Justin Cronin: 'It's not the end of the world, you know...'

The author of the best-selling vampire thriller 'The Passage', tells Stephanie Cross why he finds post-apocalypse stories so hopeful

The story of how Justin Cronin's 2010 vampire blockbuster The Passage came about is now well known. Instructed by his young daughter to write a book about a girl who saves the world, the Texas-based academic produced an 800-page slab of full-blooded fantasy entertainment that earned him a $3.75m three-book deal and sales of 200,000 in the UK alone. Fans of the novel, which has been translated into more than 40 languages, included Stephen King, who called Cronin while the latter was live on TV to express his admiration. So, I ask Cronin when we meet, does he know what King makes of The Twelve, the follow-up to The Passage? "I don't. We sent him a copy, I don't know how long ago. I'd love to know," he says, the curiosity genuine. "That was one of the great moments of my life, right? The voice from above, on TV."

I catch up with Cronin on a sunny Saturday in Philadelphia. The author, who turned 50 this summer, is currently touring the US and confesses to being a little tired. "I have to spend a lot of time just figuring out when my nap will be now," he says, tongue-in-cheek. The Twelve, however, shows no signs of authorial fatigue. Spectacular and gripping, it rewinds to the "Year Zero" of The Passage – the moment when scientifically engineered vampires (or "virals") were first unleashed on America – before leaping forward nearly a century to follow various groups of survivors.

Dressed as he is in jeans and loafers, toying casually with his glasses, Cronin's description of himself as a "homebody" is easy to believe. He admits that the success of The Passage answered "certain material questions that were pressing upon me" but maintains that his day-to-day life has stayed largely the same. "Writing is a job: you must show up," as he puts it.

But if Cronin's exterior is likeably down to earth, there's the strong sense of a crackling live wire beneath the surface. He majored in English at Harvard; later, he studied at the Iowa Writers' Workshop, going on to pen two thoughtful, sensitive and critically well-received novels.

Much has been made of his high-brow CV and switch from the literary to the commercial – terms that he understandably dislikes – but for all its crowd-pleasing special effects, The Twelve, like The Passage, is still peppered with literary allusions, from Milton to T S Eliot. "Some of it is just showing good manners and acknowledging the books that matter to you. Writers who pretend that everything they're doing is completely new are full of it," Cronin asserts. But he is also clearly having tremendous fun, owning that some of the more oblique references are "just Easter eggs in the grass".

According to Cronin, the book to which The Twelve owes most is 1984. In The Twelve, dystopia is an Iowan "Homeland" overseen by a blood-drinking "Beloved Director", whose brutal regime is opposed by an insurgency that resorts to suicide- bombing. However, a similar act of terrorism, witnessed in pre-apocalypse Afghanistan, has left one of The Twelve's characters deeply traumatised. "I was thinking about occupied territories," Cronin explains. "When you write, you take the ball and you hold it up to the light and you turn it slowly, and let people draw their own conclusions. And try to bring empathy to all sides of the equation."

The serious substance of the novel is leavened by its show-stopping set pieces, though: The Passage incorporated a runaway train; its successor sees one figure fleeing his blood-thirsty pursuers in a Ferrari. But while film rights to the books were sold to Ridley Scott's production company for a reputed $1.75m, Cronin dismisses the suggestion that such episodes were written specifically for the big screen. "If you write a good action sequence well in a novel, you're already writing it for film," he explains, "because the only way to do it well is to use some of the same tricks. They're rhetorical, not visual, but it's the same move."

Talking about the craft of writing – a subject that Cronin taught for three decades – the author becomes passionate. He explains how he meticulously plots scenes, agonising about timings, distances and general "logistics" ("all that Aristotelian stuff, it's just such a burden," he laughs). He is also keen to lay out the rationale that underlies even the fantastic aspects of his novels. The telepathy uniting Cronin's virals, for instance, "corresponds very well to some of the mysterious communication we see among certain animals".

Cronin is now working on the final book of his sequence, but while readers can only guess at its conclusion, the world he has conjured will end neither with a whimper nor a bang. The narrative of The Twelve, which begins with a nod to the Book of Genesis, is framed by documents from 1,000 years into the future, and civilisation is still going. "Every novel of this type – everything that deals with 'the end of the world' – is actually a creation story," Cronin states. "Otherwise, it's completely nihilistic and nobody would read it." What about Cormac McCarthy's The Road, a book with which The Passage was frequently compared? "I find that book very, very hard to take. The grain of hope would be the boy ends up with the other people. Right? I love McCarthy. Um. That's all I'll say."

The future, then, is bright, and Cronin already has two more projects on the horizon. Returns to his quote-unquote "literary" roots, perhaps? "I'm just not going to indulge myself by thinking, 'this is literary, this is commercial'," he says, "because my theology of these things is that it's for others to decide. And if I want a runaway train in my book, you can decide for yourself what that means, but I just want a runaway train."

Extract

The Twelve by Justin Cronin

Orion, £20

'As Kittridge downshifted into the first corner, engine roaring, tires shrieking, two more virals dropped from the ceiling, into his path. One fell under his wheels with a damp crunch, but the second leapt over the roof of the barreling Ferrari, striding it like a hurdler. Kittridge felt a stab of wonder...'

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

art
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Strictly
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas