Author Q&A: Justin Cronin on ‘The City of Mirrors’

May 30, 2016 

Time flies when you’re orchestrating a global apocalypse.

Justin Cronin started writing his genre-busting best-seller, "The Passage," more than a decade ago. He and his 8-year-old daughter would amuse themselves by making up a twisted story about a race of nasty vampires, or "virals," created by a tragic accident and reckless military scientific research.

To his daughter’s delight, their tale also featured "a girl who saves the world."

Cronin had no intention of turning the story into a book, but he soon realized it was "too good to ignore."

When "The Passage" was published in 2010, it spent three months on the New York Times best-seller list, and Cronin immediately morphed from an English professor at Rice University in Houston and mid-list literary author into a summer-reads heavy hitter.

The final book in the trilogy, "The City of Mirrors," came out May 24.

The author’s original collaborator, meanwhile, is now an 18-year-old college freshman and aspiring playwright. Where did the years go?

We chatted with Cronin about the new book, which begins with survivors naively believing their nightmare has passed and ends with a decisive showdown between Amy, the world’s savior, and Zero, aka Professor Tim Fanning, the first and most powerful of the virals.

Q: After devoting more than a decade of your life to "The Passage," "The Twelve" and "The City of Mirrors," was it hard or easy to write the final sentence of the final book and then let it go?

A: It is a somewhat melancholy moment that has its challenges. So much of my time, waking and sleeping, was occupied with this imaginary world. Then all of a sudden, there was nothing left to imagine.

After I finish a novel, I tend to spend a period of months moping around and being semifunctional. But eventually something else, some sense of what I want to do next, comes to fill that space in my head — and slowly but surely I embark on that.

Q: Many people reading "The City of Mirrors" will be shocked to find that Zero is a villain they can almost — ALMOST — empathize with. Why did you write an origin story for your big bad monster that reveals a heartbroken softie on the inside?

A: I wouldn’t want to create a monster who did not touch us in some human manner. You’ve got to splash a little light on the villain, just as you need to rub a little dirt on the hero. That’s what makes people interesting, their contradictions.

Fanning’s story is meant to accomplish that, so that you at least understand him. Because in spite of everything that’s bad about him, he was still born an innocent soul.

Q: Is it true that Fanning’s backstory parallels your own life in many ways?

A: Yes, I borrowed facts of my life for Fanning. I went to Harvard and so does he. I had always wanted to write about Harvard, but the occasion had never come up. Finally it did.

Fanning is an academic, which I was. Very different field of study — he is a professor of biochemistry — but aspects of the life are the same. Also, I wrote his story as a first-person narrative, so he’s using my language, meaning a mind meld was inevitable.

And on top of all that, we were both attacked by bats and infected during a scientific expedition in the jungle. No, wait. That happened only to Fanning.

Q: Did you have a favorite character to write?

I could take any character and tell you why he or she is my favorite. Different characters touched different nerves in me. I love Fanning’s voice. Michael’s ingenuity is something I admire intensely.

One secondary character who I came to be very connected to was Greer, who I kind of adore unreservedly: the soldier who becomes a mystic.

Q: Just curious: What’s up with your contempt for neckties? Peter, the soldier-turned-family man-turned-president of the Texas Republic, distrusts men wearing ties ("the most incomprehensible article of clothing in the history of the world"). What did ties ever do to you?

A: I don’t really have an issue with neckties. Once in a while, I actually wear one and it feels very fashionable. But I like to think that a post-apocalypse world would be necktie-optional.

I think a world on the brink would be, at most, business casual.

Q: What does your daughter think of how you’ve chosen to end the saga?

A: She hasn’t told me yet, because she hasn’t read the third one yet. She wants to read the first two books again before she reads the third. A lot of people have said they want to do that.

Plus, she has this very time-consuming day job right now, which is called being a freshman in college, so she’s going to do it over the summer.

I think she’s both kind of pleased and embarrassed that this challenge she made when she was 8 then occupied her dad for the next 10 years.



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