Bestseller James Rollins delivers his sixth Sigma Force thriller, The Doomsday Key (Reviews, Apr. 27).
How do you get started on a book?
It starts with a box, a cardboard lawyer's file box. Into that box goes anything that might make a story: a stray idea that pops into my head, an article from the latest Scientific American, a note jotted while watching the History Channel and so on. Once a month, I sift through that box and cull anything that no longer interests me. But during that process, by pure chance, odd bits end up next to each other on the floor: a piece of history that ends in a question mark, a bit of science that makes me go “what if?” And in that moment, I discover a possible story.
Do you know when you start where you're going to end up?
Here you raise a common author conundrum: do you outline your stories or do you write organically? I've sat on conference panels where authors on both sides of this divide have discussed their process. In the end, the panel usually ends up in a fistfight—sometimes figuratively, one time physically. Those two camps simply don't know how to communicate to the other. Their minds are wired completely differently.
But what do you do?
Before I begin writing, I know where the story starts, where it ends and several road markers in between. However, I don't necessarily know how I'll get from Point A to Point B. One of the joys of writing is that discovery along the way. Nothing is more satisfying than the surprises of story and character that arise during that journey. In fact, I get more excited to return to the keyboard when I have no idea what I'm going to write that day. Some writers fear the “tyranny of the blank page.” I love it.
You've written a book every year since 1999; ever want to just take a year off?
Actually, I've written two books every year since 1999. It's a poorly kept secret, but under the pen name James Clemens I've written the fantasy novels Wit'ch Fire, Wit'ch Storm, Wit'ch War, Wit'ch Gate, Wit'ch Star, Shadowfall and Hinterland. And this year, I'll be writing three: a middle school book, a Sigma Force novel and a stand-alone thriller. Will I ever take a year off? Not likely. I love to write—living half in this world, half in another. Some psychiatrist could have a field day about this, but before they lock me up, I'm going to keep writing.