The 47-year-old Rice University professor has taken a hard left turn in his writing career, following up his acclaimed literary novel The Summer Guest (2004) with the just-published The Passage, volume one of a near-future sci-fi trilogy populated by violent vampires (not the dreamy romantics we’ve seen of late) and a heroic six-year-old orphan named Amy Harper Bellafonte. The unfinished manuscript became the talk of the publishing world in 2007 when Ballantine bought all three books for a reported $3.75 million and the film rights to the first book netted $1.75 million. The New England native lives in Houston with his family.
How did you come up with the concept of The Passage? The idea came about on a series of long runs in the company of my nine-year-old daughter, who followed me on her bicycle. On these run-rides we always played some kind of word game. This time, I suggested we might come up with a story together. Her suggestion was a story about “a girl who saves the world.” This seemed like a tall order, but every afternoon we’d go running and riding through the streets of our west Houston neighborhood, and by the time the weather got cold and the bicycle went into the garage, the plot was pretty much in place. I’d had no intention to write the thing, but somewhere along the way I’d fallen in love with the story and its characters.
What are the risks—artistically and critically—for a writer to publish a piece of genre fiction on the heels of a critically acclaimed literary novel? I didn’t set out to write a genre novel, and I don’t believe that’s what The Passage is, any more than Lonesome Dove is a genre novel—it’s great literature that just happens to be set in the West.