With over 150,000 copies sold, Atlantis Gene became one of the surprise debuts of 2013. The breakneck pace, interrupted by an ageless love story, followed by fascinating science, concluding with a death-defying attempt to save the world proved popular. Today, Mr. Riddle answers a few questions about his writing and his books.
Seeley James: Did you have an objective in mind when you wrote The Atlantis Gene?
A.G. Riddle: I wanted to figure out if I had talent.
I wanted to hear what readers thought of my writing.
My mom and girlfriend loved the novel, but they’re not exactly an impartial jury. I really enjoyed writing (I may have enjoyed it more before I published The Atlantis Gene!). I had decided that I would keep writing no matter what. If the novel wasn’t a success, I planned to keep writing as a hobby. If it took off, my plan was to focus on it a bit more (which I have).
SJ: Your many fans are dying to know: when will we see The Atlantis Plague?
[Editor's Note: It is available right now, a day early.]
SJ: Did you outline either book? What do you think of outlines?
AGR: Oh yeah. Both books feature fairly complex plot lines that actually tie together, so I have a pretty extensive outline for the entire series.
However, once I start writing, a lot of things change and I make quite a few adjustments.
AGR: I wanted David and Kate to have a romantic connection, but I have to say it turned out better than I planned or thought I could write. The chemistry kind of developed naturally from the characters and the situations they were in.
SJ: The Atlantis Gene has two significant and wildly imaginative locations involved; how did you come up with those and did you have to map them out on paper?
AGR: Gibraltar was an easy one. In Plato’s account of Atlantis, the ancient city sinks just beyond the Pillars of Hercules (the Rock of Gibraltar being one).
Antarctica has always fascinated me, and it was really the most logical place to “hide” the second Atlantean structure. So, I went with it.
AGR: The science and anthropology is what really got me started. It was the seed.
70,000 years ago, the human race almost went extinct. A supervolcano at Mount Toba created a volcanic winter that reduced the total human population to as few as 10,000 (with only 1,000 viable mating pairs).
In the 70,000 years that followed, we go from the brink of extinction to 7 billion people, conquering the globe as no species has before. To me, that’s the greatest mystery of all time.
We know that at the time of Toba there were at least three other hominin species (Neanderthals, Denisovans, and homo Floresiensis). There could be a half dozen others we haven’t found yet.
Genetically, these other humans weren’t that different from us. In fact, we were more of a fledgling upstart subspecies. But after Toba, humans (homo sapiens sapiens) developed some incredibly important survival advantage. We march out of Africa and take over the planet. All the other human subspecies die out.
So I started with the core mystery: how we survived the Toba supervolcano and subsequently flourished, and tried to spin a good yarn around it.
SJ: Did you have beta readers for the early rounds? If so, what did you learn from them?
AGR: Not for The Atlantis Gene. I only told my mom and girlfriend I was writing the novel.
But I learned A LOT after they read it. How much time do we have?
I also learned a ton from the early reviews and the folks that were kind enough to email me.
For The Atlantis Plague, I actually have about a hundred beta readers. I feel very fortunate to have so many folks willing to spend their time with my story, and their comments have been invaluable. I would say to any start-up (or established) authors: find beta readers.
SJ: What part of the writing process did you struggle with the most when writing The Atlantis Gene? Is that challenge still with you as you write The Atlantis Plague?
AGR: Tough one. There are still so many things I’m trying to improve about my writing.
One would be balancing pace with revealing science and history.
The other would be handling the big reveals at the end a little better. My first draft of The Atlantis Gene really focused on the breakneck pace and left things unsaid, but I think a lot of readers didn’t like that–they wanted to know all the connections and to hear how everything fit together. I think the second version (now on Amazon) does a little better job. Something I still need to work on.
And in general, I’ve tried to have a more focused plot in The Atlantis Plague (within reason; hey, we’re talking about genetics and the entire course of human history here, it gets complicated).
SJ: You enjoyed a good deal of early success, in no small part because it is such a well written and engaging book. Has that success sustained sales or have you seen a decline?
AGR: It took a few months for the book sales to really take off, but they’ve remained pretty high since mid-summer. I think in September sales began going down a few thousand each month compared to the month prior. Hopefully I’m not beginning my slow march back into total obscurity, but if so, hey, it was nice while it lasted.
SJ: What was the last book you read that blew you away?
AGR: Flowers for Algernon
Many thanks, Mr. Riddle!