Please welcome A.J. Colucci to The Qwillery. Seeders, Colucci's second novel, will be published on July 15th by Thomas Dunne Books.
TQ: Welcome back to The Qwillery. Your new novel, Seeders, will be published on July 15th. Has your writing process changed (or not) from when you wrote The Colony (2012) to Seeders? What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
A.J.: I think my writing process has changed. For one thing, The Colony took five years to write and I had less than a year to finish Seeders, so I’m definitely a faster writer. It does get easier over time, as you refine your skills and develop a feel for what works and what doesn’t. I always say research is the most time-consuming thing about my work, but as far as challenging goes, that would be the writing itself. Good prose, character development and creating a smooth, linear storyline take a lot of hard work and rewrite. It’s exhausting and can suck the life out of you if you don’t pace yourself.
TQ: What do you wish that you knew about book publishing when The Colony came out that you know now?
A.J.: That it’s important to enjoy all the little successes along the way. I’ve never been the type of person who is satisfied with reaching my goals because there is always the next hurdle and the one after that. So even though finding an agent, getting two books published, two audio books and a German edition have been exciting moments, they’ve also been fleeting. I didn’t take the time to bask in the joy of seeing my reviews in print, the large turnout for my first book signing, having my daughter’s teacher ask me to speak to her class. You have to make a conscious effort to enjoy those moments because after all the time and hard work it takes to write a marketable book, you deserve it.
TQ: Tell us something about Seeders that is not in the book description.
A.J.: Book summaries mainly focus on plot, but the real story is in the complex relationships between the characters. I especially loved writing about Luke and Monica, two teenagers trapped on the island who start out as adversaries, but develop a deep friendship. Monica had a difficult childhood and keeps a tough wall up to protect herself. But eventually, partly out of fear for her life, she reveals her true nature to Luke and they’re able to comfort each other during an extremely terrifying experience.
TQ: What kinds of research did you do for Seeders?
A.J.: All of the information on plants – their ability to learn, remember, signal each other, attack prey – is based on fact. The most amazing discoveries in plant neurobiology are new and controversial so there are a lot of recent articles on the subjects. I interviewed a few experts in the field and used a plant biologist as a consultant to make sure my facts were correct. The story also touches on some mind-blowing facts about fungi, which we are still learning about, so I interviewed a mycologist at The New York Botanical Gardens who was very helpful and gave me a tour of the herbarium.
TQ: Both Seeders and The Colony are science thrillers. What appeals to you about grounding your novels in science?
A.J.: I’m fascinated by science. Each time I read an article or see a documentary on some new creature discovered under the sea, possible life on another planet, or a new theory in quantum physics, my story ideas go nuts. When I hook onto an exciting subject, I submerge myself in research until I’m in a euphoric zone where time slips by quickly. That said, this is not an easy genre to break into. Not only am I a woman in a male-dominated category, I’m one of the few science thriller authors who doesn’t have a Ph.D. I think my books sell because of my enthusiasm for the subject matter. You have to write what you love, not write what you know.
TQ: In Seeders, which character was most difficult to write and why? Which character surprised you the most?
A.J.: Isabelle was a tough nut to crack, but then my main protagonist is usually the hardest to write. She is almost always a woman who is strong, yet slightly damaged, and I have a hard time not putting myself in her place. It’s important to keep a certain distance from your characters, so through most of the book she remained rather two-dimensional, while everyone around her developed unique personalities. I was halfway through the book when I suddenly saw her fully-formed, and understand her on a deep level. Then I went back to make her whole.
I think Jules surprised me most, and he certainly has the biggest character arc. He was a mild-mannered scientist who valued self-control and, although I knew he was headed towards insanity, I didn’t realize just how far he would go. Being stranded on an island with someone like Jules is what makes the book so scary.
TQ: Please give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery lines from Seeders.
A.J.: It’s more than a line or two, but one of the creepiest parts of the story is when the two teenagers discover a body on the island, and it’s the first time we realize that something very strange is going on:
The man wore the remains of a gray jumpsuit, stiff and faded from the elements. He was beginning to collapse at the center. Flies buzzed over the abdomen that had turned into a puddle of dark soup, and they hovered over the rotting face, landing on perches of bone. “Luke,” Monica’s voice was small and shaky. “Please, let’s go back.” There was a hole in his forehead, about an inch in diameter. Luke thought for a moment. “It looks as though he’s been shot in the head. I think he was murdered.” He got on his knees and leaned over the body. “There’s something in his hand, or what’s left of it.” He reached down to the nearly skeletonized fingers, clasped around an object the size of a baseball. “Don’t touch it,” Monica pleaded. Luke took hold of some fuzzy strands and tugged at the thing until it was free of the bones. It spun around and the winking face of a baby stared up at him. “It’s a doll’s head.”
TQ: What's next?
A.J.: I’m working on a few projects. One is another science thriller but I’m also finishing up a mystery and a crime novel. I’d like to explore other genres. Shake things up a little. Keep things fresh.
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
Thomas Dunne Books, July 15, 2014
Hardcover and eBook, 336 pages
George Brookes is a brilliant but reclusive plant biologist living on a remote Canadian island. After his mysterious death, the heirs to his estate arrive on the island, including his daughter Isabelle, her teenage children, and Jules Beecher, a friend and pioneer in plant neurobiology. They will be isolated on the frigid island for two weeks, until the next supply boat arrives.
As Jules begins investigating the laboratory and scientific papers left by George, he comes to realize that his mentor may have achieved a monumental scientific breakthrough: communication between plants and humans. Within days, the island begins to have strange and violent effects on the group, especially Jules who becomes obsessed with George’s journal, the strange fungus growing on every plant and tree, and horrible secrets that lay buried in the woods. It doesn’t take long for Isabelle to realize that her father may have unleashed something sinister on the island, a malignant force that’s far more deadly than any human. As a fierce storm hits and the power goes out, she knows they’ll be lucky to make it out alive.
A.J. Colucci masterfully weaves real science with horror to create a truly terrifying thriller, drawing from astonishing new discoveries about plants and exploring their eerie implications. Seeders is a feast of horror and suspense.
A.J. Colucci was born in the Bronx and raised in Larchmont, a suburb outside of New York City.
"My stories combine cutting-edge science with the fast pace of a thriller," said Colucci, whose second novel will be coming out in spring 2014 from St. Martin's Press. "I like to write about nature because it can be a brutal place—kill or be killed—but it's also filled with a sort of beauty and logic that makes you wonder which species are truly evolved. Humans have a tendency to separate themselves from everything non-human. We consider ourselves above nature, not part of it. I think it's important to recognize what we have in common and gain a better understanding of all living creatures that share this planet."
The Colony was given a starred review by Publishers Weekly, noting, "Colucci's exciting thriller debut...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."
A.J. spent 15 years as a newspaper reporter, magazine editor and writer for corporate America. Today she is a full-time author who lives in New Jersey with her husband, two daughters and a couple of slightly overweight cats.