In anticipation of the release of The Kronos Interference, here is a Q & A with its authors, Edward Miller and J.B. Manas!
Q: Can you share a little about The Kronos Interference (no spoilers, please)?
EM: Well, it’s about a physicist working for the CIA, Jacob Newman, who gets called to investigate a strange alien ship at the bottom of the South Pacific. He’s a family guy with a sick wife, a young daughter, and a son in college, but duty calls. Once there, he discovers eight giant floating monitors on board that all depict images of our violent past, from thousands of years ago to more modern events such as Hiroshima and 9-11. So, the assumption is that someone has been watching us for ages. The catch is, the last monitor is blank. So who are these beings and why is the last one blank? I’ll let J.B take it from there.
JBM: Oh please Ed, not J.B. — it makes me sound like a bank manager! Jerry will do. Anyway, two things happen that set the story in motion. First, there’s the discovery that the equipment on board can be used for time travel. And second, something happens that connects all these findings to Jacob’s own family history.
So, to head off what increasingly looks like a pending alien judgment day, he ends up traveling back to 1924 Germany to influence a family plot to kill Adolf Hitler in prison. But he has to be discreet about it. Of course, everything goes off kilter from there. First, he finds he’s created a domino effect, then he’s being chased by mysterious men, and he has to figure out what’s going on and how to set things right. I think that’s about all we can share without giving too much away.
Q: Are there any recurring themes in the book?
JBM: Well, one theme is certainly the tension between science and religion — or spirituality. At the beginning of the book, Jacob is a man of science, pure and simple. Lots of bad things have happened in his life, and his wife is ill, and his only way of making sense out of the world is through science. Then comes along a situation that science can’t explain, and everything he’s believed all his life is tested.
EM: I think another recurring theme is arrogance, which manifests in different characters in different ways. It’s very much a redemption story on multiple levels.
Q: How did the ideas for this book come about?
JBM: It all began when Ed and I were in the car on the way to a Phillies game, and we started discussing the idea of writing together. I’d written a number of nonfiction books on organizational ethics and leadership lessons from history, and Ed wrote countless stories for a sci-fi gaming website. I had always wanted to write fiction and had some ideas brewing. Growing up, I used to write short stories. Ed, of course, is like an idea machine and kept rattling off story ideas. As soon as he hit on this one, I said, “Now THAT I’d like to write.” It triggered a bunch of related ideas and we were off and running.
EM: I was always a fan of Star Trek and The Twilight Zone, and was always thinking of story ideas. I ran a Star Trek gaming site for years so I’d estimate that I had to come up with a few hundred story ideas and scenarios for that. I’d even written a Star Trek book a number of years back, but unless you’re already an established author in that market, it’s virtually impossible to get published. Maybe one day it’ll see the light of day. Meanwhile, when Jerry and I began tossing ideas around about working together, it seemed like a great mix.
Q: Would you say one of you is the idea guy and the other is the “fact” guy?
JBM: It’s not really as simple as that. It would be like saying John Lennon was the lyrics guy and Paul McCartney was the melody guy (not that I’m comparing us to Lennon and McCartney). Both Lennon and McCartney write some beautiful melodies and creatively moving lyrics. But that said, I think there’s always a natural strength that one or the other tends to bring to the table.
In our case, Ed has a real ability to come up with a hundred ideas without self-censoring in any way. I think that’s a gift. I tend to get my ideas after I conduct research and something triggers my imagination. I’m more of a research person, having come from the nonfiction background, and try to bring reality into the mix (or at least the illusion of something feeling like it could really happen). The trick with fiction is to not get into the weeds too much with technical details or it takes away from the plot and suspense. Just enough to make people think it could happen.
EM: I’d echo that. Sometimes we’ll have debates. Jerry will say “But that can’t happen!” and I’ll say, “Relax, it’s fiction.” But we bat it around and usually come up with solution we’re both happy with. But we both tend to come up with lots of ideas and we tend to feed off one another.
Q: Speaking of facts, how much of the book is based on true facts?
EM: Quite a bit. We can’t give too much away, but there are bits of little known history throughout the book that are based on fact, and while time-travel is a fictional element, we referenced real physics concepts in making it feel more believable.
JBM: Jacob’s initial program, NBIC, based on the convergence of multiple disciplines of science, is a very real program, and the concepts mentioned, such as recovering and transmitting memories from a dead brain, cyborg development, etc. are all active NBIC programs. We paid great attention to little details like that, so when you hear a radio announcement about an event, it’s usually the real transcript, or in dialogue with Hitler, it’s based on his real speeches or writings. Even the finding of the alien ship is based on a real event reported on CNN, which was given a code name of Bloop by the US Navy. The coordinates mentioned in the book were the actual coordinates where the sound was detected.
Q: So did the research trigger the idea for the alien ship or did you do the research afterwards?
JBM: This is a perfect example of how Ed and I work together. He had the idea about finding time-travel equipment in an alien ship. And I said I have just the place they could find it. I keep a running list of unique or strange news items that could trigger story ideas (as it turns out, Ed does as well). One of them was the story about the Bloop. I came across it in research for one of my nonfiction books (I write those as Jerry Manas, just to separate the two “brands”). I was looking up multi-cellular creatures as a metaphor for teamwork, and happened upon it by chance.
The Bloop was a sound wave picked up by the Navy’s sonar systems in 1997. The frequency indicated a biological life form ten times the size of a blue whale. But it was never found, even after appearing several more times. Of course, we speculated that something was indeed found, but was kept classified. Ed and I brainstormed on a “biological ship” and what could be inside and what it could mean. In my opinion, this blend of fact and fiction is what made Michael Crichton’s books so fascinating.
EM: We already had our idea about a physicist who discovers alien time travel equipment and travels back in time to kill Hitler, and now we had this ship with a bit of a mystery, so we had to connect the dots. It had to make logical sense why someone would go back in time and take such a risk, and of course we had to answer the big questions about who these aliens were and where they came from and what their goals were. Without giving too much away, I feel we accomplished all that. Ultimately, the readers will decide if we did.
Q: How do you work together as a writing team? Do you take turns writing each chapter?
EM: Lord no, that would be a recipe for disaster. The book has to have a consistent feel to it. Generally we plan the overall premise and high level outline together. Jerry writes up a detailed outline, and then we review it together and change it as needed. Once we feel we have pretty solid outline, Jerry writes the first draft of a chapter or a group of chapters. Then I do a round of comments and edits. Then he incorporates the revisions, and we debate on anything we disagree with (which happens on occasion). Then, when the whole first draft of the book is done, we’ll each have a shot at revisions. By the end of the book, we’ve both been involved in pretty much every paragraph.
JBM: Like Ed said, we needed to have a consistent approach, and we find this process works. While this book is a bit of a mixed genre book (it’s history, science, adventure, and so on), we would consider it a sci-fi thriller or speculative thriller. The emphasis is probably more on the thriller aspect. We also plan to write some books that I’d classify as science fiction, which we’ll probably take the opposite approach with, where Ed will write the first draft and I’ll provide edits and comments. We may release those under a separate brand, we’re not sure yet. We have one in the works already that we think readers will find really exciting, but our lips are unfortunately sealed on that until we’re ready to announce it.
Q: So it sounds like you’re “outline” people, as opposed to authors who write as they go.
JBM: I think that’s safe to say. While I know it’s likely that we’ll stray from the outline, I like to have everything laid out to make all the logical connections before I begin writing. It’s easier to spot problems and correct them while things are in outline form; much like a filmmaker works from a storyboard in the beginning. Once the outline is golden, then I know we have a winner. Story structure is also important. That’s not to say the story should be formulaic, but proven principles can serve as valuable reminders. For The Kronos Interference for instance, the Joseph Campbell/Chris Vogler model served us well. We even used Blake Snyder’s story beats as sort of a litmus test to see how close we were. Surprisingly, we were right on the money, and it worked that way very organically.
EM: I’m not generally as detailed with the outlines, though I like a high level outline from a plot standpoint. Outlining made good sense for us. We probably went through seven or eight versions of the outline before we wrote the book. Even then, based on feedback, we still ended up doing rewrites of the book, which of course required a new outline in preparation for the new draft.
Q: Did you ever debate over applying different principles to the book?
JBM: The big stuff we usually didn’t have too much trouble with. It was the little benign things we usually would get stuck on, but that’s part of the creative process. There was one amusing story. I’m always reading books on different storytelling principles. There are so many great ones. One of them is Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat books. The term “save the cat” refers to a principle where it’s a good idea to give the hero some small, barely noticeable action that endears the reader to that character, even despite the character’s flaws. We wanted Jacob to be a flawed hero. So we started thinking about “save the cat” scenes we could insert. I’ll let Ed tell you what we did.
EM: Yes, after tossing around some really bizarre ideas, we settled on having him rescue a little girl who was stuck in a crowd of protesters. It was a small enough act not to interfere with anything, but enough to let people know Jacob’s a good guy. When Jacob asks her name, she tells him it’s Kat. Get it? Save the cat!
Q: Can we expect a sequel to The Kronos Interference (again, no spoilers please)?
EM: Absolutely! We envisioned this as a trilogy from the start. Whether it ends up being three books or more we’ll have to see, but we’re pretty sure it’ll be just the three books, since we have so many other ideas we want to get to. We’re currently actively writing the sequel, tentatively called The Kronos Prophecy. That’s all I’ll say about it though.
JBM: I can say that the sequel expands on the revelations at the end of The Kronos Interference, and reveals more about why the characters did what they did in the first book. Many characters return and we meet new characters as well. And, like the first, there are elements of science, history, and adventure, and plenty more twists. It’s extremely important to us that each book in the series has a strong premise in itself and stands alone with a high concept plot and good character arcs. I think we have something readers will be really excited about when we’re ready to announce it. Is that cryptic enough?
Q: Are there any particular authors or books that influenced your writing style or genre preference?
EM: For me, Dean Koontz has always been an inspiration. His creative stories blend genres like horror, mystery, suspense, science, with just enough factual detail to provide realism but always focused on riveting, thrilling plots. And Gene Rodenberry and Rod Serling were absolute geniuses from a storytelling standpoint. There’s no doubt their writing styles and storytelling approaches have influenced my writing.
JBM: In addition to what Ed mentioned, which I completely agree with, a huge influence for me was Michael Crichton. His books both taught and entertained, which is a hard balance to achieve. James Rollins also achieved that balance. Plus, their books tap into a curiosity that I think everyone shares. I grew up reading Ian Fleming’s James Bond books and Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes canon. That’s what first got me interested in writing. When I was a kid, I swore I’d write a James Bond book or a Sherlock Holmes book one day. Who knows; maybe I will. Maybe I’ll mix the two: “Elementary, Mr. Bond.”
My writing style is probably influenced by a combination of Ian Fleming and Michael Crichton. They had a straightforward style and their books always read like movies, incorporating cool technology and imaginative plots. Another huge influence, from a storytelling principle standpoint, is Steven Spielberg. I’ve studied his films the way some people study scripture, and I always find new things. I should have a master’s degree in Jaws by now. Specifically, it’s helped me in terms of pacing, story structure, and character development, all of which you can see in certain patterns across his films.
Alfred Hitchcock is another major influence. As Ed and I are both fans of Spielberg and Hitchcock, astute readers will find the occasional homage to both in our books.
Q: What advice would you give new authors?
EM: Follow your dream. Don’t make the mistake of thinking your first draft means you’re finished. And most of all, write. Pretty much every day you should be writing something, even if it’s garbage. Stick with it, and assume you’re be rewriting much of it. It’s in the rewrites that the story comes together.
JBM: I think an important lesson is to not be impatient. This is true whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction. A lot of new writers are so anxious to get their story done or to get published, that they cut corners, either intentionally or inadvertently. If you want to be a writer, take time to study all aspects of the craft, including story structure, conflict and suspense, dialogue, and character development. There are great books on each of these elements. Like anything, to be successful, you need to study the craft and you need to practice the craft. A lack of either will derail your dreams.
Also, like Ed said, never assume your first draft means you’re done. Most successful authors have numerous revisions before a book is ready for prime time. Also, when you’re done the book, take a good three weeks to a month away from your book and then read through it again. Chances are you’ll find loads of things you want to change that you didn’t notice before because you were so attuned to the story. Don’t be tempted to skip this step just to get your book out. I actually have a formula I live by as a writer. I think writing is made up of five equal parts: Research, Writing, Rewriting, Reading, and Marketing. Expect to devote considerable time to each.
The Kronos Interference is available at all major online retailers beginning June 30th!