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Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Interview with James Rollins (interviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)


(Author picture courtesy of James Rollins)

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Read Fantasy Book Critic’s review of The Starless Crown

Read A Paean To Myrillia (The Godslayer Chronicles World And Series Analysis

Read Fantasy Book Critic’s review of Subterranean
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s review of The Judas Strain
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s review of The Doomsday Key
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s review of The Last Oracle
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s review of The Devil Colony
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s review of The Blood Gospel

Today I'm thrilled to be chatting with James Rollins, he's been one of my favourites since I first read Excavation. I was especially excited to see him return to the epic fantasy genre after more than 15-plus years. We chat about how James decided to write The Moonfall saga. How much research went into its inception and why this world is such a unique one. Read on and find out more about James and his highly anticipated return....

Q] Welcome back Jim and it has been 115,039 days since your return to the epic fantasy genre, how do feel about your return now that there have been so many changes (advent of e-books, audiobook resurgence, indie publishing, etc.)

JR: It’s definitely an interesting time. So many new voices, so many new ways of telling stories, and so many new avenues to getting stories in front of an audience. While it might’ve been 115,039 days since my last fantasy was published, I’ve still continued to read avidly. It was seeing such a new renaissance in what was being done in the genre that stoked my interest in returning to my fantasy roots (and a fat file folder of maps, charts, drawings, plot elements, and character bios that had been stewing for nearly a decade in my “idea box”). Still, stories are stories no matter how they’re told or how they’re read.

The fundamentals of worldbuilding, creating engaging characters, placing them in a vast epic roller-coaster of an adventure remains the same. It’s been so challenging, exciting, and ultimately rewarding to return to fantasy in this new vibrant landscape. I’m eager to continue on.
Q] Thank you for your time and for speaking about the inception of the Moonfall saga. You have mentioned inyour video interview, how you spoke with your agent before deciding to use this idea for a fantasy world rather than a thriller one set in our world. What do you think convinced your agent about this story to be set in a secondary fantasy world?

JR: Likely foremost, my agent loves the science fiction/fantasy genre, representing such luminaries as Philip K. Dick and such powerhouses as Terry Goodkind. He also has a keen interest in the natural world. So building/evolving an ecosystem and biosphere on such a dynamic and harsh environment as a tidally locked planet, where life struggles to carve out a niche between the extremes of blistering heat and eternally dark ice, was as appealing to him as it was to me. In the end, it was a no-brainer to pursue a fantasy route in opening this unique world versus a modern-day thriller.
Q] In the same interview, you have also mentioned that you consulted with an astrobiologist and a xenobiologist while creating the animal species within this world. How much did that help with the development of the Myr-bat who form such a crucial part of the plot? Did you already plan for them from the start or did they come to plot prominence during the development with the biologists?

JR: I knew I needed both a synthetic monitor of this world, tracing back to a time before this world stopped spinning. But the more I considered those scientists in the ancient past, I thought they wouldn’t place all their eggs in one basket and that they might want a back-up. In this case, a biological monitor, something genetically engineered to survive the passing millennia. And they’d want it not only to be a stubborn, hardy species, one capable of surviving, but something that could harbor a great intelligence of its own. So I considered various “colony species” out there and decided a bat—a nocturnal species already attuned to the moon—might be the perfect creature to adapt

Q] You have mentioned in various interviews about your box/binders of ideas that often fuel your books. What particular article/thing fueled this idea of a tidally locked world?

JR: I’m always collecting two sort of “ideas” in my story-creating box:  historical mysteries and bits of science that make go “what if?”. In this case, I came across a Scientific American article discussing the discovery of tidally locked planets circling distant stars, some even orbiting within the ideal “Goldilock Zone” of  their respective suns. So that got me wondering if life could exist on such planets. 

The answer from astrobiologists:  yes, especially considering the thermodynamics of those two hemispheres’ extremes (ice and fire) that could set up a flow of winds, shifting some of the heat to the cold side and vice versa. Then it took leaning on my own background in evolutionary biology and consulting with xenobiologists to begin to build the biosphere for this world.
Q] While the readers can discover the Myr Bats and their special connection with Nyx within The Starless Crown. I wanted to clarify if there is more to the relationship and will we get to find out in the sequels?

JR: We’ve barely scratched the surface about their relationship:  genetically, physically, and emotionally. The second book in the series delves more deeply into this pair, while revealing shocking secrets that bear light on them as Nyx and her allies venture into the frozen hemisphere of their world.
Q] Amidst all your fantasy series so far, there’s been one fascinating facet. The stories often feature and focus on young teenaged protagonists (Elena, Dart, Nyx). They are intelligent characters who are on cusp of adulthood, and yet face gargantuan pressure. What makes you focus the stories’ crux on their young shoulders?

JR: I enjoy writing stories that have an ensemble cast, to reveal a world through many different eyes, both human and otherwise. But also through the viewpoint of characters at different ages and temperaments. In the various series, you have the grizzled, embittered warrior—Er’ril, Tylar, or Graylin—who serve as mentors as much as protectors. But I find revealing a new world through fresh eyes—those young characters who are still finding their footing in their world—to be a great way to guide readers who are also struggling to find their footing in a new landscape.
Q] Another lovely aspect was that you have characters who often have animal partners. Now Rollins’ thriller readers are well aware and enjoy it tremendously. The Starless Crown continues this wonderful trend; can you tell us about one of these creatures called the Vargr?

JR: The Vargr are my interpretation of an evolved and cold-adapted hyena hybrid. They’re savage, hard-hearted, feral at the edges, yet with a pack level of loyalty to those they bond to. I love to showcase animals in my books—and not a Disney version of a fantasy animal that breaks into song halfway through the story, but a true depiction, warts and all, of creatures and animals, how they might bond to us. I researched theories on how humankind first domesticated wolves and incorporated that into how the vargr are bound to Graylin, barely tamed yet loyal in their own way.
Q] Shiya, Pratik and a couple of non-POV characters play important roles in this opening volume. Any chance of them taking POV turns in the future volumes.

JR: For sure, with an already large ensemble of characters, each elbowing for attention, for their viewpoints to be shown, I had to limit who served that role in the first book. But even Pratik has a couple scenes written from his viewpoint, like when he’s alone in a ship’s cabin trying to understand the mystery of the flowing bronze statue that is Shiya. And in the second book (I don’t want to spoil anyone who hasn’t read the first book), there is no way I could not expand Pratik’s viewpoint.
Q] Pratik’s name is very, very Indian in its origin. It’s inclusion in this secondary fantasy world, it that coincidence or something more?

JR: It’s far from a coincidence. For those eagle-eyed readers, the first book is chocked full of Easter eggs. If you study the map, look at the language, there are secrets buried there. Even the mystery hidden in the Shrouds near the end of the first book has a real-life counterpart. One clue:  It’s not called the Northern Henge for no reason. For those who put in the effort, you can actually discover photographs of what I describe in that final battle space. The place actually exists.
Q] What can you reveal about book II? Any blurb hints or any pointers about the title perhaps?

JR: The title is The Cradle of Ice and, as mentioned above, it sees the story expand into the frozen hemisphere of the world, seeking something hidden far out into the ice—while at the same time, war breaks out across the Crown, confounding efforts to discover another mystery buried deep in the lands of the Southern Klashe.
Q] After 15 years, how hard was it to write fantasy wherein worldbuilding has to be focused on in so much more details than say the SIGMA thrillers. What would you say was the trickiest proposition for you?

JR: Worldbuilding is both challenging and exhilarating. As a writer, you get to take on a mantle of godhood in crafting and creating your world. Yet, as they say, “with great power comes great responsibility.” You have to make sure each piece of that global puzzle makes sense, that it has a coherent history, that the peoples, creatures, religions of each corner of world are rooted in that landscape. It’s daunting but ultimately satisfying if done well.
For me, the trickiest part is the language, of balancing when to use a new word for each and every object. Can you call a spoon a spoon—or do you need call it something different? If you go overboard, the story will get too confusing with all the foreign vocabulary infused throughout it. If not enough, then the world is not going to strike a reader as unique enough.

It’s a delicate balancing act that I found exasperating at times to pull off.
Q] You have been generous in your praise about Soroya Corcoran. It is very well deserved and more. What do you love about her cartography skills and will we get more maps?

JR: There’s nothing generous about it. Each word of praise is well deserved. Soraya is a wonderful cartographer (thanks, Mihir, for revealing her talents to me years ago). The maps for Cradle of Ice are already finished. They reveal the landscape on the frozen half of the world and delve farther south along the Crown, illustrating the lands of the Southern Klashe. Soraya even produced colored versions of those maps that are STUNNING.
Q] Is there a possibility that when the series is done, we will be getting a full global view of Urth?

JR: Indeed, you will. Each successive book will reveal more of this tidally locked planet in all its glory.
Q] As a Clemens fan, I have to ask about the Godslayer Chronicles for updating the readers. How fares your progress on the fourth book?

JR: Alas, not much progress on Book 4 of Godslayer. At the moment, I’m focusing my efforts on the Moonfall Saga, so it shines as brightly as possible. I’m hoping, by doing so, that it’ll reestablish my bona fides as a fantasy writer, engendering renewed interest in return of Tylar, Dart, Brant, and the rest of the characters from the Godslayer Chronicles.
Q] Thank you for your time Jim, can we expect Moonfall volume II in 2023? Any parting words for your fan legions?

JR: The Cradle of Ice (Book 2) is currently slated for release in February, 2023. With the world and characters established in the first book and the stakes understood, this second book is a wild ride. It starts with an explosion, a crashing airship, and only ratchets up the tension, action, and shocks from there. As to final words:  I’d like to thank everyone who has ventured with me into this new world, and I look forward to the journey ahead.



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