The Skeleton Key: A Short Story Exclusive
Released on 05.11.2011
Seichan is ripped out of the Sigma series for an adventure all her own—but can she survive? The beautiful and elusive assassin wakes in a hotel in Paris with a deadly electronic collar fastened to her throat.
From New York Times bestselling author James Rollins comes a thrilling short story that delves deep beneath the city of Paris to a dark necropolis, where the only means for escape is…The Skeleton Key.
PAPERBACK EDITION INCLUDES THE SKELETON KEY: A SHORT STORY EXCLUSIVE
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Q: Why did you decide to write a Sigma Force short story? How does writing a short story vs. a novel differ?
A: A couple of years ago, I wrote a Sigma short story, titled Kowalski’s in Love It appeared in an anthology edited by James Patterson and explained how Kowalski (who first appeared in Ice Hunt) became an adopted team member of Sigma. I found that a short story is a great vehicle for filling in “gaps” in the Sigma universe. And that’s how this story came about. In this summer’s book, The Devil Colony, the mysterious assassin Seichan arrives on Gray’s doorstep with a package of information. The Skeleton Key explains how she acquired that bit of intelligence.
I also wanted to write this story for those readers who have never read a Sigma novel. So I crafted this thriller so it could be enjoyed by anyone new to the series. Confined to one character and restricted to a self-contained adventure, I hoped this story could serve as a “sampler” for any reader interested in the series but too daunted by a full novel.
As to writing a short story versus a novel, they are definitely two different vehicles in which to tell a tale. While both vehicles need a beginning, middle, and end, a short story requires writing very tightly, sticking to one character and really getting into their head, under their skin. Seichan has always been a bit mysterious. The Skeleton Key gave me a chance to reveal more about her.
Q: Did you face any unexpected challenges when fitting Sigma Force characters and a thrilling plotline into a shorter format?
A:It was a daunting task. I think my mind is too wired to think of “story” in a longer format. To restrict this tale to one character, one setting, one goal was a challenge. I wanted this story to “feel” like a full Sigma international thriller. So I did my best to make Paris come to life as a character. I threaded in a bit of its mysterious history, added a smidgen of strange science, and crafted a larger danger looming over the more intimate threat. I hope this story captures the essence of a Sigma novel in a tight, little package.
Q: You write in your author’s note that the apocalyptic cult, the Order of the Solar Temple, really existed. How did you stumble across this in your research, and what made you decide to feature it in a short story?
A: I wish I could say there was some mysterious connection, but it was basically Google. I researched various cults operating around Paris and stumbled upon the Order of the Solar Temple, which believes the Knights Templar are still alive and well and manipulating history. This cult’s suicidal and apocalyptic stance was perfectly suited for the story I wanted to tell.
Q: What kind of research or travel did you do for The Skeleton Key? Have you visited the catacombs of Paris?
A:I did visit those catacombs. As an avid caver myself, I longed to explore beyond the boundaries of the tourist areas. Those catacombs delve beneath half of Paris, encompassing two hundred miles of tunnels and caverns. While I couldn’t go there myself, I learned of amateur explorers who secretly venture into those unmapped sections of the catacombs (they call themselves cataphiles). This story allowed me to become one of th em for a short while--and I wanted to take my readers along with me.
Q: What did you find most interesting or surprising to learn as you mapped out the plot to The Skeleton Key?
A: I think it was how fragile those catacombs are. A cave-in back in 1961 swallowed up an entire Parisian neighborhood, killing scores of people. And even today, sections of those tunnels collapse every year, damaging parts of the city--which, of course, made the writer in me wonder: what if something MUCH worse happened?
Q: The Skeleton Key follows the adventures of Seichan alone, as she is separated from the rest of Sigma Force. Why did you decide to feature Seichan’s point of view?
A: I always wanted to feature her in a solo adventure. Being a loner, she was perfectly suited for her own tale. This vehicle also offered me the opportunity to explore more about her, while allowing new readers an entry point into the series. Plus her story allowed me to fill in a “gap” in the backstory to The Devil Colony.
Q: Do you have a favorite Sigma Force character, one whose point of view you especially enjoy writing?
A: I enjoy writing them all. Each has their own unique flare: Gray’s intensity, Kowalski’s humor, Monk’s good nature, Seichan’s internal conflict, Painter’s craftiness. They are like an extended family, and I enjoy visiting with each one of them.
Q: Without giving away any secrets, will Seichan—and the answers she finds in The Skeleton Key—have a major part to play in the upcoming Sigma Force novel The Devil Colony?
A: Indeed. What she discovers in Paris is vital to the plot of the The Devil Colony. It will begin to expose the true identity behind the shadowy organization called The Guild. And trust me, there are some MAJOR surprises coming up in this next book.
Q: Do you plan to write more Sigma Force short stories?
A: In one word: yes. To tell more would ruin the fun.