Bits 'n' Bobs.

Sep 7

You mentioned earlier that A Wanted Man is the first of your books in a long time not to top the New York times Best Seller list, coming in at number four, behind the Fifty Shades books. How difficult do you think it is for new authors to find an audience when readers can visit Amazon and other online retailers and choose from thousands of books that cost almost nothing to buy, yet take potentially thousands of hours of work to produce?

That was the question I got to ask Lee Child last night at a combined Q&A / Meet & Greet / Book signing event, put together in association with his publishers, Waterstones, and Birmingham Central Libraries. It was the penultimate [official] question of the evening, and one that saw Child discuss his background prior to becoming an author, how he decides to write a Reacher book in first or third person perspective, slapping down anti-americanism whilst lambasting people who’ll be voting for Romney in November.

And of course, the Tom Cruise question. More on that later.

Prior to the event starting I got to chat to some pretty hardcore Reacher fans about their thoughts on a variety of topics. And of course, being me, I bought up the dreaded eReader topic, only to be met with the usual backlash, including a look of horror from one lady in particular.

Fortunately I had a comrade in arms - the Waterstones rep who was at the event.

Which was a refreshing change. Ended up talking to him about the behind the scenes work involved in prepping the stores for the devices, when Amazon start selling them, and a little “shop talk” about why the negotiations with Barnes & Noble broke down. All in all, a very interesting talk.

But onto the event itself. Rather than a traditional book reading, Lee briefly introduced himself to the audience [as if he needed any introduction.] before opening the floor for questions, which he answered for around 80 minutes.

I can’t remember all of ‘em, but they included [and I’m paraphrasing slightly]:

  • Why is Tom Cruise playing Jack Reacher, when he’s almost a foot shorter, and at least 100lbs lighter? And what control did you have over the casting, when you sold the book?
  • What’s the typical writing process for a Reacher book - do you plan the story out in advance, how much research is involved, etc, etc.
  • Most American characters seem either dumb or big-headed, how did you make sure Reacher wasn’t? [Which was met with a polite but fair smack down of anti American sentiments, with Child paying tribute to the volunteer core in the U.S. armed forces.]
  • How have your family and friends reacted to your success [Child has sold in excess of sixty million novels, and is worth around £20M / $32M]
What came across really quickly, is that Child is pretty down to earth. Having lived as a child pretty much round the corner from the venue the event took place at, he seemed to enjoy peppering his stories with local anecdotes and references to local history - in particular memorable football matches at Villa Park.

In regards to the “Tom Cruise question” - anyone who dared venture onto either Childs’ Facebook page, his website, or any Reacher messageboards knew this would be raised. The hardcore fans [which I’m not] really, reallydon’t like the idea of Cruise playing the role, with many threatening to boycott the film altogether.

My guess was that it would be the third question asked during the evening. It was the second. As for Childs’ answer?

I thought he was refreshingly honest. As he said, the decision ultimately washis - he opted to sell the film rights. And while the deal included no official veto, he was clear that he knew he could refuse the choice of actor, but he declined.

His argument is that a $60M [which is actually relatively cheap, by Hollywood standards] R-Rated film that isn’t part of a franchise, needs an “A List” actor, in order to deliver a big enough box office return. According to Child, he and the producers decided the following actors matched the criteria:

  • Tom Cruise.
  • Matt Damon.
  • Johnny Depp
  • Russell Crowe.
  • Will Smith.

Depp was discounted immediately, and then they started working through the list. Cruise was the first actor approached, and he agreed to take on the role.

The main thrust of Childs’ argument was two fold: Firstly, actors aren’t as tall as you think, with the exception of Michael Clarke Duncan and John Wayne, and secondly, the film presents one interpretation of Reacher, the books another one.

Unfortunately the lady who asked the question wasn’t impressed, and  made it quite clear that she wouldn’t be watching the film, which was met with applause from some people.

Which to me was a little bitchy. Telling [an admittedly extremely popular and wealthy] author that you won’t see the first film to be made from one of his books, in what was effectively his home town book event? Way to stay classy.

After all the questions were answered it was onto the meet and greet part, which included photos and books being signed. I hung around until the end and got to ask a few other questions, after getting my books signed.

All in all it was an entertaining evening. While I’m not a huge fan - he reminds me a lot of Michael Bay, in that his earlier books are a bit like The Rock, Armageddon &  Bad Boys, where as his last few have been Transformers-esque - I’m definitely glad I went along.

If he comes back next year, I’ll try and snag an invite again, hopefully to see him talk about how the film naysayers were wrong to judge the film before having seen it.