Walking into The Museum Hotel, I wasn’t really sure what Justin Cronin would be like. We followed each other on Twitter and he seemed affable though not a digital native. I knew he had been travelling for several months already talking about The City of Mirrors – the final book in his successful Passage trilogy.
Experience told me that by the time most authors made it to NZ, they were often a little bit tired. Life on the road is hard and the constant stream of interviews, readings and hotel rooms wears thin, so I was a little surprised to see a shorter than expected somewhat chipper man bouncing around a snooker table asking if anyone knew the rules, and debating if he could handle a cue in both hands.
Deciding that two cues one author may not have been the safest move for the beautiful tables, we instead sat down and started talking about what life is like now for a man that just fired himself from a job he’s had for the last decade: writing about Amy and the Virals.
‘It’s not like there’s one moment and you’re suddenly finished” he said, momentarily relaxing back on the chaise lounge. “When you hit save on that last chapter, that’s one point. Then it goes to the editor. Then it comes back. When they’ve finished with it that’s another end point. Then there’s the design side of things. And the marketing and release side. Then there’s publicity. And it’s always about sales numbers. So, I haven’t really come to the end yet, but it’s starting to form off in the distance. It’s strange because I’ve sort of fired myself!”
He leans forward and places his empty cup on the table. “I feel like I should have some big exciting story about how it feels to finish the trilogy but I don’t have one.”
I can’t help myself; “Are you working on something new?”
“Yes. And I’m not telling you anything about it, other than it’s different to what I’ve been doing for the last 10 years.” He settles back into the couch, smiling. I get the feeling he’s been asked that a lot lately.
“So you needed a change?”
“Not a change exactly, just those characters ended the story I had in mind for them. It was time to leave them.”
“Was it hard to write the ending for some of those characters? I know as a reader who’s been following their journey, it was really quite emotional fare-welling some of these characters, especially some who didn’t get the endings they fought so hard for. I’m not ashamed to say I cried happy and sad tears. Were you sad writing their demise?”
He pauses, “No. I never felt sad for my characters. Just a sense of satisfaction that they were achieving what they were supposed to. Their arcs were concluding. I had created them to do this, to reach this point.”
It turns out, Justin Cronin manage to secure a deal for all three novels of the trilogy up front, so right from the very start he knew what he was going to do with the story, how and when. He pitched it that way, and believe it or not over the nearly 10 years it took to write The Passage, The Twelve and The City of Mirrors, the characters never deviated off on their own journey. They stayed on the path he had planned for them right from the very start.
As an experienced author with three previous titles to his name; Cronin’s approach to writing the trilogy was no different, though perhaps his inspiration was a little unusual.
“It began with me going running with my daughter. She’d be on her bike and I’d be running, and we’d make up stories. The rules were they had to be about a girl saving the world, and she had to have red hair because my daughter did. And it went from there.”
“What about other influences? You’ve been likened a lot to Stephen King. Are you a fan?”
Shifting slightly, Cronin laughs, “Actually no. I mean, I haven’t read a lot of his work. Maybe when I was younger…” he trails off. “I read a lot. I always have and there are a lot of different influences that I think are visible in the books, Different writers, different genres, different titles… I like to think there are little Easter eggs hidden in there.”
I nodded, hoping my literary knowledge wasn’t going to make me look like an idiot. “The Australian link – was that a nod to On the Beach, by Nevil Shute?” He grinned at me. I continued. “Cormac McCarthy’s The Road popped up for me, George Orwell 1984, Lila reminded of Mrs Dalloway …”. He laughed. I’m still not sure if that’s a yes or a no but I still maintain she does.
“… and yes I get the likeness to Stephen King, but as a lifelong reader of him I’d have to say it’s really only The Stand, and it’s a superficial likeness really. It’s a post-apocalyptic novel set in a world brought low by a virus where good squares off against evil, it’s super long, it’s easy to read and while it’s horror it’s not just blood and guts and it will get in your head and scare you.”
“I’m happy with that” he says.
I see his publicist looking at her watch. Time is nearly up.
“Two quick questions” I say. “How did you come up with your signature author pose?”
He looks at me like I just sprouted an extra head. “My what?”
“Your signature author pose. This…” I say showing him photos on my phone. “Your signature author pose seems to be ¾ to front on, arms folded, seriously eyeballing the camera. Why that one?”
He flops back looking quite perplexed. “There are other signature poses for authors?”
“Oh there are loads. Jeffrey Deaver does the side on looming thing. They make him loom everywhere. Clive Barker does the thoughtful head tilt, often with an open necked shirt; Stephen King usually get cropped at the neck and is face on, and most female authors get cropped across the shoulders or end up in some complicated leaning / arm thing designed to make them look either relaxed or powerful. There seems to be quite an art to it. I just wondered how you came up with yours?”
“Well, I’m usually the one taking photos at home, and I don’t like having my photo taken so I just do what they tell me. I never noticed that before. You’re right. I’m crossed arms guy! I’ll have to see if that’s on all my books.”
“Which brings me to my last question: do you have a copy of all yours books? All the different editions from around the world? “
“I do. But I don’t look at them. It’s a contractual thing. They arrive and they go straight to storage. God knows what we’ll do with them when I die. Congratulations, here’s 350 copies of the same book! I mean it’s not exciting to see them arrive. Most of them have the same covers – or one of two designs.
Probably not this one.
“But I do remember when my first book came out, and it was snowing and the delivery guy couldn’t get through the snow and I wanted to see it and show everyone and I had to go out in the middle of the blizzard to get my copy and I remember standing on a street corner under a streetlamp ripping open this package, or trying to because I had mittens on, and seeing my book with my name on it for the first time, and it was just an incredible feeling. And even though I’d been researching and writing and editing and all the rest for what felt like years, that moment was when I felt like an author for the first time.”
A big thank you to Justin Cronin for giving up his time; to Sarah at Booksellers NZ who made it happen; to Gemma at Hachette NZ for letting me near her author and The Museum Hotel in Wellington for not evicting us at the first mention of two handed snooker playing.
By Sarah McMullan @sarahmcmullannz
The Passage (9780752883304) & The Twelve (9780752883335 ) are available now as paperbacks. RRP $25.99. Orion.
The City of Mirrors is available as Trade Paperback. RRP $37.99. Orion.