Of Protons, Neutrons, and Shrodinger’s Cat

How much is enough?  And how much is too much?  These are questions every writer must wrestle with at some point or another.

Let’s say an idea strikes.  It hits you, unannounced, perhaps as you’re walking the dog or lying half-asleep in bed, the sounds and silences of the night enveloping you like a warm, familiar blanket.  Maybe you’re out jogging or playing a tennis match.  Ideas are funny that way.  They often come at the oddest, most unexpected of times.



But this particular idea, this hypothetical kernel of excitement, also carries with it a hefty helping of intimidation.  Not so much due to the story itself, or the characters–they’re the aspects that are so exciting, after all.  No.  It’s the research.  The subject matter.  The amount of know-how that must be present to write about the topic intelligently.



“Write what you know,” is a maxim every writer is familiar with, and to a degree, it’s true.  We can only create from our point of view, from our own unique and perhaps even idiosyncratic vantage point of the world and the people who inhabit it.  But does that mean we can’t write about the past?  Bygone eras?  Or what about the future?



What about “ghost girls” with swirling blue eyes who are able to pull four seventh-grade boys into a parallel dimension?



Are these ideas somehow off-limits to us?  Of course not.  This is why the “write-what-you-know” edict can be constraining if applied too literally.  There is nowhere our imagination cannot take us.  No star is too far away.  No date too distant.  No world too remote.



But what about the details of said world?  What about the nuts and bolts of the journey to that star?  How much actual history do we incorporate into our period-piece novel?  How much science do we put into our science fiction?

Admittedly, genre does play a part.  After all, it’s possible the plot of a historical novel will revolve around an actual event–perhaps the sinking of the Titanic or the First World War, or any of a number of a million other possibilities.  In such a case as this, the historical details are crucial to the flow and outcome of the story.



Even in the realm of science fiction, there are no hard-and-fast rules.  Some stories, by their design, their makeup, subject matter, and perhaps even intended audience, will be more technical in nature.  Whether we are dealing with a period-piece romance set in 19th-century France or a futuristic, galaxies-spanning epic, however, no fictional story can afford to get too bogged down in the minutiae of the subject matter.  A novel is not a textbook.



But how much is too much?  Do we really need to do copious amounts of research?  Does an author need to be a subject-matter expert to be able to write adroitly about a particular topic?

Or can you get away with simply winging it?

As with so many things, I believe the answer lies somewhere in the middle.


When I wrote The Eye-Dancers, I realized early on that I had a challenge on my hands.  While there is a significant fantasy aspect to the story, I also intended to incorporate an element of pure science fiction, as well.  I didn’t want every otherworldly twist and turn to be nothing more than a product of the imagination.  After all, parallel-worlds theory is not merely relegated to the fictional.  There were some fundamental quantum-mechanics principles at play here.  The question was:  How to incorporate them into the fabric of the story?  And did I even know enough about quantum physics to attempt this?  I had always enjoyed a fascination with alternate universes, and had long dabbled in scientific literature.  I knew my protons from my neutrons and electrons!  But I was far from an expert.



So . . . I decided to read up on quantum physics.  I researched online and read a few books, making sure I at least had some understanding of the basics.  I learned much more on the topic than I would use in the novel–but that was by design.  I was more comfortable trying to pick and choose selectively from a base of knowledge as opposed to blindly groping for random, low-hanging quantum fruit.



But I knew the quantum-physics aspect of The Eye-Dancers needed to be judiciously utilized.  The goal was to sprinkle it in and scatter it throughout the story like finely dispersed particles of stardust.  At no point did I want a reader to feel bogged down.  Rather, with hope, the quantum principles would enhance the story, make it more interesting, and attempt to give a (at least somewhat feasible) scientific rationale to a fantastic series of events.



One advantage I had was the character of Marc Kuslanski, the precocious science wiz.  Throughout the novel, it is Marc who gives voice to the quantum-physics possibilities.

For example, shortly after the boys arrive in the variant town of Colbyville, Marc, after a brief reference to Shrodinger’s Cat,  a quantum-mechanics thought paradox, explains the concept of parallel worlds . . .

“‘Everything in existence fits together,’ he said.  ‘The smallest subatomic particle, the worst hurricane, the largest whale, the layers upon layers of reality.  All of it.  And what quantum mechanics tells us is–there are infinitely multiple versions of each of us.  Infinitely multiple versions of our own earth.  You couldn’t even begin to count them all.”‘



His logic-oriented views of the universe may not always be right.  But they serve as a counterpoint to, as well as a conceptual explanation of, the paranormal events he and the other protagonists endure.  In this way, Marc discusses the rational behind the irrational, the theoretical behind the random, the science behind the fantastic.  Some of his hypotheses, rigid as they are, unwilling to account for those phenomena beyond the purview of science, may not always be true.  But hopefully they provide an additional layer, an interesting nugget, to the plot.




“A little learning is a dangerous thing,” British poet Alexander Pope once wrote.  And that may be the case, much of the time.  But for novelists, “a little learning” can be the difference between a believable story and one that doesn’t quite ring true.

Or, put another way:  There is always room for Erwin Schrodinger’s theoretical feline.



Thanks so much for reading!


The (Cover’s) the Thing . . .

“Don’t judge a book by its cover.”

It’s an expression so common, so overused, many of us may turn a deaf ear to it.  Perhaps we even roll our eyes and think, Can they spew out more cliches while they’re at it?


But for authors who have worked countless hours on a novel, experiencing the high, soaring peaks and muddy, shallow bottomlands of the creative journey, and who stuck through the process, even on those dark days when all seemed lost and the literary well seemed as dry and barren as the surface of a dead world floating endlessly in orbit, the notion that the story, their story, which they have finally completed, needs the window-dressing of a sensational cover may at first blush seem rather insulting.  After all, isn’t it the story that counts?  The prose?  The characters that populate the pages?  Shouldn’t the novel stand alone, on its own merit?


Of course it should, and, to a large degree, it does.  But readers can only enjoy your story if they know it exists.  They can’t become entranced by the literary world you’ve created unless they first choose to purchase the book.  And, apart from family, friends, friends of friends, what can an author who is anything but a household name do to attract a broader readership?  Social media, paid advertising, marketing, and of course joining the wonderful WordPress community are all potential ways of discovering a wider audience.


But creating a can’t-miss, spectacular cover for your book is essential, and its something comic book publishers have known, and practiced, since the first issues hit the newsstands nearly a century ago.

As a lifelong comic book collector, I am not ashamed to admit–there are some vintage issues I have acquired over the years simply on the basis of the cover alone.  I can well imagine the comics buyer from decades ago, the ten-year-old with the freckles, the teenager in pigtails, spinning the squeaky rack, deciding which issues they should plunk their dimes and nickels and pennies on.  In an era before cable television, before VHS cassettes and DVDs, and long before the Internet and smartphones, comic books were wildly popular.  Hundreds of issues graced the stands every month.


A great cover was not just an option.  It was a necessity.

Classic comic book covers came in all genres, all styles, all moods . . .

From the bombastic . . .


to the fun . . .



to the spooky . . .



to the startling . . .




to the adventurous . . .



to the ironic . . .


to the larger-than-life . . .




When it came to The Eye-Dancers, I knew from the outset who I wanted to design the cover.  One of the earliest posts on this website covered (pun intended!) this topic.  Matt Gaston, artist, graphic designer, and all-around talented and creative guy, is a lifelong friend of mine.  I was very fortunate that he agreed to do the cover for the novel when I asked him.

Like me, Matt is a longtime comic book collector, and we agreed that the look and feel of The Eye-Dancers cover should pay homage to our hobby.  So whenever anyone tells me, as some have, that the cover of The Eye-Dancers reminds them of a graphic novel or a vintage comic from yesteryear, I smile.  I’m sure Matt does, too.  We wouldn’t want it any other way.


When we were kids, Matt and I used to talk about the future.  Maybe we’d team up and do a comic book strip.  I’d be the writer, he the artist.  We never quite made it to collaborating on a comic strip.  But I like to think that The Eye-Dancers represents a little slice, a miniature helping of that long-ago dream.


When that last sentence is written, when you shed a tear at “The End,” thinking of the long journey, the obstacles overcome, when you hope that your characters will move readers, that your words, your similes and metaphors, your twists and turns, your story will carry them away to another world, far, far away, beyond some distant, star-speckled horizon, consider those classic old comic books that wowed the young, and young at heart, of bygone eras . . .

No book should be judged by its cover.  But it just might be purchased because of it.

Thanks so much for reading!


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