You're a scientist, as well as a writer. Do you feel that your scientific knowledge enhances your writing abilities? How?
Not my writing ability but my choices for plots. I like to make the science as accurate as possible, because I think the reader can sense when a writer knows the subject matter and when he doesnít. As a reader, itís more fun for me to read a speculative novel that is firmly rooted in real science, because it makes the plot seem more real, and I can learn a few things along the way.
Do you plan out the entire book before you begin writing? Or do you just sit down and write?
I probably spend a month before each novel begins, just trying to figure out the overarching direction Iíd like the novel to take. But even if I think I have a reasonable idea of the actual plot, Iím only fooling myself. No plot survives engagement with the page. For me, writing a novel is like putting together a 5,000 piece puzzleóone in which you donít even know what the finished image is supposed to look like. Until youíve laid some of the early pieces, you donít know what youíre working with enough to have any hope of laying the later pieces. The more pieces you connect, the easier it is to connect others.
Then, even when Iíve figured out a stretch of plot, figuring out individual scenes within this stretch can be brutal. My notes will read something like this: Chapter 8, hero gets thrown into inescapable prison. Chapter 9, hero brilliantly escapes. It might take me weeks to figure out how the hero pulls it off.
Do you have a set time that you write each day? Or do you wait to be inspired?
I write whenever I have any idea of where the book is headed, and sometimes even when I donít. I donít need inspiration for the actual writing, because my goals are simple. Iím not trying to be a brilliant stylist, Iím just trying to write as simply and smoothly as I possibly can, so the prose is as effortless to read as possible.
How much research, if any, did you do for this book?
A lot! I have a Masterís degree in molecular biology (aka, genetic engineering) so that part I knew pretty well, but everything else in the novel was researched endlessly. And not just the science. I researched the size and interiors of helicopters and RVs used in the book. If there is a scene at a shopping mall or minor league baseball stadium, these places all exist as described. I actually ďGoogle mapĒ locations so that they are all real, and if the novel points out that the drive between two locations takes three hours, this is actually how long the drive would take. If I have a scene with a military aircraft, Iíve researched how fast it can fly, when it might need to refuel, and so on.
How long did it take you to complete this book?
About four months. Two months for the actual writing, and two months doing research and pulling out my hair trying to solve the plot and individual scenes.
How did you choose the names for your characters?
For my kids science fiction series, the protagonists are named after my children, Ryan and Regan. For my adult books, I may try out a dozen names for the main characters until I find one that hits me the right way. During this process Iíll drive my family crazy asking their opinions about different name combinations. I love the ďfind/replaceĒ feature on modern word processing software, because it allows me to change a name that might appear five hundred times in a manuscript in a single stroke.