ON WRITING, GEEKING OUT & HIS LATEST WORK
What do you get when you pair fascinating characters, a devastating disease, masterful writing and real life experience as an FBI kid? The Immortalists—one of the fastest-paced, intriguing thrillers I’ve read in some time.
Today I’m honored to bring you New York Times bestselling author of twelve books, Kyle Mills. (If you haven’t read The Immortalists or others of Mills’ work, you’ve got some serious reading to do… ;))
Description: Dr. Richard Draman is trying desperately to discover a cure for a disease that causes children to age at a wildly accelerated rate–a rare genetic condition that is killing his own daughter. When the husband of a colleague quietly gives him a copy of the classified work she was doing before her mysterious suicide, Draman finally sees a glimmer of hope. Its stunning conclusions have the potential to not only turn the field of biology on its head but reshape the world. Soon, though, he finds himself on the run, relentlessly pursued by a seemingly omnipotent group of men who will do whatever it takes to silence him. (Thomas & Mercer, Dec. 2011)
AM: You’re known to hit up hefty issues in your work, from the tobacco industry to terrorism. Why did you decide to focus on “anti-aging” in The Immortalists?
KM: The myth of the fountain of youth is one of the oldest and most widespread in history, with writing on the subject dating back before Christ. The one thing that all those stories and elaborate quests had in common, though, was that they were nonsense—just another example of our superstitious nature.
With all the recent advances in genetics, though, the myth is becoming reality. There may be children alive today who will never get old, and that brings up a lot of interesting issues that are perfect fodder for a thriller novel. Change can very easily turn into chaos and chaos makes for great stories.
On the other hand, it could just be because I’m getting old…
AM: Beats the alternative, right? Speaking of aging, progeria, the genetic disease featured in The Immortalists, is a real disease. What was your research process like?
KM: It was pretty extensive with this book—a lot of genetics and evolutionary biology texts. Thank God I’m actually interested in that stuff or it would have been brutal.
I wanted to really understand the current state of the science and where it’s heading because it’s a story that hinges on believability. Having said that, I didn’t want to go overboard. I made a pact with myself that I’d put all the science-geek stuff I wanted in the first draft and then take exactly half of it out in the second.
AM: The ending surprised me, in good ways. Do you plot your stories and endings out from the get-go?
KM: Absolutely. I’m a fanatic for outlining. In fact, the outline for the book I’m working on now is already 35,000 words long. That doesn’t mean there aren’t surprises in the actual writing process, but I like to keep them to a minimum.
My goal is to make sure everything is tied up at the end—but sometimes in a more messy way than people expect. Life rarely provides neat, painless endings.
AM: Your father’s career as an FBI agent has been credited for making your stories and characters so “real”—along with talent, of course. What other factors influence your writing?
KM: It sounds a bit clichéd, but the world around me. I do an enormous amount of reading on history, science, and politics to come up with concepts that inspire me. And often the idea doesn’t come from just one of those categories, but a combination of all of them. My favorite themes are simple (if brutal) solutions to seemingly intractable problems and the power of the individual to change the world.
AM: One of the greatest attributes of thrillers, that last bit. What if your dad was, say, a plumber or gym teacher… How different might your stories be?
KM: Probably very. When I wrote my first novel, I chose the thriller genre not only because I was a fan but because of my family history with law enforcement. They say write what you know and I took that to heart. If I’d come from a plumbing family, I may well have written about that.
AM: Was your upbringing as exciting as movies and our imaginations make it out to be? (If not, please less us down gently…)
KM: It might be close. I was having dinner with my father in London when his deputy came in and told him that a plane had gone down and they needed to get to a little town called Lockerbie right away. I’ve had drinks with a guy who, by law, can’t be photographed. I’ve heard first person accounts of gunfights that actually involved monkeys.
AM: I hope the monkeys weren’t hurt! Wait—don’t tell me… What do you enjoy most about writing?
KM: It gives me an excuse to completely geek out on subjects that interest me. I’m not sure that expertise in areas like the tobacco industry, oil extraction, and the genetics of aging are very useful in the real world, but I love that stuff.
AM: And the downsides?
KM: It’s an industry in constant turmoil and that turmoil is getting more violent every day. I’ve written a lot of books and there’s never been a single one that I didn’t think would be my last. It’s a little nerve wracking if writing is how you pay the mortgage.
AM: Yes, I’d prefer such danger stay on the page… What are you most proud of career-wise?
KM: That’s a tough question. I think maybe the effort I put into each book. I tend to sweat over every line, every fact, and every character. Hopefully, it shows.
AM: It absolutely does. The Immortalists is your twelfth novel, correct? What’s next in the pipeline?
KM: Somewhere around there—enough that you wouldn’t want to lift them all at once. Next up is a new Ludlum book. It’s an opportunity to explore the progressing science of man/machine integration, something that’s accelerating quickly and will have a lot of impact in the next quarter century.
AM: Any advice for up-and-coming novelists?
KM: I don’t know, it’s hard to even keep up with what’s going on in the industry from one day to the next. My best piece of advice is to not get into the business with the idea that you’re going to make a million dollars or even a living. Write because you love it.
AM: (Note to self: Stock up on Top Ramen. Er, rice, bananas and beans…) Great advice. Thanks so much for taking the time to answer my questions. On behalf of my friends and readers, I wish you all possible success.
If you’ve read The Immortalists, what did you think? Any thoughts to share with Kyle? What do you love most about writing?