So what if you’re not a scientist? you may be thinking. Hundreds of thousands of people could make the same claim: lawyers, social workers, pastry chefs; stockbrokers, carpenters, newspaper reporters; race car drivers, kindergarten teachers, and on and on.
But I write science thrillers. My debut novel FREEZING POINT, which Berkley Books will be publishing in October ‘08, is about a solar energy company that uses microwaves from orbiting satellites to melt Antarctic icebergs into drinking water while environmental extremists plot to stop them, neither realizing they’re about to unleash an apocalyptic horror with the potential to destroy all mankind.
My day job is working alongside my husband in our family’s upholstery shop. And aside from the semester I attended the University of Michigan, I never went to college.
So what’s someone without a scientific background doing writing science thrillers? Simple: I write what I love.
If I had stayed in school, there’s no doubt I would have pursued a biology degree. But in the early 1970s I quit college to move with my husband and infant daughter to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula as part of the back-to-the-land movement.
While we lived in a tent and built our tiny cabin, scavenged wild foods, and carried water from a nearby spring, I devoured Discover Magazine and Scientific American. In fact, it was a feature item in the newspaper about a 1,000 square-mile section of the Larson Ice Shelf that had broken off due to global warming, combined with the greatest April Fool’s hoax in Discover Magazine’s history, that formed the basis for my novel.
Sometimes, I wish I had the educational background to give authority to what I write. But my lack of scientific training presents one distinct advantage: Because I don’t know the scientific reality, I can conceive a story that a scientist might think outlandish, learn enough of the science in the fields that interest me to tell the story plausibly, and then people the novel with engineers and experts and every sort of -ologist and live vicariously through them.
I’m not a scientist; I’m a scientist by proxy.
In science thrillers, accuracy is important, and I do a great deal of careful research for mine. In addition to consulting experts, I have a trusted reader, Jeff Anderson, who is a scientist and a medical doctor and a thriller author, who makes sure I get my science right.
After Jeff read an early version of FREEZING POINT, he flagged a sentence in which I described a character as a ‘brilliant Brazilian ichthyologist.’ He wrote: “They don’t ALL have to be brilliant, you know.”
Yes they do, I countered. They’re scientists.