The City of Mirrors
by Justin Cronin
Is it any wonder Justin Cronin seemed like a man released from a long incarceration when he appeared last Friday night at the Dallas Museum of Art to discuss the release of the last book of his Passages trilogy, The City of Mirrors, with local book reviewer Joy Tipping? "I basically spent the last 10 years locked in a room," Cronin said, finishing what he termed the "2,000-page novel" that his three apocalyptic volumes -- The Passage, The Twelve, and The City of Mirrors comprise.
“Does it have to be the last book?” Tipping asked, echoing the sentiments of the room full of fans, many of whom have followed him since the release of the first book in 2010.
“Yes, it does,” he said. Not that seeing publication of the final book of the series about a race of medically-induced vampires, the havoc they unleash on the world, and that world’s ultimate redemption (or not – no spoilers here) necessarily means the end of that world’s story.
“At some point, I think I’m going to write a book of stories associated with the narrative. In fact, I’m writing it now, very slowly, because my brain is dead right now,” he assured fans. Plus, there’s always the possibility of movies or, more to Cronin’s wish, TV series to look forward to.
In the meantime, the Distinguished Faculty Fellow at Houston’s Rice University had plenty to say about the trilogy’s Texas influences, the joys of writing genre fiction, and, yes, the thing he has for red-haired heroines. He didn’t start out as a writer of books garnering not only critical and popular acclaim but what were rumored to be multi-million dollar advances. After writing the very literary, very grownup award-winning Mary and O’Neil and The Summer Guest in the early 2000’s, his daughter Iris, then in the third grade, dared him to write the book she wanted to read. One that should be about a girl who saved the world. And it had to have a character with red hair, “because she’s a redhead.”
Although he was currently writing another book, Cronin and his daughter passed stories about this world-saving, red-haired girl back and forth. When he typed his notes, it came to 30 single-spaced pages that “wow – looked a lot better than the thing I was writing…my agent and I sent it out under a pseudonym because it was so different.”
Different as in “genre” instead of his previous “literary” fiction.
“I don’t think genre is a bad term,” he told Tipping. “But there is a difference between work that is constructed mainly to entertain and a book meant to endure. The difference is in the depth of characters.” Such depth that he feels confident about filling that other volume he spoke about with the stories he developed around the characters, stories there simply wasn’t room for in the trilogy. And there are plenty of those, with the appendix to The City of Mirrors listing more than 60 named characters.
And how about those "really long books in which which a lot of people die," as Cronin described his trilogy? "I read that Larry McMurtry was a big influence on you,” Tipping said.
Texas author Larry McMurtry’s magnum opus, Lonesome Dove, was a great influence, Cronin agreed. Schooled in the classic Iowa Writers Workshop format of short stories – “miniature works of despair,” as Cronin described them, McMurtry’s book about a massive 19th century cattle drive and its correspondingly enormous cast of characters was a revelation.
On a plane trip, he met a Texan “blathering about this book,” who insisted on forcing it on him. “I read (it) on the plane, then lay in a hotel room for three days (still) reading it. I saw the virtues and the power of a really huge story.”
As well as the revelation that “a book could fall within an established genre and still be a wonderful book."