Keep­ing things thrilling

> Author James Rollins talks about the chal­lenges of writ­ing a book se­ries as well as what in­spires him to come up with ideas


DUR­ING The Big Book Bo­nanza event this year, which was co-or­gan­ised by lo­cal dis­trib­u­tor MPH with HarperCollins US and UK to show­case their fall and win­ter book ti­tles, we man­aged to get a phone in­ter­view with renowned author James Rollins ( far right).

Rollins has writ­ten sev­eral book se­ries and stand­alone nov­els, in gen­res rang­ing from ac­tion-ad­ven­ture to sci-fi and fan­tasy.

He even wrote the nov­el­i­sa­tion of the 2008 film In­di­ana Jones and the King­dom of the Crys­tal Skull.

How­ever, his most pop­u­lar are his two ac­tion-ad­ven­ture book se­ries – his lon­grun­ning Sigma Force se­ries which be­gan in 2004, and his newer Tucker Wayne se­ries, which he co-wrote with Grant Black­wood.

Fans will be happy to know that both the 12th Sigma Force book, ti­tled The Sev­enth Plague; and the sec­ond book in the Tucker Wayne se­ries, ti­tled War Hawk, will be avail­able here in late De­cem­ber.

Tucker Wayne and his mil­i­tary war dog Kane made their first ap­pear­ance in Tracker (2012), a short story ex­clu­sive in the Sigma Force se­ries, and Rollins thought it would be a good idea to give the char­ac­ter and his dog their own spin-off se­ries.

“I love writ­ing [about Wayne and Kane] so much,” said Rollins. “[I even] wrote some scenes from the point of view of the dog. It was a lot of fun.”

As for his col­lab­o­ra­tion with Black­wood on the se­ries, he said: “It is fun to write these [col­lab­o­ra­tive] se­ries. (Rollins also col­lab­o­rated with Re­becca Cantrell in the best­selling San­guines se­ries.)

“It is a dif­fer­ent type of craft be­cause you have to be the judge, jury and ex­e­cu­tioner.

“Also, there is some­body else that you have to ex­change chap­ters with every week.”

While Rollins may not have lived life as vi­car­i­ously as his char­ac­ters, he said he es­sen­tially writes about things like scuba div­ing, archaeology and sci­ence, which he loves.

He also loves trav­el­ling and tak­ing pic­tures, as such ac­tiv­i­ties pro­vide him with story ideas.

“I ac­tu­ally re­sisted writ­ing a se­ries for a very long time. All my books be­fore [ Sand­storm, the first Sigma Force novel] were stand­alone books, and I liked it that way.

“I didn’t want to write a se­ries be­cause of this thing called Mur­der, She Wrote syn­drome.”

He was re­fer­ring to the pop­u­lar TV se­ries that ran from 1984 to 1996, star­ring Angela Lans­bury as crime writer Jes­sica Fletcher.

“[She] would stum­ble upon a dead body every week. Af­ter a while, it puts a strain on cred­i­bil­ity, be­cause peo­ple started ask­ing why this woman keeps stum­bling over dead bod­ies.”

Rollins jok­ingly added: “I thought there would be a rev­e­la­tion at the end of the se­ries that she was ac­tu­ally a se­rial killer [all along]!”

Be­cause of this, Rollins also de­cided not to rely upon one sin­gle pro­tag­o­nist.

“In Sigma Force, I cre­ated a group of char­ac­ters. In dif­fer­ent books, it will be a dif­fer­ent per­son in jeop­ardy. No one is en­tirely safe in my uni­verse.”

For The Sev­enth Plague, Rollins ex­plained: “There were 10 bi­b­li­cal plagues that were in­flicted upon Egypt by Moses. We are look­ing at the mod­ern ver­sion of that. It starts in Egypt, and breaks out across the world.”

Rollins ad­mits he likes to put his char­ac­ters into a cor­ner.

“It is frus­trat­ing be­cause I some­times don’t know how to get them out of [trou­ble] at the same time.

“I gen­er­ally write two books a year. I have writ­ten dif­fer­ent gen­res and themes.”

Rollins said he once tried writ­ing two books at the same time, and found it too chal­leng­ing try­ing to switch gears with each story.

“I re­ally get im­mersed in my story. To pull out of one story and in­sert my­self into another story is very chal­leng­ing. I usu­ally take 90 days of re­search, and [start writ­ing] on the 91st day. I take sev­eral months to write the first draft and then a month to pol­ish it.

“It takes about 10 months [to come up with the] con­cept, [pro­duce] a man­u­script and then sub­mit it to my ed­i­tor.”

A Sigma Force movie has long been in de­vel­op­ment but Rollins said that while the script has been com­pleted, the stu­dio has yet to find a di­rec­tor.

When asked who his favourite char­ac­ter in the Sigma Force se­ries is, he said: “Prob­a­bly one of my favourite is Joe Kowal­ski (who was in­tro­duced in the fourth book, The Ju­das Strain).

“He is the dumb lug of the group and al­ways gets into a lot of trou­ble. I think he is pretty much like me in real life. Even though he is not the best sol­dier re­cruited for Sigma Force, he is sort of the comic re­lief of the se­ries.”

We asked if he had en­coun­tered any ‘qual­ity con­trol’ is­sues with Sigma Force, es­pe­cially since he had to pro­duce the se­ries’ 12 books at a rate of one new book per year.

He said: “I hope not. I al­ways try to chal­lenge my­self with my writ­ing. I have so many ideas bounc­ing in my head. The hard­est thing is com­ing up with fresh ideas that are ex­cit­ing. It is the chal­lenge that makes [writ­ing] fun.”

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