I spent my high school and college years avoiding science classes. I delayed taking biology in high school until my senior year, and ended up at a college with no curriculum requirements. Physics terrifies me, and the closest I’ve ever come to a chemistry lab is hearing my husband talk about the one he’s designing at the university where he works. But here I am, an affirmed non-scientist, writing novels about science. Accordingly, I do a lot of research.
I start by reading everything I can get my hands on. I plunder the library and bookstores, then go online. Google Scholar is an amazing resource. Because my husband’s a scientist, he has access to scientific journals and papers that I wouldn’t otherwise come across. After I’ve picked my topic, he begins bringing me home all sorts of interesting reading material, most of it on the cutting edge of science.
Once I’ve built a basic understanding, I begin looking for experts in the field. This is my favorite part of research: talking to those actually doing the work. Their passion for their field of study transcends the written word. There’s nothing better than talking to a scientist on the verge of making a discovery, or facing down something the rest of us would run from. The casual comments they make, or the insights they provide, are like nuggets of gleaming gold in a bed of gray muck.
For The Things That Keep Us Here, I had to become acquainted with influenza viruses: what they look like, how they behave, how the seasonal variation differs from the one that rages out of control and causes a pandemic. One of the scientists I interviewed spent hours describing the virus, diagramming it, talking about its behavior in the wild. He walked me through his lab, showing me the equipment field researchers use to diagnose virus variants, the precautions they take to stay safe, and how much risk is involved in the work they do.
At the end of our last session, we sat down and talked about influenza, in particular H5N1, the variant scientists all over the world were closely monitoring. Despite his enthusiasm about his work, the topic was a grim one.
“You’re the father of two young children,” I said. “How would you keep them safe?”
He shook his head. “I couldn’t. The virus is airborne. It could get into my home no matter how tightly I closed my windows.”
I persisted. “What about masks? Wouldn’t they protect you?”
“My little girl is two years old. It would terrify her to see me wearing a mask, especially if she were feverish. I couldn’t possibly comfort her like that. I’d have to take it off.”
That was true. When your child is sick, your only thought is consoling them. You don’t think about getting sick yourself. But he was a scientist. He had to know tricks that the rest of us didn’t. “So what could you do?”
“Nothing.” He shrugged. “I’d get sick, my wife would get sick. We’d just have to wait and see which one of us survived.”
I stared at him. The question between us remain unvoiced: what if neither one of you survived? What would happen to his children then?
He folded his arms and looked at me. “You see,” he said, gently. “There is nothing we can do. It’s not a question of if we’re going to have a pandemic. It’s a question of when.”
That statement, delivered so matter-of-factly and with the power of scientific knowledge behind it, haunted me as I began writing The Things That Keep Us Here. It was one of the nuggets of gold I discovered; it helped me shape my character Peter, a research scientist, and lent gravity to my words.
This is why I do a lot of research in my work. It’s not only to compensate for all those science classes I’ve avoided in my life. It also helps fill out characters, pluck plot points from thin air, extend a storyline in a direction I never envisioned. And ultimately, it puts me into the right place, mentally and emotionally, to tell the story I’ve undertaken to write.
Friday, February 26, 2010
Friday, February 19, 2010
Thursday, February 18, 2010
About Victor Pross
Victor Pross is a professional artist born and raised in Toronto now residing in British Columbia. He is known for his “extreme caricaturing.”
He has many high profile commissions to his credit including painting Ron Howard’s caricature portrait as a gift for the famous director as well as painting various agents of the William Morris Agency. He has rendered numerous International celebrities and Canadian media personalities for commercial and private purposes. Victor Pross has been interviewed on television shows such as: Canada AM, Breakfast Television, News at Noon and has been pegged by Canadian Media as “Canada’s foremost caricature artist.”
He has worked on various posters, comic books and CD covers bringing to each work his own unique style. He is currently instructing an art class as well as offering his services as an editorial caricaturist. Victor’s first book, Icons & Idols, will feature a collection of the artist’s paintings and drawings and is now available. You can visit his website at www.victorpross.com.
About Icon & Idols: Pop Goes the Culture
Icons & Idols: Pop Goes the Culture is an eye-popping visual homage and satire of pop culture that is sure to tickle a funny bone. ICONS & IDOLS is comprised of Victor Pross’ “extreme caricatures” of the famous—such as Elvis Presley, Sylvester Stallone, Marilyn Monroe, George Bush, Albert Einstein—and others icons from the world of film, music and literature. Victor Pross’ most important works –over 70 paintings and drawings–is assembled under one volume to entertain and astound.
Here’s what reviewers are saying!
“Pross’ portraits are frequently funny and striking in their grotesque exaggeration, but always powerfully able to reintroduce us to that which we take for granted. Pross’ talent leaps from the frame.”—William O’Higgins, arts writer.
“Victor’s caricatures, aside from being clever in their own right, also convey an intelligence and knowledge of his subjects that is sometimes absent in similar sketches.” –George H. Smith, author of ‘Atheism: The case against God.’
“Victor Pross’ portraits examine in subjective—sometimes hideous, often hilarious—detail the faces of those who’ve shaped our times.”—Edward Keenan, media writer and editor for Toronto’s Eye Newspaper.
“Pross is a caricaturist, but that term does not nearly do justice to the art he creates. These are not line drawings of political figures published in a newspaper to poke fun, and then be forgotten the next day. Pross takes caricaturing to another level making powerful—if entertaining and exaggerated—canvasses of famous people.”—Paul J. Henderson, the Times.
“Victor, like his art, is larger than life. He tackles the big issues and puts them right in your face. I knew that making caricatures was about exaggerating the features a little. Little! Victor manages to exaggerate them a whole lot while keeping the essential personality clear. He does not walk the safe and simple path, but like hisforebears walks the lonely path of seeking truth without flinching.”—Ray Thomas admirer.
The Lost Symbol
By: Dan Brown
Publisher: Doubleday Books
The Lost Symbol is the third and most anticipated installment in Dan Brown's series about Symbologist Robert Langdon. The entire book covers a span of twelve hours beginning with Langdon being called to Washington, D.C. by an assistant of Peter Solomon, a long-time friend, to give a lecture at the US Capitol Building. What he finds is his friend's severed hand and thus kickstarts another action-packed tale filled with interesting and controversial tidbits that Brown is so famous for.
There are so many things going on in this book, that it would be tremendously hard to summarize it without giving something away. I will say that this one did not draw me in as well as Dan Brown's other books have. I'm ashamed to say that I struggled with this book for weeks before finishing it up. Don't get me wrong, the book is well researched and full of things that I would love to learn more about, but it just didn't suck me in. In the long run, I did finish the book and enjoyed the story. It's just not quite up to par with the previous Langdon stories nor Brown's other novels.
You may also be interested in another book that discusses the mysteries of The Lost Symbol and is written by Simon Cox.
House of Reckoning
By: John Saul
Publisher: Ballantine Books
House of Reckoning centers around the life of young Sarah Crane, a fourteen year-old girl who lost her mother to cancer and loses her father, Ed Crane, to his alcoholic binges while he's caught up in the past and innumerable regrets. One night he goes too far and gets into a fight with a stranger at the local bar and kills the man. Meanwhile, Sarah realizes that her father is off drinking and sets out to look for him. On his way home, he doesn't see her and runs her over. She ends up in the hospital with a serious leg injury that threatens the possibility of amputation. Her father is sent off to prison and she meets a nice caseworker named Kate Williams who must place her with a foster family. She meets the Garveys, a couple with two teenaged children and quickly learns her place in the house as servant and only there because of the check the family receives for taking her in. One of the few bright spots is getting to visit her father, but only if she satisfies the Garveys wants and needs.
In school, she becomes friends with Nick Dunnigan, a boy who is somewhat of an outcast himself and who hears voices. Art classe introduces her to Bettina Phillips, a teacher who is friendly and wants to help Sarah. She starts drawing ghastly images while under the influence of something unknown while at the same time Nick sees and hears what she's drawing. One night all the pieces of the puzzle come together as Sarah, Nick and Bettina realize the connection they have with each other.
I enjoyed reading House of Reckoning. It's been a while since I've read any of John Saul's books. The last one was The Blackstone Chronicles, which I loved and thouroughly recommend. House of Reckoning was sad and depressing to read about poor Sarah's life and the things that she had to go through. One of her punishments by the Garveys was having to sleep outside in the cold with her bad leg. I can only imagine the pain that would have caused her. This book was a nice quick read with several plot twists and a juicy mystery at it's core. Rush out and find yourself a copy or check it out at your local library.
Check out the contests I posted yesterday over at Fang-tastic Books. While you're there, check out the gorgeous new look to the site. I'm totally jealous!