Ted Kosmatka's latest novel, The Flicker Men, touches on the role that genetics plays in the age-old argument of free will vs. fate. In this gripping sci-fi thriller, disgraced scientist Eric Argus begins to explore the paradoxical double-slit experiment, and his explorations lead him to the conclusion that only humans possess souls—but not all humans. In a guest post, Kosmatka details how quantum physics inspired The Flicker Men.
Weird doesn’t even begin to cover it.
I remember the first time I heard about the two-slit experiment—that classic illustration found in many science textbooks that delineates so clearly the boundary between that which makes sense in the world of physics and that which does not.
The experiment was originally designed to answer whether light was a wave or a particle, but instead proved it was both. I recall first reading about it in high school—photons changing from waves, to particles, then back to waves—and thinking that it couldn’t possibly really work that way. How could the mere act of observation change the outcome?
The seeds for my novel The Flicker Men were probably sown in my first brush with this strange line of research, but over the years I’ve come to suspect that quantum mechanics isn’t just strange; there’s something fundamentally transcendental about it. To look deeply into quantum mechanics is to look beyond the bounds of ordinary experience. You’re treading on territory where even scientists throw up their hands. Not because they don’t know the answers anymore, but because they do. You can’t argue against quantum mechanics. To be a physicist arguing against quantum mechanics would be like a geneticist arguing against an observable phenotype. It just is. You have to deal with it, make sense of it somehow, even if it can’t possibly be right. And in the end, it all circles back around again to the observer. But what is an observer, exactly?
The Flicker Men began as a way for me to explore this question and was a challenge to write precisely because the answer hinges so clearly on results which have been tested and retested, but which lack an intuitive base from which to extrapolate. Quantum mechanics, to some extent, is a descriptive science. It can be used to predict phenomena, and yet at its core, what it says about the macro world remains unclear. This is perhaps why there are so many different interpretations, so many different theories about what is really going on behind the curtain. In its own way, this book is another one of those theories, though with a healthy dose of storytelling and artistic license tossed in for good measure.
One of the major themes of the book is the revelation of hidden knowledge. There are certain truths that can be explained in different words, and with different frames of reference, and yet still produce a spark of recognition among people as diverse as quantum physicists and gnostic philosophers.
The more I’ve learned over the years, the more I’ve come to realize that different systems of thought behave like the golden ratio found in nautilus shells. Once you see the pattern, you begin to see it other places, too, as if there was some hidden structure to the world all along—and it’s only gradually being revealed to you. The world is a jeweled box. Quantum mechanics is one of its stranger keys.
Sara Humphreys' new contemporary McGuire Brother series is a step in a different direction for the award-winning paranormal romance author.
In this guest post, Humphreys to tell us about what inspired the new series, her fears about switching genres and more.
When people ask me where I came up with the idea for The McGuire Brothers series, I always wonder if I should admit the truth.
Here goes . . .
If you’re familiar with my previous work, then you know that I write steamy paranormal romance. Vampires, witches, shifters, demons and dragons inhabit the pages of my books. A few years ago, at the RWA National Conference in California, I pitched a new series idea to my editor, Deb Werksman. It was called Angels in Uniform and would feature angel-human hybrids that were all men in uniform.
My editor said, “Well, what if they were just people? You know, everyday heroes.”
To be really honest, I was afraid to try contemporary romance because the real world rules would have to apply. The hero can’t telepath with the heroine and he doesn’t have supernatural strength. In a contemporary romance, the men have to be . . . real men.
But it didn’t take long for me to get past my fears, and with Deb’s encouragement, The McGuire Brothers series was born.
First of all, I absolutely adore a man in uniform. They are alpha to the core: protective, loyal and steadfast. Secondly, there is something innately appealing about the bond between brothers. Maybe it’s because I have four sons or because I’ve seen the close relationship my father shares with his brothers, but I am a sucker for male-bonding.
The McGuire Brothers series features five brothers from a close-knit New England family, and all of them are men in uniform. Their devotion to each other is matched only by their commitment to service and eventually, to the women they fall in love with.
Readers will meet all five of the boys in Brave the Heat, but this love story belongs to Gavin. He’s the oldest in the family and the fire chief in their hometown. As with many first-borns, he is the caretaker and feels it’s his responsibility to keep an eye on his aging parents, to say nothing of the town he lives in.
After getting his heart broken by his high school sweetheart, Gavin swore off love and devoted his life to his career. However, when Jordan returns to town after a nasty divorce with two little girls in tow, the walls around Gavin’s heart begin to crumble.
One of my favorite moments in Brave the Heat includes all five brothers. They’re in the kitchen during their parent’s big anniversary party, and even though there’s a tent full of finely catered food, they’ve all come inside in search of their mother’s homemade cookies. Needless to say, there are only two left and a mild scuffle ensues.
If you ask me, there’s nothing sexier than a man who is devoted to family and living his life in service of others. Oh, and if he loves his mom’s cookies, that’s hot too.
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In lawyer Solange Ritchie's debut thriller, The Burning Man, an investigative powerhouse named Cat confronts the twisted mind of a killer. In a guest blog post, Ritchie explores the perspectives of these two characters.
During the Middle Ages, the discovery of perspective transformed painting from a flat, nuanced medium into a lifelike portrayal of reality. In my first novel, The Burning Man, I wanted to approach the mystery / thriller genre from a different perspective. When I had finished, The Burning Man had two perspectives that I feel give a more lifelike portrayal of reality. The first perspective is from inside the killer’s head, which gives the reader a glimpse into the gyrations of a crazed, murderous mind. The second is a woman trying to navigate a male-dominated profession and balance the ordinary challenges in her family life, all while confronting extraordinary evil. I didn’t want to use the stereotypical male tough-guy protagonist so often found in mysteries.
I am a fan of the genre. I especially like stories with a serial killer component. But while reading them, I always wondered, Why is he doing it? So I set out to create a character of supreme evil and to invite the reader inside the killer’s head as he stalks, seduces, then tortures and kills his victims. The lead investigator, in viewing the Burning Man’s handiwork, worries that he is leaving messages directed at her: “It was like looking at a Picasso or a Van Gogh. One could not begin to understand the artist without first studying the brush strokes . . . the use of color, line, symmetry, light, dark.”
The reader enters the mind and the insanity of the killer as he spins deeper and deeper into depravity and vicious murder, and in doing so learns of the killer’s past and the torture he endured that set him on his course as the Burning Man.
As for my choice in a lead character, I didn’t want to write about another ex-military, hardboiled, testosterone-fueled male homicide detective. I don’t understand that kind of man, and so to be true to myself, I needed a lead character that I and other career women could relate to. Dr. Catherine (Cat) Powers was born.
Cat is the kind of woman I would want as a friend. She is a strong woman, navigating a male-dominated profession. She understands “life balance” in a different way from noir male detectives. While balance to the hardboiled male character may be choosing whether to have another beer at the bar before returning to his messy studio apartment, balance to Cat is figuring out how to do her job while dealing with the challenges of being a divorced mother, whose young son, Joey, has homework and cries as he watches his mother leave to chase yet another serial killer. Through it all, the reader sees that this mother and son share a strong moral core, true grit and an unbreakable bond—even as Joey becomes bait used by the Burning Man to lure Cat into a deadfall trap.
I gravitated to Cat because of my experience in a male-dominated profession. I am a lawyer, and some days when I enter the courtroom, the only women present are the court clerk and the court reporter. I have been subjected to my share of inappropriate “honey” and “sweetheart” comments. I know the “dismissed” feeling of being a woman in a male-dominated arena. I’ve experienced the unspoken rule that a woman must be “more than equal, she must be better,” or she won’t survive. I bring these experiences to Cat’s story to express the challenges that every marginalized group experiences as we strive to succeed in a game with unfair rules.
The Burning Man’s shifts in perspective give a more lifelike feel to my book. Our lives are filled with mundane tasks of seemingly no great consequence that monopolize our attention. The Burning Man is fixated on the extreme and has no room for the mundane. Cat Powers must catch the Burning Man while juggling a world of the mundane. I feel it creates a tantalizing pairing for the reader as they go from inside the killer’s head to inside Cat’s head and back again.
Hilary Liftin is the author of more than 15 fiction and nonfiction bestsellers—but she's just released her first novel. How? Well, Liftin's previous works bore the name of other people: She's been working as a ghostwriter for more than a decade. In a guest post, Liftin talks about what it's like to step out of the shadows and into the spotlight.
My first novel, Movie Star by Lizzie Pepper, was published in July. It’s been strange for me to see this book into the world. I should feel like a pro. After all, I worked in publishing for 10 years, published two nonfiction books under my own name, and, as a professional ghostwriter, have so far collaborated on more than 15 books with a wonderful collection of celebrities and experts. But I never considered myself a fiction writer. For all the writing I had done, I’d never made anything up! In fact, that’s what I’ve always said I like most about ghostwriting. The raw material is pretty much handed to me.
Then I had the idea for Movie Star. Like any ghostwriter, I have to wait, sometimes impatiently, for the right projects to come along. I read gossip magazines and fantasize that various stars will want my services. So one day I decided I would take the bull by the horns and write a fictional celebrity memoir—the tell-all of my dreams.
Because the form was familiar to me, this was a baby step into fiction. I knew I wanted to delve into my Hollywood heroine’s struggle in her marriage to a megastar, and I wanted to let readers experience what it might be like if a tabloid darling held nothing back. I’ve written enough memoirs to have a sense of pace and scope. But actually plotting out the story was completely new to me. So I did something that may be unusual for novelists but felt perfectly natural to me as a collaborator—I called upon two of my writer friends to help me do what screenwriters call “breaking the story.” At least with an outline in hand I felt more confident facing the blank screen. Nonetheless, along the way I took some wrong turns, wrote myself into corners, and had to throw out hours of work. But in this process I was bolstered by another attribute acquired through ghostwriting—I had a sense of what I might call caring detachment. I knew exactly what the book wanted to be, and I was willing to scrap anything that didn’t serve it.
Perhaps the most surprising part of this process for me was not the writing, but the publication itself. Once my ghostwritten projects make it through the editorial process, I’m out. I have zero to do with publicizing the book. I just watch from the sidelines, like a proud relative at a graduation ceremony. When Movie Star came out, there was so much to do! The publisher had questions for me. Features and reviews had my name in them. The full spotlight was on me. To be honest, I would have loved to hire a ghost-self-promoter to pull it off with more finesse than I. I still love ghostwriting—the collaboration, the form, and not least the freedom to hide in the shadows—but Movie Star is my baby, and it’s proven fun to nurture it along.
Getting your kids back to school in the fall just isn’t as simple as it used to be. Gone are the days when buying a new backpack, shoes and notebook would be enough. Now, in addition to understanding macro-educational policies, standards and testing requirements, parents must also make sense of ever-changing acronyms, such as STEM, STEAM—and now STREAM. What’s behind these terms and what can a parent do to help support a child’s learning?
The acronym STEM has been around for awhile; it stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. STEM education refers to teaching and learning in these fields, from preschool to post-doctorate, in both classroom and informal settings. STEM education initiatives are designed to ensure that young people have opportunities in these fields, and to make the U.S. more competitive internationally.
Several years ago, STEM was expanded to STEAM, an effort to incorporate art into the mix. STREAM wasn’t far behind—a reminder that reading and writing are essential. As Rob Furman wrote in his 2014 Huffington Post article, “Without the ability to read and write, there is not a job to be found for which STEM or STEAM education is going to be enough preparation.”
What’s a parent to do? Fortunately, reading great books at home—and seeing reading as a jumping off point for the exploration of the world, is the best place to start. Sometimes just following your child’s lead is all it takes. Examples abound: Gardening books for preschoolers can lead to explorations of how plants get energy, and young children are naturally curious: a fictional story about a bear can lead to nonfiction books about mammals and hibernation.
Here are some tried-and-true tips:
Deborah Hopkinson is the author of titles such as The Great Trouble (about the history of cholera), Sky Boys, How They Built the Empire State Building (construction and engineering) and Who Was Charles Darwin? Her newest book is Courage & Defiance: Stories of Spies, Saboteurs, and Survivors in WWII Denmark, out August 25. She's also a regular contributor to BookPage.
Debbie Macomber's novels have inspired countless readers (and a television series and a few movies!), and in this guest post, Macomber tells us what inspires her. Her latest novel, Silver Linings, returns to her beloved Cedar Cove as part of the Rose Harbor Inn series.
When people ask me what inspired my Cedar Cove series, I generally joke and answer, "My house payment." While that's true, the real answer is a bit more complicated. The inspiration for the Cedar Cove series and the Rose Harbor Inn spin-off came directly from my readers.
I read every piece of mail that comes into my office. My readers have directed the course of my career from my first published book to this very day. Their notes and emails have steered my writing. The Cedar Cove series is a good example.
Dedicated readers were the ones who led me to create my first six-book series, and by the time the last book was published, my office was flooded with mail asking for more. That was when the light bulb went off in my brain. Why not create a series and continue writing until all the stories are told? The Cedar Cove series was born and ended up being 11 full-length novels, two Christmas books and a novella before it was laid to rest.
By now, I'd caught on, and I knew my fan base wasn't ready to leave Cedar Cove—even though I was. As a compromise, I set the Rose Harbor Inn series in the town my readers and I had grown to love.
Silver Linings is the fourth book in the Rose Harbor Inn series. The overarching theme of these books is emotional healing. The idea for Silver Linings came from a notice that my own high school reunion is coming up soon. And frankly, who among us can't do with a bit of healing from the angst of our teenage years? This reunion is a biggie for me. You know the ones—they have zeros in them. I'm still in touch with several of my high school friends, and we see each other often. These friendships are important to me and have blessed my life. My hope is that when you read Silver Linings and come to know the stories of Katie Gilroy and Coco Crenshaw and their class reunion, plus the ongoing story of inn owner Jo Marie Rose and Mark Taylor, you will be blessed—for you, my readers, are the ones who inspired it.
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Historical romance is one of the most popular genres in the romance world, so when an author has a fresh take on the genre, I'm intrigued. Lillian Marek's debut romance series, Victorian Adventures, continues with Lady Emily's Exotic Journey, which takes the tried-and-true Victorian romance and sets it in the far-away world of Mesopotamia.
In this guest post, Marek explains the history of the vacation and its roots in the Victorian era. Turns out, we have the Victorians to thank for our holidays!
Travel requires leisure time, and before the late 1800s, this meant that the traveler had to be, if not actually rich, at least well off enough to avoid working for a living. He had to be what used to be called “possessed of a competence.” Before the Victorian era, most people were not and, as such, didn’t travel any farther than they could walk on a Sunday, their only day of rest.
This began to change during the Victorian era when the railway altered everyone’s notion of distances. In 1800, a carriage trip from London to Edinburgh took a month. By 1888, the railway trip could be made in eight and a half hours. It still wasn’t a day trip, but it was much more manageable. Something else was changing, too—employees were getting time off.
The 1871 Bank Holiday Act gave workers four holidays every year—Easter Monday, Whit Monday (the day after Pentecost), the first Monday in August, and Boxing Day (the day after Christmas). Increasingly, workers were also being given a half day off on Saturdays. Added to the Bank Holidays, this meant that even ordinary people could go someplace. Not to Rome or Paris, of course, but the August Bank Holiday could mean a day or two at the seashore. Brighton changed from being the playground of the Prince Regent and his circle to becoming a popular day trip destination for London’s working class.
Also, by the 1870s, many office workers and even factory workers were getting a week’s paid holiday every year. The railways were whisking off families by the thousands for a week at the seashore, and resorts mushroomed. The seaside town of Blackpool, perhaps the greatest example, had a population of 473 in 1801. By the 1890s, the population was 35,000, and the number of annual visitors was estimated at three million.
And not to be forgotten is the role of Thomas Cook and Cook’s Tours.
Cook didn’t set out to provide people with vacations. He was a strong opponent of drinking, and he organized his first excursion as a way for a large group to conveniently attend a temperance meeting. He moved on to Sunday school groups and then achieved his first major success in 1851, arranging excursions to The Great Exhibition in London.
Cook went into business with his son, and they invented the package tour, providing transportation, food and lodging to groups traveling all over the world.
The gentleman’s Grand Tour—or as much of it as could be crammed into your vacation time—was now in reach of everyone.
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Today's guest post comes from Andy Abramowitz, author of Thank You, Goodnight. Teddy Tremble is a former musician whose band, Tremble, was a 1990s one-hit wonder. Now a lawyer in Philadelphia, Teddy discovers that Tremble is big in Switzerland—or at least, one tiny town in Switzerland. Is this his chance for another shot at coming out on top? Fans of Nick Hornby and Jonathan Tropper will find much to admire in this heartfelt and hilarious story. We asked Abramowitz—who has a musical past himself—to give us a "Top 5" countdown of lessons he learned as a debut novelist.
Guest post by Andy Abramowitz
No. 5 – Your friends don’t want to read your book; they want to have read your book
Those friends of yours who only read presidential biographies or Allure don’t suddenly develop an appetite for fiction just because you wrote a book. They’ll congratulate you; some will mean it. They’ll say they’re going to buy it; a small subset of those will do that too. That should be enough. It’s quite nice of them to lie about how much they enjoyed it. Think you’re special? Test them. Narrow your eyes and ask, “What did you think of what happened to Warren at the end?” You’ll detect a bulky swallow in their throat and they’ll shrug and say, “It worked for me.” Told ya.
No. 4 – The editing process doesn’t end, it stops
Like the rush of critical information that suddenly occurs to your five year old at the precise moment of her bedtime, the editing process is never over. Every sentence stares up at you, asking for a tweak. I’m not telling you to walk away because it’s good enough. I’m telling you to walk away or your editor and publisher will. You’re not Steinbeck. Speaking of which . . .
No. 3 – John Steinbeck wrote East of Eden
Hardly revelatory, I know. But consider how much effort you put into making each of your sentences feel right and look right, informational and tonally true, not choking on gratuitous adverbs or clunky prepositions. Then humble yourself under the notion that so many others have done it with a lot more literary loop-de-loop than you could ever muster. So, Faulkner, wipe that scowl off your face over the fact that your masterpiece isn’t front and center at the airport newsstand.
No. 2 – You’ll never feel like more of a fraud than when signing a book
People you see every single day and whom you suspect are smirking because they know that the publication of your book is a minor miracle—they’ll all ask you to write your name on the inside cover. It will feel silly and pretentious, unearned, like an act performed only by the Michael Chabons of the world or people with fiction-writer hair. (See Michael Chabon.) Really—why would your sister ever need your autograph? I don’t have an answer for this one other than to nudge them toward the ebook version.
No. 1 – It’s okay to like your book
Society dictates that artists view their work with a measure of contempt, as but an imperfect realization of their vast vision. Applesauce! In a free moment, pick it up, read a few a pages, and notice that you’re smiling. That doesn’t make you a jerk. At least I don’t think it does.
Sometimes real-life experiences can lead to some truly unforgettable books. This is certainly the case for thriller writer Ed Kovacs, who has studied martial arts, holds many weapons-related licenses, certifications and permits, and is a certified medical First Responder. He now works as an "international security contractor," and here he shares a fascinating—even alarming—peek into some of the hairy situations he's gotten himself into around the world.
As a young boy I recall watching reruns of the TV show “Dangerous Assignment.” The fictionalized intrigue that played out in exotic locations every week struck a chord in me. Little did I know that I'd eventually spend years of my life on the road or overseas living through my own intrigues. Nor did I realize that I'd become a writer whose real life experiences on the edge would provide me with such good material for my thriller novels.
When I flew into New Orleans in a private jet with eleven other heavily armed security operators after Hurricane Katrina struck, writing a novel wasn't on my mind. I worked in dangerous environments and horrible conditions, and while doing so, learned about the last murder in New Orleans just before the hurricane struck. A murder with a missing corpse, no forensic evidence, and a destroyed crime scene sounded like a good premise to me, and ultimately resulted in my Cliff St. James crime novel trilogy, beginning with Storm Damage.
While researching my first novel, Unseen Forces, I traveled to Southeast Asia's Golden Triangle and crossed illegally into Burma (now Myanmar) to meet with a rebel group fighting the military dictatorship. When I got back to Mae Hong Song, Thailand, an employee of my hotel warned me there was a contract on my head from a local drug lord who suspected me of being an undercover DEA agent.
I was once taken into custody in Mongolia and accused (falsely) of antiquities smuggling. In Russia, I was detained at the airport in Irkutsk and not allowed to leave because my papers weren't in order. I came way too close to falling to my death in a cave in Belize, and once got lost in the jungle and accidentally crossed the border into Guatemala while trying to find a Mayan ruin.
I travel for research, adventure or to work on security contracts. I've had guns pointed at me many times. One of the most dangerous places I worked, believe it or not, was the U.S.-Mexico border. Gunfights are common. I had weapons aimed at me by cartel lookouts, soldiers and Mexican police. Due to our rules of engagement at the time, I knew I was simply in God's hands.
Beheadings and “stewings” are common down there. The bad guys will take a person and put them into a 55-gallon steel barrel, then add gasoline and lye flakes and seal the lid. An acid is created that dissolves a human being down to teeth and bones. The stewing thing made it into my novel, Burnt Black.
I've been to Russia many times. I worked with Russian military and intelligence people, and that helped me with material for my latest book, The Russian Bride. The villain is physically based on an acquaintance of mine, Viktor Kubetkin, a former KGB agent who operated undercover in London.
I've been to the Middle East, Africa, South and Central America, all over Asia and have had many close calls. Not that I go looking for trouble. I go looking for nuggets of gold; the characters I meet and situations I find myself in is the payoff that I file away to incorporate into my books.
Ed Kovacs is the author of five published thriller novels including his latest from Minotaur, The Russian Bride. He is currently on deployment in Eastern Europe as a security contractor. His website is www.edkovacs.com.
Author photo credit Neungreuthai Chanphonsean.
Discover more great new mysteries and thrillers during Private Eye July.
Vacations and murder mysteries--escapism at its best! The 14 stories in Resorting to Murder, collected by editor Martin Clark, encapsulate this joy of escapism while exploring some hidden gems from the golden age of British crime fiction. Clark shares a preview of his collection, while shedding some light on why it's more likely we'll commit a little bit of murder while on vacation.
Holidays offer us the luxury of getting away from it all. So, in a different way, do detective stories. Yet another means of enjoyable escapism involves taking a glance at the past. Resorting to Murder, a new title in the British Library’s extraordinarily successful Crime Classics series, combines these three forms of pleasure-taking. In compiling the anthology, I’ve chosen vintage stories written over a span of roughly half a century, each with the backdrop of a holiday. And it’s fascinating to see the different plots that the authors came up with in the vacation setting.
Why are holiday mysteries so much fun? I can suggest a couple of reasons. First, when authors themselves visit an unfamiliar and intriguing location on holiday, it often serves to inspire their writing. Second, our lives change pace on holiday. We are more receptive than usual to fresh experiences. And sometimes, people take risks on holiday that lead them into danger, and even into crime. A holiday mystery seems more credible than a whodunit set in our backyard.
Resorting to Murder focuses on the work of British writers, although with a wide variety of settings. We have Arthur Conan Doyle and his brother-in-law E.W. Hornung, as well as those giants of the early 20th century, Arnold Bennett and G.K. Chesterton. Naturally, “the Golden Age of Murder” between the two World Wars is also represented.
I’ve included stories that have won acclaim over the years, but I was also keen to unearth previously hidden gems. “Razor Edge” by Anthony Berkeley—whose brilliance with plot had even Agatha Christie in raptures—is represented by a story so (undeservedly) obscure that even the British Library did not have a copy. Luckily, I have one in my personal collection of Golden Age fiction, correspondence and memorabilia, which was the source of much of the material for my book about Berkeley, Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers and their colleagues in the Detection Club, The Golden Age of Murder. The stories by Phyllis Bentley and Helen Simpson are almost as rare as Berkeley’s, despite the success which both writers achieved. The tales written by H.C. Bailey (once a major figure in the genre, but now almost forgotten), Leo Bruce and the little-known Gerald Findler have seldom been reprinted.
The stories in Resorting to Murder are presented broadly (but not precisely) in chronological order, reflecting the way in which the holiday mystery evolved over the years. My hope is that readers will find the book is rather like the best kind of holiday—enjoyable and relaxing, with nice touches of the unexpected, and offering memories to look back on with a good deal of pleasure.
Martin Edwards is Series Consultant to the British Library’s Crime Classics and author of The Golden Age of Murder (HarperCollins). Visit him at www.martinedwardsbooks.com.
Discover more great new mysteries and thrillers during Private Eye July.