Thursday, September 25, 2014


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


Jenny Milchman said...

How I admire you, Jon! I think your take is spot-on-the-money, but have trouble with this ground it in fact element myself.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts and approach. Congrats on the new book!

Jon Land said...

Thanks, Jenny. It's not necessarily easy to do and should never be forced. In most cases, I try to figure out what the story needs before I go about trying to find it. Make sense?

Susan C. Philpott said...

Very interesting post. I often use headlines, as well. Several years ago there was a story in the news of a woman & child who were shuttled across the country on a modern underground railroad in an effort to save the daughter from her allegedly abusive father. The story stuck with me and became the basis of my new novel, Blown Red. When in doubt, I find that news stories provide excellent fodder for the idea machine. p.s. Love your books!

Jon Land said...

Thanks, Susan, and it seems we are of the same mind on such things. Stories like the one you reference make great jumping off points for thrillers. Normally the ones I rely on are more oriented around science and technology--same thing happened more recently when a New York Times article about genetically engineered insects became the basis for STRONG LIGHT OF DAY, my next Caitlin Strong book. But the fact that this modern underground railroad is real adds impact and resonance to your tale. Definitely makes me want to read it!

Jocie McKade said...

I love your "Strong" series. Not only are they way too close to reality for comfort!!!! But I love Caitlin - she is strong, flawed, and not perfect and perky. Can't wait to dig into this one!