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.

Faces of Publishing #2: Michael Homler, Editor, St. Martin’s Press

Michael Homler

Michael Homler is an Editor at St. Martin’s Press.  He has worked on a number of terrific books from the forthcoming JOE GOLEM AND THE DROWNING CITY by Mike Mignola and Chris Golden to Jonathan Maberry’s DEAD OF NIGHT and his Joe Ledger series.  He has also published Shannon Delany’s 13 to Life series, and the literary biographies HIDING MAN, JUST ONE CATCH, and JAMES TIPTREE JR.

Michael Homler

Alex C. Telander: When did you know you wanted to become an editor?

Michael Homler: Probably about two years into the job when I realized that it could be a fun profession and that you could get excited about producing books people love to read.

Alex: How did you get started in publishing?

Michael: I started out as an assistant and climbed the proverbial ladder.

Alex: What does an ordinary day look like for you?

Michael: It’s usually a lot of running around to meetings, putting out small fires, and fielding phone calls.  There’s some reading that goes on, but most of that is done at home.


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

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

Alcatraz’s Biggest Fan: An Interview with Alan Jacobson + BookBanter Site Update

Alan Jacboson

Alan Jacobson

Alan Jacobson is the bestselling author of the Karen Vail mysteries, beginning with The 7th Victim, Crush, Velocity, and most recently, Inmate 1577. He has spent a number of years researching with the FBI, especially in the Behavioral Analysis Unit. He was previously interviewed on BookBanter with the release of Crush. In this interview, Jacobson talks about how he writes one of his thriller, the intense amount of research Inmate 1577 required, and why he feels this research is important, and where he sees Karen Vail headed in his next novel. Read the interview . . .


The BookBanter website has gone through a bit of a facelift and change, all for its improvement.  I’ve switched to a two-column method, so that way you don’t feel like you’re being bombarded with material of all different varieties.  I’ve gone for simplification,  however all the information that used to be there is still on the site, just not on the homepage, but under various other pages.

From now on the homepage will feature the latest BookBanter interview, the latest Links Roundup, the Review of the Week, a BookBanter Blog post, a listing of the four latest interviews, the latest twelve book reviews, and the latest BookBanter columns.  This will all be on the left column and will be update daily and accordingly, with the latest update appearing at the very top.

In the right column you will be able to see upcoming interviews on BookBanter, currently listed for the rest of 2011.

Finally, I’ve added a quick-links bar at the bottom of the page to help in navigating around the site.

The Literary Acrobat: An Interview with Genevieve Valentine

Genevieve Valentine Interview

Genvieve Valentine
Genevieve Valentine, in addition to publishing a number of short stories, is the author of the interesting dark fantasy, Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti. In this interview, she talks about where the idea for Mechanique came from, what sort of research it required, as well as how she created the characters. She also talks about things like who she likes to read and what she likes to do for fun.  [Read the interview . . .]


The Zombie Lover: An Interview with John Joseph Adams

An Interview with Robert M. Durling

John Joseph Adams

John Joseph Adams has been called “the reigning king of the anthology world” by Barnes &, and has published such great and bestselling anthologies as Brave New Worlds, Living Dead, Living Dead 2, By Blood We Live, and many more. He has been nominated for the 2011 Best Editor (Short Form) Hugo Award. He is the editor for Fantasy Magazine and Lightspeed Magazine. He is also the co-host for the podcast, The Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy.

In the interview he talks about how he got started as an editor, how the whole process works, some forthcoming projects he’s working on, as well as what his “dream anthology” would be. Click here to read the interview.

Lividng Dead Living Dead 2 Wastelands By Blood We Live By Blood We Live

The Li’l Depressed Boy Among the Ghosts: An Interview with Sina Grace

Sina Grace

Sina Grace

Sina Grace is an artist and illustrator who has published Cedric Hollows in Dial M For Magic, about a sorcerer sleuth in Orange County, and is working with S. Steven Struble on The Li’l Depressed Boy. Most recently he has illustrated the book Among the Ghosts, written by Amber Benson.

Alex: When did you know you wanted to be an artist?

Sina: I think the real question is: when did I know I want to be a storyteller?  I kind of always knew I never had the chops to call myself an artist, because my sister studied it so formally and was in rigorous art programs from high school through graduate school… but to get to the short of it: I was re-drawing and re-telling fairy tales and fables at the age of four on old Xerox paper.  I was always drawn to stories.  Further proof: in fifth grade, my intended career was “comic book illustrator.”

Alex: Who are some of your heroes who influenced you?

Sina: Right now, I die over Craig Thompson.  I look at the work he and Chris Ware do- and by hand at that- and it reminds me that I can always push harder.  I fawn over the artists of the Die Brücke movement (the only time I’ll be super snobby!).  Then there’s Arthur Rackham, and nowadays I absorb all of the Skybound artists: Cory Walker, Ryan Ottley, Charlie Adlard, Jason Howard, Ransom Getty, etc.  Seeing their artwork day in and day out shapes how I draw.

Alex: What was the first book you published and how did it happen?

Sina: In high school I did a zine called The Roller-Derby Robo-Dykes vs. The Cannibals.  It was partially as a project for my econ class, and then it was also to prove that I could finish a comic from start to finish.  I think PRISM has a few copies of it.  I actually did two printings of that book!

Alex: Do you like to write as well, or do you prefer doing artwork?

Sina: If I have a story to tell, I will go out there and tell it.  The past year I’ve really dedicated myself to working with other writers and telling their stories, and it’s been sincerely great, and helpful in learning how to write for myself.  At the end of the day, I would rather be my own boss, but being someone else’s employee helps my work ethic.

Alex: How would you define your style?

Sina: Amateurish!  Hah… I would say cartoony with attention to little details.

Alex: Do you have a preference to what tools you like to use?

Sina: I use micron pens, smooth Bristol boards, and my life would be over if I ever lost access to these Pentel brush pens a classmate showed me during a life drawing lesson.  Seriously, it’s like having a decent brush that you can take with you anywhere!

Alex: How did you get involved with Amber Benson and Among the Ghosts?

Sina: We had been friends for a few years, and she had gotten me Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials for Christmas one year.  As a thank you, I did a drawing of the protagonist Lyra with her polar bear buddy Iorek.  She liked it so much, that when she decided to push forward with pitching Among the Ghosts, she called me and asked if I would do a few pictures with the proposal.  That afternoon I started doing a ton of drawings of this little girl I hadn’t met, and all the ghosts she would be attending school with.

Alex: What was your process for illustrating the book?

Sina: Amber sent me the first draft of the novel, and I found moments that spoke to me, or that seemed interesting to have visualized, and would doodle those out for her approval.  To her credit, she has never once rejected anything (if you can, do a book with Amber, it’s the best!).  Once we had editors, they had me send a list of illustrations I wanted to do with short descriptions.  Once those were approved, I sent in detailed sketches.  There would be some back and forth on notes, and at that point I would work on the final art board.  We got lucky because our editors loved the book and only wanted to make everything as awesome as it could be, so their notes were sincere and only made the book better.  They saw what Amber and I were trying to do, and they were not working against that.

Alex: Do you confer a lot with the publisher and/or with Amber Benson

Sina: In general, or with the book?  Heh!  In both regards: yes.  I love the people I worked with at Simon and Schuster, and it was super rewarding to have them guide the illustrations.  Same goes for Amber.

Alex: How would you compare illustrating a novel to doing a comic?

Sina: A novel was a lot more work because there were more people to answer to.  In comics, I’ve either self-published, or been a part of anthologies, or worked with Image… and every single one of those avenues is very hands-off.  A novel allows you to do awesome illustrations and work around your weaknesses because you’re selling single iconic moments, whereas comics demand a certain fluidity and ability to draw EVERYTHING.

Alex: Do you know if there will be a sequel to Among the Ghosts?

Sina: I can’t say yet.  People seem to like the book, and the drawings, so my hope is that I will be involved if there is a sequel.

Alex: Can you talk about your future projects?

Sina: I have a new comic book series I am drawing coming out February 9 from Image Comics called The Li’l Depressed Boy that I’m super excited about!  Then I am working on a new graphic novel called Not My Bag, which chronicles retail hell in a very Black Swan fashion (pun intended).

Alex: If you had the choice, what would you like to do most in your work?

Sina: I want to continue doing the kind of stuff I did in Among the Ghosts, where the lines were dense, and the art was still whimsical.  Honestly, I don’t know how I pulled off some of the stuff I did in that book.  Blame it on the author.

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

Sina: I go to coffee shops and draw.  Hobbies and stuff include reading books, and going to concerts and stuff.  Also, I’m that Los Angeles guy who loves seeing movies in the theatre and making a night of it.  Pretty lame stuff.

Alex: Do you have any advice for up and coming artists?

Sina: You’re always a student.  There’s no questioning that.  The minute you admit you have more to learn and are willing to work on improving—that is when you will actually make leaps and bounds.

Alex: What is your favorite TV show and/or movie?

Sina: I loved Pushing Daisies.  That show is the perfect example of how you can push every single aspect of your production – the music, the sets, the costumes, the acting- to the limits in order to create the best looking product.  R.I.P.

As for movie… Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion, without a doubt.
Among the Ghosts

Magical Realism Meets Video Games: An Interview with Salman Rushdie

Salman Rushdie

Salman Rushdie

Salman Rushdie is an author that most people know in one way or another.  He is the winner of the Booker Prize (what has been called the British equivalent of the Pulitzer), he has been appointed a Knight Bachelor by Queen Elizabeth II, and has had a fatwā issued against him for his book The Satanic Verses.  His latest book is Luka and the Fire of Life, a fantasy tale about a boy whose father is sick and it is necessary for the boy – Luka – to travel into a fantasy world and capture some of this “fire of life” to cure his father; but he is up against unbeatable odds: no one has ever made through this fantasy world and survived; no one has ever managed to capture the fire of life; and no one has ever made it back to the real world with the fire of life.  The book was written for his second son, after he originally wrote Haroun and the Sea of Stories, for his first son; they’d each asked for a story they could read and enjoy.

During our interview, he admitted to originally wanting to be an actor, then decided on becoming a writer, which was certainly not something that was easy for him, and took him many years to hone and perfect until he became a bestselling author with Midnight’s Children.  As for his use of magical realism in his work, Rushdie talked about his being raised on eastern culture, religion and mythology, and that in wanting to make his stories new and different from everything else, magical realism was an ideal fit.  Luka and the Fire of Life employs elements of video games, and while this book was written for his son – an avid gamer – Rushdie admitted to he and games not really getting along, other than fun apps on his Iphone.  The last time he and a video game had any sort of relationship was with the original Super Mario Brothers.

Salman Rushdie hopes readers first and foremost are entertained with an original story when reading his books, but while he doesn’t seek to use overbearing themes or messages in his work, he does hope readers will see something in his characters that will make them stop and think about themselves and their own lives.  As for what Rushdie is working on next, he doesn’t have any novels in the works, but is about a third of the way through what will likely be a fascinating memoir.

The audio interview with Salman Rushdie will be available on January 1st in Episode 40 of BookBanter.

You can read the full article here.

Discovering Our Past: An Interview with Brian Fagan

Brian Fagan

Brian Fagan

Brian Fagan is the professor emeritus of Anthropology at the University of California, Santa Barbara.  He is the author of numerous books including Chaco Canyon, From Stonehenge to Samarkand, The Great Warming, and most recently Cro-Magnon: How the Ice Age Gave Birth to the First Modern Humans.

Alex: When did you become interested in anthropology and prehistory?

Brian: I took classes in archaeology at Cambridge University and became fascinated with the past. Then a chance meeting while an undergraduate with J. Desmond Clark, the doyen of African archaeologists, led me to a six year stint in Central Africa working on agricultural villages and pre-European African history.

Alex: Did you ever think you’d be the author of so many books?

Brian: While I was in Africa, we were going through the transition to independence and needed to incorporate the latest archaeological research into university and school textbooks. There was no other material. This got me into newspaper article writing, then books for the general public. When I started on it, I had no idea that I would become an archaeological writer.

Alex: With each book that you publish, is there a particular answer you are searching for?

Brian: No. Each book is on a different subject, worked out between the publisher and I. Each has some themes or a single theme, and one goes from there.

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

Brian: An understanding of the past and of its importance to navigating the problems of today’s world.

Alex: What would you say are the three biggest misconceptions average people have about our prehistory?

Brian: That’s all about dinosaurs. Wrong. Archaeology is about ancient people,

That our ancestors were cave people. Yes, some dwelt in caves, but there was no universal practice.

That the world and humanity was created according to the story in Genesis 1,1. That is a matter of religious faith. Science shows that human evolution goes back at least 3 million years.

Alex: What were some of the most shocking discoveries you made during your career?

Brian: I have never made a “shocking” discovery! The most interesting one was being involved with the excavation of a trading village in the Middle Zambezi Valley, where we found gold ornaments, burials of traders, also Indian Ocean beads and seashells 600 miles from the sea. All this dates to about A.D. 1450, just before the Portuguese arrived in the Indian Ocean.

Alex: What are your thoughts on Homo floresiensis?

Brian: I am no expert and have no first hand experience of the fossils or other finds. As I understand it, the issue of identification is unresolved. My guess is that it’s some form of modern human transformed by extreme isolation. But I may be wrong.

Alex: You studied a lot on climate history.  What are your thoughts on our currently climate situation?

Brian: It is very unfortunate that the climate change issue has been politicized and reduced to ideological slogans. My experience with ancient climate change and extended discussions with climatologists has convinced me that we are living in a warming world and that humans have had some effect on global climate. This seems to be a broad consensus among serious climatologists. Ideologists do not make serious climate change experts.

Alex: Is there a particular location or time period you would like to study further?

Brian: I am a generalist, interested in the broad issues of the past. As such, the issues that fascinate me are ones where archaeology has something to contribute to contemporary society—i.e., water, self-sustainability, climate change, and so on.

Alex: Do you think we will continue to discover further species of hominin, and is there a definitive “missing link” to be found?

Brian: Yes, we most certainly will discover new forms of hominin in the future, for our ancestors were as diverse as we are and we only have a tiny snapshot of them. The notion of a missing link is Victorian and makes no sense in a world of sophisticated evolutionary theory. Think of human evolution not as a line of development, but as a bush with many branches.

Alex: It seems like more and more is being learned about the period around the end of the last ice age, and that our earlier ancestors were a lot smarter than we thought.  Why do you think this is?

Brian: Homo sapiens, modern humans identical to us have been around for about 200,000 years and have had the same cognitive abilities as we do. There was never any question of ancient humans being less smarter than we are. Such thinking is a relic from racist doctrines that were popular in the 19th century. Our ancestors were just as innovative as we are and adapted brilliantly to Ice Age climate and to the major changes thereafter when agriculture began.

Alex: So Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons.  Could they reproduce?  Are we descendants of their comingling?

Brian: The latest molecular biology theories state that modern humans and Neanderthals interbred and reproduced, perhaps in the Near East and possibly in Asia, albeit on a small scale. This is brand new research that is still being assessed. It was not around when I wrote my Cro-Magnon book. No one can answer the last part of your question. Theoretically, the answer is yes in a very limited way.

Alex: What do you think might be some of the biggest discoveries to be made in anthropology in the next ten years?

Brian: No question, some of the most spectacular discoveries will come from China and Southeast Asia, where research has hardly begun. We can also expect new revelations about human evolution.

Alex: Can you talk about what you’re next book is going to be about and when it will be released?

Brian: My next book, named Elixir:  History of Water and Humans will be published by Bloomsbury Press in May/June 2011. This is a history of human relationships with water over the past 12,000 years and up to the Industrial Revolution.  Basically it’s about gravity and water management before fossil fuels, and how human societies made themselves, or tried to make themselves, self-sustaining as far as water is concerned. And there are obvious lessons from this in our water challenged world.

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

Brian: Cruising under sail, small boat sailing, bicycling, and kayaking.

Alex: Who do you like to read?

Brian: Anything that is not archaeology, especially serious non-fiction and history. The Kindle and iPad are the best things for reading since the printing press!

Alex: Have you ever had the urge to write fiction?

Brian: Never. That requires very different skills. There are those, of course, who think that my books are fiction! Maybe they’re right!

Alex: Since you seem to have traveled just about everywhere, where do you like to go on vacation?

Brian: I like to stay home!

Alex: What’s the biggest question you’re seeking an answer to on prehistory?

Brian: How did different human societies adapt to short- and long-term climatic change? We have barely begun looking into this question.