One may find it hard to believe that behind the walls of a modest, Cape Cod-styled house perched on a tree-lined country road in suburbia lives a novelist who could put us on the edge of our seats with just a few words. With tales of armies of mutant ants attacking the greatest city in the world, devouring human flesh in just minutes to a new novel about killer plants altering the minds of people stranded on an island where madness quickly turns to vicious murder one would think that AJ Colucci lives in some dark, ivy-covered house high upon a hill that no trick-or treater would dare to visit.
But author AJ Colucci doesn't. She's a suburban soccer mom, traipsing her kids about town, active in school organizations, hosting backyard BBQ's, but with a creative mind so much on overdrive that she has three books written and two more in the works.
|A.J. Colucci's is the author of Seeders and The Colony|
I first met AJ through a PTA function. She was your everyday PTA mom and yet she wasn't. AJ always had an opinion and wasn't afraid to voice it. The passion always came through. I remember when we were working on one project together, a community activism project, and she mentioned how she was writing a book on what we were doing. But she prefaced it with, "but it's not exactly the same situation because in the book bad things happen to the people, like they keep getting murdered."
That should have clued me in that this inventive, daring mind was always at work, participating, seeing, listening, grabbing and taking notes about the world around her.
Both AJ's first novel and now her second are deeply rooted in science. She insists that she never liked science as a child and still believes schools could do a better job at making it more interesting. Her passion for science developed later in life and she says that she found stories everywhere, in magazines like Nature and Discover, episodes of Nova and shows on PBS.
I had the chance to ask AJ a few questions about her new book, her life, and any words of wisdom she could impart to any budding writers out there seeking to create their own remarkable world for other curious minds to enjoy.
Q. Where did you get the idea for SEEDERS?
A. I guess I was about eight years old and read a short story by Roald Dahl called The Sound Machine, about an engineer who invents a device that allows him to hear high-frequency sounds, like the scream of a rose as it's being cut. The story was absolutely chilling and changed the way I thought about nature. I had that story in mind when I was researching my next book and looked online to see what was going on these days with plants. I was astounded to learn about all of the new breakthroughs in plant intelligence and a growing field of study called plant neurobiology. In one day, I knew that was going to be my next book.
Q. The science of SEEDERS is fantastical. is it based in reality? How did you learn about it?
A. All of the information on plants- their ability to learn, remember, use all five senses, attack prey, signal each other- is based in fact. I did a lot of research online, but interviewed plant biologists to make sure all my facts were correct. Plant intelligence, or neurobiology, is a rather controversial topic and there have been a lot of articles written in the past decade.
Q. So tell me some amazing facts you learned about while researching for SEEDERS.
|Just what does this flower sense?|
A. Some things we’ve known for a hundred years, such as plants can feel pain, although we don’t know exactly what pain feels like to them. We only know they react to trauma just as we do. Plucking a leaf will send electrical signals through the organism in a way that’s similar to animals, resulting in the entire plant becoming depressed. They have what can be considered a heartbeat, and display a death spasm. Other discoveries are new. Their ability to learn and remember, and use all five senses. They can signal insects and send chemical warnings to each other. Did you know the lovely smell of fresh cut grass is actually your lawn screaming?
Every single day, new discoveries about plants are being made. Just recently a study came out by
that shows plants can actually hear
themselves being eaten alive. Plants have many of the same abilities as
animals but we haven’t bothered to look for them because we think of trees,
flowers and shrubs as non-intelligent beings. Think of the word vegetative.
There is one plant biologist who leads much of the research being done on plant
signaling and he made a great comparison. He sees the pollination system of
plants as a marketing campaign, where the plants are the sellers, the birds and
bees are the customers, the pollen is the product and the bright colors and perfumes
are the banners. Plants even engage in deceptive marketing. For instance, there
are orchids that look like a certain female insect, which attracts males and
tricks them into pollination. Really, the more we look at ways plants are
similar to humans, the more similarities we find. University of Missouri
Q. Is the island where SEEDERS is set based on a real place?
A. I always try to set my stories in real locations, and there are quite a lot of small islands around Nova Scotia that are cold and remote, but none of them really fit the description of Sparrow Island. I think the geography would more likely be found around the British Isles.
Q. Is the scientist Jules in SEEDERS based on a real person?
A. He's an amalgamation of various scientists I've met and read about. His extreme height was sort of a nod to Michael Crichton, who also felt awkward about being almost seven feet tall. Jules’s passion for plants and interest in their signaling system was inspired by plant biologist Stefano Mancuso, who has been very out front on the subject.
Q. Why do you write science thrillers?
A. I like to write about nature because it can be a brutal place-kill or be killed- but it's also filled with a sort of beauty and logic that makes you wonder which species are truly evolved. Most plants and animals have been around longer than Homo sapiens and are better at survival. Humans have a tendency to separate themselves from everything non-human. We consider ourselves above nature, not part of it. I think it's important to recognize what we have in common and gain a better understanding of all living creatures that share this planet.
Q. What advice do you have for young writers? What courses should they take in high school or college?
The best advice I can give young writers is to keep writing, every day if possible. You might also try your hand at journalism. I worked on the high school newspaper and later I was news editor and then features editor of my college paper. I also did an internship on the local city paper and all that led to several paying jobs on magazines. If you check the background on many famous authors you will find they have backgrounds as journalists, which is an excellent training ground for writing novels. It teaches you to be succinct in your ideas, and to focus on the most important aspects of the story. It teaches you structure and gives you experience at interviewing people, which leads to better dialogue writing and practice if you ever need to interview experts for you novel. Some authors become journalist since they love to write and it pays the bills while you get started as a novelist, because it could take years before you see any success.
Q. When you are not writing, what do you watch on TV or the Internet?
A. I've always loved TV and lately I've become a TV series addict. Crime shows, zombies, drug addicts, really nasty stuff. It started with The Walking Dead and only got worse with Breaking Bad. My latest addiction was Dexter, but I’m happy to report that I made it through the final episode and I’m in recovery now. Really, I had to impose limits on myself so I’m forbidden to watch a series until the next book is finished. I got hit with the flu last fall and watched about 28 episodes of Dexter over the course of two weeks, but I think Breaking Bad holds the one day record at six episodes.
Q. What’s in store for your fans in the future?
A. I can’t tell you, but it’s something very different from my past novels. You’ll have to stay tuned.
For more info on A. J. visit www.AJColucci.com.