It's been a long, long wait for fans of Scott Sigler's science-fiction series that begin with Infected and Contagious, but the story finally concludes with Pandemic, out today.
Why, oh why, would an author make his readers wait this long to find out what happens in a series, especially when everyone's about to die?
Sigler offers a look into the years between the first two books and Pandemic—and why the conclusion kicks off in real time, five years after the events of Contagious.
If you read a series as the books come out, waiting for that last installment can be barbed-wire torture, you want your story, and you want it now. Waiting a year between books feels normal. But two years? That’s enough to make the die-hard fan rethink her devotion to an author. Three years? Oh, the insufferable agony.
The real jerks, however, straight-up tease their fans with that dreaded magic number: five years between books.
I’m one of those jerks. Allow me to explain why.
Five years . . . who does that to their fans? Well, lots of authors. If I can armor myself with two of the more famous examples, I give you Stephen King and George R.R. Martin. King averaged five years between books I-IV of his Dark Tower series (the first three books of which I personally count as the best trilogy of all time, of any kind). GRRM, of course, recently caught all kinds of Amazon-review hell for the five-year wait between A Feast for Crows, book four of his Song of Fire and Ice series, and book five, A Dance with Dragons.
Sometimes, delays happen.
Five years also turned out to be the wait between Contagious, book two of my Infected series, and book three, Pandemic, which is out today from Crown Publishing. The long pause in my series is a little different from those juggernaut properties listed above in one key way—that five year delay isn’t just in the publication dates, it’s also in the story itself. When Pandemic opens, the characters from Contagious (the few who survived that book, anyway) have been going about their lives for five years since Contagious ended.
I did this for two reasons.
First, the five-year fictional delay had to happen because of my storytelling style, in that all my horror/thrillers—not just the Infected series, but my stand-alone novels as well — happen in “real time.” The date of hardcover publication always coincides with the date the story in the book begins. If you open up Pandemic on January 21, you’ll see characters living in an eerily similar-but-fictitious January 21 of their own.
Second, Contagious doesn’t end like most thrillers do. The hero doesn’t snip the blue wire when the counter reads 0:01 and save the day with only a moment to spare. At the end of that book, shit goes wrong, way wrong, with world-impacting consequences. That big ending meant the story and the characters needed a little time to breathe. The world needed time to return to normal so that it was ready to face the next level of disaster in Pandemic.
Did this long delay affect my writing style? Absolutely.
For starters, I wrote Infected, the first book in the series, over the course of a decade while working at least one (and usually two) day jobs. The sequel, Contagious, was also penned while holding down a regular gig. After Contagious, I was able to leave those jobs behind. That gave me five years of hardcore growth as a full-time author between book two and book three. I am a changed writer, a stronger writer.
But like the characters in my book, I’m also five years longer on this Earth. I’m not just a different writer, I’m also a different person. Half a decade has done to me what it does to most of us: magnified my understanding of mortality. Everything ends, everyone dies. It’s also taught me that, sometimes, even the strongest of relationships don’t last. We are chaotic creatures: People grow and change, which can warp and shear bonds once thought unbreakable. This happens in Pandemic: The opening scenes show us how a love forged in fire has cooled and fractured, driving apart two people who clearly belong together.
Pandemic is dear to me because it catches me in creative flux: The story is stronger because I’m better at showing both the strength of love and the pain of loss. The span between books gave me the perfect way to illustrate the subtle shift of a good-to-going-bad relationship by not focusing on the slow process of dissolution, but rather giving the reader two jarringly mismatched bookends. Those who’ve been through such difficulties know that love doesn’t die in a spectacular supernova, but rather fizzles out in a slow, cooling fade.
Does that mean I turned Pandemic into a romance novel? Not in this lifetime, sister. I engineered the climax of this book with one thought in mind: tear the roof off this sucker. I’m still that slam-bang author who wrote the grizzly tale Infected. While five years of added wisdom let me tell a story with more complexity and depth, I remained true to my soul, to my roots and to my kick-ass fans.
And to those fans, to the people who have been blogging, emailing, Tweeting and Facebooking at me for the last five years, demanding the conclusion to their much-loved story? To you, I say two things: Sorry about the wait, and I hope the end result was worth it.
Thanks, Scott! Fans of the Infected series finally find out what happens to the human race on the brink of mass extinction, as Pandemic comes out today!
Author photo image credit Amy Davis-Roth, surlyramics.com.
Every author finds their calling—and their material—differently. Sarah Bruni, whose first novel, The Night Gwen Stacy Died, was published just last month, shares her path to publication in a guest blog post. Perhaps it's not surprising that such a fresh and unusual story—which blends the Spider-Man mythology with the story of two unconventional loners—didn't present itself in a normal way!
I didn’t set out to write a novel at all. If I had I known from the start that’s what I was doing, I probably would have approached the task very differently. I began writing a collection of short stories set in Chicago in 2006. In one of them, a lonely young woman working in an Iowa gas station, eager for escape, allowed herself to be kidnapped by a gun-wielding taxi driver who called himself Peter Parker. Making a pact to rob her gas station and drive to Chicago in his stolen taxi, these two outcasts were my collection’s only characters who behaved so oddly: borrowing identities from comic books, acting out on the fringes of society. I didn’t know what to make of them; neither did my readers.
"Writing short fiction, I was always anxious to get into a new character’s headspace each time I finished a story. Working as a novelist taught me a particular kind of patience."
The thing that’s struck me most about the novelist’s task this first time through is the incredible sense of commitment that it requires to spend so much time in a single created world. Writing short fiction, I was always anxious to get into a new character’s headspace each time I finished a story. Working as a novelist taught me a particular kind of patience. It was sometimes a challenge to stay committed to these characters I had first encountered nearly seven years ago, to continue to find new ways to move with them through their experiences. But being a long and imperfect form, a novel allows opportunities for digression and experimentation that are different from those available in shorter fiction. I was surprised by how much my characters were able to change and develop with me as a writer, how their behaviors shifted along with my interests—that’s in some way what made me stick with them for so long.
guest post by Henry L. Carrigan Jr.
It is somehow fitting that Harry Crews and Earl Scruggs died on the same day, March 28, 2012. While the pugnacious and audacious Southern novelist and the lightning-fast and inventive banjo player lived worlds apart, each had a deep affinity for looking at the world with all its blemishes, seeing through the masks behind which most people hide, and using humor, however sarcastic, to reveal the truth beneath the lies we tell ourselves. We'll miss each of these great artists, but Harry Crews' death brings almost to a standstill the Southern Gothic tradition that started gathering steam when the Dixie Limited, William Faulkner, started rolling down the tracks, picking up Flannery O'Connor, Carson McCullers, Larry Brown, James Dickey, Barry Hannah and Cormac McCarthy along the way. Crews was one of the last of a tradition. Thankfully, there has been some talk of reprinting his novels and publishing the memoir on which he was working before he died.
Flannery O’Connor once wrote that when you have to assume your audience does not know what you’re talking about, “then you have to make your vision apparent by shock—to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost blind, you draw large and startling figures.” Crews, the pugilist whose many novels feature characters trying to make their way in a South much changed from O’Connor’s, follows O’Connor’s dictum. He depicts freakishly grotesque men and women caught in a world where old values have been replaced by new ones, country replaced by city, and where the struggle to know and to hold onto the truth is a violent one. Midgets, deformed individuals and scarred men and women stand at the center of Crews' novels not only because Crews himself bore the scars of an early bout with polio, burns over two-thirds of his body after being scalded from falling into a vat of boiling water at age six, and broken bones from his many bouts in the boxing ring, but also because, as he wrote in his novel Scar Lover, "a scar means the hurt is over, the wound is closed and healed, done with."
Pick up any of Crews' novels, from his first, the widely acclaimed The Gospel Singer, to his later novels, such as his less widely praised Celebration, and you'll find a writer baring his soul and trying to get readers to search their own hearts. He once said that if he had done his job right when he was writing, he would "really get you turned back on yourself, and on your own code of ethics or morality or vision of the world or sense of self or whatever. If I get you turned back on yourself, then I done my job. I've done what I set out to do."
Crews always declared that no matter how hard writing was for him—writing 500 words a day was a successful day for him, he once wrote—it was a way of understanding himself. In his most famous piece of advice to writers, Crews delivered advice borne out of his own practice and declared, "If you're gonna write, for God in heaven's sake, try to get naked. Try to write the truth. Try to get underneath all the sham, all the excuses, all the lies that you've been told."
Crews wrote to understand himself and the world, and he had little patience for the business of publishing. In a remark that all book publishers should have framed on their doorposts, he once announced, "If the shoe business were handled like the publishing business, we'd all be barefoot."
Harry Crews' novels might sometimes be hard to read because they're filled with violence, blood sport and grotesque characters, but they shout out, "Pick me up and read me," for they drive us to confront our often grotesque sense of self, the lies we tell ourselves to protect ourselves from harsh truths and the destruction of our society and the world around us under the banner of illusory values. And, man, do we need Harry Crews and his novels more now than ever.
Henry L. Carrigan Jr. is a regular reviewer for BookPage.
guest post by Jaden Terrell
Readers never tire of reading about their favorite characters. Sherlock Holmes' fans were so insatiable that his author killed him off and was forced to resurrect him through a series of prequels. When I started my first Jared McKean novel, I hoped to inspire the same passion in readers. I knew that most successful series characters have the following traits in common, so before I sent the book into the world, I tried to make sure Jared possessed them.
They are vulnerable. We love an underdog, and a character’s vulnerabilities give readers a reason to root for him. Jared is still in love with his ex-wife, who is married to another man. He has family ties that leave him emotionally vulnerable.
Just like real people, they are flawed. Jared is impulsive and quick to throw a punch. He’s a sucker for a woman with fluttering lashes and a hard luck story. But that’s okay. A character’s flaws can provide plot complications and add emotional depth as he struggles to overcome his weaknesses.
They are strong. Vulnerability must be balanced with competence and strength of character. Jared is an accomplished marksman, horseman, and martial artist. He does what he thinks is right, even at terrible costs.
They are complex, with backgrounds and connections that lead to complications. Working undercover in vice and later as a homicide detective, Jared cultivated skills and contacts that make him an effective PI but have left him with enemies. His connections with family and friends give him support but often lead to entanglements and even physical danger. He’s spent his life trying to live up to his father, a war hero turned patrol officer who was killed while intervening in an armed robbery. Jared is a former homicide detective—a man’s man—but his tough-guy demeanor is tempered by compassion. He nursed his mother through her losing battle with cancer, cares for a friend with a terminal disease, rescues horses, and is the loving father of a child with Down syndrome. These things give him added dimension and—I hope—make readers care about him.
Will readers love Jared as much as I do? Only time will tell. In the meantime, I’m off to spend the afternoon with my good friend Jared McKean.
Jaden Terrell is the author of Racing the Devil (Permanent Press), the first in a series featuring Nashville private detective Jared McKean, and is a contributor to Now Write Mysteries, a collection of writing exercises published by Tarcher/Penguin for crime fiction writers. Terrell is the executive director of the Killer Nashville Crime Literature Conference and the recipient of the 2009 Magnolia Award for service to the Southeastern chapter of Mystery Writers of America. Learn more at on her website, jadenterrell.com.
Happy New Year! One of the lead stories in our January issue is an interview with novelist Adam Johnson, whose new book set in North Korea became even more topical after the sudden death of the "Dear Leader" whose regime it details. Johnson was one of the few Westerners to visit the country. He spoke about the trip extensively during his chat with our interviewer Alden Mudge; here, Alden shares a few extra details from their conversation.
An American novelist in Pyongyang
guest post by Alden Mudge
During the seven years Adam Johnson spent writing his spellbinding new novel about North Korea, The Orphan Master’s Son, he became pretty knowledgeable about the country and its Dear Leader. Or as knowledgeable as an outsider can be about the place. As the news coverage of Kim Jong Il’s death shows, very little is known about what really goes on in North Korea. And what does leak out tends toward the crazy preposterous, as in this funny New York Times article about Kim Jong Il’s outlandish sporting achievements.
Ridiculous? Yes, but North Korea is no joke for its citizens. During our conversation about the new novel, Johnson told me that he worried about his safety before his trip to North Korea in 2007. But his sponsor assured him that North Korea was probably the most crime-free nation on Earth. Even the slightest infraction landed you in the Korean gulag, where life was at best nasty, brutish and short.
“Another thing that was terrifying to me,” Johnson said, “was this notion that no one has written a literary novel there in 60 years. You cannot write anything that doesn’t glorify the regime, so the novels are state-sponsored. They’re approved and distributed. And even of those, there are very few. People don’t have much reading time. It’s bizarre. There’s no other subject matter besides the glorification of the Kims. That means that not only has no one written a literary novel, but no one has read a novel whose goal is to enlighten the human condition in three generations.”
To explain the hierarchical mindset promoted in North Korea, Johnson told me about the national airline. “I discovered in my research that the reason North Korea’s Air Koryo is the most dangerous airline in the world is not because of its ancient planes—mine was from 1963 or 1964—or poor maintenance, but because the copilots weren’t allowed to correct the pilots. An FAA study I read concluded that in three big crashes North Korean copilots hadn’t felt able to point out a pilot’s mistake. They had inherited that dictatorial sense of top-down power that an obvious reality could not be contradicted.”
Johnson also noted that North Korea is slowly opening up the country to tourism (under very tightly controlled conditions) to attract hard currency. I’m very curious, but I think it will be a longish while before I apply to go there.
Don't miss the full interview with Adam Johnson.
Kristina McMorris' debut novel, Letters from Home (Kensington) is a World War II love story with a twist: It's based on McMorris' own grandfather's letters to his sweetheart—her grandmother. Here, the Portland author writes about the unique challenges this premise created for her work.
The challenges of writing historical fiction—when those who lived it are around to correct you!
guest post by Kristina McMorris
Finding inspiration to write my first novel, Letters from Home, was relatively simple. My grandmother had saved every one of the love letters my grandfather sent to her during World War II. Based on those beautiful pages, I imagined a Cyrano de Bergerac twist to their story, and voila! I had the premise of my book.
I brainstormed. I outlined. And then—oh, yes—I researched. A lot.
At first, my main motivation for accuracy stemmed from my fear of critics' feedback—namely from those ever-scary "anonymous" Amazon reviewers who supply their lengthy critiques in the form of bullet points. The deeper I delved into research, however, the more responsibility I felt to do justice to our humble veterans, whose sacrifices secured the freedoms we too often take for granted.
Writing historicals about any era poses a great number of challenges. In my case, I was featuring a period in which many of those who lived through it are still alive to call me a "nincompoop" over potential errors. (Not saying they'd use that word, precisely; but it's a great word, isn't it?)
On the upside, I eventually realized I had a wonderful opportunity that most historical authors don't: the possibility of hearing true accounts of the era firsthand. Before I knew it, my research process gained in-depth momentum. I had the pleasure of interviewing a wide variety of veterans, and even befriended a few members of the famed "Band of Brothers."
While I've gained an enormous amount of knowledge from textbooks, archivists, docents, and memoirs, no experience has compared to listening to tales from men who actually fought in the trenches. I'll never forget the Japanese-American vet who grew teary as he described the day that, unknowingly, he watched his own brother—an airman for the Japanese Empire—being shot down in a fighter plane overhead.
Sadly, two of the vets I met have passed away. Estimates claim we're losing a thousand of them daily, likely more. Hopefully, though, their amazing accounts and, perhaps more importantly, the lessons they've shared will live on through the written word. For that, I feel honored to contribute. And if, in the end, I still earn the label of a "nincompoop," it certainly won't be for lack of trying to get their stories right.
Kristina McMorris resides in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and their two sons, bundles of energy who take pride in transforming any cylindrical household object into a weapon. She is a former host of "Weddings Portland Style" and a winner of the Golden Heart. Find out more on her website.
Leslie Tentler just spent the weekend on the road touring in support of her first novel, Midnight Caller (MIRA). In a guest post, she talks about the experience of signing at Books-A-Million stores in Kingsport and Johnson City, Tennessee, near her hometown.
My father was a bit of a celebrity in my small hometown in Eastern Tennessee. He coached high school football there for over two decades and to this day, I can’t watch "Friday Night Lights" without getting homesick. The show is authentic. It takes me back, every time.
My parents are both gone now (my mother was a well-loved teacher there, as well), and I do wonder what they would think about the release of my first novel. Both would be proud, I believe, although I recall many years earlier telling my mother of my dream to be a published author. She said, “Just don’t write anything that would embarrass me,” which to her I’m sure meant no profanity or adult situations, and no violence.
I failed on all three counts but I still think somehow she would be proud.
Coming home for two local book signings and a local television show was more overwhelming than I expected. As someone who has lived and worked in Atlanta for many years now, I’ve drifted away from childhood friends. I have to admit to envying my former classmates who remain in our town and are adult friends with many of the same people they knew as kids. I miss that closeness that I’ve never been able to recapture as a “big city” girl.
It was this same group of friends who planned a “girls’ night out” that included me on the Friday prior to my first book signing. I was admittedly nervous. I’ve changed. I’m older and have gotten out of shape while pumping out the first book and the two others that form the Chasing Evil trilogy. I feel like a mom who’s given birth to three babies back to back. One toddling around, one just beginning to crawl and the third a newborn still in my arms. I’m pretty sure I have metaphorical spit-up on my shoulder.
But what I see that night are friendly, familiar faces who are just happy to be together and are also excited for me. “The girls” show up for my signing the next afternoon, even though quite a few of them have already bought and read the book. Still, they buy another at the bookstore. It’s a surreal experience and also a deeply touching one.
Two nights before my first hometown signing, I go to one of the bookstores with my former stepmother who has taken me out to dinner. She politely asks me if the store will mind if she buys all the copies on the shelf that night for family and friends. I tell her I’m pretty sure they won’t and that they have more copies in the back for the signing. As she pays at checkout, I have tears in my eyes.
The weekend visit to my hometown was a whirlwind, filled with interviews, time with family and long-lost friends, and me, writing notes in people’s books in the shaky handwriting I’m so ashamed of. But they don’t seem to mind that it looks as though a second-grader signed it. At this moment, I want to throw my arms around each of them and ask if I can sleep in their spare bedroom or on their couch; stay for just a few more days.
I’m not ready to go back to Atlanta, but Monday has arrived.
Thanks Leslie! For more info on her appearances, check her website. Look for the second book in the Chasing Evil trilogy, Midnight Fear, in August.
BookPage contributor Alden Mudge has been interviewing authors for more than 20 years. In a guest post, he reflects on a common thread among his three most recent interviews: Starbucks.
As a standard-issue Berkeley resident, I am a fierce loyalist of Peet’s Coffee. French Roast, to be exact. So of course I look with snifty disdain on the thin brew served at a-Starbucks-on-every-corner.
But credit where credit’s due. In the past three months, every novelist I’ve interviewed has mentioned writing some chunk of her novel at a local Starbucks.
Téa Obreht, whose remarkably assured first novel will be featured in next month’s issue of BookPage, usually writes on a desk she’s carted around from house to house over the last five years. But, she says, a portion of The Tiger’s Wife, was composed at a corner table in the local Starbucks in Ithaca, New York.
Lisa Genova, who was interviewed about her second novel, Left Neglected, last month, has a “beautiful writing room. It’s the sunroom of the house. It’s all windows and we overlook a saltwater creek that leads out to the ocean.” But as a mother of young children, she says she can’t write there. “There are too many distractions. I think, I’m home, I should throw in a load of laundry. I should call the repair guy. Household duties loom heavy over me when I’m here.” So what does she do? She goes to the local Starbucks in Chatham on Cape Cod. “There’s nothing else to do there but write the book.”
And then there is the very funny Karen Russell—author of Swamplandia!, and, like Téa Obreht, one of the exceptionally talented young writers named to the New Yorker’s 20 best writers under 40 list. Russell says she has to leave her apartment to write because it’s so teeny, tiny. So a lot of her debut novel was composed at a Starbucks on 181st Street in Manhattan.
A year ago she won a Cullman Fellowship at the New York Public Library, where they gave her “this beautiful office space to write in. It was like getting this amazing promotion. I think I embarrassed everyone. I was like, ‘look at this! The drawers open soundlessly!’ They looked at me like they were wondering if I’d been homeless or something.” Now she’s back writing at her Starbucks again. “I was away for a year writing in my fantastic library office and now I’m back. We never exchange words but I just feel like the vibe is ‘Oh, look who has come crawling back. Guess it didn’t work out so well, so you’re drinking your vente in the corner again.’ ”
So credit to Starbucks. But a query: Whatever happened to that old, ideal image of the writer in his garret or a room of her own? What could it mean that so many writers now prefer to work out there in public, in front of everyone?
Today the Book Case welcomes author C.J. Lyons, whose Angels of Mercy series (Jove) has added a jolt to the genre of medical suspense. The conclusion to the four-book series, Critical Condition, hits stores December 7, 2010, and Lyons stopped by to tell us a little bit about the difficulty of letting go of characters she—and her readers—had come to love.
When I sat down to start writing the final book in my Angels of Mercy medical suspense series, I had a play list running through my mind, filled with sad songs of goodbye, everything from Motown to Staind. After all, I'd spent three years with these four ladies. I'd watched them grow, fall in and out of love, save patients, dodge bullets, make mistakes, and fight for their lives. And now it was time to say goodbye.
When I began the first in the series, Lifelines, I had no idea how the book would end, much less the entire series. By book #2, Warning Signs, I had an idea, but it turned out to be wrong. Then I wrote book #3, Urgent Care, and it had an ending that surprised even me, one that totally changed how the series would conclude.
I began writing Critical Condition knowing only who would be left standing in the end. But I had no idea how they all would get there—and the main character, Gina, had a heck of a lot of growing up to do to earn her bittersweet happy ending. The only other thing I knew was that Critical Condition was, just like Gina's life, going to be an adrenalin-rushed hyper-driven thrill ride. Think Die Hard in a hospital.
So I wrote the book backwards. Literally. Wrote a scene, knew who was still alive in the scene, and figured out how they got there in order to write the next scene (which was really the previous scene, if that makes sense). The book ended up being so tightly paced that it reads in "real time" with the entire action taking place in five hours.
It didn't make it any easier to say goodbye to the women of Angels of Mercy Medical Center, but starting with their "happily-ever-afters" as I wrote Critical Condition, helped.
From the amount of fan mail I receive, I'm sure these women will continue to live on in the hearts of my readers for a long time to come. Who knows? Maybe they'll return someday to save their world again.
If so, I'll be ready and waiting, humming some Motown to welcome them home. Because, as a writer, you never really say goodbye to your characters, they become a part of you.
Thanks, CJ! We can't wait to see what you come up with in the new series you'll be writing with Erin Brockovich. To learn more about CJ and her work, visit her website.
Today’s guest post, in honor of Black Friday, is from Roxanne Coady of R.J. Julia Booksellers in Madison, Connecticut. For more than 20 years, the book store has offered personalized in-store service. Now it's available online via Just the Right Book!, a program which will send books to the person of your choice based on their personal tastes and interests at regular intervals—call it a tailor-made “book of the month” club. Roxanne stopped by the blog to give readers a few ideas for difficult-to-buy-for folks.
I always hear from people that they’d love to give a book as a gift to lots of people on their list. It’s more fun, it’s more thoughtful and it’s more lasting. That’s the easy part. What’s the tough part? Figuring out which book to give.
We’re already on the fast track for holiday shopping, so it seemed like a good time to help you find books for people on your list. These ideas might help get you started:
For the New Yorker-loving, learn-for-the-sake-of-learning types, who have probably read most of the Classics:
Happy reading! For more ideas check out Just the Right Book!, your holiday helper.