Justin Cronin seemed strangely normal and mild-mannered at his recent Lincoln Park Barnes & Noble appearance. Not what I'd expected from a man whose $3.75 million advance-winning novel "The Passage" deals with such horrors as virally-induced vampirism and super-secret government programs involving child abduction and terrifying amounts of tax money. Not to mention $13 a gallon gasoline. Talk about scary.
He looked more like the dad and professor of literature at Houston's Rice University that he was when he and his then eight-year-old daughter plotted the original story, as he informed his enthusiastic audience. The size of the advance, of course, was enough to excite the envy of some fellow writers in the audience, one of whom was heard moaning to a friend about what should have been "her" idea. But nice about it.
Sure, Cronin has all the hot topics of techno-thrillers. He just does them so much better than so many others.
I'm normally not a fan of horror. My daughter and I read the first book by that other vampire author -- you know who I'm talking about -- to see what the buzz was about. We agreed that once was, indeed, more than enough. So I was leery of opening Cronin's pages. Lucky for my sensibilities, he kicks any notion of soulful romantic vamps out the door. No sweet kisses here, perhaps because "The Passage" started as that daddy-daughter collaboration. It's not kiddie stuff, but in my book, helping your dad plan a story about a heroine too young to be interested in sticky-sweet romance is great family quality time, any time.
Cronin's appearance celebrated the issue of the paperback version of his novel. And to answer fans' questions about what's coming up, it includes an excerpt from the second book in the Passage trilogy, "The Twelve," dueout in 2012. The final book in the series, "The City of Mirrors," is expected in 2014. And the Ridley Scott movie (at this time a one-film deal) should be released in late 2012 or 2013.
And after that? "I will go back to teaching when the whole thing is wrapped up," Cronin said, noting that he has been on extended leave from Rice, devoting the past three years solely to "The Passage" phenomenon.
But will he keep writing? He has plenty of projects in mind. "I'd like to write for a really good TV show. I feel that series like 'Mad Men' are our new social novels, our Dickens."
Besides, he confided while signing my copy of "The Passage," "my wife says I'm impossible to be around unless I'm writing."
(Next Wednesday: in honor of the Robert E. Howard Days in Cross Plains, Texas, Wordcraft offers writing advice taken from Howard's own words.)