Squawk Radio

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Saturday Book Blog Part Deux

SQUAWK RADIO Welcomes JAMES ROLLINS Back to Answer YOUR Questions

Since we had our little technical snafu last Saturday, James Rollins wasn't able to interact with us in the Comments. He was very disappointed, but got excited all over again when we suggested turning YOUR questions into an interview. So here is James Rollins being interviewed by YOU!

SQUAWKEES: Do you visit all the countries in which you base your stories? If you do, what do you look for to use in your books, or do you just do the tourist things?

JAMES: I would say that I’ve been to 75% of the countries I write about. I wanted to go to Oman (which is featured in SANDSTORM), but then a little war broke out and the embassy said I should reconsider traveling there. I took them at their word. Still, to be honest, most of my traveling is not done for the purpose of research. I don’t start a novel and fly off to Venice to research the city. Usually it’s more backward. I travel to Venice, take a bunch of pictures, jot a ream of notes, then file it away for a future story. Once a book needs the character to race through the canals of Venice, then I pull out those old dusty pictures and notes.

SQUAWKEES: Do your books need to be read in the order they were published or are they all stand-alone?

JAMES: Despite what Publishers Weekly might attest (that BLACK ORDER is my eighth Sigma novel), all of my earlier books are stand-alone adventures: different casts, different adventures. MAP OF BONES is the first official Sigma book (though one character does make his first appearance in SANDSTORM…but it’s not necessary to read that book). BLACK ORDER is the second Sigma book, not the eighth. Sigh.

SQUAWKEES: How do you first find out about the science around which you base your books? Do you have favorite newspapers or magazines, or friends within the scientific community?

JAMES: All of the above. I even secretly shadow to a military web ring (shh!). But I also subscribe to a slew of magazines: National Geographic, Scientific America, Smithsonian, Discover, New Scientist, Entertainment Weekly. Okay, maybe the last one doesn’t help in the “scientific” research, but it helps me schedule my television viewing for the week. And lastly, I receive lots of articles from readers of the books…many of which I incorporate into future storylines.

SQUAWKEES: Do you find one particular idea that sparks a plot, then go hunting for the science to illuminate it? Or are you always collecting scientific bits here and there, then find that several coalesce into a plot?

JAMES: Oh dear God, are you asking “where do you get your ideas from?” Well, it all comes out of a dusty old cardboard box. Into that box goes any bit of historical tidbit, scientific mystery, exotic bit of local color. It’s disorganized, jumbled, probably has a few nesting mice in it (and it’s probably a snapshot of the inside of my own skull). From this box, not unlike a compost pile, ideas ferment and grow strange smelly things. Yet, sometime they bear interesting fruit. I’m always looking to connect a bit of historical intrigue with a strange bit of science, then looking for an exotic locale to hatch it all. It all comes out of that box. And no, you can’t look inside. At least not until you’ve had all your vaccinations.

SQUAWKEES: How long does it take you to research a book? Map of Bones shows a great deal of knowledge about a military site, about Vatican City, about Catholic relics in general as well as the history of Catholic relics. Is it an ongoing process with stories planned long in the future, or do you do a story research through writing without overlap?

JAMES: I spend about 3-4 months researching a book: reading, interviewing, taking notes, a little light traveling. Still, every page I write still seems to need that extra bit of fact-checking. Research never stops as I begin to write. Not a page goes by that doesn’t have me searching Google or diving into my pile of note folders.

SQUAWKEES: How difficult is it to write strong, believable female characters?

JAMES: Well, thank you for that compliment. For decades, the male action hero has dominated the domain of adventure thrillers. The role of women was relegated to the damsel in distress or the romantic foil. In my novels, I’ve always attempted to even the playing field, to create female characters who are as integral to the resolution to the central conflict as any of the men. Yet, at the same time, I don’t ignore the dynamism of such a relationship, both physically and emotionally. What is an adventure without a thread of romantic conflict? Where I’ve found great help in all this is from reading widely in the romantic field. Several of my writer friends here in Sacramento belong to RWA, and I read all their work and bounce sections of my book off of them (Hi, Patti!). They’ve been invaluable.

SQUAWKEES: Could you tell us about your academic and professional background? Also, I am a huge fan of Phillip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" that, in my opinion, try to mix "science" with moral, religious and existential themes - Is that your style as well or are do you use fact a la Da Vinci Code or are you a "straight facts" kind of author?

JAMES: My background is in veterinary medicine. I graduated from the University of Missouri’s veterinary college in 1985. I practiced here in Sacramento for 18 years, and I still do volunteer work monthly at the local shelter. As such, I try my best to keep my “facts straight” in the story, but I also venture into uncharted territory, extrapolating science, questioning bits of historical dogma, etc. But I don’t set out to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes. At the back of every book, I lay out what’s true and what’s not in my novels. And by listing the books I used in the research, I encourage readers to explore any topic in more depth.

SQUAWKEES: Do you spend more time in the research phase or the writing phase?

JAMES: Writing. Research is more a spare time/hobby sort of thing. The day job: butt in the chair and writing.

SQUAWKEES: What has been the "high point" of your career so far?

JAMES: I think getting invited by one of the flight crew to tour Air Force One. He had emailed me years ago, when my book DEEP FATHOM came out. In that book, I crashed Air Force One right in the prologue. He got a kick out of that. He told me he loves to hand that book to nervous fliers on the plane…and then watch their reaction as they read the prologue. You gotta love a guy like that! So to get a personal tour of Air Force One definitely was a high point.

Other ones: seeing your book in print for the first time, seeing MAP OF BONES break the NYT Top Ten, being mentioned in PEOPLE magazine, meeting authors I’ve been enamored with going back to childhood. It’s one of the great things about writing…there are high points every day (and I won’t talk about those days where writing a certain scene is like four root canals without anesthesia…but I guess another ‘fiction’ writer already wrote about THAT).

SQUAWKEES: Given your interest in caving, have you ever visited Mammoth Cave in Kentucky?

JAMES: I have. I grew up in Missouri…which is basically cave central. I’ve visited most of the commercial caves in Missouri and neighboring states, but what I enjoy more is exploring “wild” caves. These systems are on private property and not open to the public. They are traversed by small groups with permission of the property owners. There is a great sense of discovery when crawling or slinging down in ropes into barely tread caverns.

SQUAWKEES: What do you think of your reader pool? Do you feel that you write for a primarily male audience, and if so, does that inform the way you write?

JAMES: If my mail is any reflection of my readership, a vast majority of my readers are women. The more common way my book gets into the hands of guys is from their girlfriends or wives. I’ve had countless notes that basically said, “My husband/boyfriend/significant other never reads, but I read your latest book and made him read it. He loved it! Now we have something to talk about!” Okay maybe I added that very last line.

SQUAWKEES: What authors have influenced your writing?

JAMES: I don’t know about influenced, but some of my favorite authors are Michael Crichton for the pure exhilaration of his science, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child for their imaginative adventures, George R. R. Martin for his ability to combine history and fantasy, Nevada Barr for her ability to conjure settings, Sandra Brown for her ability to create complex characters with an economy of words. I could go on and on. The list is endless.

SQUAWKEES: Are your books available on audio?

JAMES: Most of the latest books are available as audio. My first three books were mass market originals, so there are no audio versions of these books.

SQUAWKEES: What is your most controversial book?

JAMES: I don’t set out to write a controversial book, but I’m passionate about certain issues. BLACK ORDER came about because I heard certain IMAX theaters were beginning to ban any films that showed evolution in a positive light. As a veterinarian with an undergraduate degree in evolutionary biology, I thought it was high time Sigma stepped into take a stand on this issue. So to dare wade into the quagmire of the debate between Evolution and Creationism was done with some trepidation. But that’s what great adventure is about: taking risks, pushing boundaries… with a bit of romance along the way!

Thanks to all of the SQUAWKEES for conducting this interview for us! (We won't tell Kitty. You know how jealous she can get.) And a special thanks to James for extending his visit to an extra week! If we didn't already love him, his confession that many of his friends were members of RWA and he reads their work would have won our hearts forever! :)

So we talked about "boy books" last week. This week I want to ask who is your all-time favorite male character in a NON-romance novel?
Teresa Medeiros, 8:37 AM
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