Tag Archives: scientist

Feb 04

Steven Jay Griffel, Forty Years Later Author, Joins Mike Angley

MA: My guest today is Steven Jay Griffel. Steven was born in the Bronx, 1952. He tells me he, “met a beautiful blue-eyed art student in my junior year at Queens College (BA, Creative Writing, 1973) and married her in 1976. We’re still holding hands.” Steven studied American Literature at Fordham University, and he and his wife have two beautiful daughters, Sarah and Julia, grown and on their own. He spent his professional life in publishing, and he still works as a publishing consultant, though most of his time is now spent writing novels and talking about them. Steven is a frequent speaker and guest lecturer and especially enjoys leading book club discussions about his novel, Forty Years Later.

You told me you thought writing was a part of your DNA. How did you describe that, again?

SJG: I’m a born storyteller: sired by a father who never met a fact he couldn’t spin into fancy, and by a mother whose bitchin’ neuroses could make a grudge match of any relationship. From my father I learned there is no division between truth and fancy, just a wonderful gray area where imagination and ego could thrive. From my mother I inherited a genius for nursing regrets and grudges, so I’m never at a loss for reasons to rant.

I was raised on the colorful streets of the Bronx, where home plate was a manhole cover; where there was a pizzeria and deli on every other block; where there were always enough kids for a ball game; where it was okay to be Jewish, so long as you didn’t piss off those who weren’t.

MA: Well, that’s a colorful life! How did you decide to write novels? Was it always something you longed to do?

SJG: I wasn’t cut out to be a scientist or movie star or athlete. But I always had lots to say—and a talent for saying it well. In college I considered a career in journalism—until I learned I’d have to stick to the facts. I like facts, but I much prefer the novelist’s god-like sense of entitlement. As a novelist I decide the facts. I decide who rises, who falls. If I need a perfect line I create it, rather than relying on interviews and research for my gold. Thus I prefer fiction, where the music and meaning of words have primacy over facts. . . . I just remembered a pair of wonderfully relevant quotes:

“Journalism is literature in a hurry.” –Matthew Arnold

“Literature is news that stays news.” –Ezra Pound

I like to think that my writing is meant for the long haul.

MA: Well said! So tell us about Forty Years Later.

SJG: A middle-aged man (smart, handsome, happy, successful) has a single, gnawing regret: a lost opportunity to make history. He has kept the regret alive for forty years, continually picking at the scab of its memory. A coincidence (Fate, if you believe in such things) reunites this man with a former teen sweetheart who is very much a part of his regret. The man is married with children, the woman is famously and formerly gay, and their reunion results in the kind of sparks that presage trouble. It is a tale of music, movies, murder—and madness too. It is also a story of love and redemption—except for those who are probably going to Hell.

MA: Oh my! So had did you develop your protagonist’s character? Sounds like there may be a little of you in him…

SJG: Until recently, I too had a gnawing, life-long regret. Like a cancer that does not metastasize, it was annoying but not life-threatening. A complicated coincidence reconnected me with someone I hadn’t seen in forty years: a successful screenwriter who is best known for writing about the subject that framed my regret: Woodstock. We met and hit it off—big time. Of course, I was happily married with children and wouldn’t think of getting involved with another woman—but I have a protagonist; an alter-ego; a doppelganger, I suppose, and this fellow (named David Grossman) has been known to explore roads I dare not travel myself.

MA: So, what are David’s strengths and weaknesses?

SJG: Like many people, the novel’s protagonist is a miracle of contradictions. He is clear-seeing despite his blind spots; confident when not suffering from crises of self-esteem. He is a man who misplaces loyalties and manufactures jealousies. He loves and is loved but sometimes loses his way. All of which is to say, he’s flawed enough to get himself into a royal pickle—and brave enough to see his way out.

MA: What about an antagonist … is there a unique “bad guy” or a recurring nemesis of any kind?

SJG: There is a brilliant, formerly famous lesbian screenwriter with a blind lover and hip-hop son, who becomes a vengeful alcoholic with a particular fondness for dangerously sharp objects. Unique enough?

MA: (Smiling) Okay, so did any of your real-life experiences factor into the plot at all?

SJG: I also nurtured a life-long regret tied to someone I had not seen in forty years. We were reunited. Sparks flew. . . . Note: The real-life tale is private and tame and not worth the telling in this space. However, the novel it inspired is rip-roarin’. But it is not a story for the faint of heart or for those of unbending scruples. It is tale signifying: One is never too old to change; Beware what you wish for; There is no greater grace than tried and true love.

MA: Excellent! So what’s next for you?

SJG: I am working on a new novel called The Ex-Convert. It is, loosely speaking, a sequel to Forty Years Later. Though I am now in the enviable position of having a publisher waiting for my next book, I have no guarantee of publication. My publisher believes I hit a home run with Forty Years Later and demands I hit another one with The Ex-Convert. Batter up!

MA: An enviable position to be in…so will any characters from Forty Years Later migrate over?

SJG: David Grossman is the protagonist in each of my novels, and I haven’t sworn off him yet. Having said that, he is not quite the same character in each book. His voice and sensibility are pretty consistent, but his circumstances vary: he has a wife or not; he has a family or not; he lives in New York, or not, etc. Expect to see him again in the Ex-Convert.

MA: How do readers get a copy of your book?

SJG: Forty Years Later is available as an e-book on Amazon.com. The download is incredibly fast and easy. And no special reading device is required. Most people enjoy Forty Years Later on their computer, PC or Mac. But with each passing day more and more people are using e-readers (like the Kindle) or tablets (like the iPad) or screen phones like the Android, Blackberry, or iPhone. In fact, one of my first readers sent me the following text message from his iPhone: “Reading Forty Years later at 40,000 feet—and loving it!” I also encourage readers to friend me on Facebook and share their thoughts. It’s a digital dawn!

MA: Well, thanks, Steven. Folks, please visit these websites for more information about Forty Years Later and Steven Jay Griffel!

http://www.amazon.com/FORTY-YEARS-LATER-ebook/dp/B002T44IEE/ref=ntt_at_ep_dpt_1

http://www.staythirstymedia.com/bookpublishing/html/authors/schiller-wells/griffel-steven-jay.html

Read More

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Jan 28

Scientist-Turned-Novelist Paul Guthrie Joins Mike Angley Today

MA: My guest-blogger today is Paul Guthrie. Paul – or Dr. Guthrie – is a scientist by training and vocation. He received a BA in Physics from Cornell University, followed by a Ph.D. in Astronomy from the University of Massachusetts. After graduation, Paul went to work for NASA at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt MD. His work was primarily in the development of computer models to simulate the chemistry of the Earth’s atmosphere in order to understand ozone depletion and climate change. After thirteen years he left NASA and joined a consulting firm in San Rafael CA, working mainly on air pollution issues for the EPA. By then he was irrevocably committed to the use of computers and the development of software. In 1999 he left the environmental field entirely and became involved in developing software for biotechnology and medical applications, which he continues to do part time. Starting in 2002, however, Paul decided to pursue another interest, that of writing fiction. He lives in the San Francisco Bay area, still married to the same person after thirty-seven years. We have two grown children.

Now that’s a fascinating biography you have, Paul. I am curious about how you found an interest in fiction with so much science in your life.

PG: I’m a scientist, with degrees in physics and astronomy. Working on issues like climate change, I was part of the collision of science, where truth (even approximate truth) is an ultimate goal, with politics, where truth is irrelevant. And I like to read. I‘ve read lots of fantasy and SF over the years, from classic “hard” SF to Tolkien, Eddings, Jordan, Martin, Stephenson, Gibson…the list goes on and on. I also like technology thrillers, like early Tom Clancy and early Michael Crichton.

MA: It’s good to have a wide breadth of interests, but how did you end up writing fiction, and why novels?

PG: My teachers always said I was a good writer, back before I chose a career in science and technology. In 2002 the medical imaging startup where I was working ran out of money and went belly up. Writing seemed like a good way to keep my mind occupied until something else turned up. Something else never did. Why novels…the form is long enough to really explore characters and story. You can say a lot of things in a novel.

MA: Tell us about your novel.

PG: “The Wrong God” crosses genres a bit. It involves something that looks like magic, elements of science fiction, some real science, politics and religion. Here’s the pitch:
Since the beginnings of history people have believed in magic, but California science writer Andy Taggart is not one of them. Until the day that John Chalk, his old friend from grad school, makes a ballpoint pen rise to stand on end – untouched. From that moment Andy is caught up in John’s mystery. Is this an illusion or is it new physics? Why can John do things that other people can’t – things that will mark him in some eyes as a worker of miracles? And why does John think someone is watching him?

Someone is watching. Wendell Murchison is possibly the most powerful man in America. He controls wealth, his own cable news network, an army of evangelical political operatives, and the President of the United States, but he wants more. From the new America of terrorist sleeper cells, detention camps and legalized torture he sees a path to levels of power not seen since the Inquisition. He would make a new all-out war of religion; all he needs is a leader – the New Prophet, John Chalk. Whether John believes or not.

When John refuses and disappears, Andy is left to face an adversary who will offer bribes, publish lies, send goon squads to beat him, whatever it takes to force him to betray John. Under constant surveillance and unsure who he can trust, Andy can’t stand alone; he has to find John. But even together, what can they do against Murchison? Levitating pens won’t stop him and there’s no point in hoping for miracles if you don’t believe in anybody’s gods.

Actually, it all grew out of a single observation. Traditional epic fantasy often involves ancient magic, with a venerable sage or a sacred book to explain the magic. My question was, how did the book get written? Who were the poor bastards who first discovered magic and had to figure out how it worked without killing themselves? Since I assumed (naturally) that they would approach it like scientists, the story became contemporary.

MA: That sounds intriguing, and it contains many of the same elements I enjoy reading about and writing with my own work. Tell us how you developed Andy’s character.

PG: Andy is kind of an almost-scientist. He has the training, but he isn’t entirely part of that world, the way John is. Andy can see the ambiguities in John’s discovery. I tend to like stories of ordinary people facing extraordinary challenges, so he had to be somewhat unheroic.

MA: Andy’s strengths? Weaknesses?

PG: Strengths…determination, loyalty, intelligence, humility, his love for his girlfriend, Rachel.
Weaknesses…fear, self-doubt, a little envy.

MA: It sounds like this Murchison guy is pretty devious…your antagonist, I assume?

PG: Oh yeah. I spent a lot of time on Wendell Murchison. My wife kept asking for more backstory. I kind of saw him as an amalgam of the kinds of people who have been involved at the intersection of great wealth, political propaganda, and the religious right.

MA: I almost hesitate to ask if any real-life experiences made their way into your story, especially given you hard science background.

PG: I guess the main influences were knowing how physicists think and approach problems, and experience watching scientists collide with politics. One other thing isn’t really central to the plot, but I’m a student and player of Taiko, the big Japanese drums. I gave that to Andy so I could try to describe it.

MA: I spent many years in Japan and always enjoyed Taiko drum performances, so I can relate to that character aspect (and a good thing you gave that to your hero!). So what’s next?
PG: I’m working on another novel that is still an untitled work in progress. It’s unrelated, more of a straight-ahead technology/political thriller. Beyond that I have notes for two more books to continue the story of “The Wrong God.”

MA: Thanks, Paul! You have a great blend of real science colliding with fiction in your work. I like the confluence of the two. For my readers, please check out Paul’s website: http://www.thewronggod.com Read More

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Oct 13

“Forensic Evidence in Plots” (A Subject Near and Dear to my Heart!) by Mary Deal

Forensic Evidence in Plots

Forensic science could kill your story.

With forensic evidence being able to convict a perpetrator on as little as a millimeter of hair fiber, for example, plots of stories and films could be brought to an end too abruptly. Too, explaining the forensic evidence and showing how it affects the outcome could take over any plot.

When a subplot takes over and becomes the action, this is to lose control of your story. It is important that the main plot hold the most interesting, the most critical action. Then, no matter how contorted a subplot, it will only serve to enhance the main plot. True, too, any twist or turn in a subplot must enhance the main plot action. It cannot be included only to enhance the subplot. There is a risk here of having your subplot become a story unto itself and distract from the purpose it should serve. Any action in a subplot must feed into but not be greater than the main action.

A perfect example of a subplot nearly taking over can be found in the movie, Witness, (1985). The good cop, John Book, discovers fellow officer, McFee, has committed a murder. When John Book discloses this to his boss, Schaeffer, he soon learns Schaeffer is just as corrupt. The bad cops are selling off confiscated drugs. Once found out, both Schaeffer and McFee want to kill John Book.

This is a simple subplot that adds to and is intrinsic to complicating the action of the main plot. This subplot of clandestine activities within the police department blocks the hero from accomplishing his goal of bringing the perpetrator to justice and heightens tension in the story. So, too, does the fact that John Book needs to hide out and heal while yet another person turns him in.

Considering Pamela Wallace won an Oscar for co-writing the script for Witness, how many times can such good cop/bad cop plots be done? If some cops are to be the bad guys in scripts, after the impact that Witness made in films, bad cop plots began taking more drastic turns.

In a thriller I started writing a few years ago, soon after I completed the rough draft of the manuscript, an explosion in forensic science occurred and my story immediately became outdated. A year of work had to be shelved. But my plot is so unique! I kept saying. I had to find a way to save it. I did. To this day, it is still a unique story.

The murders and arson I conjured in my original story could today be easily solved. How could I learn enough about forensic science in order to thwart its proving effects in my plot and still keep the action running?

Then I read, You Can Write a Movie, also written by Pamela Wallace. Finally, I hit upon a way to get around forensic science without myself having to become a forensic scientist.

In Witness, Wallace had crooked cops tampering with evidence. I have crooked cops in my mystery too. However, I could not be satisfied with simply adding crooked cops into the mix. It seemed all too convenient and way overdone in films. But not if you throw into the melee a radical group who just happens to get their kicks from wrongdoing.

In my story, I wanted to convolute the subplot way past the point of simplicity and yet not have it threaten to take over the main plot, as it almost does in Witness. My story has a subplot of not just crooked cops but a group of social renegades as well. But as I said, this was not enough for me. I have further complicated my plot with a hierarchy within the group of bad guys—and girls—all trying to out-do or eliminate one another in order to rise in stature. Then, so as not to distort from the main plot action, anything this group does enhances or thwarts the heroine from accomplishing her goal to help bring the proper person to justice.

While a certain amount of evidence is a must in order to redirect the finger of guilt toward the real perpetrator, my plot becomes complicated when evidence disappears. People within the wicked hierarchy fall or rise to power dependent upon who loses and finds and uses said evidence to climb another rung on the proverbial ladder. While all this is going on, an innocent inmate moves perilously closer to a date with lethal injection.

Ultimately, you cannot get away from using forensic evidence, but if there is no evidence to test, or if it is found and lost again, this heightens the excitement of your plot. If your story lacks excitement or is too easily solved, interrupt the pathway that connects the dots. Maybe kill off the only person who knows about the smoking gun. Let corroboration be found later on. There is no way to get around the fact that forensic science can solve most crimes these days, but only if there is evidentiary proof to test.

While no forensic evidence was needed to solve the murder in Witness, the complications that arose and blocked John Book from accomplishing his goal made for an exciting story. However, you must complicate your story to delay the final scene that forensic science can prematurely bring about. Make your plot as contorted as possible. Because of the splash Witness made by using the simple subplot of good cop/bad cop, chances are, another serious story of this type won’t fly because that kind of plot is simple and would have to be better than Witness. You must complicate your plot and learn something about the forensic information your story needs. The writer need not learn about all forensic science, only as much as must be used to enhance that one plot; enough to hide the true facts from being found too soon.

NOTE: The novel that Mary mentioned writing in this article is her new thriller, Down to the Needle, which was recently released. Read More

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Jul 09

Co-Authors Deborah Shlian & Linda Reid Talk about their Novel “Dead Air” on the Child Finder Trilogy

Deborah Shlian, MD, MBA practiced medicine in California where she also taught at UCLA. She has published nonfiction articles and books as well as medical mystery/thrillers. Her first two novels, Double Illusion and Wednesday’s ChildRabbit in the Moon is an international thriller and has won the Gold Medal for Genre Fiction from the Florida Book Award, the Mystery Book of the Year Silver Medal from ForeWord Magazine, an Indie Excellence Award, a National Best Books Award Finalist from USA Book News and First Prize in the Royal Palm Literary Award from the Florida Writers Association.

Yolanda “Linda” Reid Chassiakos, MD, is a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, a Fellow of the American College of Physicians, and a Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the David Geffen School of Medicine, UCLA. After graduating from and completing her residency in Pediatrics at the Georgetown University School of Medicine, Dr. Reid Chassiakos served as a Lieutenant Commander in the US Navy, and as the Assistant Head of the Ambulatory Branch of Pediatrics at the Naval Hospital, Bethesda and an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. She then moved to the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion and served as a medical editor and feature reporter for the evening Eyewitness news at the CBS affiliate in Washington, DC. Dr. Chassiakos joined Lifetime Medical Television as a medical editor, writer, and host of educational programming for healthcare professionals and the public in Los Angeles, and developed and hosted programs and features for media such as the NBC Network Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n Roll, Lorimar-Telepictures, and You TV.

During her thirteen-year tenure as an Associate Physician Diplomate at UCLA’s Arthur Ashe Health Center, Dr. Chassiakos also served as a staff writer for the television series, Family Medical Center. She is currently the Director of the Klotz Student Health Center at California State University, Northridge. Dr. Chassiakos’ features and essays have been published in the Washington Post, Baltimore Sun, Woman’s Day, Salon.com, the Los Angeles Times, the Los Angeles Daily News, and Tribune International. She has recently co-edited a text on Collaboration Across the Disciplines in Health Care. Dr. Chassiakos has also written a fantasy novel, Where Angels Fear to Tread, for imaginative young adult and adult readers. Dr. Chassiakos and her husband are the proud parents of three teenagers and live in Los Angeles. Read More

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