I recently read “Search: A Novel of Forbidden History” by Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens. It was a very entertaining read, and a great addition to the bookshelf for fans of Dan Brown, James Rollins, and the like. If you haven’t had a chance to read my review of the book, you can find it here. Go ahead – take a moment and give it a glance. All caught up? Great!
Long-time fans of the Reeves-Stevens’ most likely know them from their extensive work in the Star Trek Universe (their novel “Federation” is one of the top selling original Star Trek novels ever published). They have worked in print, in television, in movies, and in animation – you can find their credits on their website – www.reeves-stevens.com.
I was fortunate enough to chat with both Judith and Garfield recently. We discussed the new book “Search”, their process for writing, a few books on their “to read” pile, and – of course – their survival plans for inevitable zombie apocalypse…
The Word Zombie: As hard as it is to become a successful author, there are even fewer successful writing duos in the literary world. How does the collaborative process work for both of you when penning a story?
Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens: It’s very much like what happens in the writers’ room of a television series, except there are only two of us.
A story, whether it’s a series concept, a script, or a novel, usually begins when one of us has an initial idea – What if this happened? What if someone saw this? Then, we keep discussing it, adding details, until we have the spine of a story. It’s a process that might take years, months, weeks, or – in the case of a television script with an impending deadline – days.
Most times, we’ll then put up cards – that is, write very brief story beats on index cards and pin them up on a cork board. One cork board for one-hour scripts, at least two cork boards for books.
When the story structure seems strong on the board, we type it up. For scripts, we write a beat outline – very short scene descriptions with lots of sentence fragments, around eight or nine pages. For novels, we’ll write a narrative. For our new novel for next summer, our narrative’s about forty pages long.
Then we’ll enter a period of constant rewriting of the story document, first one of us, then the other, back and forth until the outline or narrative feels “right.” Same thing for the actual script or manuscript – constant writing and rewriting.
The Word Zombie: The majority of your work has tilted towards more of the true science-fiction arena (as an aside – the origin of the aliens in “Nighteyes” is still one of my favorite reveals ever). While there are elements of science-fiction in “Search”, it defies an easy genre classification. What drove you to tell this type of story?
J&G: Interesting that you mentioned Nighteyes. That novel was inspired in part by wondering: If the reported stories of alien abductions are true, what is an explanation that would make rational sense? i.e., if interbreeding between the abductors and abductees is the goal, then the abductors can’t be aliens. So what else could they be?
Search has much the same question behind it: Is it possible for a “Da Vinci Code”-type conspiracy to actually exist? That is, could an ancient historical revelation be kept secret by a small select group over thousands of years?
So, broadly, Search is what’s termed an “archaeological quest novel,” which encompasses everything from the Indiana Jones movies to the “Da Vinci Code” and the wild James Rollins novels (which we’re big fans of). But instead of invoking the fantastic, we tried to come up with a story that didn’t require science-fiction explanations, even though it’s a traditionally sci-fi genre. We think that’s why it’s tricky for reviewers to easily classify it.
The Word Zombie: I’m always curious when I talk to authors about their creative process. When you sat down to begin “Search” – did you have a firm outline and destination in mind – or did you discover where the story and the characters would ultimately end up as you were writing?
J&G: “Search” began years ago with three scenes, and where those scenes came from one day, we have no idea. But this is what they were:
An aged nun finishes dressing in her habit. The last thing she does is check the ornate silver cross she wears – it comes apart to reveal a dagger! Then she walks along a winding, sun-drenched street in Malta. Walking behind her are a few young priests in Ray-Bans, carrying briefcases. Suddenly, gunmen attack the nun and instantly the young priests pop Uzis from their briefcases and a big firefight breaks out. In the end, the nun is killed.
Then we’re in New York, and a young woman attending university realizes she’s being followed. She’s attacked by someone trying to kill her with a sword, and is protected by another swordsman. After the fight, her protector wins, then salutes her.
The final scene had the young woman being brought into a university meeting room, and when she’s introduced, everyone in the room kneels to her – and she doesn’t know why.
And that’s it.
People who’ve read “Search” will recognize the echoes of those three scenes in three new scenes: Florian on the boat, Jess at the pipeline site, and Jess in the Boston cathedral. But it was a long road from the first glimmers of a story to the outline because we had a great deal of exploration to do: Who was the nun? Who was the young woman? Who and why were the people paying their respects to her? Why would anyone want to kill her? Discovering answers to those questions is what shaped the overall story. But there were still a great many details to discover as we finally wrote the manuscript.
The Word Zombie: “Search” eschews both the Templar and Illuminati angles that have become so popular in speculative historical fiction these days. Where did the inspiration for The Family, the secret society at the heart of the story, come from?
J&G: In creating the Family, we were definitely inspired by the legends of the Templars and the Illuminati. In fact, for some of the Family’s ceremonial language, we’ve used phrases and terms from Masonic rituals. Our thought is that the Masons could be offshoots of the Family that have forgotten their true origins.
The Word Zombie: Of all of the characters in the book, Holden Ironwood has one of the most interesting development arcs – going from the obvious villain, to uncertain crackpot, to grudging ally. What is your view of his ultimate place in the world of “Search”?
J&G: Ironwood is the driving force behind the story because he’s the only one of the three protagonists who has a purely altruistic motive: He’s not in it for himself – he wants to change the world by bringing knowledge to it. Jess and David, in contrast, have more self-interested agendas driving them, at least at the beginning.
The Word Zombie: Jessica helps bring in to focus one of the strong themes in the book – the conflict inherent between blind devotion to an idea versus a belief developed through the vigorous questioning of facts. How do you see her journey reflecting some of today’s larger political/scientific/religious debates?
J&G: The truth – of anything – can only be arrived at by constant questioning. That’s how science works, and science provides a solid model for understanding the universe – a model that’s always improving because it’s constantly being questioned, which results in it constantly being refined.
That’s definitely the journey Jess is on – she becomes the first person in her Family (whom we know of!) who takes it upon herself to question the Family’s guiding tenets.
Unfortunately, at least from our perspective, there are many organizations in all the areas you mention – political, scientific, religious – that discourage questioning. Our feeling is that a fear of questioning is really a fear of the answers you might get. Certainly that’s the case in the novel when it comes to the people in the Family who no longer want to search for lost knowledge but simply maintain the status quo for their own benefit and continued unchanged existence.
Yet when Jess questions her beliefs — an initially upsetting and dangerous process — doing so leads her to a deeper and richer understanding of her faith and her Family. We think there’s a moral in that!
The Word Zombie: Another strong theme throughout the story revolves around the nature of learning, and the value of knowledge to a society. On your website you have started a journal that promises much more background on the ideas and concepts in “Search”. What can we expect to see in that space over the coming months?
J&G: So much stuff! We have bundles of research on the Human Genographic Project, the origins of language and agriculture, “forbidden history” topics, and the origins of humans… all fascinating topics that we could only touch upon in Search, and that we’d like to share in more detail for readers. Stay tuned…
The Word Zombie: The end of the book didn’t resolve some of the questions presented in the book as well as I would have liked (Weir’s race against the clock contained in his own genetic make-up for example). There is also a lot of fertile ground left to be explored around the origins of the original map maker, the 12 objects from the table – this list goes on. Do you think you will revisit this cast of characters again?
J&G: It was never our intention to continue past a single novel, and when we turned in the first draft we had literally no idea how there could possibly be a sequel. But as we honed the second draft (mostly a matter of trimming the book by 20,000 words!), we began to see where we could go next. So, there’s definitely a sequel story that can be told, exploring more about the Navigators and the “missing branches,” but when we’ll get to that, for now we just don’t know.
The Word Zombie: Stephen King once said – “If you don’t have time to read, then you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” What do you like to read in your spare time? What’s next up on your “to read” pile right now?
J&G: Stephen King is one of our favorites and right now “Under the Dome” is at the top of our “to read” pile of physical books (“Duma Key” was wonderful). On the e-book front, one of us is halfway through “The Moses Expedition” by Juan Gomez-Jurado, and he certainly knows how to keep the pages turning. We’re also big fans of the vampire books by V.M.K. Fewings. We’ve just finished her newest one, “Orpheus: A Vampire’s Rise“, and eagerly await the next. Those are books we read primarily just to enjoy them (and learn new tricks!). We have many others we read or go back to read again because they have a bearing on projects we’re working on. Those books include “She” by H. Rider Haggard, “American Conspiracies” by Jesse Ventura, and a series of vampire-ish novels we’ve been asked to adapt into a television series. Perhaps more on that later.
The Word Zombie: Once the zombie apocalypse occurs (and I think we can all agree it’s a matter of when, not if), will you be going it alone, or looking to join up with a ragtag group of survivors? Also, do you prefer long-range weapons (guns, flamethrowers) or melee weapons (classic baseball bat) when dealing with a zombie uprising?
J&G: We’ve already reserved bunks at the top-secret continuity-of-government site, Falcon Rock. Check out their latest public service announcements at www.falconrockcommand.com.
We tend to agree with the colonel’s new technique of shoving a machete up under the jaw. “Brains stay neatly in the skull. They can’t bite.”
If you want to read more about Judith and Garfield, and their work, please check out their website – www.reeves-stevens.com. You can also follow them on Twitter – @ReevesStevens. I want to thank both Judith and Garfield for taking the time to talk with me, and providing such thoughtful insights into their work. I’m very much looking forward to seeing what they have in store for us next.
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