“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

Kathy Reichs really does know everything

Cover of Bones of the lostWith a capacity crowd at the aptly-named Legends Lounge on Monday night, the amazingly over-talented Kathy Reichs kept the audience at The Press Christchurch Writers Festival event  well entertained. Missy T and I arrived early, and it was just as well, as the room filled rapidly with adoring fans both young and old.

Most of what she said should have come as no surprise to fans. The questions from both QC Chris McVeigh and the audience were good and she graciously took every lead and followed it well. I’d not heard her speak before, and she looks like one of those frighteningly well-put-together women who manages everything and everyone into submission.  She is, however, warm and witty, charming and very easy to listen to.

She told stories of life both real and fictional, and I have to say sometimes I forgot whether it was Kathy Reichs or Tempe Brennan we were talking about, which was a bit disconcerting. For those who aren’t as familiar with her work, Dr Reichs is as fully qualified in real life as her main character is in the books, and she always uses a real-life case as the basis for each one of her books (albeit changing all details on the way). She explained that in real life her job is always about answering the same two questions – identity (who is this person?); and cause of death; and for both of these questions, it’s always about the bones.

So what can we tell you that might be new?

  • Contracted to write 19 Tempe Brennan and 5 Virals books, she is currently working on numbers 17 and 5 respectively.
  • The Bones TV series is now in its 9th season, with no sign of slowing down, but as with all TV there are no guarantees.
  • There’s an episode coming up called The Dude and the Dam, which will contain easter eggs – 5 clues from the book Bones of the Lost. Those who watch the episode and read the book will be able to enter an online competition to win stuff.
  • She knows the TV series has a different feel from the books, and gracefully accepted criticism from the audience suggesting that sometimes the show can seem a little flippant and Hollywood-y. She said everyone can see that the two storylines (book and TV) are different, and for those who are worried by this, it might help to see TV Tempe as being a younger, less polished version of Book Tempe – like a prequel.
  • She really loves working with her kids. She co-authors the Virals series with her son (who has been known to proclaim after a particularly brutal editing by Kathy “Mom, you’re murdering my art!”; and works on the TV series with one of her daughters.
  • Kathy often finds character names by reading local obituaries – if the book is set in a specific town or city, she will read past newspapers from that town and gather names from there.
  • The idea to do the Virals series came about after a conversation with one of her children, who suggested that teens would also love to read about forensics. The more unusual aspects of the books (what Kathy calls ‘elements of grounded fantasy’) were added because her publisher noted that teens nowadays seem to be obsessed with the supernatural, and she really didn’t want to do vampires. Or werewolves.

So a good night all round, really, with dozens lined up afterwards for what looked like it might be a long wait for book signing. And as always, a great big thank you to the The Press Christchurch Writers Festival team for another sterling event!

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