Interview with A.J. Colucci

A.J. Colucci is an author of science thrillers, stories that combine true, cutting-edge science with the adrenaline-rush a thriller. Her latest novel, SEEDERS, was described by #1 New York Times bestselling author Douglas Preston as “Gripping and brilliantly original.” Her debut novel THE COLONY was given a starred review by Publishers Weekly and Booklist called it “a frightening combination of well-researched science and scenes of pure horror.”

” I like to write about nature because it can be a brutal place—kill or be killed,” said Colucci, “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.”

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 lazy cats.

A.J. is a member of International Thriller Writers and Mystery Writers of America.

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As The Plot Thins (ATPT): Thanks for taking the time to speak with us today. Let’s start with Seeders. You turned a simple trapped on an island story into a horrifying real life experience. When/where/why did the story take that turn?

A.J. Colucci: Actually I knew I’d be writing a true-to-life story even before I decided to trap my characters on an island. As an author of science thrillers, I come up with each nature-gone- amok idea before I lay down the plot. The more I read about the latest breakthroughs in plant neurobiology, the more fascinated I became in the subject and decided to make it the basis of my novel. Coming up with setting and characters is much easier for me. It just sort of pops into my head. Since my books borderline on horror, it’s important to trap my characters in confined spaces—and islands are always fun.

ATPT: The science of Seeders is very real. You interviewed plant biologists to maintain accuracy, but what made you pick the plant-human communication aspect?

AC: I don’t like fantasy too much. I would never have plants actually moving and attacking people. That’s not as scary to me because there’s no science to back it up. Everything I write has to have some kind of logical explanation, even if it’s a stretch. And it has to be something everyone can relate to. I come from a generation of Americans who grew up talking to their plants, convinced they had some kind of consciousness. I knew there would be lots of readers who would accept the premise if I gave them the facts, and then I had to show them the darker side of that scenario. If plants could tell people what they were thinking, maybe the message wouldn’t be so friendly. It’s not like we’ve done a great job as guardians of the planet. Isn’t it possible they’re angry about our careless disregard for nature and would do whatever they can to protect themselves and their environment? Look at tobacco, cocaine, and yeast for alcohol, just to name a few. These are organisms that have made themselves highly appealing to humans, so that we can grow them profusely across the globe, only to have them try to kill us off. I’m telling you, it’s all a plan. Bwahahaha.

ATPT: Seeders as well as your first novel The Colony are science thrillers. Is there an author that inspired you to write in this genre or were you always interested in it?

AC: It wasn’t so much novels as movies that first got me interested in science thrillers. I was a TV junkie when it came to old sci-fi films of the 60s and 70s. The Blob, Day of the Triffids, Children of the Damned. Today those old shows wouldn’t be considered science thrillers became they have no factual basis, but when I was seven years old I believed they could happen. Later, when I read Michael Crichton I thought, yes, this is something that could definitely happen. I was so impressed with his ability to imagine ‘what if?’ and back it up with real data. Then I read other authors like Scott Sigler, Douglas Preston, Mark Alpert and James Rollins who also used real science in terrifying scenarios.

ATPT: Is there any other plot route that you considered going with for Seeders or was it always sort of set in stone?

AC: I’m such a plotter it’s ridiculous. Really, the entire story unfolds in my head in a matter of days and that worries me because I constantly think, how can this be good when I pushed it out so fast. It took me only a couple weeks to write an 80 page outline of the book which I handed to my editor and they bought it. That’s actually when the hard part starts, making sure the prose are as good as the plot. Developing the characters. Being able to surprise the reader even when I know what’s coming.

ATPT: Do you have any more creative fiction/writing currently in the works?

AC: I’m touching up a couple of books that are nearly complete, and my agent is putting them out there. But my biggest project, and it’s a monster, has been rolling around my head for three years and I’m finally starting it in a few weeks. With Seeders all wrapped up, I’m looking forward to going into my girl cave and writing there until spring.

ATPT: If you weren’t working as a writer, what would your chosen profession be?

AC: Honestly, writing is the only thing I can do. I suck at almost everything else. Maybe the lady who hands out fudge on a tray outside the candy stores at the Jersey shore. I could do that. I once heard Dustin Hoffman say in an interview, if he could never get a single job as an actor all his life, what would he have become? He said an out of work actor.

ATPT: Do you have any comments or thoughts on the recent articles/studies about plants being able to hear themselves being eaten?

AC: That’s funny you mention it. I read that article the day it came out. The thing is, we’ve known for years that plants use all five senses, so hearing themselves being eaten isn’t a surprise. What’s creep is we know plants experience pain. We just don’t know what pain feels like to them. They have a primitive type of nervous system that sends electrical signals throughout the organism just like humans, but we don’t know if their experience is the same as ours. When you cut one leaf, it will set off a reaction in the entire plant, from roots to stems to leaves. But is that plant, which displays shock and depression, actually feeling what we call pain? I don’t know, but I’ll say this, I never mindlessly pick leaves off trees when I go on walks like I used to. It’s just…mean.

ATPT: Is there a specific reason Colin was written to be an antagonist or bad guy?

AC: I knew my protagonist Isabelle was going to face enormous challenges and if she had been a fairly strong woman there wouldn’t be much of an arc to her character. I wanted her to start off as somewhat beaten down. Growing up on the island, Isabelle was a tough kid, but her abusive husband eventually wore her down, as did her narcissistic mother. It took going back to the island and facing some horrible demons to reclaim her strength. Plus as a mother, Isabelle needed to do whatever it took to save her children.

ATPT: You seem to love sci-fi quite a bit. What are some of your other favorite sci-fi movies/tv shows/novels?

AC: I enjoy classic sci-fi, like Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. Anything by Vonnegut or Orwell. I love Carl Sagan’s works for non-fiction. The other night I saw the new version of Planet of the Apes, the second in the series, and I loved it. I was afraid they would ruin the old 60’s films, but they were wonderful remakes and my kids enjoyed them too. I’m a fan of the new Star Trek films and the Marvel releases too, especially Iron Man. I think the best thing about today’s sci-fi as opposed to the originals is they have more scientific plausibility. Producers know that today’s movie-goers are skeptical and want logical explanations for what they are seeing, even if it’s a bit of a stretch. The same goes for books. Truth is scarier than fiction.


ATPT:
Do you have any 2014 favorite novels or books you would like to share with your fans?

AC: I’ve been doing a lot of author interviews for a magazine called The Big Thrill and I’ve been reading some of their books as research. A few I positively love. I highly recommend Cop Town by Karin Slaughter, Code Zero by Jonathon Maberry, No Safe House by Linwood Barclay, as well as any of his other books. Trust Your Eyes is one of my top ten.

 

Seeders was released on July 15th. You can purchase it from Amazon or from A.J.’s site here.

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