Keeping things thrilling

DURING The Big Book Bonanza event this year, which was co-organised by local distributor MPH with HarperCollins US and UK to showcase their fall and winter book titles, we managed to get a phone interview with renowned author James Rollins.

Rollins has written ­several book series and standalone ­novels, in genres ranging from action-adventure to sci-fi and fantasy.

He even wrote the ­novelisation of the 2008 film Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

However, his most popular are his two action-­adventure book series – his long-running Sigma Force series which began in 2004, and his newer Tucker Wayne series, which he co-wrote with Grant Blackwood.

Fans will be happy to know that both the 12th ­Sigma Force book, titled The ­Seventh Plague; and the second book in the Tucker Wayne series, titled War Hawk, will be available here in late ­December.

Tucker Wayne and his military war dog Kane made their first appearance in Tracker (2012), a short story exclusive in the Sigma Force series, and Rollins thought it would be a good idea to give the ­character and his dog their own spin-off series.

"I love ­writing [about Wayne and Kane] so much," said Rollins. "[I even] wrote some scenes from the point of view of the dog. It was a lot of fun."

As for his collaboration with Blackwood, he said: "It is fun to write these [­collaborative] series. (Rollins also collaborated with Rebecca Cantrell in the bestselling Sanguines series.)

"It is a different type of craft because you have to be the judge, jury and executioner.

"Also, there is somebody else that you have to ­exchange ­chapters with every ­week."

While Rollins may not have lived life as ­vicariously as his characters, he said he essentially writes about things like scuba diving, archaeology and science, which he loves.

He also loves travelling and taking pictures, as such activities provide him with story ideas.

"I actually ­resisted writing a series for a very long time. All my books ­before [Sandstorm, the first Sigma Force novel] were ­standalone books, and I liked it that way.

"I didn't want to write a series because of this thing called ­Murder, She Wrote syndrome."

He was referring to the ­popular TV series that ran from 1984 to 1996, starring ­Angela ­Lansbury as crime writer Jessica Fletcher.

"[She] would ­stumble upon a dead body every week. After a while, it puts a strain on ­credibility, because people started asking why this woman keeps ­stumbling over dead ­bodies."

Rollins jokingly added: "I thought there would be a revelation at the end of the series that she was ­actually a ­serial killer [all along]!"

Because of this, Rollins also decided not to rely upon one single protagonist.

"In Sigma Force, I created a group of characters. In ­different books, it will be a different person in jeopardy. No one is entirely safe in my universe."

For The ­Seventh Plague, ­Rollins ­explained: "There were 10 biblical plagues that were ­inflicted upon Egypt by Moses. We are looking at the ­modern version of that. It starts in Egypt, and breaks out across the world."

Rollins admits he likes to put his ­characters into a ­corner.

"It is ­frustrating because I sometimes don't know how to get them out of [trouble] at the same time.

"I generally write two books a year. I have written ­different genres and themes."

Rollins said he once tried writing two books at the same time, and found it too ­challenging trying to switch gears with each story.

"I really get ­immersed in my story. To pull out of one story and insert ­myself into ­another story is very ­challenging. I usually take 90 days of ­research, and [start writing] on the 91st day. I take several months to write the first draft and then a month to polish it.

"It takes about 10 months [to come up with the] concept, [produce] a manuscript and then submit it to my editor."

A Sigma Force movie has long been in ­development but ­Rollins said that while the script has been ­completed, the studio has yet to find a ­director.

When asked who his ­favourite ­character in the Sigma Force ­series is, he said: "­Probably one of my favourite is Joe Kowalski (who was ­introduced in the fourth book, The Judas Strain).

"He is the dumb lug of the group and ­always gets into a lot of ­trouble. I think he is pretty much like me in real life. Even though he is not the best ­soldier recruited for Sigma Force, he is sort of the comic relief of the series."

We asked if he had ­encountered any 'quality ­control' issues with Sigma Force, ­especially since he had to ­produce the series' 12 books at a rate of one new book per year.

He said: "I hope not. I always try to challenge myself with my writing. I have so many ideas ­bouncing in my head. The ­hardest thing is coming up with fresh ideas that are exciting. It is the challenge that makes [writing] fun."