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A Chat with James Rollins
by Catherine Book
December 2015
James Rollins writes incredible adventure stories in the same vein as Michael Crichton and Clive Cussler, but frequently with fantastical elements, on which I have recently become hooked.  So I was so happy to hear he’d be in town and he was happy to grant me this interview.

He’s been published since 1998 although he’d actually written the book a whole three years earlier.  His first book was Wit’ch Fire published under his other pseudonym James Clemens.  He remarked that it was the longest three years of his life.  His first novel published as James Rollins was Subterranean in 1999.  He’d actually written it before Wit’ch Fire but received 49 rejections from agents.  So while that was going on, he thought he’d go off and try fantasy.  And then proceeded to sell both books within a week of each other to different publishers.  That’s when, he said wryly, the schizophrenia kicked in.  The publishers didn’t like his real name so in a short period of time he went from James Czajkowski, Veterinarian to James Rollins, Adventure Author and James Clemens, Fantasy Author.

The Wit’ch Fire series was finished in 2002 and he began a new fantasy series of the Godslayer Chronicles in 2005. He’s been busier writing as James Rollins but has completed the third book in the Godslayer series; however, it won’t be published until late 2016 or 2017.  James has decided to finish the whole series before continuing to publish; that way, the books can come out on an annual schedule.

As a further update, he said the next Tucker Wayne story will be coming out in April 2016 and is titled Warhawk.  Bone Labyrinth of the Sigma Force series is due out this month.  The next book in the Sigma Force series, number twelve, is in process and he’s hoping to have it done by the end of December.

The next Jake Ransom book is already done and sitting on James’ shelf but the publisher would like to have the whole 5-book series written so that the books can be released every six months.  Since these are middle-school stories, they want to make sure all the books will be available for kids to start and finish the series.

James collaborates with Rebecca Cantrell on the Sanguines series and with Grant Blackwood on the Tucker Wayne series.  Since Blackwood also collaborates with Clive Cussler who writes in the same genre, I wondered if there was any conflict.  James has known Grant for years, they sort of ‘grew up’ as authors together and once when James was bemoaning the lack of time to really develop the Tucker Wayne series, they figured out they could work together and share the load.

I then asked just how the process works for James.  He does try to commit to a quota a day.  When he was still working as a full-time veterinarian his quota was three double-spaced pages a day.  Once he left that career to write full-time he found he could increase that to five pages each day.  He found that five pages was the ceiling with the balance of his day taken up with edits and managing social media.

What is most important to him: setting, plot, characters?  James sees the story in his mind like a movie so the initial draft focuses on the plot.  Then he works the characters into the story.  Unlike some writers who may devote several outline pages to a character development, James prefers to discover who his characters are as the story progresses.  Setting is the third most important element; but, for his stories, it is very important as he tries to shine his spotlight on different areas of the world.  There was a time when his editor required a detailed 20-page outline before they’d buy the book; but, when the book delivered they discovered it was little like the original outline.  Now, of course, with his track record, he enjoys a higher level of trust with his editor.  He remembered the time he turned in the outline for the first Sigma book which was fine with his editor.  But later he got this idea in his head that got stuck.  So he wrote it up, to get it out of his head, and sent it to his editor.  Just fifteen minutes later, he got a response:  “Yeah, Jim, write that one instead.” And it became Map of Bones.

Does James have a favorite story or character?  He really enjoyed writing Amazonia where he got to really get into the animal characterizations.  Which means the Tucker Wayne series really appealed to him because he got to write from the dog’s point of view.  It all rather speaks to his animal behavior background.  As for a character, he focused on Kowalski from his Sigma series.  Kowalski was to be an ancillary character but several readers indicated they really wanted more of him so for the latest Sigma book, Bone Labyrinth, Kowalski gets to take center stage.

I wondered if James had anything percolating in the back of his mind, maybe something different?  Actually, that’s exactly what can frustrate his publisher – the fact that he writes so many different things.  He found that when he was writing a thriller and a fantasy at the same time, it was nice to have a different genre to switch to at times.  James firmly believes that a writer needs to write from passion rather than chasing the market.  He thinks that readers can divine when a writer loses passion for a series.  Sometimes that leads him down a very different path…

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