Interview by Travis Starnes
David Rollins, the author of the Vin Cooper series and it’s latest installment Standoff, was kind enough to take the time and answer a few questions I had after reading his book.
This is my first time reading a Vin Cooper story, but I didn’t feel like I missed much when reading Standoff. Did you try and make it easy for new readers to get into on purpose? If so, was it tough trying to both make him accessible for new readers and still play on earlier connections?
The answer to your first question is yes. I recognize that many readers won’t start at the beginning so I put enough backstory into each book to make it a stand alone. Hopefully that backstory doesn’t drag and you get to know Cooper well enough to want to hang out with him for a while. It’s not helpful or conducive to telling the story if the main character is a complete stranger to you.
And the answer to the second part of the question is that it’s not too difficult to do both – make him accessible to new readers and reference earlier connections – because the first person style in which the books are written lends itself to Cooper being a little heavy handed at times. My hope is that new readers will like Cooper enough in any book they first pick up to want to go back to where it started, The Death Trust.
As a native Texan and someone who has spent some time in Mexico, you really nailed the feeling of both places. Was any of your writing based on personal experience with either Texas or areas of Mexico?
I try to “walk the weeds” for all the locations in my books. That’s part of why I do it! For STANDOFF, I went to Colombia, Panama and South Texas and did as much snooping around as I could. In El Paso, I went on a ridealong with an experienced Sheriff’s deputy and hung out with the Texas Rangers, all of which was a blast. I didn’t, however, venture into Juarez because I was warned in the sternest possible terms not to. But I’ve been to enough down-and-out third world cities to know what they’re like and pretty much they’re all alike. Research and my imagination filled in the blanks. So the fact that you think I got it right is a real compliment! Thanks!
I especially liked the connection with Pancho Villa. Was there a reason you decided to mold/tie your villain into him?
I was vaguely aware of Pancho Villa before I started plotting out the story. He’s an interesting character. When I stumbled across the quote, which you’ll find at the beginning of the book, nailed his inclusion in the story – Villa on his deathbed croaking, “Don’t let it end like this. Tell them I said something.” I mean, it’s a funny/weird thing to say, don’t you reckon, moments before you meet your maker? Honestly? I wasn’t totally sure how I was going to weave Villa into the story – I winged it. I do try, though, to put something oddball into each book. Those sort of details appeal to my dumb sense of humor!
Most thrillers I read the main character seems untouchable. This is one of the few titles where I thought the main character might not make it, or at least not make it intact. Was it though walking the line between having a sense of mortality and the characters “badassitude” (ok, I made that word up)?
I’m really pleased that you think this. It’s pretty fundamental, I believe, that your hero seems vulnerable. If not, where’s the tension? I remember watching one of the Lara Croft movies starring Angelina – the first one (I didn’t bother with number two). Never at any stage in that movie did I think she was going to break as much as a fingernail and I therefore had absolutely no emotional engagement with the character (except for the usual male reaction of seeing AJ in a pushup bra and shorts with guns…) Cooper rarely gets off scott free in these adventures of his. If you go back through the books, you’ll find that he has collected some pretty nasty wounds along the way. Lucky for Cooper he never gets older than 34 otherwise he’d be completely stuffed.
The final action piece of this book was fairly intense. Was that the planned ending all along, or did it grow as the book was being written?
I usually have the a set piece and/or scenes in mind early on in the plotting process and these grow in detail and scope, often, as the writing progresses. If you’re referring to the scene towards the end of the book – Cooper’s escape from the encampment – yes, that was in my mind from the beginning. The big one at Del Rio occurred to me somewhere along the way. But I knew there was going to be an attack mounted by those bikes at some point. I initially thought about them smashing Columbus, a repeat of Villa’s attack. But the nearer I got to this scene, the more I was sure it was all too obvious. Luckily there was an alternative that even surprised me, which is always gratifying. In fact, mostly I have a pretty good idea before I start writing where the book will finish. But sometime during the process, invariably an alternative closure occurs to me like a flash of realisation and I always yry to incorporate it somehow. Being surprised – that’s part of the fun, too!
Thanks again for the fun read and taking the time to answer these questions.
No probs, Travis. I’m pleased to be asked!