The creator of Wayward Pines tells us about his new novel
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.
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.”