According to doctors, not sleeping can have a serious impact on your memory, blood pressure, concentration, and many other aspects of your physical and mental health. But it also, for one doctor and his wife, sounded like a good place to start a medical thriller. In the following email interview, Dr. J.J. Cook and his wife A.J. discuss what inspired and influenced their new novel, Percivious Insomnia (hardcover, paperback, Kindle), the first book of the Percivious Trilogy.
First off, what is percivious insomnia, and how is it different from regular insomnia?
A.J.: Your question is intriguing because we never considered the title being perceived as a new “type” of insomnia. Percivious, meaning the ultimate in altruism. Self-sacrifice in order to benefit others with no regard to reward or reciprocity, has always been the title of the trilogy in our minds. The story is about the reason behind the insomnia — the who or what that is responsible for the insomnia pandemic.
And then, what is Percivious Insomnia about, and when and where is it set?
A.J.: Our story begins in Manhattan ten years from now, as an insomnia pandemic sweeps the globe. Dr. Cooper Delaney believes he has the answer: Noctural, a new sleep-aid — one with absolutely no side-effects — which, in early testing, shows 100% effectiveness. Only it stops working with no warning and no explanation. He refuses to accept the drug’s failure and due to his ego is unwilling to concede to the competition. So, in a race to find the answer lines are crossed, ethical boundaries are pushed to the breaking point, and disturbing realizations come to light that could completely unravel civilization as we know it…and throw into question humanity’s place in the universe.
Where did you get the original idea for this novel, and how, if at all, did the plot evolve as you wrote this story?
J.J.: About 8 years ago it struck me. I said to A.J. “Wouldn’t it be an interesting premise for a book if someone or something was able to exploit our sleep hours? Sleep is the one thing that still remains ours and uninterrupted, for the most part.” It didn’t occur to me at the time, but the fate of the book was hanging in the balance as I waited for his reply. Fortunately, he loved the idea, and the premise for Percivious Insomnia was conceived.
It sounds like Percivious Insomnia is a medical science fiction novel. Is that how you’d describe it?
J.J.: We really struggled with that one. It is definitely “untidy” when it comes to assigning to one genre or another, not just the first novel but the entire trilogy. Percivious Insomnia could easily fall under medical sci-fi, thriller, sci-fi adventure. It has elements of sci-fi, but I believe it is more of a thriller at heart. Whereas the next installment, Percivious Origins, will fall more under sci-fi, alternate history.
Percivious Insomnia is the first novel either of you have written. Are there writers who you think had a particularly big influence on either what you wrote or how you wrote it?
A.J.: I think that the idea of a science-plausible story was influenced by authors like Michael Crichton, Robin Cook, maybe even Dan Brown on some level. But the novel’s attempt to reveal the thoughts of each character was inspired by Margaret Atwood and Patricia Highsmith, just to name a few.
What about such non-literary influences as movies, TV shows, or games?
J.J.: This goes back to the original idea for the novel. I think we both had our own idea of what the story would be like from the beginning. Cookie [A.J.] went straight down the sci-fi path. Myself, left on my own to write the story, would have been drifting towards the action adventure route, maybe even fantasy. So, what we ended up with was a marriage of Star Trek / Star Wars and Wonder Woman.
Now, A.J., you are a doctor, and work as the chief of pediatric urology at the Alberta Children’s Hospital. How do you think your knowledge of medicine influenced Percivious Insomnia?
A.J.: I would say it has impacted the plausibility of the story on some level — specifically the considerations and situations the doctors and scientists find themselves in within the novel. The chapters involving children in the novel reflect the relationships and circumstances impacting my young patients and their guardians. Overall, my work as a pediatric surgeon has hopefully contributed credibility and realism to the narrative.
And J.J., how often did you and A.J. get into disagreements about whether something in Percivious Insomnia should be medically accurate or be medically inaccurate but in a way that would make for a better story?
J.J.: If I didn’t know any better I would think you had been here with us.
Definitely heated debates and passionate exchanges occur pretty much weekly. It was important that the symptoms / afflictions the characters were experiencing should be medically sound in order for the story to remain plausible. However, our deliberations were not bound to medicine but happened on the largest or the infinitely smallest aspects of the novel. We believe that is what makes it a strong read and a compelling story.
And was A.J. always on the side of science?
J.J.: A.J. is a self-professed man of science who tolerates other perspectives, not always graciously. I, on the other hand, like to think there is something bigger than all of us out there that we just haven’t discovered quite yet. However, we both have a passion for a story that might just be true, and I think we let that lead the way.
Did it feel weird having those kinds of discussions when, in real life, people have been spreading medically inaccurate information about the Covid-19 pandemic, and with disastrous results?
J.J.: Our novel was written over the past 7 years, and I remember saying to A.J. when we were producing the book trailer in December 2019 that I thought the word pandemic was too dramatic. He fought for it saying that technically it was the accurate term and, in the end, we went with it. Neither one of us imagined that we ourselves would be in the midst of a pandemic the very next year. I guess life can be stranger than fiction. It would be very different writing the novel now, with the experience of our own pandemic. To be honest it is almost eerie how the novel in a way has foreshadowed the impact of a pandemic, especially on the thoughts and lives of the characters.
Now, you have said that Percivious Insomnia is the first book of the Percivious Trilogy. What was it about this story that made you feel it had to be told in three installments, as opposed to one or two or 37?
A.J.: Perhaps three will not be the right number. We knew it would definitely be more than one and the story arc that we have developed will need the 3 books for sure. There are a lot of characters spanning literally millions of years so it will take us some pages to get there. We have loosely discussed the potential for a fourth, depending on where the next two take us.
And do you know yet when the other two installments will be out, and what they might be called?
A.J.: Not sure exactly, it is difficult to commit to a timeline, but they will definitely both be completed more quickly than the 7 years over which we wrote the first book. In the second installment, Percivious Origins, we will go back millions of years before the origin of homo sapiens, when an advanced species was the dominant life form on earth. The novel will tell their story and reveal a new history that has always been withheld from mankind. The third novel, Percivious Escape, begins where the first and second instalments left off. Quite literally the last chapter of both novels will be identical. In Percivious Escape, the paths of the characters in the first novels converge and the mysteries introduced in the first novel are resolved. Well perhaps resolved is the wrong word, but they will have the potential to completely change the impression and significance of the original story by gaining a deeper understanding of the reasons behind the pandemic.
There are some people who will hold off reading Percivious Insomnia until Percivious Origins and Percivious Escape come out, and some will then read all three in a row. But is there any reason why you think people shouldn’t wait?
J.J.: I think it would be a mistake not to enjoy Percivious Insomnia on its own for a couple of reasons. The first being that there are not a lot of new pandemic stories out right now. Well at least not yet anyway. I understand a number of authors are rewriting Covid-19 into their manuscripts however, it will likely be a while before we see new original pandemic fiction. As mentioned, I think having a novel that is relatable to our current experience is not only relevant and compelling but is also inspiring to as it does give a voice as to how we could potentially and do things differently, or at least make different choices.
Secondly, a reason I eluded to in your previous question, is that the book has a message all its own. The closer you read it, the more significant the revelations in the second and third will be.
Earlier I asked if Percivious Insomnia had been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games. If someone wanted to make Percivious Insomnia into a movie, show, or game, what format would be your first choice and why that?
J.J.: I think a movie would be our first choice, mainly influenced by the novel’s four-star Clarion review: “The book’s chapters are short and focused on single characters, times, and locations. As they move between characters, unexpected connections are made, such as that Mandolin’s mentor, Jack, is a close childhood friend of Cooper’s. Their stories, which at first seem isolated from each other’s, come together to form a complicated web, filling in the larger picture because of the added angles. This cinematic style breaks the book’s complex information into chronological, concise portions and results in a quick pace.”
And if that happened, who would you want to play the main characters?
A.J.: We made special efforts, even in the descriptions of the characters, not to pigeonhole or type cast them wherever possible. We want the reader to be able to envision, their Cooper, their Mandolin, in order to make the story their own. A few characters have muses — for example we always thought of Morgan Freeman [Outbreak] when writing about Malcolm — but as mentioned, we really wanted to leave the characters in the hands of the reader.
And what role would actress A.J. Cook of Criminal Minds play? Because I think you’re legally required to offer her a role.
J.J.: [laughs] Totally agree! She would make an amazing Mandolin Grace. We are big fans.
Finally, if someone enjoys Percivious Insomnia, what medical sci-fi novel of someone else’s would you suggest they read while waiting for Percivious Origins and Percivious Escape to come out?
A.J.: I would recommend The Andromeda Strain and the Dune series. The first because of its plausibility from a medical standpoint. I think readers will find that Percivious Insomnia offers the same believability. And the Dune series because of its depiction of otherworldly forces and their impact on the direction of humanity.
J.J.: Leaning more towards thrillers / sci-fi, I would recommend John Farris’ Fury series as well as the Xenogenesis series by Octavia E. Butler. I think in their own ways they parallel the first and second books in the Percivious Trilogy, respectively.