A Conversation With Bestselling Author, James Rollins
James Rollins is the author of the bestselling Sigma Force series of science-adventure thrillers. To date that series includes: Sandstorm, Map of Bones, Black Order, The Judas Strain, The Last Oracle, The Doomsday Key, and most recently the heart-stopping Altar of EDEN. He is also the author of the hugely successful movie adaption of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull; the Jake Ransom series of Young Adult thrillers, and five individual adventure thrillers.
I had the chance to chat with Jim about his latest projects and his process for maintaining output while keeping it fun.
JONATHAN MABERRY: Youâ€™ve written a lot of novels. What keeps it fresh for you?
JAMES ROLLINS: Some people think Iâ€™m crazy writing two books a year (okay, three books this year), but I think thatâ€™s a key to staying fresh. Each of the books is very different. Once Iâ€™m sort of burned out with writing a staccato-paced modern thriller, I get to switch to something entirely new: a fantasy, a kidâ€™s adventure, a dabble into horror. Once done with that, Iâ€™m ready to return to the modern thriller. If I had to write thriller after thriller, I think I might burn out. So the more the merrier is my credo.
MABERRY: The Sigma Force series has become a huge hit. How did that series come about?
JAMES ROLLINS: Like all good things: accidentally. I had been getting some pressure to write a series by my publisher. I guess because they make better marketable commodities. But I had resisted. Thatâ€™s why all my earlier books were stand-alones. Then I wrote Sandstorm, and in the that book, I created a team of former Special Forces soldiers who were drummed out of the service for various reasons but recruited by DARPA (the Defense Department R&D division). These soldiers were then retrained in various scientific disciplines, basically creating killer scientists perfectly suited for bloody and dangerous field work. While writing that book, I thought this group would make for a cool series. Rather than basing it on single character, I could base it on a group of characters. And you know what that means: I could kill off major players without killing the series. So at long last, I was happy to oblige my publishers.
MABERRY: Have you done any research with the real-world DARPA or SIGMA groups?
JAMES ROLLINS: I have had some encounters with DARPAâ€¦but oddly enough not with the SIGMA books. A scientistâ€™s research that appears prominently in Amazonia ended up contacting me when her husband found out that I had plugged her papers in the book. Upon talking with her, I found out she now works for DARPA.
MABERRY: Youâ€™ve been a key player in building the ITW. Why has that organization become such a powerhouse?
JAMES ROLLINS: I think itâ€™s because such an organization was long overdue. Before ITW, thriller writers had no home. We were always the ugly stepchild to the Mystery Writers of America. They would let us come to their events, but we had to sit at the kidâ€™s table. And with thriller writers gleaning the lionâ€™s share of the fiction marketplace, it was high time we learned to respect ourselves and find our own home. So once the doors open, authors came flooding in. I also think weâ€™ve created a great organization that services every level of writer: unpublished, debut, to NYT bestsellers. Plus itâ€™s just plain fun.
MABERRY: Publishing has been as hard hit as other industries by the economic tsunami. Whatâ€™s going to keep the book business afloat?
JAMES ROLLINS: In two words: good books. Storytellers have been around since the beginning of time. From Homerâ€™s oral epics to the modern cinema. The desire for good stories will never die outâ€”but the medium for supplying those stories might. And thatâ€™s the crux. Everything evolves. The publishing industry will need to adjust, to deal with ebooks, to deal with competition from movies, television shows, and the Internet. Itâ€™s a changing landscape, but in the end, books will continue if the publishing industry recognizes this paradigm shift and adjusts accordingly.
MABERRY: Whatâ€™s your process from â€œHey, I have an idea!â€ to â€œI just sent my manuscript to my editor!â€
JAMES ROLLINS: Pretty simple. I research for 90 days (which also includes building a skeleton of the storyline), then on the 91st day, I put words on paper. I write 6 pages a day during the workweek, take my weekends off. And thatâ€™s about it. Itâ€™s not rocket science.
MABERRY: Talk about ALTAR OF EDEN.
JAMES ROLLINS: For the first time as a veterinarian, I decided to write a story featuring a veterinarian. So I guess that sort of makes it the first â€œveterinary thriller.â€ The story follows New Orleans veterinarian, Dr. Lorna Polk, who stumbles upon an exotic animal smuggling ringâ€”but somethingâ€™s not quite right with those animals. Someoneâ€™s been experimenting on them at the genetic level. It will be up to her and a Border Patrol agent to discover whatâ€™s been done to these animals and how to stop the perpetrators before a horror is unleashed into the world.
MABERRY: Tell us about your next book.
JAMES ROLLINS: Iâ€™m still cranking on the next SIGMA book, titled The Devil Colony.
MABERRY: Speaking of your Young Adult fiction, you jumped successfully into that market with the exciting Jake Ransom and the Skull King’s Shadowâ€¦will we be seeing more adventures of Jake Ransom?
JAMES ROLLINS: Coming out in the spring is Jake Ransom and the Howling Sphinx, where young Jake and his sister must solve a mystery tied to Egyptian mythology while being hunted by all sorts of child-eating monsters. Itâ€™s been a great deal of fun. Surprisingly enough, the first book in the series has even won a Parentâ€™s Choice award. What with â€œchild-eating monstersâ€ populating the book, Iâ€™m not sure what that says about those parents, but who am I to complain?
James will be the keynote speaker at the 2010 Pennwriters Conference, May 14-16, Lancaster PA. Click here for more details: Pennwriters Conference
Visit James Rollins online at www.jamesrollins.com
Connect with James Rollins on Twitter.