After pitting superheroes against zombies in his Ex- books, and causing a transporter accident in The Fold, writer Peter Clines is taking his act on the road with Paradox Bound (hardcover, digital), his new time traveling road trip sci-fi novel. Though in talking to him about it, he admitted that it was actually inspired by someone else’s story.
Photo Credit: Colleen Cooper
As you know, I always like to start with the basics. So, basically, what is Paradox Bound about?
Okay, Paradox Bound is about a guy named Eli who’s stayed in his hometown his whole life. But every now and then, ever since he was a small child, he’s run into this woman in odd clothes who doesn’t seem to age and drives an old Model A Ford. As an adult, he runs into her again and ends up half following/half getting dragged into her adventures as she travels back and forth through American history on a sort of treasure hunt.
And I probably won’t say too much more than that. I hate throwing out too much because we’ve been so conditioned to guess and predict and extrapolate off little hints and trailers and such, and then we never enjoy the final story as much because it doesn’t line up with what we thought it was going to be. Or we’ve killed some of the twists and reveals that would’ve given it more strength.
Agreed. So where did you get the original idea for Paradox Bound, and how different was the original idea from the final version?
Anyway, it struck me as odd that nobody had ever tried to do some kind of American version of it. As in, what would this story be if it had been set in America? How would it tweak and change? So I played around with that idea for a bit, just poking at it now and then. But the truth is, Neverwhere just doesn’t work as an American story. It’s so inherently a London story, the story of this city with over a thousand years of history behind it. I grew up near Boston, and we tend to think of Boston as an old American city, but it’s barely 400 years old, and that’s if we’re being generous.
Then one day it hit me that the American story isn’t the sitting-in-one-place story. The American story has always been about expansion. Reaching out. It’s a road trip story. And as someone who’s traveled back and forth and up and down across the country, that really appealed to me.
I still remember a couple of years back at San Diego Comic-Con, when I first pitched it to my editor and agent. We were at a bar and Julian, my editor, asked what I was thinking about writing next. I said, “Well, I’ve got this idea that’s sort of like Neverwhere meets Cannonball Run.” He almost spit up his drink, grinned, and said, “Okay…tell me more.”
Speaking of mash-ups, the press materials call Paradox Bound a cross between Doctor Who and National Treasure. Do you think this is a fair assessment?
Honestly, I’ve loved that description from the first time I heard it. I wish I could take some credit for it, but it first came from Alex, the publicist for the book. And then a few weeks later F. Paul Wilson — of the Repairman Jack books and Panacea — got to read it and he said almost exactly the same thing. So it seems like the book definitely hits a certain tone, and I’m very happy with that.
The plot also kind of reminds me of that book The Time Traveler’s Wife. Is it like that?
Not really, no. I mean, there’s time travel in it, yeah, and the two main characters are a man and a woman, but that’s about it. They’re similar in the way Doctor Who is similar to Star Wars, just very broad strokes. The mechanisms, the motivations, the relationships, the tone…they’re all completely different.
Are there any writers or specific books that were an influence on Paradox Bound, but ones that were not an influence on your earlier novels?
Well, there was Neverwhere, like I mentioned before. There were some sci-fi road trip novels I read as a kid, and I re-read some of them before I dove into this. There’s Alan Dean Foster’s To The Vanishing Point and Roger Zelazney’s Roadmarks. I’ve always kind of liked the idea that some form of exotic travel is just sort of sitting out there in the open, you just need to know exactly where and when to turn the wheel.
What about non-literary influences? Were any movies, TV shows, or video games an influence on Paradox Bound?
All sorts of things. It’s hard to do a time-travel story these days and not feel a bit of timey-wimey influence from Doctor Who. Especially, in this case, when you think of the Doctor’s old souped-up roadster, Bessie. And if you’re talking time travel and cars, Back To The Future is going to get a bit of a nod, too. There’s also a little bit of Slenderman in there, as well as some Men In Black. Plus just a ton of oddness about American history that I got exposed to growing up in New England.
But there were also some odd things, as I tried to sink into a bit more of storytelling car culture, so to speak. I watched Gone In 60 Seconds, Batman Begins, lots of movies with great car chases. Perhaps a video game or two, as well.
Last influence question, I swear. What work of fiction had the biggest impact on how you depict time travel in Paradox Bound? The rules of it, for instance.
There wasn’t really an influence for that aspect of it. It was just really all my own creation. One of the things I really wanted was a story where a lot of the people involved don’t know exactly how this thing works. Think of a car. We both know how to drive a car, probably even understand the basics of how a car works. But could we draw schematics? Could we explain it in terms of fuel ratios or torque? I just didn’t want the story to get too bogged down in the mechanics of it. I wanted the characters and the readers to just say “look, jet planes weigh a few hundred tons and they fly up into the air…just accept it and move on.”
As you’re well aware, sci-fi book publishers love it when books are part of a series. So, is Paradox Bound a stand-alone novel, or is it part of a series?
It’s a stand-alone book, but like a lot of my stories, people might spot little hints and nods to other things in it.
What made you decide to make Paradox Bound a stand-alone novel?
It was just the story I had to tell. Sometimes you get an idea and it’s a big, sprawling thing with tons of potential, other times it’s one nice story all wrapped up and done. That’s what this was.
Also, if I may, I’d like to offer a counterpoint on something, because I think it’s a big misunderstanding that keeps getting floated out there. Publishers like series a lot, yeah, but they don’t want to see series. Even for someone like me, where this is my ninth or arguably tenth book, what they want to see is series potential. They want to see a good, solid, complete novel that has the possibility of expanding into a series. They don’t want to get a book marked “One of Six” that ends with a cliffhanger and nothing resolved. My first published book, Ex-Heroes, was written as a stand-alone novel. Four more came after it, yeah, but it was written as a one-and-done story. I just wrote the best book I could, and then my publishers asked if I wanted to go further with the characters and the world.
Makes sense. Now, in 2015, when I interviewed you about your then new novel The Fold [which you can read here], you said that you had two more novels in your Ex- series planned. Ex-Isle came out last year. Does that mean the next one will be out next year?
Maybe. Right now my agent and my editor are all kind of circling around, trying to find a next project we all like. I’ve actually been writing a book about zombies on the moon — no, seriously — and then there’s an Ex-Heroes idea, a Koturoverse idea, a few other stand-alone ideas.
We’re still hammering out exact details so I don’t want to say too much, again, and risk disappointing anyone.
Speaking of those books, you’ve said there’s been some interesting in adapting them into a movie or a TV show, something you also said about The Fold. Has anything come of those discussions?
Yeah, there was kind of a quiet war between two production companies. One wanted The Fold, another one wanted 14. The catch is, there’s enough crossover between them that selling one of them would pretty much take the other one off the table. We went back and forth, and in the end it was Robert Downey Jr. who optioned 14.
I just love saying that. D’you mind if I say it again?
I’ll allow it.
So, Robert Downey Jr optioned the rights to 14, and then his company, Team Downey, cut a deal with Warner Brothers, and they’ve been poking at it for a while now. I know some networks are looking at it.
Nice. What about Paradox Bound, has there been any interest in turning it into a movie or show?
Not yet, but…we’ll see.
There’s a writer/director named Rawson Thurber [Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story] who was really interested in the Ex-Heroes books for a bit, and I gave him a little nudge, asked if he’d want to see an ARC [advanced reading copy] of Paradox Bound and he jumped at it. But he just started filming his new movie, Skyscraper, so he’s juggling a lot right now.
If Paradox Bound does get made into a movie or a TV show, who would you like to see them cast in it, and why them?
Hmmmm…I’ve got to be honest. After so many years in the film and reporting on the film industry, I have a real “how the sausage is made” view of it. I almost never think of stuff like that because I’m just too brutally aware of the truth behind it. There are so many factors in play with that question. Even just going big screen or small screen. By small screen do we mean HBO? NBC? The CW? Netflix? No matter who it is, will it be a prestige project? A big project? Filler material? Any of these is going to have a different need for how the adaptation is made and cast.
The only one that even slightly crossed my mind…there’s an actor I worked with years ago, Reno Wilson. Most people probably know him from Mike & Molly. He’s a serious fitness guy, in phenomenal shape, and I saw some pics he put up on Twitter a few months back and thought, “Man, Reno’d be fantastic as John in Paradox Bound.”
Finally, if someone who’s never read any of your books enjoyed Paradox Bound, which of those earlier novels of yours would you suggest they read next and why that one?
Well, there’s The Fold, which is about teleportation and memory and identity. I guess you could call it a techno-adventure-thriller. There’s currently five books in the Ex-Heroes series, which is superheroes fighting zombies in post-apocalyptic L.A., usually with a nice twist or two. And there’s 14, which we mentioned earlier, which is sort of a horror-adventure-conspiracy-mystery novel. More or less.