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.”