BLAKE CROUCH

The cre­ator of Way­ward Pines tells us about his new novel

SFX: The Sci-Fi and Fantasy Magazine - - Contents - Words by Jonathan Wright

The Way­ward Pines au­thor tells us about the other strange av­enues he’s now ex­plor­ing.

There are mo­ments in life when you just de­cide to go for it. For Blake Crouch, one such mo­ment came in the wake of his Way­ward Pines tril­ogy, when he de­cided to write a novel ex­plor­ing ideas rooted in quan­tum me­chan­ics. “I just de­cided fuck it, I’m go­ing to do the re­search, and I’m go­ing to write this next book be­cause I want to do some­thing that’s even big­ger and more chal­leng­ing,” he says.

The re­sult is Dark Mat­ter, a hi-tech SF thriller that was “ter­ri­bly daunt­ing” to re­search. “Quan­tum me­chan­ics is one of those things the fur­ther down the rab­bit hole you go, the fur­ther down the rab­bit hole you go, and it can tend to bog down in in­com­pre­hen­si­ble equa­tions,” says Crouch. “I was just spin­ning out on how I would wrap my head around un­der­stand­ing a very com­pli­cated field of sci­ence and then fig­ure a way to use it as the ba­sis for a com­mer­cial thriller with­out putting off my au­di­ence.”

The sheer weird­ness of the sub­ject was the ma­jor prob­lem. “On a very ba­sic level, quan­tum physics is the study of how par­ti­cles be­have on a sub­atomic level,” says Crouch. “It seems like what does that have to do with our day-to-day lives?” Not much, you might think, con­sid­er­ing how weird the world turns out to be when viewed at this level, slip­pery, strange and some­how in­dis­tinct when com­pared with the cer­tain­ties of a New­to­nian view of the uni­verse.

OTHE WORLDS

For Crouch, a break­through came when he saw a TED talk given by ex­per­i­men­tal physi­cist Aaron O’Con­nell, said to have cre­ated the world’s first quan­tum ma­chine. Crouch hit on the no­tion of “scal­ing up the ram­i­fi­ca­tions of quan­tum me­chan­ics” as they re­late to the idea of the mul­ti­verse, the idea there are lots of par­al­lel uni­verses. En­ter Ja­son Dessen, a mod­estly suc­cess­ful physics teacher who finds him­self trans­ported to an al­ter­nate world, where his dop­pel­ganger is a suc­cess­ful re­search sci­en­tist.

“It’s pretty heavy stuff for me this time out,” says Crouch. “It’s about re­al­ity and iden­tity, and an ex­plo­ration of the paths not taken.” It’s also a love story, be­cause Dessen the teacher longs to re­turn to his fam­ily. “I thought I was just start­ing out to write a harder sci-fi thriller, and it ended up hav­ing so much more heart than I orig­i­nally ex­pected,” says Crouch, “but then of course it needed to.”

By this he means that it’s not pos­si­ble to ex­plore such ar­cane ideas with­out of­fer­ing readers mem­o­rable char­ac­ters and proper jeop­ardy. Crouch’s words also re­veal a new am­bi­tion in his writ­ing, which makes it an in­trigu­ing time to take stock of the ca­reer of some­one who’s found cross-me­dia suc­cess as both the pub­lish­ing and TV in­dus­tries have un­der­gone huge changes.

In terms of pub­lish­ing, Crouch al­ways knew he wanted to be a nov­el­ist. “In el­e­men­tary school, I would tell my brother scary bed­time sto­ries, try to scare the shit out of him,” he re­mem­bers. Af­ter writ­ing a fam­ily epic heav­ily in­flu­enced by Pat Conroy (The Prince Of Tides) and that was “just all over the place”, he was first pub­lished in 2004, with psy­cho­log­i­cal hor­ror Desert Places (St Martin’s Press) but his ca­reer never quite took off.

With the rise of ebooks, he turned to self-pub­lish­ing, re-re­leas­ing his own early nov­els elec­tron­i­cally. “They started do­ing re­ally, re­ally well,” he says. “And then I had a new book that I couldn’t get pub­lished, Run. I got a new agent and we tried to get it pub­lished here in Amer­ica, and I got a bunch of glow­ing re­jec­tions from pub­lish­ers, and I thought, ‘You know I’m hav­ing some suc­cess self-pub­lish­ing so I’m go­ing to self-pub­lish this new novel.’”

TOWN WITH SE­CRETS

The book was a best­seller and Crouch sub­se­quently part­nered with Ama­zon via its Thomas & Mercer mys­tery im­print for the Twin Peaks-in­flu­enced Way­ward Pines tril­ogy, in which a US Se­cret Ser­vice Agent finds him­self in strange sit­u­a­tions in a strange town.

The books at­tracted the at­ten­tion of pro­ducer Chad Hodge, who was look­ing for ideas to de­velop in the emerg­ing world of boxset TV. Hodge sug­gested sell­ing the se­ries via a pi­lot script, which he sub­se­quently wrote. Di­rec­tor M Night Shya­malan and Matt Dil­lon be­came at­tached to the project. Way­ward Pines was a huge hit for Fox.

Fast for­ward, and Crouch and Hodge have been work­ing on a new se­ries, based on Crouch’s Letty Dobesh novella se­ries about a junkie felon. Michelle Dock­ery is star­ring. “We wrote the pi­lot script to­gether and sold it in a very sim­i­lar way that we sold Way­ward Pines,” says Crouch. “Michelle had just wrapped up Down­ton Abbey and was look­ing for her next thing. This seemed like it, be­cause she’s go­ing from wear­ing corsets and speak­ing in­cred­i­bly proper English to smok­ing meth out of a light­bulb. It’s go­ing to be a pretty dra­matic shift.”

So should fans of Crouch’s books worry that we’re los­ing him to TV? Not at all. While he’s grate­ful to have two se­ries in pro­duc­tion, he’s also crav­ing some soli­tude, some space to come up with new ideas. “What I am at heart is a nov­el­ist,” he says, “and I don’t want to lose sight of that.”

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