In this interview, New York Times bestseller John Sandford discusses his background as a reporter, his love of history, and his new thriller, “Extreme Prey.” Sandford is a former journalist who was trained to observe, analyze, and find both sides of a story. He still uses those skills when writing fiction. He also noted how people sometimes labeled as “crazy” in the press are far from it.
“What the bad guys do is sense an opportunity to change the way the world works. I spent some time working in archaeology in Israel and they had a prime minister assassinated. In a subsequent election, an extreme conservative was elected and it changed the way the world worked. So, sometimes, really awful crimes can change the world.” In a view honed by years as a crime reporter, Sandford added, “These people are crazy, but they’re not in the sense that they’ve made no mistake about what they’re doing.”
The antagonists in “Extreme Prey” are the same as those in the real world in many ways. Sandford said, “The villains in this book are crazy. They are off the tracks, they’re nuts, we can all agree with that. We can also agree that some pretty bad things happened to them along the way. I’m not trying to lecture anybody, just to show what I see.”
Newton, IA, which was for decades supported solely by a Maytag factory, is an example of a situation capable of creating an angry killer. Sandford referenced the corporate decision to close the factory as fueling the type of anger he wrote about in “Extreme Prey.” He said, “They moved the whole factory to Mexico. I kind of trace some of the anger in this book with the woman who had a family calamity in the 1980s when she lost her farm, and then she saw her son go off to war and he came back with his head messed up. She sees people a few years later losing everything because of something over which they had no control.”
Many journalists from Sandford’s time have gone on to become bestselling novelists. Part of the reason for their success may well be the training those reporters received. “I grew up in almost the perfect time for journalism, which was in the 60s during the civil rights movements, the anti-war movements, the rise of feminism. A lot of interesting things, but it was also a time when people were talking about journalism ethics very seriously, and you were expected to provide both sides of a question. And you were trained to do it.
“Now, you have journalists hoping to become celebrities. They hope to be able to speak with a voice. But, when you start talking about speaking with a voice, you’re talking about using your opinions to color the news. People say the news has always been subjective. That’s true, but you can try really hard to be as objective as possible. You can’t ever be perfect, but you can try really hard to be fair and you can try really hard to be objective. Even if you don’t achieve it, at least you tried and there’s some balance in what you’re doing.”
In “Extreme Prey,” Sandford handles the issue of a balanced viewpoint through the character of a woman who has decided to kill. She has a method and reason behind the killings and uses those to throw the detectives off. Sandford said, “She made a rational decision about the best way she could kill folks.”
In addition to reading two newspapers a day, Sandford also has an interest in history. At one point, he became so fascinated by Middle Eastern history he decided to visit. He said, “I went to Israel and found myself very interested in the work the archaeologists were doing. They were trying to find out whether there was any historical truth in the Bible—or was it just myths like King Arthur and his knights? That argument has never been resolved, but the dig we did, which went on for fifteen years, did help clarify a lot of things.”
The results of the archaeological dig are on display at the Israel museum in Jerusalem. It’s an episode from Sandford’s life of which he is justifiably proud. He’s also proud of his writing and said, “I am trying really hard to entertain readers. It’s not something I take casually. I am a thriller fan myself, so that’s what I like to write.”
Learn the story behind “Extreme Prey” in this companion interview on TerryAmbrose.com. Find John Sandford on the web at JohnSandford.org.