Gayle Lynds: How do you know whether what you’re reading in a novel is fact or fiction? Right now, in this very moment, I’ll bet you remember that the grand old Mississippi River flows south through the U.S.’s midsection, pouring into the Gulf of Mexico. Would you be surprised if I told you that in some authors’ spy books, real-life rivers flow in the wrong direction, international commercial jets land in small regional airports, and sound suppressors are screwed onto revolvers? Seriously.
In my second spy thriller, Mosaic, my heroine is blind, regains her sight, but then loses it again. Sound like a lie? Probably, if you haven’t heard of shell shock, or battle fatigue, or conversion disorder. All refer to the same illness, in which a patient “converts” a terrible psychological trauma into a physical symptom. Blindness is at the top of the list. Can you guess what the treatment is? And it’s all true.
In my third espionage novel, Mesmerized, my heroine has a heart transplant and apparently inherits tastes, ideas, even memories from her donor, a former KGB officer. Unbelievable, right? Not completely, not according to the growing scientific studies backing it up.
Then there’s the real-life global race to create the world’s first molecular — or DNA — computer, forging an unprecedented bond between life science and computational science. I wrote about that in The Paris Option. Imagine a computer so fast it’ll break any code or encryption in seconds. All of America’s missiles, NSA’s secret systems, NRO’s spy satellites, the entire ability of the navy to operate, all defense plans, our electric grids . . . anything and everything that relies on electronics would be at the mercy of the first molecular computer. Not even the largest silicon supercomputer would be able to stop it.
Oh, the grandeur of unusual ideas woven into an adventure story. Sigh of pleasure.
But this fascination of mine means I’ve failed in today’s assigned task. . . . For Rogue Women’s next series of blogs, we’re writing about “Stranger Than Fiction: What we’ve discovered in our research that’s so weird we can’t use it in a book.”
My problem is that if I can’t use it, I forget it. But at the same time, when I stumble on research that seems to me particularly juicy and challenging, it lingers in my mind, niggling, enticing. For instance, did you know there’s a spectrum in sociopathy among stone-cold killers? And did you know one of the most difficult characteristics to hide consistently is a person’s walk? Those two ideas are fundamental to my most recent spy thriller, The Assassins.
Hmm. Lately, I’ve been reading a lot about . . . No, no. Although some might find it strange, I think that’s going into my next book. Back to work!
What item or items have you found that are truly stranger than fiction?”
Great post, Gayle — it just shows what terrific research you do for your thrillers and how you consistently "get it right." When reading a novel, besides enjoying a good story and having an "escape" for a while, I want to "learn something"….and I always do when I read your books. Keep them coming!
Ah Gayle, so true! Can't tell you how many times I've said to friends, "if I wrote this in a book the editor would laugh me out of the office!" Nice post!
so many things! when a hero is attacked by a group of people, they all take turns attacking the hero & wait their turn to get beat up! why not all attack at once? Oh …. & EVERYONE knows Karate, full auto weapons must be easy to get, & I guess Walmart sells plastic explosives ( everyone seems to have it! Also, if you get hit on your head with a 4 foot pipe wrench, you can just shake it off & continue fighting! I think I'd quit after that! LOL
A great post, Gayle. It is definitely true that reality does not have tone probable, whereas our books do. But the weirder reality becomes, the more we can indulge our imaginations.
I once read a mystery supposedly based in Boston. It had lots of references to the James River that runs to the sea in Boston. People crossed the James River, drove on roads alongside the James River, etc. Of course, anyone who lives in the Boston area knows that it's the CHARLES river, not the James. Really, really sloppy.