Noted thriller writer John SandfordÂ made a rare mid-Michigan appearance last night at the Okemos Schuler Books and Music to promote his newest book â€œBad Bloodâ€. Sandford is best known for his â€œPreyâ€ Â novels featuring Minneapolis detective Lucas Davenport, but he is on the road promoting his relatively new series that features police detective Virgil Flowers. He has written four novels in that series which grew out of the â€œPreyâ€ franchise.
Â Fans have adopted the one-name moniker since â€œpreyâ€ is in the title of all 20 â€œPreyâ€ books. Flowers was first showcased in the book, â€œInvisible Preyâ€. Admiring fans took to standing in the aisles to hear one of of best thriller writers in the business explain his craft. As an added bonus he spent a good 10 minutes ranting about the bosses in the newspaper industry. One fan brought more than 60 Sandford books for signing and even showed Sandford some quirks about his own books.
John Sandford, a pseudonym for John Camp, also wrote four books in what are called the â€œKiddâ€ series before moving on to the Davenport books which feature a tough Midwestern detective who leads an elite group in the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. The unit gets all the tough cases and is under constant criticism from the media and traditional law enforcement agencies.
Sandford said that although his Kidd books were somewhat successful, it wasnâ€™t until his agent had a conversation with him about what makes a best-selling thriller that his writing jumped to the next level.
â€œI learned about using gravity, a back story and writing to a certain length.
The real magic for me was when I was writing the first Davenport thriller (Deadly Prey).â€
My co-workers (at the St. Paul Pioneer Press) would see me wandering around the skywalks. I could barely stand work. I would literally spend 14 or more hours thinking about the book and writing. It was the most obsessed time in my whole life.â€
At the time, Camp was already a successful newspaper reporter and columnist, but he yearned to be a fiction writer. Some of that may have come from associates in his previous job at the Miami Herald where Edna Buchanan and Karl Hiassen, both successful mystery and thriller writers, shared the newsroom with him.
â€œI had a good job, but when I analyzed it I didnâ€™t have enough to send my kids to state college. It just freaked me out.â€
Then in one day Camp landed book contracts totalling $800,000.
â€œI went from nothing to everything in one hour.â€
Camp now Sandford, to his soon to be adoring fans, would help create a Midwestern style of thriller different from that being written on the coasts.
â€œItâ€™s much easier to write about a place you live in. There are things you donâ€™t find out about unless itâ€™s the place you live.â€
He doesnâ€™t believe the Midwestern approach has hindered his writing in any way. Pointing to the late mystery writer Tony Hillerman who sets his books in Four Corners (New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Colorado) he said, â€œYou write it as a national story.â€
Sandford said he is still drawing on his experiences as a newspaper writer to bring a sense of reality to his books.
He points to one series where he spent a month in a state prison researching a specialized training program which was primarily made up of lifers.
â€œ I talked to all the killers in prison and that experience allows me to visualize prisons.â€
The most recent Virgil Flowersâ€™ book â€œBad Bloodâ€ which takes place in farm country likely draws on his Pulitzer series on farming. Although the Prey and Flowers series are vastly different, both series have unusual plots, characters and settings accompanied with great dialogue. And letâ€™s not forget violence and sex.
This time Flowers is sent to investigate a cut and dried murder of a farmer by a hometown football hero who then hangs himself in prison. Asking â€œwhyâ€ leads to a complicated story of a long-held community secret and a suspenseful ending which is a trademark of any Sandford book.
Whatâ€™s coming up for Sandford and his â€œPreyâ€ series is in a way a spoiler.
â€œI think Iâ€™m coming to the end of the â€œPreyâ€ series,â€ he said.
â€œIâ€™ll probably write one or two more books.â€
In the final â€œPreyâ€ book, Sandford will reintroduce the patently bad guy, Jason Kidd to readers.
â€œDavenport will bring Kidd on to work with him, never realizing he was a criminal.â€
What happens to Davenport is up in the air, but Sandfordâ€™s writing career will have gone full circle and is likely not to