By Jeff Ayers
Jeff Carlson, international bestselling author of PLAGUE YEAR and THE FROZEN SKY, has seen his work translated into fifteen languages worldwide. PLAGUE YEAR was also optioned for film. His latest novel is INTERRUPT. He talked to The BIG THRILL about his work.
Why do “end of the world” novels have such appeal?
Great question. The funny part is I’m a happy guy. I have a fantastic family, and, in fact, I’m extremely boring and normal — wife, kids, mortgage, bleh — ha ha — except to say that I grew up fascinated with books like LUCIFER’S HAMMER and THE STAND.
We like to be scared because we have a huge capacity for fear. The most basic element of storytelling is conflict because we respond to it.
For me, writing apocalyptic novels isn’t so much about exploding helicopters and fifty megaton doomsday bombs as it’s about the pleasure of dealing with the best of everything that makes us human: cleverness, grit, loyalty, and sacrifice.
Ultimately, my novels boil down to the ability of some people — the greatest of us — to overcome any hurdle. I back my heroes into corners just to watch them wiggle free.
What sparked the idea for your latest novel, INTERRUPT?
Several years ago, I sold a short story by the same title. Because it was 40 pages, of course the plot and the character arcs were compact. But I always wondered what else I could do with the concept.
Later, researching a different novel entirely, I stumbled onto some fascinating research about the hunt for Neanderthal genes in modern Homo sapiens. Many biologists believe there was crossbreeding between us and our cousins. And I thought: “What if those dormant, ancient genes were activated?”
Do you consider INTERRUPT science fiction or a thriller novel?
Another great question. Imagine what your great-grandparents would think if they found themselves walking down the street with handheld gadgets that allowed them to connect instantly with anyone on the planet.
We’re surrounded by real miracles in nanotech, robotics, deep-space astronomy, medicine, weapons technology, you name it. This morning’s news reads like a Philip K. Dick novel.
So while I have written short stories and novels that are straight-out sci-fi with aliens and battle suits, INTERRUPT is a present-day “science thriller” like Crichton or Preston or Rollins. It’s wild stuff. But we live in wild times.
You write a lot about technology and its drawbacks. Do you see the future as grim?
Things are always grim. Human beings are perpetually at war with each other, or starving to death by the tens of thousands, or living in poverty or sickness or disarray.
The truth is we’re extremely rich here in North America, partly by geographical and historical circumstance, partly through a lot of hard work, ingenuity, strong educational systems and capitalism. We’ve done well for ourselves. We became the greatest superpower in human memory. But look at the current state of our nation. Our government is dysfunctional and our citizens are more polarized than ever. There are groups who want to gut our educational systems. At best, our health care system can be described as a Rube Goldberg machine.
It’s almost as if because of our wealth and leisure, we’ve grown lazy and started bickering with each other like we want conflict. We’ve turned against ourselves.
I’m an engineer’s son and a rabid fan of sci-fi and tech thrillers. I like hospitals and the Internet and space probes and advances in medicine. Technology isn’t the problem. Technology is awesome. People are the problem. A significant minority of us are selfish or stupid or mean. So I don’t write about runaway nano plagues or solar flares or biotech-gone-wrong because I’m a Luddite. I write these books because I’m intrigued by how we work against ourselves.
Also, there’s nothing like a good helicopter chase. Ha.
As a writer, I hope to spark your imagination with weird science and cutting edge technology, but it’s also fun to blow stuff up. I blow stuff up in every chapter if I can get away with it.
Talk about the current state of publishing and how you ended up at 47North.
Here’s technology at work again. Everyone knows how Amazon blew the doors off of the publishing industry. There were other e-readers before Kindle, but none were inexpensive, highly functional, or connected with a well-conceived ebook store.
I realize it’s heresy, but I actually prefer dead trees myself. We have two Kindles. They’re amazing machines. I bring one with me when I’m on the road. But when I’m at home, I spend waaaaaaaaaay too much time in front of a computer every day to want to unwind with another gadget in those rare moments when I read for pleasure.
Having said that, I love how ebooks have streamlined the connection between writers and readers. Amazon’s new publishing imprints like 47North are the new 1200-pound gorilla in publishing. I jumped at the chance to work with ‘em.
What’s next for you?
Currently I’m developing my notes for a new science thriller. I’m also eyebrow-deep into a sequel to THE FROZEN SKY.
Readers keep emailing for more, which is gratifying. My job description is I sit alone in a room with a laptop listening to the voices in my head, ha ha, so it’s always a pleasure to know there are real live people out there who enjoy the work.
Readers can find free fiction, videos, contests and more on his website.