Wondrous Reads: For people who aren't familiar with The Passage, which is probably quite a few of my YA blog readers, how would you describe your book?
Justin Cronin: My book is based on this idea - what if all the vampires you read about in other books, and all the legends, movies and general abundance of vampire lore - like any legends, was based on a reality? What would that reality be? I invented a character with a job that I don't think actually exists - he's a paleovirologist, who goes looking for what he believes to be a virus existing in nature that produces the condition that's been turned into the legend of the vampire. So they will be different, but they'll have all the pieces, just in some way that does not involve magic essentially.
The vampires are the legend, with these people the reality, and the reality here is that 40 million people are victims of medical science gone bad. So these are not vampires, but rather the origin of the vampire legend. They're of course not very cuddly, they don't sparkle and they don't look like underwear models - and that's fine. Other people can write those stories, and bravo. The emphasis on my story is not on the brooding, melancholy inner lives of vampires, it's on the human beings - the survivors, who need to come to understand their enemy. That's the basis of my story, which unleashes chaos on the world.
WR: How do your vampires differ from the traditional undead that we're perhaps most familiar with?
JC: They're the same but different. For instance, there's the idea of the mirrors. That vampires don't show up in mirrors is one of the more difficult things to imagine, and as far as I know, that's not possible. What reality would that reflect? The Virals of The Passage - they go by the names Flyers, Glowsticks, Dracs and Smokes - you always name your enemies something to dehumanise them, you don't call them 'Fred'. When they see a reflection, it stops them in their tracks because they experience a moment of profound melancholy where they struggle to remember who they used to be. Hence, it is a good tool to use against one. It's not that their reflection isn't visible in mirrors, it's that it's too visible. So in the way that legends turn things around, the mirrors have a profound effect, but it's not that they can't be seen - it's that they have to look at themselves. And that's exactly what it's like when you get up in the morning, look in the mirror and realise you're middle-aged. I know where that comes from.
WR: I read somewhere that your daughter inspired either the character of Amy or the book itself. Is that right?
JC: My daughter basically dared me to write a book about a girl who saves the world. And because I'm a a dad, I said "okay fine". So we spent 3 months coming up with a basic outline - if she's going to save the world, let's have her save it from 40 million vampires, which is something I'd been thinking about for a while. We also came up with the basic plotline, and we did this with her riding her bike and me running next to her. And there you have it!
WR: What a good daughter! How long was the whole writing process? Years?
JC: It took a long time. I'm a pretty careful writer, I don't feel the need to hurry. I try to be productive and write something every day, but I don't think I need to race. A lot of books are written too fast, and I didn't want to write a book where the idea was better than the writing.
WR: So at which point did you realise it needed to be a trilogy?
JC: Right at the beginning. Once I was looking at the planned size of it, I knew I was going to do it as 3 stories. I had 3 story arcs in mind that were strong individually, but also strong sequentially. So it's 3 novels, but 1 uber novel. I think you'd have a richer experience reading them in order, but I also want them to have that standalone ability. I'm writing the second book at the moment, and each book will have a radical shift.
WR: Have you heard that reviews so far have likened The Passage to Stephen King's The Stand and Richard Matheson's I Am Legend?
JC: I've heard that, and I've also heard it likened to a book that I haven't read called Swan Song, which is another post-apocalyptic novel. I've also heard about The Road, which is a comparison I like, because they're very different but they have at their core the same human bond holding the story together.
My book is inadvertently having conversations with a million other books - even plays and poems, because I'm an English teacher. There are references from Shakespeare and Elizabethan poets to Dawn of the Dead and all the B-Movies I grew up watching. You don't need to know or care about these references, they're just like presents for people who want them. And that's because I was born in 1962 - I'm 47 years old, I've read every kind of book. I was raised reading science fiction, then became an English major and college teacher. I reference a broad range, and it's a fun thing to do.
WR: Speaking of Stephen King, I saw the episode of Good Morning America when he called you live on air. How amazing was that?!
JC: It was like ambush TV! I didn't know it was happening, and my surprise was completely genuine. Some people have accused me of being a good actor, but I'm not. It was really cool, and he's helped direct a lot of people to my book, which is a huge compliment.
WR: Your covers are very different in the US and UK. Do you have a preference?
JC: No, I actually like them both, and I'm not dodging the question. They're both aimed at different markets. We got the UK cover much earlier, and when I showed it to my US publisher, he said "That's great, but it is not right for the US". They wanted something more stately and mysterious. I wanted both covers to be beautiful, and they are. And the British one has that cool holographic look!
WR: I agree, the British cover is very cool and very creepy. Last question: are you excited about the prospect of a movie?
JC: Yes I am, because the people involved are so smart - the most talented people in Hollywood are involved. Ridley Scott has directed every kind of movie that's similar to The Passage in story, everything from horror to sci-fi to world building. The Passage is a multi-genre thing. He's worked in all those genres and has a great visual pallette with a great sense of spectacle.
WR: So is it definitely going ahead, or has it just been optioned?
JC: It's happening. The screenplay is almost done, and the guy they hired to do that is John Logan who wrote Gladiator for Ridley Scott. This is quite a team, and you have to be happy about that. We'll know a lot more by the end of summer, in terms of scheduling and where it's going to fall on the calendar. Again, it's a great compliment for the book that people of that caliber are involved. You don't do better.
It was a real wrestling match between a number of extremely big movie studios. There were 4 studios who wanted it - their resumes were very impressive, and I couldn't believe my luck. I had everyone's offer on the table, and I just had to pick one out. It was easy, honestly. Fox and Scott Free, Ridley Scott's production company, came in at the end.
WR: I'm sure it'll be amazing visually.
JC: It has that quality of spectacle. I didn't write it in those terms, but that's what they saw. I'm looking forward to seeing it.
WR: Well good luck with the book and the movie, and thank you very much for your time!
JC: My pleasure.