Chinese laborers were greatly responsible for expanding rail lines through Texas. That historical subplot features
Caitlin’s great-grandfather, William Ray Strong, also a Texas Ranger, tracking the Old West’s first serial killer whose victims are all young Chinese
women. But something else happened in that railroad camp somehow linked to Li Zhen’s motivation for revenge. Fiction from fact again, in other words, even
before I decided to team the fictional William Ray Strong with the very real infamous hanging judge Roy Bean (who actually only hung a single man, but
that’s another story).
And I didn’t stop there. The modern day, and very real, scourge of human trafficking plays a major role in STRONG DARKNESS through one of the major
characters who was a victim of it herself. She’s after her own vengeance and that brings her across the path of Caitlin Strong. One of my favorite moments
in the book is a simple phone call between the two of them, because it highlights Caitlin’s flaws and the darkness in her own past. But that scene is so
effective because the pain feels real and to a very large degree it is. Fact into fiction again.
I also chose to open the book with a thinly disguised version of the Westboro Baptist Church picketing a young veteran’s funeral. I did that simply to give
Caitlin somebody to bulldoze into a drainage ditch (Hey, it beats shooting them!) But the scene played so well, and resounded so smartly, I decided to
bring the evil preacher back for a well-placed encore later in the book and, again, the emotional resonance comes from the fact behind the fiction.
Want more? How about the Deep Web, cell phone technology, voting machines, the Cloud—whoa, I’m on the edge of my seat just thinking about what I wrote and
I’m predicting you’ll have the same experience when you read it.
Now, that’s a fact.
What's your favorite example(s) of fact meeting fiction in a thriller? I'd love to hear from you. And, feel free to pick at least one from your own work!
Jon Land is the USA Today bestselling author of 37 novels, including the critically acclaimed series featuring female Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong: STRONG ENOUGH
TO DIE, STRONG JUSTICE, STRONG AT THE BREAK, STRONG VENGEANCE and STRONG RAIN FALLING which won both the 2013 USA Best Book Award and the 2014
International Book Award in the Mystery/Suspense category. Jon lives in Providence, Rhode Island and can be found on the Web at
Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong takes on a vengeful Chinese billionaire with a plot to murder tens of millions of Americans.
"Once again Jon Land outdoes himself! In BLACK SCORPION, the story of the charismatic Tyrant (introduced in The Seven Sins) unfolds across a wider
canvass, revealing the breadth of Land's talent at storytelling and sheer bravado plotting. It's the exact sort of story I love: combining historical
mysteries with ripped-from-the-headlines authenticity. If you've never read Jon Land before, do so now. Start with this book, and you'll know why I'm
such a huge fan!"
--James Rollins, New York Times bestseller of THE 6th EXTINCTION