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Bibliophile

Million dollar baby

Justin Cronin won a lucrative three-book deal, and director Ridley Scott has already optioned film rights for “The Passage.’’ Justin Cronin won a lucrative three-book deal, and director Ridley Scott has already optioned film rights for “The Passage.’’
By Eugenia Williamson
July 11, 2010

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Aspiring writers are advised to take note of Justin Cronin’s favored reading material. The author of “The Passage,’’ the most chattered-about horror story in recent years, received an advance so large as to warrant his own iPhone application. And those who aren’t aware that Ridley Scott optioned the film rights should just give up, already. Cronin spoke with Bibliophiles in the middle of his 25-city book tour.

What are you reading?

Alan Furst’s new novel, “Spies of the Balkans.’’ I love his stylish spy fiction. He’s got a lot of fans, but I’m definitely one of his biggest ones. Furst is a guy who, through his great writing and his meticulous research, makes you feel like you’re in the presence of a truth of history, which is what I think books like that should do.

Was there any particular book that inspired you to write about a vampire apocalypse?

I learned to be a writer in the age of minimalist short fiction. I went to Iowa in the ’80s [and] Raymond Carver was the patron saint of all that we did, but I realized that that did not suit me particularly well. What made me want to be a writer in the first place were big, fat, epic stories that you could get yourself completely lost in.

A book that changed my life [was] “Lonesome Dove’’ by Larry McMurtry. It’s a masterpiece. It has gunfights, a cattle drive, snakes, horses, Indians — all the stuff that every Western ever had, but it’s also a great book.

What’s your favorite book about the end of the world?

Easy. “Earth Abides’’ by George Stewart. I thought I was the only guy in America who had ever read it, but it turns out that it’s famous.

It feels a little bit dated now — it’s sort of sexist — but it’s a quiet and stately book about human civilization disappearing. It made a gigantic impression on me; I still have my original paperback with my sixth-grade signature in it.

Stephen King has been a very vocal advocate of your book. What’s your favorite book of his?

Like everybody, I think it’s probably “The Stand,’’ which I read when I was in college.

I also like “Misery.’’ That story’s totally terrifying. It’s a story about imprisonment [and] captivity, but metaphorically, it’s about the captivity of the imagination. If you write a book that so captivates people’s imagination, they become your prisoner, too. The English major in me really likes that book because it’s a book about books.

“Misery’’ is probably my favorite film adaptation. What’s yours?

“The Ice Storm.’’ Rick [Moody] is a great writer and a friend. [We] grew up basically around the corner from each other. I felt my childhood in that book. Ang Lee reshapes the material according to his vision. Scenes that before were essentially dark comedy and grotesque become far more [sympathetic].

There’s a scene in there — I burst into tears whenever I think about it. The dad catches [his] daughter fooling around with the neighbor boy. He gets all mad and performs angry parent theater. Christina Ricci sees through this and says, “Enough with the stern-dad stuff.’’ When she says that, his face just crumbles. They’re standing out in the cold, and it’s started to snow a little bit. And she says, “My feet are wet.’’ And he says, “Well, do you want me to carry you?’’ And she says, “Yeah,’’ and he gives her a piggyback ride home. She puts her cheek on his shoulder, and instantly you can see her as a baby. It brings me to my knees every time I think about it.

EUGENIA WILLIAMSON