Words of Wisdom from Lee Child

image1 lee child

Vicki Doudera here.

Did any of my fellow Mainers catch WCSH’s “207” last night?  An interview with British thriller writer Lee Child was broadcast as part of the “Writers On A New England Stage” series at The Music Hall in Portsmouth.  

The author interviews on 207 are really terrific, and I feel fortunate to have been on the show several times myself. The hosts always seem to tease unusual details from the folks they feature, and even though Lee Child’s interview was not actually done by 207, it certainly met their high standards.

A little background in case you aren’t familiar with this masterful writer. His series follows the adventures of a former American Military Policeman, Jack Reacher, and his debut book, KILLING FLOOR, won the Anthony Award for Best First Novel. The latest one is called A WANTED MAN.  In December the film JACK REACHER hits theatres, with Tom Cruise in the title role. (There’s been a fair amount of controversy around the casting for the film, but Lee Child has stood behind the movie and its lead star.) 

Trailer for the JACK REACHER movie…


Enough Hollywood – back to the 207 interview.

I learned several interesting things last night, two of which I’ll mention here.  One was that Child (real name Jim Grant) dislikes coming up with names for his characters and finds it an extremely difficult process.  He thought up the name for his protagonist because his wife told him that if he had trouble landing a job, he could always be a “reacher” – someone able to grab items on high shelves in grocery stores. Child had, as Oprah would call it, an “aha” moment and Jack Reacher was born.

The second thing I gleaned from this interview was the author’s disdain for old “write what you know” saw, which I’ve always found kind of ridiculous, too.  Sure, my protagonist Darby Farr is a real estate agent and I am, too, but her profession is truly a minor point in the stories.  Much of what I write I don’t “know,”  but I can imagine, or research.  Case in point:   I’ve never murdered anyone!  (Although I can’t speak for my fellow Maine Crime Writers…)

Child suggested that we “write what we feel” rather than what we know.  I may not be a 27-year-old Asian American, as is my protagonist, but I’ve certainly felt out of place, as she did in A HOUSE TO DIE FOR, or confused about family, as she was in KILLER LISTING, or desperately worried about a dear friend, as Darby was in the most recent book in the series, DEADLY OFFER. Yeah — unfortunately I’ve felt all of these things, enough to make Darby come alive on the page. 

“Write what you feel “ seems to me to be good advice. What do you think?

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9 Responses to Words of Wisdom from Lee Child

  1. Joan Emerson says:

    So who created the “rule” in the first place? I’ve always heard this “write what you know” conventionalism offered up as one of the cornerstones of writing, but Mr. Child’s “write what you feel” makes so much more sense. [And the author’s success with his Jack Reacher stories certainly brooks no disagreement with this philosophy. His latest, “A Wanted Man,” is “can’t-put-it-down” terrific.]

    I chuckled over how Mr. Child came to Jack Reacher’s name . . . you’ve just got to love those “aha” epiphanies!

    • I agree, Joan — channeling emotions is a much more powerful way to right, and yes, it seems to have worked for Mr. Child!

      I wondered if everyone already knew the genesis of Reacher’s name, but since I had never heard the story, thought I would share it.

  2. Deanna says:

    I want the answer to your question from the other Maine Crime Writers. The one that said you could not speak for them. ROFL
    Yes, the advice seem fine. The casting does not. Dee

  3. Lea Wait says:

    OK. Dee! No, I’ve never killed anyone either! Been angry enough, maybe! But, no. I like that “write what you feel,” too. And would add, “what would you learn,” too. Research, research, research ……

  4. thelma straw says:

    This was fun! I’ve been a Reacher fan since book one!
    You will all get a barrel of chuckles at my blog on Reacher and Cruise this coming Sunday, Sept. 23 , at http://www.crimewriters.blogspot.com Thelma Straw in Manhattan who LOVES Maine!

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