By Jeremy Burns
Bestselling author James Rollins is world-famous for his action-packed thrill-rides that infuse ancient mysteries with the science of tomorrow in a stunning package that is truly his own. His latest, BLOODLINE, takes readers on a whirlwind adventure through time and space with Sigma Force, the secret government team that has saved the world from terrors both ancient and modern more times than one. This time, Rollins looks to outdo himself by raising the stakes further than ever before: nothing less than the future (and indeed, the very definition) of our humanity hangs in the balance. I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Mr. Rollins about the latest in his blockbuster series.
Your highly successful Sigma Force series is famous for combining historical mysteries, ancient conspiracies, cutting-edge science, and international intrigue into action-packed thriller packages. What are some of the key historical elements and exotic locales through which your latest adventure, BLOODLINE, will take readers?
This is a BIG adventure, starting during the times of the Crusades, where a lone Templar Knight discovers a treasure hidden in a castle in Galilee: the Staff of Christ. This discovery sets in motion a string of actions that explode into modern times, taking Sigma from the streets of Zanzibar to the jungles of Somalia, from the shiny spectacle of Dubai to a floating island in the Arabian Sea. But action also takes place in the US, from South Carolina to Washington, D.C., where a Sigma operative is assigned to assassinate the President of the United States.
What makes BLOODLINE different from your previous novels?
I think the most unique feature of this new book is the introduction of a pair of new characters. Tucker Wayne is a former captain with the army rangers. After two tours of duty in Afghanistan, he leaves the service disillusioned after a bloody battle. Aided by members of his own unit, Tucker steals his war dog, Kane. Since then, Tucker has been adrift in the world with Kane at his side. After all he had seen in Afghanistan, he needed new horizons, new vistas, but mostly, he had a drive to keep moving. And it’s at that time when Tucker and Kane run afoul of kidnappers who have taken the daughter of the U.S. president hostage.
What I liked best about exploring this pair’s unique relationship is a phrase commonly used by military war dog handlers—It runs down the lead—describing how the emotions of the pair became shared over time, binding them together as firmly as any leash. And it’s that bond and ability for the two to operate as one that I wanted to explore in this novel.
What was your initial inspiration for BLOODLINE? How did the story’s premise develop through the early days of your writing process?
The root of this book came from a recent article in TIME magazine. The cover declared: 2045, the Year Man Becomes Immortal. I read that and wondered how could that be true. Could immortality be achievable in our lifetime? It sent me into a yearlong investigation into the frontiers of life extension: involving medicine, technology and genetics. The research even delved back to a frightening study done by Soviet scientists during the Cold War, who were attempting to revive the dead—a study that has ramifications still today.
Along the way, I discovered that there are actually two competing schools of study when it comes to the search for immortality. On one side, scientists are looking at moving man into machines, moving our consciousness into a synthetic arena. On the other side of the scientific fence, researchers are also looking at moving machines into us: basically replacing our failing parts with artificial organs.
In BLOODLINE, I shine a light into both of those shadowy arenas–into some truly inspiring and scary realms–while also revealing an even more terrifying project, a third path to immortality, one tied to our own genetic code.
How much of yourself do you place in your characters? With which character in BLOODLINE do you most identify?
I think I mostly relate with my main character, Commander Gray Pierce. I’ve been living, breathing, and fighting alongside him for over a decade now, so he’s become closer than a brother in some respects. Also I do invest some personal matters upon him that do mirror issues in my own life, like the fact that Gray is struggling to balance his professional responsibilities, while dealing with two aging parents who are sliding into dementia. We all struggle with that: balancing professional and personal lives. And with two parents similarly afflicted myself, I sought to bring this level of humanity and reality to my story’s main character.
Which character was the most fun for you to write? Why?
I’d say Kane, the war dog in BLOODLINE. After three decades of working with dogs myself as a veterinarian, I knew that I wanted to portray these stalwart war heroes as they really are—not just as soldiers with four legs, but as real dogs. In this book, there are scenes written from Kane’s perspective. Here, I wanted readers to experience what it’s like to be a war dog–to be in their paws–to paint an accurate portrayal on how a dog perceives the world, how he functions in combat with his unique talents and senses. So it was a great deal of fun to see the world through Kane’s eyes, to hunt down a quarry with his nose, eyes, and ears.
What is your favorite book you’ve written thus far (other than BLOODLINE)? Why?
Probably AMAZONIA. In that stand-alone novel, a mutagen gets loose in the rainforests of Brazil and begins warping and changing the jungle denizens. As a veterinarian, I loved this novel as its fraught with strange beasts and one of the main characters is an orphaned jaguar cub, who was so much fun to write about.
What is your favorite book by another author? Why?
I still read voraciously, so that’s a hard question. Probably one of my all time favorite novels is David Morrell’s THE BROTHERHOOD OF THE ROSE. It’s what I consider to be the perfect novel.
Other than traveling and reading up on your subject matter, what are some of the ways you’ve researched for this or previous novels? Any interesting stories there?
I mentioned Tucker and his war dog, Kane (who by the way are also featured in my new e-novella, TRACKER). That pair arose from my “tour of duty” with the first group of authors who participated in the USO tour to Iraq and Kuwait. At several military bases, I saw several of these war dogs in action. I was also able to meet and talk to a veterinary school classmate of mine who works with the veterinary corps out in Iraq. After that encounter, it got me thinking about writing this book, of honoring these unique war heroes on the page.
What is your favorite travel destination? Why?
I’ve been to exotic places all over the world, but one of my favorite places to simply “get away” is New Orleans. There’s something about that place that speaks to me, not to mention the great food and music.
What do you find most rewarding about writing?
Finishing. There is nothing greater than writing that perfect last line to a novel. The long journey to that end is fraught with joy, frustration, insecurity, days when the writing flows like gold, other days when it’s like pulling teeth, so to cross that finish line is like that first breath of air after a long, deep dive.
You can be considered one of the giants in thriller writing, with millions of books sold in dozens of countries across the world. When you sit down to start a new project, how do you deal with the pressure that comes with such high expectations from your fans?
I don’t feel that pressure. When I start a book, I write that first draft for a very small and picky audience of one: me. I find a story that I’m passionate and excited about. Then I set out to write what I love to read. That’s my first audience, and that’s what gets me to the computer everyday. If you don’t write from a place of passion—from a place that excites you—then why write?
What is one thing that would surprise your fans about you or your writing process?
That I’m a very slow writer, despite writing on average two books a year and a couple of short stories. But it takes me about an hour to write a single double-spaced page of manuscript. Because of that pace, I’ve fairly deliberate in my schedule, writing 5 pages a day during my work week.
What is one piece of advice you would give to aspiring/new authors who look up to you?
There’s the old adage that you should “write everyday” if you wish to get published, which is definitely true. You do need to practice and hone your craft. But I’d like to add a caveat to that old nugget: “Write everyday, but READ every night.” There is no better teacher on the craft than a good book. Whatever problem you struggle with during your writing day (dialog, opening a scene, etc), you’ll discover a great example on how to address that in the book you read that night. If you write everyday and read every night, you’ll grow stronger and stronger as a writer. And I still do this myself today.
What can we expect next from James Rollins and where can fans go to hear the latest news?
I’ve got a website (www.jamesrollins.com) full of news, advice, and book details. But they can always join me on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, where I spend way too much time.
Many thanks to James Rollins for taking us behind the scenes of Sigma Force’s latest adventure. BLOODLINE officially hits stores June 26th. If you like history, science, action, or if you just want a great summer read that will stick with you long after you’ve finished the last page, don’t miss this book. You may never look at life the same again.
New York Times bestselling author James Rollins is a practicing veterinarian and resides in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Rollins is known for his high-energy, screamingly-paced action, complex plots, and mind-expanding themes of science, technology, history, religion, and the paranormal. The eight installments in his “Sigma Force” series have all been top-five New York Times bestsellers. He is also known for his bestselling individual adventure and the middle-grade “Jake Ransom” series. Rollins has seen much of the world, researching the transcontinental settings of his novels while indulging his taste for adventure in caves, oceans, mountains, deserts, and cities around the world.
To learn more about James, please visit his website.