Message From The Author
Earth and the Imbalance
BESTSELLING AUTHOR JAMES ROLLINS LINKS HISTORY
AND A BIOTERRORIST PLAGUE IN THE JUDAS STRAIN
By Diane Snyder
They say that the third time's the charm, but for bestselling novelist James Rollins, make that the 50th. He faced 49 rejections before he sold his first novel, and then all of a sudden he had offers from two publishers.
That's how his two literary identities were forged. As James Rollins, he writes adventure thrillers, including this month's The Judas Strain (Morrow), the third book featuring a group of scientists and special operatives known as the SIGMA Force. As James Clemens, he's noted for his fantasy novels, the latest being 2006's Hinterland (Roc), the second book in his Godslayer Chronicles series. Before he was either of those people, however, he was James Czajkowski, a Sacramento veterinarian and amateur spelunker and scuba diver.
These days he spends more time navigating his way through his densely plotted novels than he does neutering cats, but he packs his fiction with some familiar global crises. In Judas Strain, for example, scientists battle a bioterrorist plague that threatens all of humanity and ties in with Marco Polo's 13th-century voyage to the Far East.
So Judas Strain is inspired by Marco Polo's travels to the Far East? I hadn't heard that some believe he may have been sent there as a spy. There's a lot of mystery surrounding Marco Polo. There are some circles that question whether he actually existed, and there's a question of whether his uncle and his father were Vatican spies that were sent to gather intel. And, of course, the mystery of what happened to this giant fleet that Kublai Khan supposedly sent Marco Polo back home with. He left with 14 ships and 600 men, arrived in Italy with two ships and 18 men. He does hint in his book that there was a tragic outcome on the return trip, but he never detailed what it was. It's an intriguing mystery. I'm always looking for those little pieces of history that end in the question mark. That's a great jumping off place for an author.
In your SIGMA Force series you've been looking at deeper issues about the planet and the origins of life. What took you in that direction? I like cliffhangers and chases, but I like to leave readers with something to ponder. They didn't get that from my earlier novels, and when I formulated the idea of the series, I really wanted to tackle some big issues.
In The Judas Strain I'm dealing with issues of what our responsibility is as stewards of this planet. There was a series of articles in the >L.A. Times that claim we're at a cusp of the possible collapse of our seas into a primordial state of toxic slimes and poison algae. And there was a wire service story about a massive amount of deaths of sea lions and dolphins from toxic algae along the California coast. My book opens with a similar tragedy. Hopefully, that will have some resonance after you turn that last page.
Have we abused Earth beyond repair? Some scientists do say that we've crossed beyond the point of no return. That's a very disturbing thought, and I think we have a very strong survival instinct. I don't think anything that we're challenging -- like carbon emissions from automobiles -- requires a technology we don't have. We just have to have the will with which to apply it.
Do the comparisons to Dan Brown bother you? As long as they don't think I'm copying him. When I wrote Map of Bones (2005), it was an idea I'd been toiling with for 10 years, and
I got sort of lumped into the Da Vinci clone crowd. It had a negative connotation, like I'm trying to ride his coattails, where I've been pretty much writing the same thing. If you go back three books earlier, before Dan Brown had even published his first book, I'd written a book called Excavation that dealt with a sect of the Spanish Inquisition that was alive and well and functioning in South America, trying to create the Second Coming of Christ.
That all said, I can't deny that that comparison probably did help Map of Bones. It sold better than any book I had written up till that point.
Why did you want to become a novelist when you already had a successful veterinary practice? I always wanted to be a writer, but to make it a career I thought you had to fall off a literary apple tree -- your great-grand-uncle had to be Ernest Hemingway. It just didn't seem like a Midwest boy from St. Louis could become a published author. It seemed a much more logical and achievable course to become a veterinarian, so once I
got accepted to veterinary school, I put aside all thoughts of writing. From age 20 to age 30, I did not write a word. I kept saying, one of these days I'll start. But when I reached my 30th birthday, I realized I didn't have an infinite number of one-of-these-days. If I really wanted to do this, I had to make some small effort toward that today.
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