TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery.
A.J.: Thanks for inviting me, Sally.
TQ: What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?
A.J.: Probably the way I take notes. I’ve got pads and pencils stashed all over my house and in my car. Ideas strike me at the oddest moments and I often get up late at night and start scribbling in the dark. About half of every book is written in longhand. I don’t know why but there’s something about putting pen to paper that makes the writing deeper, more visceral.
TQ: Who are some of your favorite writers? Who do you feel has influenced your writing?
A.J.: I started reading mysteries as a kid, Encyclopedia Brown, Nancy Drew, and books by Agatha Christie. I’d go nuts trying to solve the mystery before the end. Later, I was really drawn to science and horror and read a lot of King and Crichton. Those books, and novels like Jaws, gave me a sense of what is truly frightening; real-life monsters. A lot of my favorite thriller authors today are people I’ve gotten to know at conferences; James Rollins, Steve Berry, Paul McEuen, Mark Alpert. I’ve met some amazing writers.
TQ: Are you a plotter or a pantser?
A.J.: I just finished a 100-page outline of my new book, so I’m definitely going with plotter! I like to know what works in the story and what doesn’t before I start writing, so I can make all necessary changes and not waste time rewriting a novel. The Colony took five years and probably 80 rewrites, and I won’t do that again. Some authors don’t like to know what’s going to happen next, but I think the real excitement comes from bringing the story to life and developing the characters. With an outline, I rarely get writers block.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
A.J.: Having to stop. I try to sit down at my computer early in the morning when the kids go off to school and work until they get home. But sometimes life gets in the way and I have to grab an hour of writing here and an hour there, which can be frustrating. It takes me at least twenty minutes to get in the zone, where the words come easily and I’m not aware of anything but the story.
TQ: Describe The Colony in 140 characters or less.
I think Publishers Weekly summed it up well. “New York City comes under attack from a vicious new species of ant in Colucci's exciting thriller debut…Michael Crichton fans will hope that this is but the first of many such outings from the author's pen.” Okay, it’s a little longer, but what a nice review.
TQ: What inspired you to write The Colony?
A.J.: I was watching a Discovery Channel special on killer ants. In the opening scene, army ants swarm a campsite and you can hear a baby screaming from the tent. Of course, the baby was saved, but the program got creepier by the minute. Towards the end, an organized mob of African driver ants plowed over a field killing everything in sight, including the farmers chicken, and I was sold.
TQ: What sorts of research did you do for The Colony? What is one of the oddest things that you found?
A.J.: I write about scientific subjects I initially know nothing about, so it’s a challenge. Fortunately I’m a research junkie and don’t mind spending one thousand hours studying things like ant morphology, pheromones and swarm intelligence. One of the oddest discoveries I made was the social parasitism of the slave-maker ant. Once the queen mates, she will fake her own death to entice ants from other colonies to drag her to their nest. Once inside, she’ll kill their queen and roll around in her scent, fooling the other ants taking over the colony. She’ll start laying her own eggs and as her soldiers mature, they emerge to attack other nests, tearing ants apart limb-by-limb and scurrying off with thousands of eggs to be made into new slaves.
TQ: Who was the easiest character to write and why? Hardest and why?
A.J.: Paul was the easiest. I like dual-natured characters at war with themselves. He’s super-intelligent, yet he’s not adept at basic life skills. He has a huge ego, but his confidence plummets when the ants take over the city. He goes through a lot of personal growth, and I think it’s this transcendence that makes him interesting. Kendra was more difficult. I had to fight the urge to make her an invincible super-hero. It was important to me that she was realistic, as a scientist and a human being.
TQ: Without giving anything away, what is/are your favorite scene(s) in The Colony?
A.J.: Towards the end, Kendra becomes trapped in an air duct with a swarm of angry ants on her trail. She’s painfully claustrophobic like me, and I had to image how it felt to go through that experience. I remembered having an MRI scan years ago and I panicked. My heart was racing and I got dizzy. The doctor actually had to let me out without the scan. Just writing that scene gave me a small anxiety attack.
TQ: What's next?
A.J.: I’m going to continue giving nature a voice. I’m intrigued by the idea that other creatures might have intelligence we’ve ignore, simply because we measure intelligence on a human scale. My next book is another science thriller that also deals with nature gone awry. But it’s scarier, darker. It even gives me the creeps.
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
A.J.: Thank you too.
About The Colony
Thomas Dunne Books, November 13, 2012
Hardcover and eBook, 304 pages
A series of gruesome attacks have been sweeping New York City. A teacher in Harlem and two sanitation workers on Wall Street are found dead, their swollen bodies nearly dissolved from the inside out. The predator is a deadly supercolony of ants--an army of one trillion soldiers with razor-sharp claws that pierce skin like paper and stinging venom that liquefies its prey.
The desperate mayor turns to the greatest ant expert in the world, Paul O’Keefe, a Pulitzer Prize–winning scientist in an Armani suit. But Paul is baffled by the ants. They are twice the size of any normal ant and have no recognizable DNA. They’re vicious in the field yet docile in the hand. Paul calls on the one person he knows can help destroy the colony, his ex-wife Kendra Hart, a spirited entomologist studying fire ants in the New Mexico desert. Kendra is taken to a secret underground bunker in New York City, where she finds herself working side by side with her brilliant but arrogant ex-husband and a high-ranking military officer hell-bent on stopping the insects with a nuclear bomb.
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 an indestructible new species, before the president nukes Manhattan.
A.J. Colucci's debut novel is a terrifying mix of classic Michael Crichton and Stephen King. A thriller with the highest stakes and the most fascinating science, The Colony does for ants what Jaws did for sharks.
THE COLONY is her first published novel. Visit her online at ajcolucci.com.