“All Eyes” – Justin Cronin – WORD Christchurch

“All eyes” I sure will keep my eyes out for those “virals,” “flyers,” “slims” or “smokes”.

Signed copy of The City of Mirrors

Justin Cronin had us all eating out of his hand during his interview with local young adult author Karen Healey.

His motivation for writing his virals trilogy – still can’t bear to call them vampires – was his daughter Iris who was then something like 9 years old. A prodigious reader she had taken a look at his previous novels Mary and O’Neil and  The Summer Guest and pronounced them boring and wanted to read a book about a girl who saved the world! Each day they would cycle around Houston and talk about what would be in such a book. Through this process he lost his inner critic.

Iris has an audiographic memory (like a photographic memory but for sound) she would always know what chapter they where up to when returning to a book. She had lots of suggestions –  there would be a girl with red hair like her and she named the characters. There was only one rule about what would be in the book – it had to be interesting. After a while he realised his current novel wasn’t going so well and he had 30 pages of notes so he thought he’d write the first chapter and see if it went anywhere – and here we are ten years later with the last volume of the trilogy.

Justin Cronin and Karen Healey
An evening with Justin Cronin. WORD Christchurch event, supported by Hachette. The Piano. Thursday 15 September 2016. Flickr 2016-09-15-IMG_6021

An English professor at Rice University, his only rule for Iris at college is don’t take any creative writing courses I can do that. Now  publishing her own work it looks like dad has successfully taught her the family business although I don’t know who taught who …

Why vamps? They are the most interesting out of the four monsters in human form: Frankenstein, werewolves, vampires and zombies. Although I wonder if he forgot about yeti, and Karen was putting a great case for old-fashioned fairies. He excuses himself saying those other Vampire stories were not on his radar, at the time Twilight had only just come out.

At the heart of the vampire noir is the premise that immortality is a terrible state to reassure us that we would rather be human than live forever. He takes vamps and puts them into a new narrative and that’s what makes it interesting. Vamps but with a twist –  you’ve always got to bring something else in to make it interesting like a road trip and a viral epidemic. He was inspired by a couple of B grade movies one called Near Dark directed by the talented Kathryn Bigelow. It blended to the western narrative of a drifters story also Magic Johnson had just come out and there was the AIDs epidemic.

Justin’s not averse to a bit of vampire seduction but in a different way, a seduction utilising rhetoric. Fanning as the charismatic narrator, Fanning sitting around for all those years in a library reading books using language to seduce Amy. A rhetorical seduction to make us feel sympathy with him.

On characters and community

  • Since you are running for your life what is the one thing you would carry with you? In most cases people would carry someone else, therefore you have a love story and bonds of community.
  • Survival is not sufficient. We read end of the world stories for reassurance and resurrection is an important part of that.
  • You need survivors to have hope for their children. You think what does it mean to have a child? A child is a deal you make with the future.

Describing the novels as an apocalyptic western road trip,  part of the inspiration for The Passage trilogy was the depressing world events at the time. Hurricane Katrina had just hit, G.W. Bush had been re-elected and a second less known Hurricane Rita had triggered an evacuation of Houston which he found himself in the midst of.

One morning stuck on the motorway at 2 am going nowhere in a massive traffic jam watching the fuel gauge go down he did the maths and decided they weren’t going to make it out and made a u-turn and headed back home. Luckily the main force of the hurricane hit further off than predicted.

He is interested in the response of community to disasters like the Christchurch earthquake how community survives. Community is a social lifeboat with a group of mostly good people who are resilient.

Why Mirrors

“The vampires can’t see themselves in the mirror and after a certain age that is the case with everybody”.

On making things creepy

I look to nature things that creep me out like fish why do they all turn the same way like that? Crickets how they can jump so much further than their body length, the virals are like bugs in hives.

On imagination

He deliberately doesn’t describe the virals too much leaving it to you to bring the things that scare you to your picture of them. Everyone’s picture of a viral would be different. That’s why movies can be disappointing and on that topic he has sold the film rights but it may be a TV show will eventuate. TV shows are now where the story is at not so many special effects.

Favourite things

Watching The walking dead and The Americans.

What drives him crazy

When the guns don’t run out of ammo on The Walking dead, and cars start whose batteries would have gone for years and the tyres aren’t flat. You have to think these things through.

Justin Cronin and Karen Healey
An evening with Justin Cronin. WORD Christchurch event, supported by Hachette. The Piano. Thursday 15 September 2016. Flickr 2016-09-15-IMG_6032

Take your pick of the best at WORD Christchurch

There is nothing like a book festival, the chance to luxuriate in an atmosphere charged with language, bathing your senses in rich text, balm to your soul.

At WORD Christchurch the words come flying off the page during readings, you will hear the inspiration behind your favourite authors work, you’ll be inspired to try new genres, enjoy poetry and become informed on global issues.

Book covers
WORD Christchurch related reading

So many authors will be present at this ear’s wonderful WORD Christchurch programme there is something for everyone but for me two sessions leapt off the programme’s pages. An hour with Dame Fiona Kidman our own literary giant and An evening with Justin Cronin and for someone new I have selected Canadian Tales: Elizabeth Hay. You may think a diverse choice but for me they are all powerful writers who hold you enthralled to the very end.

Fiona Kidman_c_Robert Cross_2
Fiona Kidman (photo credit: Robert Cross)

A little 1988 yellowed hard-covered copy of Unsuitable Friends has adorned my book shelf for many decades. It was my introduction to Dame Fiona Kidman’s work. Her characters struggle to free themselves from domestic constraints to achieve their dreams and to keep their moral compass. It is almost as if she is writing for her daughter who would be a contemporary of mine, as would she be of my mother. The book seemed written just for young women like me.

I remember arguments on the role of women in the house, Dad asserting that going to work had given my mother funny ideas! It was refreshing to read such vivid contemporary women’s fiction. No wonder she won the New Zealand Book Award for fiction that year.

Her urging of her female protagonists to not be bound by the constraints of their circumstance continued in her 2013 novel The Infinite Air about the enigmatic Jean Batten and in this year’s release All Day at the Movies. I can’t wait to get my hands on it. The outsider status of these characters is what appeals to me and it is this that also appeals in Justin Cronin’s writing.

Justin Cronin - Photo credit Julie Soefer
Justin Cronin (photo credit: Julie Soefer)

Man’s responsibility to use scientific discovery to the benefit of the planet as well as humanity, and the need to look to technology to solve man-made environmental problems is a big theme at this conference. Justin Cronin’s apocalyptic trilogy about an escaped laboratory virus fits right in here.

Not one to usually read a vampire tale I started reading The Passage as a read-a-like for Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. It was some time before I realized I was reading a vampire novel but not like any you have ever read. It’s a rip roaring yarn with fear and violence and with a cautionary back story.

I am saving the end of this trilogy till I can reread the first two, there are so many back plots and references I want to read them all back to back. If you are a Game of Thrones fan you’ll love it.

Elizabeth Hay
Elizabeth Hay (image supplied)

For my last pick I wanted an author I knew nothing about and comparisons to Margaret Atwood and Annie Proulx mean she has got to be good, so I chose Elizabeth Hay. I’ve just started her much praised coming of age tale, His whole life, and it’s making me thirsty to read more. This Canadian has a lovely laid back style which entrances you and keeps you spellbound.

So why not make some picks of your own and join the party at WORD Christchurch.

More WORD Christchurch

Why you must read The Passage

CoverThe Passage has been summarised as Stephen King’s The Stand meets Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.

And, to my reading delight, it is that good.

Throw in telly series The Survivors, Dracula, X Files, spooky little girl movies like Firestarter and Poltergeist, and any number of dystopian, post apocalyptic scenarios and you still won’t be fully capturing the blockbuster that is The Passage. It takes all these sources and creates something new – a world and characters that inhabit your mind.

It’s a sturdy 700 plus pages, but I am rocketing through it and can’t shut my mouth about how compelling it is. I’ve cried, I’ve been left so on edge that the merest sound could make me shriek.  And I’ve read it after midnight.

Mr Stephen King himself recommends it:

Read fifteen pages and you will find yourself captivated; read thirty and you will find yourself taken prisoner and reading late into the night. It has the vividness that only epic works of fantasy and imagination can achieve. What else can I say? This: read this book and the ordinary world disappears.

Test out Stephen’s theory by reading this excerpt and get your holds on, and also read the Booksellers NZ post on The Passage and its NZ publication.

Has anyone else read it yet? What’s your verdict?