Though he has also lived in places such as California, Hawaii, Iowa and Tennessee for short periods, Texas has been his primary home. Cronin, now in his early 50s, appreciates the state's unique quirks and people. He even grudgingly puts up with the constant threat of hurricanes that is just part of being a Houston resident.
After evacuating his wife, their two young children and their dog during Hurricane Rita in 2005, he thought about how people respond to life after traumatizing events such as 9/11, the war in Iraq and Hurricane Katrina. After he and his daughter discussed writing a story about a girl who saves the world, the outline of the Passage trilogy began to come together.
Cronin wanted to write about how people live under the most stressful circumstances. "What came out of the novels for me, and suddenly very quickly became the guiding light of the whole project, was that even in a world of great scarcity and danger, people still fall in love," he says. "They still have a job to do, they get up every morning, they take care of themselves, they take care of business and they are connected to each other. And the only ways they are going to survive are via those connections."
Set in a post-apocalyptic world with human survivors fighting vampire-like superhumans, The Passage appealed to Stephen King fans and Michael Crichton fans alike. But it wasn't a niche novel directed solely at horror and sci-fi fans; it also has the feel of the classic frontier novel Lonesome Dove. Cronin had written a couple of books beforehand, but they did not receive the kind of attention or acclaim that The Passage received in 2010.
Stephen King loved the book and the film rights were snatched up for over a million dollars, thus bringing Cronin's work into the eyes and minds of many people. The second book, The Twelve, came out in 2012. The City of Mirrors was finished last summer, but readers had to wait almost a whole year to purchase the final installment.
Before releasing The Passage, Cronin was an English professor at Rice University and he and his wife were focusing on raising their children. "I had a great life," Cronin says. "I didn't need to improve it." He loved working at Rice, but when he was faced with the daunting task of finishing the second and third installments of the trilogy, he decided to leave his teaching position. The success allowed Cronin's wife to quit teaching also, and they were able to stow away plenty for their kids' college fund, but otherwise nothing much changed in Cronin's day-to-day life.
It would have been easy for the evil elements of The Twelve and The City of Mirrors to seep into Cronin's life as he was writing them full-time, but he says he was able to set aside the work physically and mentally when it was time to stop writing and pick his son up from school. "In the presence of one's children, one always wants to experience some kind of optimism for the world," he says. "You love them and want only the best for them. On the other hand, having children makes you afraid in a way that nothing else can make you afraid. The world can hurt you in ways you never knew." Ultimately, his goal was to write about what's worth saving in this world. He says writing the trilogy was "an optimistic act."
Cronin is on an extensive book tour promoting The City of Mirrors. Next year he plans to return to teaching and to write more. Given the popularity of the Passage trilogy, he understands that comparisons to other novels set in post-apocalyptic worlds are inevitable. Having spent a lot of time as a teacher, he has a well thought-out philosophy about the role of novels in general. "Every book is a conversation with other books," he says. "What you should do as a writer is write what you want to write, and write the hell out of it."
Justin Cronin will be at the Dallas Museum of Art's Horchow Auditorium (1717 N. Harwood St.) at 7:30 p.m. Friday, June 10. Tickets are $35 for the public and $30 for DMA members. For more information, call 214-922-1818.