I really, really liked AJ’s first book, THE COLONY, and am thrilled to have her back to talk about her new book, SEEDERS, which just came out this month! Please welcome her back to the blog!
I loved The Colony, so of course I can’t wait for Seeders! Will you tell us a little about it?
It’s another scary thriller based on actual science. This time I go into the secret world of plants, the relatively new and controversial field of plant neurobiology. The story is set on a cold, remote island where George Brookes, an elderly plant biologist has died a mysterious death and six of his heirs arrive for the reading of his will. One of the heirs, Jules Beecher, begins investigating the laboratory and scientific papers left by George, and comes to realize that his mentor may have achieved a monumental scientific breakthrough—communication between plants and humans.
It isn’t long before the island begins to have strange and violent effects on the group, especially Jules who becomes obsessed with George’s journal, the strange fungus growing on every plant and tree, and horrible secrets that lay buried in the woods. Soon he’s falling head-first into madness, but as a storm hits and the lights go out, the group realizes there’s something far more sinister lurking on the island.
I really like the setting of Seeders. I mean, what better way to set the tone than a secluded island! What kind of research did you do for the book?
I’d like to say I visited dozens of islands – but then, it would have been a tropical setting, like Hawaii! Actually I used Google Earth to find the geographical location. I wanted it to be cold and remote and close to New York, which meant Canada. Then I researched what it would be like in the spring, the types of plants and birds off Nova Scotia. I emailed back and forth with a survival expert, who told me how I can set up this house on the island with food, water, electricity. However, most of my research, which took months, was on plants and fungus and required reading a lot of journal articles and interviews with plant biologists and mycologists.
What character, or characters, did you enjoy writing the most in Seeders?
I liked the two teenagers, Luke and Monica. They were the most fun to write because they were so lighthearted and curious, unlike adults who can be serious, think too deeply. These kids just wanted to have an adventure. They also had the most volatile relationship. As much as I wanted them to get together, I didn’t let my own feelings get in the way of their relationship. It had to develop on its own if it was going to happen at all.
I’ve never met an author who wasn’t an avid reader, so what do you look for in a good book? Is there anything that will make you put a book down, unfinished?
I used to read mostly literary novels, but now I read just about everything. I like thrillers with lots of action and exotic locations like James Rollins novels, crime dramas with detectives that are much smarter than me, like Douglas Preston books and stories where ordinary people have extraordinary experiences like the characters in books by Linwood Barclay. I’ve definitely been bored by novels to the point I stopped reading. Sometimes a book starts off slow, but if it comes highly recommended I’ll keep giving it a chance. I recall not liking The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo until about page 230.
It’s been a while since we caught up…have you read any good books lately? Is there anything you’re particularly looking forward to this year?
It’s been a busy year for me. I finished seeders in about 8 months and read quite a few great books in between. Some of my favorite books I read as research for interviews I had with those authors. Jonathan Maberry, Karin Slaughter and Linwood Barclay have some terrific new novels out. If you haven’t read Cop Town or Trust Your Eyes, they’re two of my favorite recent books. I’ve got a stack of novels on my nightstand waiting to be read. The one I most look forward to is Pandemic by Scott Sigler. If you like science thrillers that are non-stop heart pounding action and you aren’t too squeamish, Scott’s your guy.
So…two books out in a little less than two years. That’s a bit of a whirlwind! What’s one of the most interesting/weird/etc things you’ve learned since becoming a published author, and what advice would you give to aspiring writers?
I learned that being an author truly is a job. Back when writing was a hobby, I spent seven glorious hours a day sneaking off on my own, submerged in the worlds I created. It was wonderful and easy. But once it becomes a job, so many things change. You have to promote your books and listen to other people. Readers are critical and you want to give them your very best, so you feel that pressure. When you’re no longer writing for yourself and people are paying for your product, you have an obligation to do 100% quality work, the same as a decorator or a carpenter.
My advice to aspiring writers is, don’t spend too much time taking classes and reading books about how to write. Good writing comes from within, listening to your inner voice, the stories inside your head. The best way to learn is by reading good novels, especially in the genre that calls to you. The more you read the more your writing will improve.
What’s next for you?
I actually have one book finished and a partial with my agent, and I’m starting a new project that’s been rolling around in my head for years. It’s going to be my most challenging book so far. More to come on that!
George Brookes is a brilliant but reclusive plant biologist living on a remote Canadian island. After his mysterious death, the heirs to his estate arrive on the island, including his daughter Isabelle, her teenage children, and Jules Beecher, a friend and pioneer in plant neurobiology. They will be isolated on the frigid island for two weeks, until the next supply boat arrives.
As Jules begins investigating the laboratory and scientific papers left by George, he comes to realize that his mentor may have achieved a monumental scientific breakthrough: communication between plants and humans. Within days, the island begins to have strange and violent effects on the group, especially Jules who becomes obsessed with George’s journal, the strange fungus growing on every plant and tree, and horrible secrets that lay buried in the woods. It doesn’t take long for Isabelle to realize that her father may have unleashed something sinister on the island, a malignant force that’s far more deadly than any human. As a fierce storm hits and the power goes out, she knows they’ll be lucky to make it out alive.