An Interview with John Sandford

GATHERING PREY by best selling author John Sandford is a thrilling Lucas Davenport story. Per his usual style, the plot combines suspense and humor; although, this one is a lot more graphic and violent. His adopted daughter, Letty, gets involved with two “Travelers,” who get murdered by a Charles Manson-like gang. She asks her dad to investigate and bring the murderers to justice. Lucas pursues this gang, traveling throughout the Midwest, to stop their murderous rampage.

Elise Cooper: Who are the “travelers” and Juggalos?

John Standford: The Juggalos are fans and followers of the group, “Insane Clown Posse.” They “travel” to see this group perform. They look like street people, but have bike packs, staffs, hiking boots, and a lot of the women have dogs. For awhile the FBI had them classified as a gang, but there is a lawsuit filed to declassify them. I guess the best description is for them to be considered a modern day hobo. They are not homeless and just “travel” around because they like it.

EC: Are you a fan of “Insane Clown Posse?”

JS: I am a big country music fan. I like mostly the Texas guys, not Nashville, more country Blues. If the music has a violin I do not listen. Some of my favorites are Ray Wylie Hubbard and Dwight Yoakam.

EC: Is this book more violent than your past books?

JS: Yes. Especially in terms of the number of people getting killed. The Juggalo subculture is split between violent and nonviolent factions. Some of the more violent ones have committed acts against the non-criminal ones. I made my violent Juggalos essentially a Manson type group. They travel, are crazy, lost, and screw-ups. It might be mirrored off a Lee Child type book. I had Lucas do less detective work since he knew who he is looking for right from the start. When he finds this group it becomes like a war.

EC: So the main antagonist has two names, “Pilot” and “Pilate.” Why?

JS: It was done to confuse the reader. Since the characters were speaking it the name sounded like the pronunciation of the word for an airplane pilot. That is why Lucas had such a hard time finding this person in the database because his name was really spelled, “Pilate.”

EC: You have a scene in Gathering Prey where the bad guys can block a cell phone trace. Is that realistic?

JS: The Museum of Modern Art has cell phone blockers. It is a little mesh bag that prevents a signal from going out when the phone is in it. It basically blocks the GPS function of your cell phone so the police do not know where you are. They can’t track you in live time. You basically become invisible. But if the phone is taken out of the bag you can then be tracked.

EC: Is this book a transition for Lucas’ career?

JS: I do not consider this question or what I am about to say a spoiler since I have been hinting at this for awhile. It is a goodbye to Letty and Weather since Lucas will be solving cases alone. They will be there but just in the openings. Over the years Lucas has become too bureaucratic and too family oriented. This career change will have him go back to his early days of solving crimes. In the next book as Lucas is taking it easy around the house he gets a call from the Governor who is now running for President. What he is hoping to do is get the Vice-Presidential nomination. Sort of like when the former Governor of Minnesota, Tim Pawlenty, ran. No one thought he would get the nomination, but he ran anyway to get the Vice-Presidency. In my book the Governor, Elmer Henderson, is told to become more a centrist on the issues because ‘something might happen to the lead candidate.’ He fears for his life and the lead candidate’s life so he brings in Lucas, someone he can trust. The following book will have the Governor elected Vice-President and he appoints Lucas as a US Marshall. His job is to find violent criminals throughout the US that essentially have disappeared.

Sandford at the launch party for GATHERING PREY.

EC: Rumor has it that your next book will not be a Virgil Flowers novel. True?

JS: Yes. My next book will be a realistic scientific thriller titled Saturn Run, a stand-alone. My co-author and I met over photography, since his job is printing out high quality photos for exhibitions. It is a science fiction Hunt For Red October since there is a military race between China and America to find alien technology left on Saturn. It is 1.5 times as long as a Davenport novel. Most of the character leads are women. There is a very attractive and intelligent female journalist whose nemesis is her cameraman. They do not like each other much. The other male lead is the chief security officer on the American space ship that goes up to Saturn.

EC: Is photography a hobby?

JS: Yes. I photograph those on the street. I used to take my camera around everywhere, but now I use my I-phone a lot.

EC: Is it true this summer you have a young adult novel coming out?

JS: Yes. I co-wrote it with my wife. It is the second in a trilogy. The main character is a seventeen-year-old animal rights activist who is autistic. While in Oregon he raided this animal research lab and found out they were doing illegal research on human beings, attempting to transfer someone’s mind to someone else. Young people are kidnapped and their mind is erased in order to transfer an older person’s mind to the body. As he is on the run from the company thugs his sister meets up with him to save him. They attempt to bring down this company.