Please welcome AJ Colucci to the blog! AJ is the author of the new thriller The Colony (out Nov. 13th) and was kind enough to take some time to answer a few of my questions. Also, we’ve got a copy of The Colony up for grabs, so be sure to check out the giveaway details!
You spent 15 years as a newspaper reporter, magazine editor, and corporate writer. What made you decide to take the plunge and write a novel?
Time, really. I had left the workforce to raise my kids and found that I suddenly had time to write. It’s incredibly hard working all day and then coming home to write fiction. I have enormous admiration for those authors who have the mental energy to work two careers, because getting published is a full-time job. I’m lucky that my husband was very supportive and cheered me on for the five years it took to get my book out there.
The Colony comes out on Nov. 13th. Will you tell us a bit about it?
The book is about a deadly new species of ant that is secretly planted in Manhattan and eventually attacks the city. It sounds very sci-fi, but all the science in the book is based on fact, and the ant behavior reflects the true capabilities of Argentine fire ants and African driver ants. The story follows two divorced entomologists who are brought together to stop the invasion, and their journey across the dangerous, panic-stricken streets of New York in search of a queen before the army nukes Manhattan. It’s a real race against the clock. There’s quite a bit of gore, suspense and scares – in a good way of course.
I love that The Colony deals with something that most people don’t even think about as a huge threat: ants! What made you decide to write about ants, as opposed to other creepy crawlies?
Ants are amazing. Not just how they work together to take down prey, which is pretty horrifying, but their organizational capabilities are so far ahead of any other species. Unlike humans, a colony will basically run an entire community –cleaning, foraging, building nests, defense – without anyone in charge, no one giving orders. It’s called collective decision-making, and it makes ants the most likely insects to stage a coordinated assault against a city of humans. Depending on the species, their victims can be blinded, stung to death or asphyxiated. They make zombies and vampires seem rather pleasant.
What’s something that you find truly terrifying?
Innocence turned evil. Stephen King is a master at this. The most innocuous characters, such as children and pets, are terrifying villains because it’s so unexpected and disturbing. Seeing a five year-old wield a knife or a friendly dog rip open a throat takes people far outside of their comfort zones.
What are some of your biggest literary influences?
Stephen King for sure, and of course, Michael Crichton. It sounds cliché, so many authors mention the two but they truly set the bar for their genres. In my early years, I was captivated by dark, imaginative writers like Roald Dahl, George Orwell, Shirley Jackson and Kurt Vonnegut. Since I started writing thrillers, I’ve been reading books by authors like Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Daphne du Maurier, Nelson DeMille, David Baldacci and Ken Follett.
What are you reading now?
I just started The Snowman by Norwegian author Jo Nesbo. So far, it’s pretty scary. I just finished Lord of the Flies because I hadn’t read it since I was a kid. It’s great to go back and read the classics as an adult, when you can appreciate them even more.
What makes you want to set aside a book in frustration?
If it’s boring. I love a book that’s extremely well-written, but when language becomes more important than plot, when the story drags along because it takes six paragraphs to describe a rabbit, I lose patience. I like writing that is crystal clear, not convoluted or cryptic, so that I have to read the pages over again to understand what just happened or what the author means.
How about movies? Any recent favorites or recommendations?
Honestly, I don’t have a lot of time for movies or television. When I’m not writing, which is most of the time, I’m reading. Although I do enjoy downloading classic movies with my kids, watching them discover my old favorites, everything from The Blob and THEM! to Star Trek, Back to the Future and Terminator.
When you manage to find some free time, how do you like to spend it?
I spend weekends with my family. We go on a lot of outings – nature walks, the beach, New York City. Writing takes so much mental energy, you need to pull away and concentrate on something else to keep your thoughts and ideas fresh. I agree with the sentiment expressed by Francoise Sagan, “I shall live badly if I do not write, and I shall write badly if I do not live.”
Does your family do anything special for Halloween?
Halloween is big at my house, and we usually have a party for the neighborhood kids. Our lawn is full of tacky cemeteries, spider webs, and giant blow up creatures. You can sometimes find a severed arm or bloody knife in the bathtub, maybe a head floating in the fish tank. It’s all good.
Is there anything else that you’d like to share with us upcoming projects or events (or anything at all!)?
My next book is darker, scarier than anything I’ve written. To me, The Colony is a fun beach book with a lot of thrills and chills, but this one should be read at night, alone in your room, and definitely with the lights on!
Keep up with AJ: Website | Twitter | Facebook
About The Colony:
A series of gruesome attacks have been sweeping New York City. A teacher in Harlem and two sanitation workers on Wall Street are found dead, their swollen bodies nearly dissolved from the inside out. The predator is a deadly supercolony of ants—an army of one trillion soldiers with razor-sharp claws that pierce skin like paper and stinging venom that liquefies its prey.
The desperate mayor turns to the greatest ant expert in the world, Paul O’Keefe, a Pulitzer Prize–winning scientist in an Armani suit. But Paul is baffled by the ants. They are twice the size of any normal ant and have no recognizable DNA. They’re vicious in the field yet docile in the hand. Paul calls on the one person he knows can help destroy the colony, his ex-wife Kendra Hart, a spirited entomologist studying fire ants in the New Mexico desert. Kendra is taken to a secret underground bunker in New York City, where she finds herself working side by side with her brilliant but arrogant ex-husband and a high-ranking military officer hell-bent on stopping the insects with a nuclear bomb.
When the ants launch an all-out attack, Paul and Kendra hit the dangerous, panic-stricken streets of New York, searching for a coveted queen. It’s a race to unlock the secrets of an indestructible new species, before the president nukes Manhattan.
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