A world-threatening virus, the Russian royal family, and the undead all figure in Robert Masello’s thriller, The Romanov Cross, set on a remote Alaskan island.

How important is a sense of place to you?

Whenever I write a novel, I try to meld the mood of the book and the spirit of the place into one overall atmosphere. Alaska is rightly acclaimed for its natural beauty, but it’s also a bleak and forbidding landscape, a place where people can freeze to death in whiteouts, get mauled by bears, or lose their way on hunting trips, never to be seen again.

Why do you think the fate of the Romanovs has an unending fascination for writers?

The more I read about the Romanov dynasty and its tragic end, the more interesting it became. Part of the reason, I think, is that at its core, it’s a family drama, but played out on the world stage. It’s the story of two doting but deeply divided parents who tried very hard to raise their four daughters and one son, the heir to one of the greatest empires in history, while coping with the boy’s hemophilia, a world war of epic proportions, and a national tide of revolutionary fervor. Every decision they made could wind up having global repercussions... and did.

What did you discover about the possibility of another epidemic of the size of 1918’s influenza, which killed millions, occurring again?

I’m no epidemiologist, but I did read up on this subject, and I can’t say that the news was very comforting. On the one hand, we have lots of new technology and knowledge with which to combat a flu pandemic, but on the other, the world is a much smaller and more interconnected place than ever—a place where new, or old, viruses can hitch a ride anywhere, anytime. The threat is incalculable and ever present, and most of us remain, most of the time, oblivious to it. We shouldn’t be. Needless to say, I always get my flu shot early now.

How did you feel when you wrote that tiny spine-chilling scene at the end? (Sorry, no spoilers allowed.)

Immensely relieved. I wanted the book to have one final kicker, but it wasn’t until the last draft that I suddenly realized I had already laid the groundwork for it much earlier. As a writer, you are hugely grateful to yourself, or your own unconscious, for doing something helpful once in a while, even if it does take you forever to recognize it.