Getting Under Your Skin: An Interview with A. J. Colucci

Author A. J. Colucci

A.J. Colucci spent 15 years as a reporter, magazine editor and writer for corporate America.  Today she is a full time author of science thrillers, stories that combine true science with the riveting plot and breakneck pace of a thriller. Her novel THE COLONY received a starred review from Publishers Weekly, noting, “Michael Crichton fans will hope that this is but the first of many such outings from the author’s pen.” Visit her website  or find her on Twitter.

Alex C. Telander: When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

A. J. Colucci: For as long as I can remember. I think if I’d had a pencil in utero, I would have come out with at least a couple short stories.

Alex: Where did the idea for The Colony come from?

A. J.: I was watching a Discovery Channel special on killer ants and got hooked. It was mesmerizing to see a colony of 22 million African driver ants, working like a military unit, to take down every living creature in a farmer’s field.  I knew it would make a great book.

Alex: What sort of research did it require?

A. J.: Science thrillers require an enormous amount of research. I started in the library and then spent about a thousand hours on the internet. But I’m an information junkie so subjects like ant morphology and pheromone manipulation are incredibly interesting to me. I was lucky enough to have a few first-rate entomologists and a military expert to verify my facts.  I think I probably qualify for some kind of entomology degree.

Alex: Do you plan on writing any sort of sequel or using some of the characters in a future book?

A. J.: I am so busy working on other projects right now, but maybe someday Paul and Kendra will have another adventure.

Alex: How possible in today’s world is the core concept of The Colony?

A. J.: Insect warfare goes back to biblical times, and even earlier. I’ve read that early humans threw bees nests into caves like a primitive form of tear gas.  In the 1950s the U.S. military did a lot of testing of entomological warfare, including operations Big Buzz, Big Itch and Drop Kick. You can look it up – I kid you not.  Testing for Big Itch involved dropping fleas from the air in cluster bombs. At least one test failed when the fleas were accidentally released into the aircraft and they attacked the crew. I believe Big Buzz and Drop Kick used mosquitoes.

Alex: What do you hope readers get from reading your book?

A. J.: Mostly entertainment.  There’s plenty boredom, monotony and despair in the world, so if a book can sweep you into an exciting adventure for a few hours, that’s great. You can get your chills and thrills without having to jump out of an airplane. Of course, it would be nice if readers considered my underlying message of faith in humanity. Ants work for the good of the colony, never for themselves. We could use some of that.

Alex: Do you have plans for your next novel?

A. J.: I’m actually in the first round of edits on my new novel, which is coming out Spring 2014 from St. Martin’s Press. It’s another science thriller about a group of people who come to a remote island in Nova Scotia for the reading of a will, but the island starts to have strange and violent effects on the characters. I like to write about nature because it can be a brutal place—kill or be killed—but it’s also filled with a sort of beauty and logic that makes humans look ridiculous.

Alex: Do you still write nonfiction?

A. J.: Unfortunately there’s not enough time. I think most authors would agree that establishing oneself as a novelist is a full-time job. A single book takes at least a year, and I hope to write many.

Alex: Is it hard to switch between writing fiction and nonfiction?

A. J.: Not for me. The two are so different and require separate parts of the brain. Although much of The Colony was based on fact, so it felt like writing non-fiction at times. For instance, I interviewed a former director at the U.S. Department of Defense about the best way to destroy the ants – he took it very seriously and suggested a neutron bomb, and then he gave me information on deployment and damage.  I also had an entomologist from the USDA brainstorm with me on how to get the pheromones spread over the city.  So when I sat down to write those chapters it felt realistic.

Alex: Was there a particular reason you chose to use “A. J” for your published name?

A. J.: The initials A.J. are meaningless, but I chose a pen name because I’m a private person and the idea of splashing my name all over the place was jarring. Also, my genre is a tough one for women to break into. I didn’t want to turn off guys that were more comfortable reading names like Michael Crichton, James Rollins and Scott Sigler.

Alex: Who are some of your favorite authors?

A. J.: Besides the three I just mentioned, I’ve built up an endless list over the years in thrillers, horror, literary fiction and old classics. Vonnegut, Orwell, Baldacci, Lehane, Atwood, Hosseini, Hemingway, Dostoyevsky. My tastes run amok.

Alex: What do you like to read?

A. J.: I’ve always read a lot of literary novels and but when I’m writing, which is most of the time, I tend to read thrillers.

Alex: What are you reading at the moment?

A. J.: I just downloaded Gone Girl because when a book is a runaway hit, I just have to know why.  Sometimes I never figure it out. Like with Fifty Shades of Grey. What’s up with that?

Alex: What do you like to do in your spare time?

A. J.: I do things with my family, take the kids on a hike or to the beach. I like getting together with other authors, something that’s new to me and such a huge privilege. It’s one of the few perks of being published.  Other than that, I’m reading or writing.

Alex: So if the events of The Colony really happened, what would you do?

A. J.: I guess prepare to die, because realistically there’s is nothing in our arsenal that could stop them.

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Bookbanter Interviews

Okay, after a long week of work, the entire collection of Bookbanter interviews comprised of 40 audio episodes and 37 written interviews over a three-year period are now available on this site.  To navigate, you can select Bookbanter interviews in the right column at the top to see five examples of each type of interview, or you can go to a specific interview page.

Audio: Audio interviews feature exclusive author interviews with the likes of Brandon Sanderson, Mary Roach, Justin Cronin, James Rollins, and many more.  These interviews can be listened to or downloaded for free.  You can find the audio interview page here.

Written: Written interviews again feature exclusive interviews with a variety of authors including Brian Wood, Mira Grant, Peter Straub, Naomi Novik, and many more.  You can find the written interview page here.

Faces of Publishing: This was a series of interviews conducted in 2012 with the people behind the author and the book who help make it happen.  They include publicists, editors, agents, and more.  You can find the Faces of Publishing page here.

The Man of Many Minds: An Interview with Ben Loory

Ben Loory

Ben Loory

Ben Loory is a short story writer who has been published in Gargoyle Magazine, Quick Fiction, Keyhole Quarterly and The Antioch Review. His story “The TV” (featured in his debut collection) was published in The New Yorker. Stories for the Nighttime and Some for the Day is his first short story collection. In the interview he talks about how he became a writer, how he writes short stories, where he gets his ideas, and what he likes to do in his spare time. Read the interview . . .

Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day

An Interview with Ben Loory (January, 2012)

Ben Loory

Ben Loory is a short story writer who has been published in Gargoyle Magazine, Quick Fiction, Keyhole Quarterly and The Antioch Review. His story “The TV” (featured in his debut collection) was published in The New Yorker. Stories for the Nighttime and Some for the Day is his first short story collection.

Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day

Alex C. Telander: When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

Ben Loory: I don’t know that I ever really wanted to be a writer; I always wanted to be a rock star or a film director. But the first didn’t work out, and the second was hard to get into, so I ended up going to film school and studying screenwriting because I thought that might be the best way in. Somewhere along the line, I became obsessed with story structure — with what stories were and how they worked and all that — and I started writing short stories just to figure it out. I became a writer almost by accident. (On the other hand, I’ve read like a maniac my entire life, so I suppose in a sense it was inevitable.)

Alex: Who are some of your influences?

Ben: Oh, there are a ton: Aesop, Kafka, Philip K. Dick, Hemingway, Borges, Brautigan, Wodehouse, Stephen King, Richard Laymon, Samuel Beckett, Ionesco, Pinter, Gogol, Highsmith, Jim Thompson, Donald Barthelme… I could go on and on. There’s a lot of Roald Dahl and The Twilight Zone and The Far Side and Warner Brother cartoons and Hitchcock and David Lynch and Howard Hawks and MAD Magazine… and I definitely took a lot from the poetry of Stephen Crane and the essays and short stories of Henry James. Everything I’ve ever encountered comes out at one point or another, I think. Though sometimes it’s hard for me to see.

Alex: Do you remember the first thing you wrote?

Ben: The first thing I remember writing was a story about a duck and a man with a balloon. I think I was about five. This is funny because it’s pretty much the same kind of thing I’m writing now. (Although now I guess the balloon would have sharp teeth or be singing or sailing ships or something.)

Alex: How about the first thing you published?

Ben: I had two stories published in an issue of Knock Magazine (#11, I think)– “Toward the Earth” (about a woman falling out of an airplane) and “The Greatest Thief in the World” (about the greatest thief in the world). But the issue was guest-edited by my friend the novelist Jonathan Evison, so I’m not exactly sure if that counts. The first story I ever had published by someone who didn’t know me was called “Fernando” (about a guy whose name was not Fernando) and it was published online by Scott Garson at Wigleaf.com in the summer of 2009.

Alex: What made you decide to stick with short stories?

Ben: I wouldn’t really say that I ever made that decision. The only decision I ever made was to never plan anything and just write what presents itself when I sit down to write. So far, it’s pretty much just been short stories. But if something longer started coming, I’d write that. I’m agreeable.

Alex: Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day features a large number of quite short stories. Do these story ideas just come to you and you write the story, or is it something you have to work at?

Ben: I pride myself actually on never having ideas. It’s sort of my modus operandi. I sit down to write with a blank screen and nothing planned, and just wait for the first line or image to come. Whatever that line or image is that pops up, that’s the first line, and I follow the story through from there to the end. What I’ve learned from years of writing stories is that stories are everywhere, they’re in everything, they’re a dime a dozen, a million… Writing is not a matter of coming up with a story, it’s a matter of following a situation– ANY situation– through to its inevitable resolution. It’s more a matter of perseverance than inspiration. Adherence to the logical unfolding of the premise.

Alex: Have you, or do you have plans to writer longer prose, possibly a novel?

Ben: I try not to make plans; they just confuse my brain. But life is a big place, so we’ll see.

Alex: What are you working on now?

Ben: Writing more stories, lots of stories, all kinds of stories, all the time. I’m also working on a screenplay and learning to make gazpacho and trying to decide what to do with my life.

Alex: What do you hope readers get out of reading Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day?

Ben: I have a theory that the point of storytelling is to actually strip away the stories we all tell ourselves, the promises and excuses and rationalizations that get in the way of us seeing ourselves and our lives as they truly are. Ideally I think a story collection — like any other work of art — peels back the outer skin we’ve built up and allows us to feel and think and breathe and live again with renewed spirit. So, yeah… that goes for my book as well. Sounds pretty high-falutin’ but there it is.

Alex: What are you reading right now?

Ben: I’ve been reading a lot of books by Jeffrey Ford lately, who I recently discovered at the Readercon conference back in July. I really love his collection The Drowned Life; there’s a story in it called “Present from the Past” that I think is pretty much perfect. I’ve also been getting into Cesar Aira; he’s an Argentinean writer who apparently writes every book straight through from the beginning without ever revising. Which seems like a recipe for disaster, but his book An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter was absolutely mind-blowing. Like W.G. Sebald mixed with Joao Guimaraes Rosa and envisioned as a spaghetti western.

Alex: What do you like to do in your spare time?

Ben: Eat food, walk around, listen to the Melvins. I’d like to take up gardening but I don’t know where to start.

Alex: Do you have any advice for writers looking to get published?

Ben: I’d say don’t worry about getting published, worry about writing as well as you can. If your work gets to the point where you completely stand by it, word by word, line by line, then it will probably find a home. There are more places to get published now than ever before. Secondly, I’d say make friends with other writers. Actual friends, not Facebook-y kinda friends. Friends who you know and like and trust. There’s nothing like having the advice and support of people whose opinion you value. And it will push you to work all that much harder.

Alex: Do you have a set writing schedule you keep to each day?

Ben: Not really, no… I’ve never been one for schedules. I try to write a story a day, but I don’t have a strict start time or a word count I aim for or anything like that. Mostly I write at night, but that tends to be very isolating, so then I switch around and try to write during the day… it never lasts. Basically, I swing wildly from pole to pole, getting up super early for a couple days and then staying up all night for three or four weeks. It’s not much of a lifestyle but I don’t know how to change. (A recurrent theme in my life.)

Alex: What do you use to write on?

Ben: I write on a laptop. I can’t read my own handwriting. I’m a complete and total slave to my computer.

15. What are your thoughts on ebooks and the future of the printed word?

Ben: Really, I try not to think about that stuff. I have a kneejerk dislike of ebooks, maybe just because they’re called “ebooks,” but of course that’s where the future lies. (Though the future also once lay in 8-track cassettes…) My concern is really with the work itself. How it’s delivered is beside the point.

An Interview with Ernest Cline (December, 2011)

Ernest Cline

Ernest Cline is an unabashed nerd who wrote the screenplay to the popular cult hit, Fanboys, and then spent some time writing his first novel, Ready Player One, that was eventually sold to Crown Books, as well as being optioned for a movie. In the interview he talks about how he got started in writing, what sort of work it took to write Ready Player One, and what he’s working on next.

Ready Player One

Alex C. Telander: When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

Ernest Cline: I knew I wanted to be a writer shortly after I learned how to form sentences on paper. Writing was the first thing I ever excelled at.

Alex: How did you get started in screenwriting?

Ernie: I’ve always been obsessed with movies and how they’re made, so much so that I began to collect screenplays for all of my favorite films. Then I began to read every book I could find on the craft of screenwriting. My first real attempt at writing a screenplay was my script for Fanboys, which eventually wound up getting produced.

Alex: Once you’d written the script for Fanboys, it took a while to get purchased.  What did it take to make this happen?

Ernie: In the first draft of the script, I wrote a part for Harry Knowles to play himself, then I gave him a copy to see if he’d agreed to do it. He read the script in one sitting, then posted a glowing review of it on his website, which is read by everyone in Hollywood. That set off a domino effect that got a producer interested. He optioned the script from me and we continued to develop it. Eventually the script found its way to Kevin Spacey and he signed on as a producer. Then he contacted George Lucas and asked for permission to use the Star Wars license in our movie. George said yes, and shortly after that, the Weinstein Company bought the project and within months we were in production. All of that took about 8 years from the time I finished the first draft.

Alex: Where did the idea for Ready Player One come from?

Ernie: The very first idea was “what if Willie Wonka had been a video game designer, and he held his Golden Ticket contest inside his greatest video game, a sprawling virtual universe?” Everything else grew out of that first idea.

Alex: Did it take a lot of research and how much did you enjoy researching it?

Ernie: I didn’t really do much research at all, since I mainly drew own my own love and knowledge of classic video games and 80’s pop culture to create the story. But while I was writing, I would often pull up old music videos or video game emulators, just to refresh my memory. And to avoid actually working on the book.

Alex: Are you an MMO fan, and if so, which MMOs do you like to play?

Ernie: I used to be an MMO fan, before I forced myself to quit playing them cold turkey. The first MMO I ever played was Richard Garriott’s Ultima Online. Then I developed a full blown addiction to EverQuest for several months and forced myself to quit playing, mostly out of self-preservation. I haven’t played an MMO since, because I learned my less with EverCrack.

Alex: Do you think the type of MMO you created in Ready Player One which takes over so many people’s lives will happen in our future?

Ernie: If anyone ever develops an MMO game as immersive and realistic as the one in my novel, I think it would be highly addictive – like having a holodeck in your living room.

Alex: Do you plan on any sort of sequel or future book set in this world?

Ernie: Yes, but that story is still just a rough outline at this point.

Alex: Ready Player One will also – hopefully – be a movie.  Can you talk about this?

Ernie: Yes. The film rights were snatched up by Warner Bros. and I recently finished writing the first draft of the screenplay. Now they’re looking for the right director to continue developing the script.

Alex: Do you think Ready Player One could become a video game also?

Ernie: I hope so. Warner Bros. created a really cool MMO game to promote their Matrix films and I would love for them to do something like that with the OASIS in Ready Player One.

Alex: Let’s talk about your unusual flux capacitor-bearing vehicle.  What’s the story behind it?

Ernie: I’ve wanted to own a DeLorean since I was ten years old, but it always seemed like a childish dream. But when I sold my novel (in which the protagonist drives/flies a DeLorean), it occurred to me that I could finally buy my dream car and drive it across the country on my book tour, and also feature it in my author photo. Then it would be a “business expense.” So I did just that, and the car was a huge hit on my book tour. My DeLorean even has its own website – ecto88.com.

Ecto88

Alex: You also seem to have an unhealthy obsession with Ghostbusters, what do you have to say for yourself?

Ernie: Who you gonna call?

Alex: What are your thoughts and hopes for Ghostbusters III?

Ernie: That Bill Murray plays a ghost in it and that it doesn’t suck.

Alex: Do you have any other books or projects you’re currently working on?

Ernie: Yes, I’m writing a little indie coming-of-age movie that I hope to direct.

Alex: Who are some of your favorite authors?

Ernie: Douglas Adams, Kurt Vonnegut, Neal Stephenson, Jonathan Tropper, Richard K. Morgan, et al.

Alex: What are you reading now?

Ernie: REAMDE by Neal Stephenson.

Alex: What do you like to do in your spare time?

Ernie: Hang out with my daughter and play Super Friends.

Alex: If you were able to travel to the future using a time machine, what would you bring back?

Ernie: An abundant source of cheap, clean, renewable energy. That would come in handy right about now.

Going at 88 Miles Per Hour: An Interview with Ernest Cline

An Interview with Ernest Cline

Ernest Cline

Ernest Cline is an unabashed nerd who wrote the screenplay to the popular cult hit, Fanboys, and then spent some time writing his first novel, Ready Player One, that was eventually sold to Crown Books, as well as being optioned for a movie. In the interview he talks about how he got started in writing, what sort of work it took to write Ready Player One, and what he’s working on next. Read the interview . . .

Ready Player One

Swimming with the Fishes: An Interview with Juliet Eilperin

Juliet Eilperin

Juliet Eilperin

Juliet Eilperin is a journalist who started working for the Washington Post in 1998, covering politics. In 2004 she switched to covering the environment, which led her to writing about our world’s oceans and then sharks. Demon Fish is her first book. In the interview she talks about how she got started as a journalist, what it’s like writing for the Washington Post, and whether she thinks humanity will ever come to full accept sharks. Read the interview . . .

Demon Fish