Interview with Christa Faust, Author, ‘Fringe: The Zodiac Paradox’

 

Christa Faust is the author of The Zodiac Paradox, the first of three novels inspired by the television program Fringe.

Critically acclaimed Fringe explores new cases with endless impossibilities. Set in Boston, the FBI’s Fringe Division started when Special Agent Olivia Dunham enlisted institutionalized “fringe” scientist Walter Bishop and his globe-trotting, jack-of-all-trades son, Peter, to help in investigations that defy all human logic – and the laws of nature. The first in an all-new series of tie-in novels!

What kind of story are we getting with Fringe: The Zodiac Paradox? Can you give us a run-down of the plot? No spoilers, please!

It starts in the late sixties, when young graduate students Walter Bishop and William Bell are testing a special blend of perception-altering chemicals at Reiden Lake. Their artificially enhanced minds accidentally open a rift between universes and allow a vicious serial killer to escape into our world. The killer is profoundly changed and unnaturally enhanced by their psychic encounter, but it isn’t until 1974 that Walter learns the true nature of the monster they have unleashed. It’s up to him, along with Bell and Nina Sharp, to find a way to stop him.

What’s it like diving into a series like Fringe? Did you feel any added pressure to set the proper tone for the series’ foray into print? I know you’ve written some other tie-ins. Were you able to bring anything from that experience into writing Zodiac Paradox?

The great thing about Fringe is its vast and complex universe, which holds so much potential for creative storytelling. It’s a really fun sandbox for any writer to play in. Of course, there’s always pressure to set the right tone and capture what the fans like most about any given property. None of us tie-in writers are perfect and there will always be individuals who are unhappy with our books for one reason or another, but we do the best we can to honor the source material.

The thing that my tie-in experience brings to the table on this and every project is the ability to write fast and deliver to tight deadlines. Just because it’s a fun job doesn’t mean it isn’t a job and if you can’t deliver to deadline, they will find someone who can.

Although this is a beginning for Fringe in print, this book – along with another two – is written as a prequel. It’s hard to retro-engineer a mythology. Did you work with the people behind the series in any way to get it right?

Yes, all three of the Fringe books that I’ve been contracted to write are prequels, one for each of three main characters. The second book The Burning Man centers around Olivia as a child and teenager while the third Sins of the Fathers is about Peter and takes place in 2008, just before the first episode of the first season.

And actually, I didn’t find it difficult to “retro-engineer” at all, because when I already know what’s coming in the future for these characters, it gives me a strong, preexisting structure to build upon. It also allowed me to put in lots of little foreshadowing hints and references to things that will happen later on the show.

I had to work very closely with Bad Robot and the Fringe writing team on this project. These books are official canon, so it isn’t like fan-fic where I could just write whatever I like. Every little detail has to be approved several times over. First the outline must be approved before I can write a single word, and then the final manuscript also has to go through the approval process. But I don’t mind, because I enjoy collaborating and bouncing ideas with other writers. I particularly enjoyed meeting and brainstorming with the science advisers on the show. I wish someone had been recording those conversations. They’d probably get enough material for a dozen novels.

Did you have a favorite character to write about?

Of the three, I think Walter is my favorite. I was raised by hippie intellectual parents, surrounded by all their brainy, nutty professor friends and he really reminds me of them. Writing about Walter as a young man is almost like imagining what my own parents might have been like before I was born.

I like the idea of “fringe” science, because sometimes yesterday’s fringe becomes tomorrow’s common knowledge. Are there any “fringey” kinds of things that you enjoy learning about, even as a guilty pleasure?

I’m a pretty voracious reader and researcher and I’m always interested in a variety of unusual or oddball topics. I particularly enjoyed reading up on bio-feedback and pyrokinesis while working on the Fringe novels. Another, slightly more realistic but infinitely creepier topic that I delved into for this gig is virology. I love the idea of a psychic virus, or one that attacks the portions of the brain responsible for those kinds of “fringe” talents. It’s not exactly light beach reading, but fascinating stuff. It’s also great to be able to bring up fun facts about herpes at cocktail parties. Which, come to think of it, is probably why writers spend so much time alone.