We’re so excited to bring you an interview with New York Times and USA Today bestselling author, Heather Graham and USA Today bestselling author of thirty-eight novels, Jon Land.
Their new sci-fi thriller, The Risng, was just released January 17th and I was honored to ask Heather and Jon a few questions about The Rising.
What inspired you to write The Rising?
JON: Tor Books had partnered with NASA on a series of science-themed books aimed at educating kids on what NASA is all about and stimulate their interest in science. Since we’d wanted to work together on something for a while, this seemed like the absolute perfect fit.
HEATHER: Ah, well, that is easy! Bob Gleason, our editor at Tor, managed to set up these great trips to the Goddard Space Center for us. Amazing! I don’t think I would’ve had any interest in writing a book like The Rising if I hadn’t been so inspired by meeting and listening to the scientists down there.
JON: I actually couldn’t make those trips and feel I really missed out on something. Then we decided to set the book out West, closer to NASA’s Ames Center for Astrobiology, and both of us can’t wait to get out there someday.
What did you enjoy most about collaborating with another writer?
JON: A fresh perspective that made me realize, in this case anyway, two heads really are better than one! Here’s an example: Being a hardcore thriller writer, I had originally proposed that Samantha, who loves science and dreams of working at NASA, has parents who are vehemently anti-science. So to pursue her dream she has to sneak around and keep things from them. Fine for a hardcore thriller but Heather suggested a lighter touch by making Sam’s parents marijuana farmers who grow weed for dispensaries. And I can’t tell you how better that worked and more effective that was than my idea.
HEATHER: Learing how to let go and trust Jon when it sometimes came down to final checks and proofs. He’s actually way better than I am most of the time! Because we are usually working alone, we expect that we’ll always have a last look. Sometimes, it was super nice to think, wow, I don’t have to worry—I know that Jon has that, my back, our backs!
What was the hardest part of the collaboration?
JON: Okay, confession time: I haven’t read a whole lot of sci-fi, though I have read some Bradbury and Heinlein. So I can’t honestly say those giants necessarily affected us as much as, say, the influence of David Morrell, Robert Ludlum, and Clive Cussler is all over my thrillers. It’s a great question and you picked two names, Bradbury and Heinlein again, were writing great stories that happened to be sci-fi. And they were also expert at using their work as metaphors for a lot of societal issues of their time in a comparable sense to someone like, say, Jack Finney in his classic Invasions of the Body Snatchers. Science fiction proved a great way to explore the themes that Heather and I wanted to.
HEATHER: There are often fine lines between horror, thriller, sci-fi, and much more. I spent my life as a huge fan of Richard Matheson and his work covered everything from straight drama to horror to sci-fi—a major example, of that, of course, being “I am Legend.” Also, Asimov—I was terrified as a child by the first story of his I read in a Reader’s Digest Treasure for Young Readers book! LOL. Really—did mummies come from alien technology? In all of these stories, though, the constant was that men and women were getting through life with very human emotion and behavior. There’s the old saying—no one can change other actions, they can only control their re-actions. That’s the core in our story—and we like to believe that Alex and Sam will be human, but the kind of humans who will rise not just to save themselves, but come to realize that what is happening doesn’t just touch their lives, but the world around them.
What makes Alex and Samantha such special characters?
HEATHER: I think it’s something we often come across in life—not so much love at first sight, but incredible admiration—and then caring more and more deeply as you come to realize just how wonderful another person is. Life can be so superficial. I think that it was important to us that Sam and Alex come together in a far deeper way—and that what talents and assets each has work to help them both grow. I always love that the thought that when you’re in love, it’s the person who is the object of your love who often helps make you a better person yourself!
JON: Wow, that’s a great question, and I echo Heather’s comments entirely. I’d also add that this is really a hallmark of her work and what has made her a master of romantic suspense. Not too far into the book (spoiler alert!), Alex loses the two closest people he has in the world. So part of his growing attraction to Sam is that she’s all he has left, and she sticks with him against his own protestations to get herself out of harm’s way. That reveals so much about both their characters and, for me, the real treat is watching Sam’s attraction to Alex growing from a simple high school crush to something much deeper than that. So they’re drawn together, initially, by necessity but, ultimately, by the enormity of what they’re facing that’s bigger than both of them.
HEATHER: Sam’s growing up to be a very modern woman, determined, brave, and sure of herself—and yet ready to listen and learn. She can stand alone, but is happy to lean on someone she loves. This is new for her, and they’re cast into a startling situation and then they have to deal with incredible trauma in their personal lives, but she will fight for both herself—and Alex.
JON: She’s fiercely independent, disciplined, and very goal-oriented. But her loyalty, friendship and, ultimately, love for Alex trumps all of that. The nature of her heroism is defined by her willingness to sacrifice what’s most important in her life so someone she’s very close to won’t be left alone. That’s what makes a great friend, the best possible friend, and the fact that Alex and Samantha start out as friends before they fall in love will help define their relationship in a way that assures it will endure for many books to come.
What makes The Rising different from your other books?
HEATHER: I think the lines between genres are so blurred these days, THE RISING being a prime example of that. If the reader is emotionally vested in the characters, and those characters are in some kind of peril, then by nature that’s a thriller, however else you choose to classify it. I just don’t like splitting hairs between so-called genres, because everybody’s got their own definition of what separates one from another.
JON: It’s a true mix of genres, so much a hybrid I don’t even know how to classify it. Whereas all my other books are clearly pure thrillers, THE RISING has elements of sci-fi, young adult, romance, mystery—you name it. But I do think the “Thriller” category in general acts as a kind of umbrella for all of those, because it’s so big and broad. And at its heart, THE RISING is a really ambitious thriller. You can add, romance, you can add young adult, you can add science fiction, but ultimately this is a story about two heroes racing against time to save the world. So, structurally, it fits squarely into the classic thriller form, which is something both Heather and I pride ourselves on.
What was the hardest scene to write in The Rising?
HEATHER: For me, it was the death of Alex’s parents, especially his mother. These were kind, wonderful people who’d devoted their entire lives to keeping him safe and protecting him from the truth of his background. I know they had to die for the sake of the story, and the development of Sam’s and Alex’s characters, but it’s never easy to kill off characters that you come to love.
JON: I’d say the aftermath of the scene that Heather is describing. It’s very difficult to capture the indescribable thoughts, feelings and emotions of someone dealing with that kind of loss, especially a teenager. We set the scene in a dingy old motel room as the shock wears off and Alex realizes how alone he really is. The emotion is palpable, especially in how it really starts to flesh out the relationship between Alex and Sam, because she’s all he has left.
If you could describe The Rising in one word, what word would it be?
About The Risng:
From acclaimed thriller-suspense novelists Heather Graham and Jon Land comes a story of action, mystery, and the endurance of young love.
Twenty-four hours. That’s all it takes for the lives of two young people to be changed forever.
Alex Chin has the world on a plate. A football hero and homecoming king with plenty of scholarship offers, his future looks bright. His tutor, Samantha Dixon, is preparing to graduate high school at the top of her class. She plans to turn her NASA internship into a career. When a football accident lands Alex in the hospital, his world is turned upside down. His doctor is murdered. Then, his parents. Death seems to follow him wherever he goes, and now it’s after him.
Alex flees. He tells Samantha not to follow, but she became involved the moment she walked through his door and found Mr. and Mrs. Chin as they lay dying in their home. She cannot abandon the young man she loves. The two race desperately to stay ahead of Alex’s attackers long enough to figure out why they are hunting him in the first place. The answer lies with a secret buried deep in his past, a secret his parents died to protect. Alex always knew he was adopted, but he never knew the real reason his birth parents abandoned him. He never knew where he truly came from. Until now.
Get a copy of The Rising:
About Heather Graham:
Heather Graham is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author. Her first book was with Dell, and since then, she has written over one hundred novels and novellas including category, suspense, historical romance, vampire fiction, time travel, occult and Christmas family fare. She has been honored with awards from Walden Books, B. Dalton, Georgia Romance Writers, Affaire de Coeur, RT Book Reviews, and more. Visit her online at theoriginalheathergraham.com.
About Jon Land:
Jon Land is the USA Today bestselling author of thirty-eight novels, including the bestselling series featuring female Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong. He is also the co-author of the nonfiction bestseller Betrayal. He lives in Providence, Rhode Island and can be found on the web at jonlandbooks.com.