Glenn Cooper intended to write a single novel, Library of the Dead. But prodding from his literary agent and new ideas coming from his fictional protagonist drove the writer back to the page. The end result was two novels, Book of Souls and The Keepers of the Library, turning his stand-alone into an accidental trilogy.
Zola: You wrote Library of the Dead and then Book of Souls, but never intended for there to be a third book. What changed your mind? Keepers of the Library ends with a pretty terrifying cliff-hanger—does that mean we can expect more from Will Piper?
Glenn Cooper: Actually, I wrote the first thriller, Library of the Dead, as a stand-alone, so I’ve called this series the accidental trilogy. When my then literary agent decided to represent the debut book he said he’d prefer to pitch two novels and prodded me for a sequel idea. This became Book of Souls. When I wrote it I thought that was going to be the end of the story and wrote two stand-alone thrillers next. Then, an idea came to me for a third book. I’d been missing my protagonist, Will Piper, I thought the idea was worthy, and I decided to go for three. I certainly don’t recommend this accidental approach to new writers as it creates some very real corners which you tend to paint yourself into. So, I’m pretty sure that’s it for Will Piper as I’ve permanently painted myself into a corner now. (Unless, of course there’s a prequel…not.) I’ve recently embarked on a new trilogy and I can tell you, I’ve mapped all three of them out before inputting the first word.
Zola: Your previous novels have sold millions in Europe, but they struggle to find an audience in the US. Being an American, do you have any idea why that is?
GC: It’s certainly a question I’ve thought long and hard about. My best answer is that the reasons are probably multi-factorial. One important difference is that I am published “better” in Europe. By that I mean, my European editors and publishers believe strongly in my books and publish them lavishly in hard copy with extensive marketing campaigns. Hardback books tend to get reviewed over paperbacks and my novels have been extremely well-reviewed by the leading newspapers and magazine supplements in most European countries. These reviews have propelled me to a consistent top-ten bestseller rank for each of seven novels. In the US I’ve been published exclusively as mass-market paperbacks. Without the platform of reviews it’s tough to be heard and I didn’t do nearly enough self-promotion, so I’m to blame as well. The other not unimportant issue is that European readers seem particularly receptive to historical novels, particularly those with heavily religious themes.
Zola: Have there been any changes on that front?
GC: At this point I’ve got four stand-alone thrillers which have not been published in the US yet and I’m about to embark on the exciting but daunting journey of self-publishing in the States. I say daunting because to do it well requires a large commitment from a writer. When I take on a project like this, my old business juices flow and I want to succeed commercially. With the help of Writers House, my literary agency, I’m assembling a team of consultants, a veritable virtual mini-publishing company. 2014 will tell the tale.
Zola: The Keepers of the Library starts off with the idea that an apocalypse is coming and everybody knows it, thanks to a huge catalog of people who are predicted to die on a certain day in 2027. That isn’t that far away, but you had to come up with some technological advances that might be developed between now and then. How did you extrapolate what might be everyday tech in 14 years?
GC: No one—my editors, my agent, myself—wanted this to be a science fiction book. It’s so not my sweet spot. But as I canvassed the opinions of futurists I came to the conclusion that the world in 2027 isn’t really going to be that fundamentally different from the world today. The gadgets will be cooler, the cars more electric (though they still won’t fly) but I didn’t have to go into Star Trek mode as a writer. The biggest issue for me was imagining a geopolitical near future and that is where I concentrated my prognostication.
Zola: Another striking thing about The Keepers is that even as the End of Days loom, people are still as nonchalant as ever. Why didn’t you paint this world as utter chaos and panic?
GC: Keep in mind that people have had some fifteen years to acclimatize themselves to their fate. So it’s a slow build, not like an asteroid is going to hit the earth in five days scenario. As the end of days draws closer, some people start tuning out and checking out in despair but most folks are resolute. They understand it’s out of their hands.
Zola: A lot of this novel is about digs and uncovering lost sites. Did your study of archeology at Harvard help in writing those scenes?
GC: I heartily recommend a serious background in archaeology for thriller writers! There is endless opportunity to innovate. While I didn’t ultimately pursue archaeology as a career, opting instead for medicine and biotech, the same thing interests me now as during my university days — seductive, misty bridges to mankind’s past.
This article originally appeared on Zola Books.