By Rick Reed
A.J. Colucci grew up in a suburb outside of New York City. She spent fifteen years as a newspaper reporter, magazine editor and writer for corporate America. Today she is a full-time author and self-proclaimed science geek who lives in New Jersey with her husband, two daughters and a couple of cats.
THE COLONY is her first published novel, but I have a good feeling we will be seeing more from this New York native.
THE COLONY begins with a series of gruesome attacks that have been sweeping New York City where three men are found dead, their bodies nearly dissolved from the inside out. The culprit is a supercolony of ants: An army of one trillion soldiers with razor sharp claws and flesh-eating venom.
The desperate mayor turns to the greatest ant expert in the world, Paul O’Keefe, a Pulitzer Prize-winning scientist in an Armani suit. Paul is baffled by the insects. Their morphology isn’t linked to any other genus and they have no recognizable DNA. Paul sends the FBI into the desert to bring back the one person he thinks can help save the city—his ex-wife. Kendra Hart.
When the ants launch an all-out attack, Paul and Kendra hit the dangerous, panic-stricken streets of New York, searching for a coveted queen. It’s a race to unlock the secrets of this indestructible new species, before the President nukes Manhattan.
“Few debuts cut to the quick as effectively as A.J. Colucci’s THE COLONY. Razor-sharp writing, scientific intrigue, and political brinkmanship create a story as plausible as it is frightening. Here’s a novel to leave your skin crawling—and wanting more!”
—James Rollins, NEW YORK TIMES bestselling author of THE DEVIL COLONY
“Innovative, provocative, and exciting, THE COLONY possesses the three crucial ingredients for any high concept thriller. I’ll never look at an ant the same way again.”
—Steve Berry, NEW YORK TIMES bestselling author of THE COLUMBUS AFFAIR
“Colucci…balances scares and science nicely. Michael Crichton fans will hope that this is but the first of many such outings from the author’s pen.”
—PUBLISHERS WEEKLY (starred review)
You have worked as a newspaper reporter, magazine editor and writer for many years. How important are those previous careers to your research and writing?
My early jobs in journalism provided a good foundation for writing clean, concise copy. Starting with my college internship as a reporter for Gannett, I learned not to waste words. The best news stories are both succinct and engaging, and it’s from these real-life tragedies that fiction is born. I remember covering the trial of a man who raped and murdered a college student, and that sparked my interest in crime fiction. Magazine writing gave me an opportunity to master basic story structure and dialogue; it’s the perfect entry-level job for a fiction writer. I did spend seven years as a public relations writer for big corporations, but mostly I learned that I didn’t want to be a public relations writer for big corporations.
Do any of the characters in THE COLONY resemble real people you have known? If not, how do you create your characters?
None of my characters are based on real people, probably because I write about subjects that are not part of my world. I’ve never had a close relationship with a scientist, but I don’t think it matters. To me, write what you know is a formula for a boring story. When developing characters I try to strike a balance between truth and drama. Your characters have to be realistic, but with motives and reactions that will make a story interesting. I had an entomologist tell me that the most unbelievable thing about THE COLONY is that the ant expert is wearing an Armani suit. I thought that was very funny.
How important is research to your writing?
I would say my books are fifty percent writing, fifty percent research, so it’s vital. Luckily I’m mad about research, and subjects like ant morphology and pheromone manipulation are incredibly interesting to me. Just about every page of the manuscript required me to look up something, from weapons and subway maps, to desert snakes and police procedures. I was fortunate enough to have some first-rate entomologists and a military expert to verify my facts.
Why ants? Why Manhattan?
A good rule of thumb in the horror genre is to always trap your victims in a remote, secluded place like a haunted house, a cabin in the woods or a small town. Since these are ants, I chose an island, albeit a large one. Manhattan is also my favorite place in the world and I know my way around quite well.
I chose to write about ants because no one else had – and they’re super-scary! They’re more organized than any other creature on the planet, and they work as a group to take down prey. Depending on the ant species, their victims can be blinded, stung to death, suffocated or liquefied. Nice, right?
Since this is your first published novel, I’m sure your readers will want to know what it takes to get a book published. Do you have any advice?
Be prepared for a long ride. It might take two years – or five if you’re like me – but the road to publishing is a learning process and there are no short cuts. You wouldn’t expect a surgeon to skip medical school or a lawyer to skip law school, and learning to write – not just a good book, but a marketable book – is an educational journey. It requires years of reading,studying your genre, trusting people to critique your work,editing your manuscript over and over, dealing with agents and editors and taking suggestions graciously. All that comes with experience, patience and persistence.
Do you have a writing routine? Is there a special type of place that you like to work?
On a good day I’ll start writing after getting the kids off to school, and keep going seven hours, until they get home. Sometimes the only break is lunch and a walk outside to clear my head. Mainly I write in my office, but I’ll work at the library, in my backyard or a coffee house for a change of scenery.
Any other hints or tips for upcoming authors?
I think one of the biggest differences between those who make it and those who don’t is an ability to take criticism. I’ve met good writes with plenty of talent, but they don’t want to hear anything negative. Maybe the book has a bad ending or a weak plot or unlikeable characters. But the author only wants to hear accolades about the manuscript, which won’t help at all. When I give someone my manuscript to read, it’s always with a note, Please be brutal!
What’s next for A.J. Colucci? Are we going to see more of Paul O’Keefe and Kendra Hart?
So much of the manuscript was edited out of the final draft – a lot of amazing science and shocking revelations that might make an interesting sequel. But for now I’m completely focused on my new book, another science thriller that asks the “what if” question and explores nature gone awry. It’s much darker that THE COLONY, scarier. You’ll definitely want to read it with the lights on.
To learn more about A.J. Colucci, please visit her website.