Yeah, so you think I’m joking with that title, aren’t you? Well, I’m not! Seriously. This is like the coolest, most fun three-way author roundtable interview I’ve ever done. Pay no attention to the fact that it is the ONLY three-way author roundtable interview I’ve ever done. That’s beside the point. What is important is the total awesomeness of these three authors of Jeremy Robinson’s AMAZING Jack Sigler (Chess Team) Thrillers.
In this interview, you will gain never before insight into this fun series of books that you never knew to even ask about. You’ll discover new possibilities for where this series is going. And you’ll get an inside look at how these wonderful authors work together to create some of the best fiction on the market today. And…ahem…you’ll also be privy to a very special Chess Team announcement that affects yours truly just a bit.
So, go pop you some popcorn. Get a tall glass of sweet tea. And sit back and enjoy!
Kane Question: So the Jack Sigler/Chess Team series has come from a fairly straightforward military meets bio-engineered threat (with some mythology peppered in) kind of concept (with Jeremy’s PULSE in 2009) to full-blown science fiction in the last two chronological novels (RAGNAROK and OMEGA), bringing in other dimensions and even time travel. We’ve all got a feeling of love and ownership by this point for these characters Jeremy has created, and we all have ideas about where the series should or could go. So without giving too much away about the upcoming plot of 2014’s SAVAGE (by Jeremy and Sean), where do each of you see the series heading? What angles or topics do you feel have been relatively unexplored?
Kane Answer: For myself, I’d want to see the team visit more exotic locales. Maybe South Asia more (although Jeremy and Sean had them in Burma in PRIME). I want to know more about Asya Machtchenko and what she can bring to the organization. I’d also like to see the team go on some proactive missions, rather than responding to threats all the time. We’ve seen the origins, and some standalone stories, as well as the long running Ridley thread. We also had the team apart for a long while. I think moving forward, I might like to see the team put in positions they can’t easily get out of, and maybe in a completely hostile environment, like under the sea or trapped underground.
Jeremy Answer: I’m personally looking forward to a fresh start. With the crazy-big Ridley and Alexander plotlines wrapped up, it’s time to create some new enemies and visit some strange, new locations. And yes, new monsters. Starting with SAVAGE, we’re going to get a series of standalone stories, which will allow us to explore wildly different ideas without finding a way to interconnect it all, which was one of the biggest challenges with the first five books. We have a little more freedom now, which as a creator, is very exciting, and the team is going to be put through the wringer. We won’t be pulling our punches from here on out.
Sean Answer: Darn it…I don’t want to go last. What they said.
Seriously though, I agree with Jeremy about the importance of standalone stories, though I wouldn’t mind seeing a recurring villain, or perhaps an evil organization—Chess Team’s own SPECTRE, if you will. And while exotic locales and increasingly spectacular plots are going to be the draw, what I think has to happen is continued character evolution. Upping the ante isn’t what will keep readers coming back, and that’s a mistake that seems to happen in a lot of action movie sequels. ‘Well, let’s see, in that last one, we wrecked a famous landmark…this time, we have to destroy an entire city…maybe a whole continent.’ Don’t get me wrong, there’s definitely a place for mayhem, but I think I speak for everyone here when I say that it’s the characters that keep bringing us back. So…buckle up, because as Jeremy said, we’re not going to pull any punches.
Jeremy Answer #2: After reading Sean’s answer, you should picture the both of us grinning fiendishly and tenting our fingers like Monty Burns.
Kane Question: Of all the characters that have been in the series up until this point, which character, if any, do you have the hardest time wrapping your head around and finding a voice for when writing? Who’s toughest to bring to the page?
Kane Answer: For me, it was probably Knight, when I was working with Jeremy on RAGNAROK, Knight felt a bit like a cipher to me. He is fleshed out in the earlier novels, but I just wasn’t sure how to give him something interesting to do. I think he really helped to move the plot along at the end, in PULSE, when he infiltrates Manifold’s base. And there was the bit about him being a ladies man, and the back story with his grandmother. But then his story takes a definite back seat in INSTINCT and THRESHOLD, as the other characters come to the forefront. Ultimately where I decided to go, was to focus more on his sniping skills, and make him more of a show off with regard to those skills.
Jeremy Answer: Honestly, none of them give me trouble. They’re all straight out of my head, and I can see and hear them as easily as I can any character I write—which is a good thing, because I very quickly see when co-authors get a voice wrong (which is rare). I can say that the character almost all Chess Team co-authors struggle with, from my perspective, is Bishop. I’ve noticed a trend where Bishop is depicted as talkative or sarcastic, rather than his stoic, reserved self.
Sean Answer: Knight. I mean, how can you ever understand a character that doesn’t move in straight lines? (That’s a chess joke… Geez, tough crowd). But seriously, Knight is the one character that has been hard to get to know, both as a reader and as a co-author. Who is this guy, aside from being a deadly sniper? Ladies’ Man and Granma’s Boy. That’s not a lot to go on. Knight is, as Kane said, a cipher.
But honestly, I think that’s kind of the charm of the character. It’s not realistic to expect that everyone in the team will have some defining personal traumatic event that motivates them; most of us don’t, and when you get right down to it, it’s kind of cliché. Rook is actually very similar in that his backstory is also pretty vanilla (if I’m remembering correctly), but he’s got personality. I think it’s great that Knight is kind of a blank slate; he’ll be shaped more by events that happen in the course of the stories, than by things that happened in his past. If he survives, that is…muwahaha!
Kane Question: What for you (whether you wrote it or not) was the most surprising development in the series?
of INSTINCT. That epilogue was clearly the start of a new plot thread (which would be elaborated upon in THRESHOLD). It felt to me, as a reader at the time, both wonderful and bizarre. I don’t think I had read a mainstream thriller with as blatant of a to-be-continued flashing neon sign. Although the plot development didn’t feel like it belonged to INSTINCT, I loved it too, as a reader, because it meant there would be more to come, and it promised more action with Alexander. It was, in my opinion, just yet another example of Jeremy bucking trends and expectations with his work, and allowing the story to go where it needed. On this side of having written and published a few books, I’m stunned Jeremy’s publisher let him get away with it, but I’m also very glad. In hindsight, using that epilogue (which might have worked as well as the prologue of THRESHOLD) really lent a cohesiveness to the earlier part of the series.
Jeremy Answer: First, a quick peek behind the curtain in response to Kane’s answer. When I wrote INSTINCT, and that epilogue, I contacted the publisher and said, “I’ve got this crazy epilogue I want to add, but I need to know, 100%, that you’re going to publish more Chess Team books.” I was nervous about adding this blatant continuation of the Alexander storyline that I knew would take five books to complete. They said to add it, and then they dropped the series after THRESHOLD, leaving the story arc two books away from completion. Lucky for me, and fans of the series, I’m pretty good at this self-publishing thing. BUT, since I still had to write more books for my publisher (SECONDWORLD and ISLAND 731), I needed help. That lead to Kane and Sean coming on board as co-authors. It also led to the CALLSIGN novella series, because I knew Book 4 (RAGNAROK) would be delayed, and I’m all about pleasing fans.
Anywho, I think for me, it was the very quick scene in INSTINCT where Rook falls over dead. I wasn’t planning that as I wrote. It just sort of came out. And the words he speaks upon being revived are some of his funniest, and have generated a good amount of fan mail. I think, in general, the most surprising moments are the ones the author doesn’t plan on, and sometimes they change the course of the entire story.
Sean Answer: Ah, the Siletz massacre… If you haven’t already heard the story, I grew up in Siletz, Oregon. Yes, there really is such a place. Jeremy didn’t know I grew up there (or me, really) when he wrote it; what are the odds? I give him a hard time because the reported death toll in INSTINCT is 3,000, and there have never, ever, been that many people in Siletz.
I think the thing that surprised me most was…well, THRESHOLD and RAGNAROK. If I’m going to be perfectly honest, I expected the Chess Team series to do one thing, and it did something completely different. So what do I mean by that? Well, even though Ridley survives the end of PULSE, the overall plot of INSTINCT seemed to be hinting at a series of standalone novels that would send the team after a variety of potentially world-ending threats, and then… Wham!Left turn. THRESHOLD started turning the world up-side down, and RAGNAROK capsized it completely. As a reader, that kind of dynamic change is awesome, but as someone involved on the creative side, it can be a real challenge. Talk about a hard act to follow. When Jeremy approached me about doing the origin story, I was grateful, because it meant I would be dealing with a world that was pretty familiar—not one left completely in ruins by invading dire wolves from another dimension.
Oh, the other development that left me gobsmacked was the decision to start calling them ‘Jack Sigler Thrillers’ instead of Chess Team Adventures… Yeah, who’s with me? Show of hands?
Jeremy Answer #2: For me, the change from ‘Chess Team Adventures’ to ‘Jack Sigler Thrillers’ wasn’t a surprise. Why? Because I wanted them to be Jack Sigler Thrillers from the beginning, but the publisher went with Chess Team Adventures. So why did they switch it back (from my perspective)? Simple. It quickly became obvious that the #1 reason people passed on trying the first two books were three little words: Chess Team Adventures. Clear your mind of what you know about the Chess Team. Now say those words and what do you see? At best, it’s a YA novel about a bunch of chess playing sleuths. It creates an image that is basically the opposite of what the books really are. So I was happy about the change, and sales have improved since.
Jeremy Question: With which Chess Team member(s) do you share the most attributes? Who are you most like?
Jeremy Answer: This is a hard question for me because they all came from my mind and have snippets of my personality. I’m pretty quiet, like Bishop, reserving my voice for when it’s most important. My sense of humor is pretty close to Rook’s—sarcastic and pop culture focused (as can also be seen in Jane Harper and Jon Hudson). But I think I probably associate most with King, not because I kick ass, or am an amazing leader (I’m a hermit), but because the trait that defines him is loyalty—to the team, to his beliefs and to Sara (as seen in OMEGA), and this is definitely one of my strongest traits. Probably to a fault.
Sean Answer: King. Maybe because I got to work on three novellas all featuring Sigler’s character, I made more of an effort to understand him, and maybe I’ve imprinted myself on him a bit, too. He’s the leader, so he doesn’t give in to whims the way Rook does, although he certainly has a playful sense of humor. He doesn’t put his inner demons on display the way that Queen and Bishop often do, though he certainly has some of those as well. I think I’m a bit of a control-freak, and by that, I mean I don’t like to be out-of-control. As a rule, I keep my head down and avoid drawing unnecessary attention to myself, but when there’s a job to do, I’m going to get it done. That’s more or less how I see King—the guy who gets it done, but otherwise would prefer to go completely unnoticed.
Kane Answer: Really tough question. For me, obviously, I’m injecting a bit of myself into each character when I write them, but they all originated in Jeremy’s head, and none of them is really me, per se. After all, I sit or stand at a computer for around fourteen hours a day. I share a few traits with the characters, though. I can be patient when I need to be, like Knight is when he’s on a mission. I occasionally get the good one-liners in like Rook does. I strive to be as serene and quiet as Bishop, but I fail most of the time. Queen and I definitely share a stubborn single-mindedness. King is pretty different from me. I think I’d have to identify most with Queen, even though I find her pretty challenging to write. She seems the most to me like a character who, if they were dropped by accident 100 miles off course, would just grumpily start walking and stomp the whole way to the target. That’s pretty much me.
Jeremy Question: There has been a lot of talk in the past year, from Robinson fans, about doing a crossover story between novels. If you could merge the Chess Team universe with the universe of another of my, or your novels, which would it be?
|Seriously one of my favorite books (and series)!|
Jeremy Answer: For me, I would love to have a crossover between the Chess Team and FC-P (Fusion Center – Paranormal, from PROJECT NEMESIS). I think both teams would lend expertise the other needs, and both deal with the same sorts of threats, though for very different reasons. While the Chess Team is typically saving the whole world, The FC-P is part of the Department of Homeland Security, and as such, they’re focused solely on defending the U.S.
That said, if we go by cameos, I can connect a lot of my novels. Off the top of my head, the list of books/series interconnected by cameo appearances is as follows: THE DIDYMUS CONTINGENCY, RAISING THE PAST, ANTARKTOS RISING, THE ANTARKTOS SAGA, SECONDWORLD, I AM COWBOY, PROJECT NEMESIS, PROJECT MAIGO, ISLAND 731, OMEGA (and thus all Chess Team books), THE SENTINEL and THE RAVEN. If you’re including the series books, that’s nearly all of my books that are connected via cameos. I think only BENEATH and KRONOS are unconnected…and I might be wrong about KRONOS. Have you spotted them all?
Sean Answer: Wow, I’d never thought much about it…(SPOILERS AHEAD)
…but now that King is something of a wandering immortal, it would be great to have him show up inDodge Dalton pulp sci-fi adventure stories. There are a lot of similarities already; Dodge and his coterie of companions are a 1930s version of the Chess Team, really, running around the planet dealing with maniacal villains and monsters of the extra-dimensional, as well as purely physical, variety. It would be cool to have Sigler show up, and maybe we could meet a much younger Grandma Knight, too.
one of my
Kane Answer: Heh. I started badgering Jeremy ages ago to start tying his novels in to the same universe. He pretty much rejected the idea at first, but now it’s happening in a few ways…(SPOILERS AHEAD)
Astute readers of OMEGA might have noticed a connection with THE DIDYMUS CONTINGENCY, and Jeremy’s readers of I AM COWBOY will have seen the door to possibilities flung wide open. As Jeremy’s frequent editor, I’m cringing now that I have to help keep his entire universe(s) straight with regard to continuity! But I think it would be great to see a lot of the characters from his earlier works connected with the ongoing works—even without direct sequels. So favorites for me, like the crew of BENEATH, could conceivably show up in some other title, or even a Chess Team book, at some point. I think it would be great to have my Jason Quinn character meet up with a Chess Team character too, just because I always love those kinds of things, where universes meet—even if there are no long-term ramifications.
Sean’s Question: In the Chess Team books, particularly starting with INSTINCT, as well as in our other novels, the stakes are often very big—end-of-the-world big. It’s a lot of work figuring out how to destroy the world, but I’m wondering if there’s been an end-of-the-world scenario (from a book you’ve written or read) that actually scared you?
Jeremy Answer: While my mind is capable of creating end-of-the-world scenarios out of some of the most unlikely ideas (yeah, I have trouble sleeping), it’s the real-world stuff that I actually try not to think about. After reading THE DEVIL COLONY by James Rollins, which deals with the super volcano beneath Yellowstone National Park, I did some research and discovered that, yes, we’re all going to die horrible deaths—either from liquid hot magma or choking ash, or we’re going to face a very long, agonizing death in the frigid wasteland that the Earth will become. This gigantic volcano erupts on a fairly regular basis (every 600,000 years). Since the last eruption was 640,000 years ago, we are currently 40,000 years overdue for global annihilation. So, eventually the thing is going to blow, and there isn’t a single thing we can do about it. Thanks, Jim! Like I needed another horror to keep me awake at night.
Kane Answer: For me, it’s anything to do with diseases. Stephen King’s THE STAND or any recent thriller like Brett Battles’s Project Eden series is terrifying for me. I know how debilitating a severe flu can be, and I can imagine, easily, everyone on the planet drowning in their own goldfish bowl of snot. Ewwwww. It’s also devastating as a doomsday device, because it’s microscopic. You can’t fight it with your fists. I think that’s why the whole zombie trend has been so huge. Even without the monstrous aspect of the zombies themselves, the concept is all about infection—from something invisible and seemingly unstoppable. So yeah, basically anything related to infection scares me.
Sean Answer: One of the big challenges for writing a good “will the world end” thriller is in finding a plausible threat that can be controlled and managed (or mismanaged) by the bad guy. There was one novel recently that actually made me sit up a little straighter: Mark Alpert’s OMEGA THEORY. It builds on a very plausible and increasingly accepted idea that reality—our universe and everything in it—is really a very complicated computer program. Like any computer program, it can be hacked, corrupted, or crashed…and if it crashes, what would that mean for us? Is there a universal CTRL-ALT-DELETE, and if so, what would the reboot look like? Alpert writes for Scientific American and knows what he’s talking about, and even if the novel was a little out there, the underlying premise is not so farfetched. Everything in the universe was created together at the instant of the Big Bang, so according to quantum theory, it’s all connected. When we mess with the fundamental building blocks of the universe, whether by splitting atoms in increasingly large nuclear reactions or by using super-colliders to intentionally create miniature black holes and ‘god’ particles, we really are like kids playing with matches…in a very dry forest.
Sean Question: Okay, one last question about the Jack Sigler/Chess Team novels. With six novels and eight novellas, the series has a pretty well established readership. Early on in your career, Jeremy, you identified with the science thriller genre (e.g. Michael Crichton) and many of your books continue to explore scary science, but with the Chess Team books, you’ve gone much deeper into science-fiction, mysticism, history and military action. From what I can tell (because like you, I read the reviews) readers approve. How do you think readers define the series in their minds? And what do you think they want more of, as we move forward?
Jeremy Answer: I originally went with the ‘science thriller’ designation to brand myself in a way that my (new at the time) publisher, Thomas Dunne, wanted for presenting my books to readers. And while it still fits many of my books, I now happily break the rules of science on a regular basis. As a result, it’s actually quite hard to define my books by any single genre, and I have a really hard time picking categories for the books on Amazon. For me, as an author, it’s even harder to be defined by a genre. I’m often asked, “What kind of books do you write?” The easiest answer, after a minute of stunned silence, is “Everything but romance and westerns, except there is romance in most of the books, and I do have a character named Cowboy, but that’s not really a western.”
But here’s how I want readers to think of me. I want to be known as the author who is unpredictable. Who, just when you think you know what I’m going to do next, or what subject I’m going to focus on, I hit you with something totally different and surprising. I don’t restrict my source material to just science. I’m free to explore history, mythology, religion, the modern world, the future, fantasy and just about any kind of craziness I can dream up. I’ve even based entire novels on my dreams! When authors become predictable, I stop reading them. When I become predictable, I might stop writing. Because, for me, there is nothing more boring than predictability.
Sean’s Answer: I read reviews, not just to have my ego stroked (which an author can never get too much of) but also because I believe that even when you disagree with something critical, you can learn from it. I remember one reviewer for PRIME complained that it read like a Tom Clancy novel. That’s a bad thing? So let’s see…you want less ‘military’ in a story about a team of US Army Special Forces shooters? You don’t want to hear about the guns and equipment that they use?
My genre of choice would not be military fiction—sci-fi or otherwise—but I do believe that, when your main characters are in a military service, even one that is…let’s say ‘adjunct’ to the chain of command, it is necessary to get the details right. If you go that extra mile to establish a sort of authenticity, readers will be more willing to suspend disbelief when you go really far out.
I don’t think that most readers would call Chess Team ‘military sci-fi,’ but I have to believe that they appreciate that kind of attention to detail in all those areas. I think the people who love Chess Team are the same people who love James Rollins’s Sigma Force books or David Lynn Golemon’s Event Group novels. Whatever you call their genre, that’s where Chess Team belongs.
Kane Answer: I found it to be a pretty big move into Sci-Fi Country when Jeremy and I started discussing RAGNAROK, and he told me the team would be dealing with dimensional incursion. Like Sean, I found THRESHOLD to be a pretty big left turn as well. I was expecting more standalone thrillers. But THRESHOLD also took the somewhat supernatural aspects of the series to new heights with the mother tongue and animated golems. I thought for sure that RAGNAROK would then be a return to the more straight-forward military action thriller. But seemingly with his finger on the pulse of what fans both wanted and never expected, Jeremy wanted to go in a more sci-fi direction. We had a lot of fun with it, and most fans loved it, although a few readers were put off by the concepts and the non-stop action. I think though, looking at those reviews, we were seeing mostly people who were new to the series that were complaining about such things. Most long-time series readers enjoyed seeing the team getting back together, and they were happy to go along for the ride. With OMEGA, Jeremy surprised me again by keeping one foot firmly in the sci-fi realm with his ideas for the plot. But again, fans have responded favorably.
Still, I can’t help thinking that the fans are not thinking of the series as military sci-fi. I think they are thinking of the series as a perfect melting pot of action, military, adventure, mythology, history, sci-fi, and suspense. I think most fans would be fine if Chess Team visited any of these genres in more depth, as long as the series retains its flavor of action, humor, historical/mythological puzzles, and suspense. And, like Sean said, as long as the character development continues. The beauty of what Jeremy has done with the Jack Sigler/Chess Team thrillers is he’s created a series that can be a home for all the crazy pop cultures loves he has, from action to sci-fi and from to mystery to monsters. But the secret to the success of the series has been developing the characters into a family, and constantly putting that family in peril.
I think the fans think of the series as a group of friends in constant amazing danger, and they never know what to expect next. As for what they want as the series moves forward? I think they just want to keep being thrilled and surprised. I’m sure that will happen.
Final Question: What’s up next for you guys?
Jeremy Answer: The simple answer for me is always, “a ton,” but that’s not very informative. So I’ll start with two Chess Team announcements and then quickly list off my other impending releases.
There will be TWO Chess Team books in 2014! SAVAGE is the next full-length Jack Sigler Thriller, and it will be co-authored by Sean Ellis, who also wrote the CALLSIGN: KING books and PRIME. It will be available in July and honestly, it’s taking the team to dark territory and will shock readers. The other Jack Sigler book is very different. It’s titled GUARDIAN, and it’s the first of the Jack Sigler Continuum series, which follows King during his years of separation from the team, as seen in OMEGA. And yes, I’m being vague, so as not to spoil OMEGA for anyone who hasn’t read it yet. GUARDIAN will be a novella-length book, out in February 2014, and if it sells well, there will be many more Continuum books to come! But what’s coolest about this book is that the co-author is none other than this blog’s owner, the amazing J. Kent Holloway! Welcome to the Chess Team! I promise it’s not nearly as nerdy as it sounds. Okay, maybe it is.
As for non-Jack Sigler books, I have just a few coming up. Wink, wink. PROJECT MAIGO, the sequel to my Kaiju Thriller, PROJECT NEMESIS, will be released in November, and it features even more city-stomping giants than the first! Then there is REFUGE, a five-part serialized novel coming out between November and January, from my pen name, Jeremy Bishop, along with four co-authors. This is a freaky and, I think, wonderful concept. After that, it’s GUARDIAN in February and XOM-B (perhaps my best book ever) in April and SAVAGE in July.
Kane’s Answer: I’m wrapping a short story today for an amazing kaiju anthology project called KAIJU RISING: AGE OF MONSTERS, which should be out before next summer. I’ve got a short novella called THE MONSTER OF FRANKENSTEIN, which I’m going to kill myself to try to get out around Halloween. Then I’m switching to finishing FROZEN, the next Jason Quinn novel. I’ve also got a YA kaiju novel called MONSTER KINGDOM, which is 1/3rddone, and I hope to finish it this year. Finally, I’ll be co-author for the fifth part of the REFUGE project for Jeremy’s Bishop pen name. Along the way, my own pseudonym of Edward Phantom is releasing horror short stories every month as Amazon e-books.
Sean’s Answer: Well, I guess I’m the tortoise in this race. I can count the number of books on my horizon with one hand. You already know about SAVAGE. I’m also working on the second book in the DARK TRINITY cycle, and one of these days I may even finish. Aside from that, I’ve got a lot of “with” books. I’m going to be writing a Dane & Bones Origin novel(la) with David Wood, tentatively titled HELL SHIP, and I’m also talking with Steven Savile about doing another novel in the Ogmios series, a follow-up to WARGOD. Let’s see…one, two, three, four …yep, that’s what’s coming down the pike in the next year or two.
Seriously…didn’t I tell you? Greatest. Interview. Ever! Plus, I can’t tell you how excited I am to now be part of the Chess Team. I’ve been a fan of this series since PULSE and just couldn’t believe it when Jeremy approached me about it.
But all of this Chess Team talk might be a bit confusing to you if you’ve never read the series. Might be a little overwhelming. The books sound interesting to you, but where on earth do you start? Well, recently Jeremy and Kane posted a fantastic visual aid which shows where each book falls within the series. I’d like to leave you with that to help you decide which Jack Sigler book you’d like to start with. But a word of WARNING…once you get started, it’s truly hard to stop.