“James Rollins” is a writer of thrillers, but as the penname implies, I do wear a few hats. I’m also “James Clemens,” a fantasy writer. And “James Czajkowski,” the veterinarian. With so many names, sometimes it’s hard to keep it all straight.
Tell us something about your background, your studies, your childhood.
First of all, I blame my mother for my writing career. She read while I was growing up, so I read. And that’s where all the insanity started. Sure, I was interested in animals and science and knew since third grade that I would be a veterinarian--but I also loved to read. And reading was like throwing gasoline on the fire of an overactive imagination. Growing up with three brothers and three sisters, I was the “storyteller” of the family (what my mother called “The Liar”). So fiction writing was in my blood from a very young age. But I never considered writing as a real career. I thought you had to have some literary pedigree to be a successful author, the son of Hemingway or Fitzgerald. So instead I turned to my other passion for a career: veterinary medicine. But I made one mistake. I continued to read—and that little twisted corner of my imagination never fully died away and I began dabbling with writing again in my mid-thirties. First, I wrote a bunch of short stories that are safely buried in my backyard—then my first novel, which actually sold.
What jobs have you held in the past?
Prior to becoming a veterinarian and author, I’ve waited tables, spun pizzas in the air, washed dishes. I’ve worked at a pet store, a department store, and a grocery story. I also taught chemistry at a university. When did you first know that you wanted to be a writer? What about when it comes to fiction? As mentioned above, I’ve always loved spinning stories. But it was only when I was in high school that I actually tried my handing at writing those stories down. In college, though, I set that all aside to concentrate on my veterinary studies. After college, I wrote some nonfiction articles about veterinary medicine, which whet my appetite to want to write fiction. And one day I decided to do just that.
Tell us something about your debut. Your road to publication. Have you received many refuses?
Certainly I’ve had my share of rejections: first for all those short stories, then for my first novel. That manuscript was rejected by 50 different agents before one finally agreed to represent it. That book eventually went into a bidding war among two publishers and sold. Even the movie rights got sold. I’m glad at least ONE agent liked the book.
Is it true that Clive Cussler, Robert Ludlum and Wilbur Smith are your influence?
Definitely. I still read Cussler and Smith, and I miss Robert Ludlum. But I have to mention that Michael Crichton was also a huge influence. Who are your favourite living authors? I love Stephen King, Dan Simmons, George R.R. Martin, Steve Berry, Nevada Barr…oh, the list goes on and on.
You are the author of bestselling fantasy and action-packed adventure-thrillers. Could you tell us something about your books? Which one is your favourite?
It’s hard to pick a favorite, but that first book (which was rejected by so many agents) holds a special place in my heart. That book was published in the US under the title Subterranean. Though that book was published as a thriller, it also features telepathic marsupial creatures living under Antarctica…so even in my adventure thrillers, there is a bit of fantasy. All in all, I love to blend weird science and historical mysteries together.
In 2007, you were hired to write the novelization of the script for the movie Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skul. Tell us something about this experience.
First of all, I’m a huge Indy fan. In fact, I remember seeing Raiders of the Lost Ark for the first time. There was a sneak preview of that movie, and I had to be the first to see that movie. I’m just sort of that sort of movie geek (and proudly so!). BUT I had also booked a white-water rafting trip for that same day. I remember paddling really, really fast to make sure I was out of that river in time to make the movie. I didn’t quite make it. I had to go straight from the river to the theater. So I watched Raiders with soaking wet sneakers and damp clothes…and all in all, it’s not a bad way of watching Raiders, added a little something to the viewing. As to writing the novelization, I found it an interesting and fascinating challenge. It was both involving and liberating: deconstructing the script, creating internal monologue, expanding some scenes, contracting others, and inventing brand new scenes. The studio gave me a fairly free hand. And all in all, I was able to add about a dozen entirely new scenes that aren’t in the script or movie. So I had a blast, getting to wear Indy’s hat and crack his whip (if only in my own imagination).
Could you tell us something about The SIGMA Force series?
SIGMA Force is my ongoing series featuring a group of former Special Forces soldiers who are retrained in various scientific disciplines and sent out into the world to investigate global threats. They’re basically “scientists with guns,” who get into all sorts of trouble.
Why did you decide to write Altar of Eden, your last book published in Italy by Editrice Nord ?
I always wanted to merge my love for animals with my passion for writing. Altar of Eden offered me that chance. It’s what I call the first “veterinary thriller.” .
How long did the process of writing the Altar of Eden take?
Like most of my novels, I spend about 3 months researching and crafting the general plot, then it takes about 7 months to write it and another month to polish it.
Have other works inspired you in the writing of this novel?
The biggest inspiration can be found at the very beginning of that novel. I use a quote from H.G. Wells, from his novel, The Island of Dr. Moreau. Altar of Eden is my homage to that great and frightening story of animal research gone amok.
Could you tell us something about the plot of this book without revealing the final?
Sure. It feature a veterinarian, who stumbles upon an exotic-animal smuggling ring, only to discover that something is horribly wrong with these animals, that they’ve been experimented upon at the genetic level. She must discover why this was done and how to stop them before a horror is unleashed that will threaten all of mankind.
Could you tell us a little about your protagonists?
The veterinarian is Dr. Lorna Polk. She works for a research facility outside New Orleans that is attempting to save endangered species. When she’s called in by the border patrol to help investigate a shipwrecked trawler, she must team up with Jack Menard, a border patrol agent who shares a dark history with her. The story is full of adventure, suspense, and explores the redemptive power of love.
When will your next book be released in Italy?
My next instalment of my children’s series (Jake Ransom and the Howling Sphinx) will be out Summer 2012. And the next Sigma book (The Devil Colony) will be released around the same time…if not sooner. I haven’t heard the exact release date yet.
I'd like to talk about the day to day process of being a writer. Would you describe a typical working day for you?
My writing routing is pretty much the same everyday: I write 4-5 pages in the morning, take a lunch break, and write another 1-2 pages and edit in the afternoon. The rest of the time (1-2 hours a day) is spent on the business side of writing: answering mail, etc. They are generally very full days. I’ll do that Monday through Friday—and I take the weekend off.
Your books have been translated for publication in several country. Is this exciting?
Yes, I’m thrilled. An author’s goal is to get his books read as widely as possible. To know the stories are now being read in over thirty countries is both gratifying and humbling.
You are a critically acclaimed author. Have you received bad reviews?
Of course. I don’t think any single book can appeal to every reader. There will always be those readers or reviewers who are not going to like your book. My goal is to write the most exciting and sincere novel that I can and put it out there. Some will like it; others won’t.
Do you write short stories or only novels?
I still do write a few short stories. I’ve had stories published in anthologies edited by James Patterson, George R.R. Martin, and R.L. Stine. And I just wrote a story that is coming available in e-book format that ties into the next Sigma novel. It’s a great diversion to be able to write a shorter story every now and then.
Any movie projects from your books?
Yes, the late great Dino De Laurentiis read my books during a trip to Italy. He read them in Italian and loved them enough to call me and invite me to his home in Hollywood. From that meeting, I ended up selling his company the film rights to the Sigma series.
What are you reading at the moment?
Actually I’m reading my way through the Hugo nominees (the best science fiction novels). I do that every year. I’m currently reading Cryoburn by Lois McMaster Bujold.
Do you enjoy touring for literary promotion? Tell to our Italian readers something of amusing about these meetings.
I do. I even did a tour in Italy a couple of years ago. And I’ve certainly had my share of amusing experiences on the road: people showing up in costumes, another time someone came to a signing with a boa constrictor around his neck…and once I even fielded a proposal for marriage (which I declined since I had never met this person before).
You have a very intense fan base. What is your relationship like with your readers? How can readers get in touch with you?
I have a great time chatting with people online. My website has a “contact James” button for sending me email, but I’m also very active on Facebook and Twitter. So if you want to know what I’m doing most days, just follow me on Twitter or join me on Facebook.
Finally, the inevitable question: what are you working on now?
I’m polishing up the next volume of my kid’s series, featuring time-traveling boy-archaeologist, Jake Ransom, and working on the next big Sigma adventure. I’m also working on a secret project that I’m not yet allowed to talk about. How’s that for ending on a mystery?