You could call Justin Cronin’s “The Passage” a horror story about vampires. You could also call it an apocalyptic vision, a science fiction novel or even a mystery. But no matter what you call it, it’s a great read. The novel already went through a bidding war between movie studios and ended up in the hands of Fox. So why all the buzz over this book? In Cronin’s opinion, it’s the book’s ability to successfully capture many of our shared anxieties about the world. Cronin now lives in Texas, where he is a professor of English at Rice University. He’ll soon be hauling it up to N.H. to host a book signing and give a talk at RiverRun Book Store in Portsmouth on June 21. Learn more about the book, which will be released on June 8, at www.enterthepassage.com. What’s it like being compared to Stephen King? That’s of course extremely complimentary and very exciting! He’s a great writer and a great stylist, and has a boundless imagination. He’s an icon of the culture. What person in this country, or even around the world, doesn’t know who Stephen King is? It’s a thrill.Where did your inspiration for “The Passage” come from? I heard it had something to do with your daughter?That’s right. About the time I was wondering what book I might next write, my daughter, who was 8 then, joined me on my daily runs. We had done this before where I ran and she rode her bike. We often played some kind of word game. This time I suggested we plan the plot of a novel together and she said, “Sure, that sounds like fun. I dare you to write a book about a girl that saves the world!” I thought, couldn’t we maybe start a little smaller? But a dare is a dare so I asked if there was anything else, and she said, “Yes. It must have one character with red hair.” She’s a redhead. So that was that and off we went.What do you think the movie will be like?Well, the people involved with it are incredibly smart. The screenwriter is John Logan and the director is Ridley Scott. It was purchased by Fox for his production company. Ridley Scott is enormously economical and quite spectacular with capturing visually what a book can capture with great language and narration. It’s an incredible thing. I can’t wait to see what they do! Have you become somewhat of a celebrity over at Rice University? The thing about Rice is that it’s full of people who are great at what they do. My department is full of scholars who are absolutely at the top of their game. My impression is that the university has been very pleased and extremely patient with me. Celebrity? I don’t know. I feel like everyone who walks around that place is a celebrity of some kind, and I happily take my place among them.Any fun memories of visiting N.H. as a kid?Not really as a kid, but my sister lives in Hanover, so I spend a great deal of time in that part of the state. That’s really my strong New Hampshire connection, because I was born in Boston and we moved away when I was 6 to the suburbs of New York City. I spent my summers in Massachusetts at my grandmother’s house, and went to both boarding school and college in Boston. I got married in New Hampshire — there’s a good memory! In your opinion as the author, what is it about The Passage that has given it so much buzz? My overall sense is that the book really does a couple things. One is that it's just a great story. I grew up reading books of every kind. Eventually I became an English major and an English professor, but as a kid I read a lot of science fiction, I read war novels, espionage novels, adventure novels, really every kind of book. I didn't make any distinction as to what kind of book it was, all that mattered was if it a good story, did I enjoy it, and did I feel really immersed in it? What I decided to do with the passage is try to write a book like that; a book the reader could just get lost in. Characters you really care about, a great sense of urgency to the story, a feeling of high stakes at all times. So, foremost I think its just a great story. I don't know where great stories come from, but I feel really lucky to have this one to tell. The other thing is that I think it successfully captures a lot of our shared anxieties about the world. It's a novel in which catastrophe happens. We live in very fraught times, to say the least. As one of the characters in the books says, "something is coming, something large." I think in the last ten years, our anxieties have been magnified by the fact that we don't quite know what that something is. The monsters that we face internally and externally are strange and new and often difficult to name. We don't know where and what it will exactly come, only that when it does it will feel extremely familiar. If you could pick actors for the movie, who would they be? People ask me this question a lot! It's one where I struggle a little bit, because I don't get to make the pick. My daughter keeps saying, "why don't they cast so-and-so?" I just say,"Honey, I don't get to do that! They hire somebody called a casting director to do this." A lot of the actors will be quite young. The group of characters which are the centerpiece of the second half of the book, they're all people in their twenties. Which means they'll be young actors, which is a constantly stirred pot, so I don't really know who they will pick. I do have a sentimental favorite for the role of Amy. She appears essentially as a fourteen year old girl, and later on in the other books will become older. For that, you need an actress who can seem young, and also seem like a full grown woman. That's a great challenge so you need someone who's a great actor, and a certain physical type. I confess that I always thought it would be a great role for Ellen Paige, who I think is a tremendous actress. She's capable of with just one look, changing her age. I think for the role of Wolgast, there's a couple of good picks. One of the best ones would be Russell Crowe. He's played different kinds of roles; guys who are maybe a little down on their luck, who are carrying pain, and you can see that in their face. And of course he's just a really talented actor. That's one that I think is a natural pick for the film. The role of Michael is one that has been discussed in my house. One name that comes up is Jesse Eisenburg, who's a young actor with red hair. He was in "Zombieland"! Hilarious movie. He's very talented, kind of wry, and I think he could also take on different ages. Again, to my knowledge, I don't have any say in these decisions. Shoot!
This article appears in the June 2010 issue of New Hampshire Magazine