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Ted Kosmatka on the Science of THE FLICKER MEN and What Comes Next

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Ted’s work has been reprinted in nine Year’s Best anthologies, translated into a dozen languages, and performed on stage in Indiana and New York. He’s been nominated for both the Nebula Award and Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award, and is co-winner of the 2010 Asimov’s Readers’ Choice Award. His novel The Games was nominated for a Locus Award for Best First Novel. He grew up in Chesterton, Indiana and now works as a video game writer in the Pacific Northwest.

Ted was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about his new book, The Flicker Men, and more!


Kristin Centorcelli: You tackle some big themes in your new book, The Flicker Men! Will you tell us a bit about it and what inspired you to write it?

Ted Kosmatka: I’ve always been interested in the big questions, and I’ve found that the place where big questions intersect big science is fertile territory for stories. Quantum mechanics is one of those strange estuaries, and a subject that my mind has kept returning to again and again. There’s a huge disconnect between quantum mechanics and anything that can be considered normal, logical reality. As a person who’s always wanted to understand the world around me, I couldn’t shake it. The famous two-slit experiment was a particular burr in my mind. When I have a problem I can’t solve, I try to tackle it from another perspective, and that’s when I came up with the thought experiment that the book is based around. The basic premise is a what-if scenario: what if an experiment could be conducted that changed our understanding of what it meant to be an observer—a conscious actor upon the quantum system. And then what if you followed those implications to their logical conclusion? Since I didn’t know the answer to the little thought experiment, I had to write a story about it to figure it out. I’d spent more than a decade working in various laboratories, and I’d always wanted to capture what it was like working in that kind of environment, so it was natural to set my scientific what-if scenario at least partially in a laboratory setting.

KC: I loved THE GAMES and really enjoy how you use science in your thrillers. Will you tell us more about the science of THE FLICKER MEN, and what kind of research you did for the book?

TK: I did a ton of reading and even put a bibliography in the back of the book to credit the hardworking scientists in the field who are pushing forward the bounds of human knowledge. The bibliography will help folks track down a lot of the original science on their own if they’d like. Without the original two-slit experiment, there wouldn’t have been a scientific base upon which to build a story. The tricky thing, of course, is to find a way to salt enough hard science into the story for the story’s central premise to make sense, while also not boring the reader with a bunch of dry facts. Quantum mechanics helps out in this regard because even the dry facts are enigmatic.

There really is something inexplicable at its core. There are mysteries in the universe still.

KC: Why do you think readers will root for Eric Argus? What do you think makes him a compelling protagonist?

TK: I hope people will root for him. He’s a bit of a mess, I admit—not Heinlein’s competent Man, but some shattered, shadowy inversion of that. A man who was once competent and useful and wishes to be so again. I was rooting for him as I wrote the book. He’s battling more than his fair share of demons, but he’s motivated to find the truth and protect his friends, no matter how dangerous that may be. He was compelling to me as a writer, at least partially, because he’s in pain. He’s suffered the greatest loss possible—he’s lost his center. And a person who’s lost their center must find a new one, or lose their way completely.

KC: How has your writing process changed (if any) from when you wrote THE GAMES?

TK: It probably hasn’t changed all that much. I write mostly at night after the kids are in bed. I usually start around 9PM and finish about 1Am, and then I wake up in the morning, head off to work, and then repeat the process the next day. Weekends I can get an extra four hours of writing in during the day. When there are deadlines looming, I might write from 9PM to till 4:00 or 5:00 in the morning. When the story is working, the writing comes easy, and barely feels like work. When the story is fighting me though, which happens a lot, those nights feel really long and lonely. One difference between The Games and The Flicker Men is that the former was written in third person, and the latter in first, which was new for me.

KC: Is there anything you know now that you wish you’d known when you first got published?

TK: I tried for a really long time to get published, and so by the time I sold anything, I already had a ton of rejection and more than a passing familiarity with the publishing industry—its various foibles and follies—so there weren’t a lot of surprises in store. Well, other than the surprise that came from someone finally buying my work. After so much rejection, THAT was the big shock. Perhaps the only thing that caught me by surprise after that was how long it takes to bring a book to print after it’s been accepted. I may have had the idea that a book gets accepted and then poof, six months later it’s on the shelves, but it really doesn’t work that way.

KC: It’s been quite a while since we caught up… Have you read any good books lately? Anything you’d recommend?

TK: I have a stable of writers who I read every time they release something new. Nancy Kress, China Mieville, Daryl Gregory, Neal Stephenson. I’m also trying to catch up on my Cormac McCarthy backlog. I found myself re-reading Bernard Moitessier’s Sailing to the Reefs this morning, which is a great time capsule of a story and an awesome sailing adventure. I read Bridget Foley’s Hugo and Rose a month or so back, which I highly recommend.

KC: What’s next for you?

TK: I’m not sure. Lately I’ve been blasting out a bunch of short stories which had been building pressure while I worked for two years on a novel. I’ve written five short stories in the last two months, which is pretty fast for me, since I tend to be a slow writer. I may have another one or two short stories to get out before I turn my attention more fully back to longer projects. I have some ideas and a few beginnings started on a couple of different things, so I’ll just have to see what pulls at me the hardest. The thing I’m enjoying right now is not having any deadlines.

Thanks for having me!

About Kristin Centorcelli (842 Articles)
Kristin Centorcelli is the Associate Editor at SF Signal, proprietor of My Bookish Ways, a reviewer for Library Journal and Publisher’s Weekly, and has also written for Crime Fiction Lover, Criminal Element, and Mystery Scene Magazine. She has been reviewing books since late 2010, in an effort to get through a rather immense personal library, while also discussing it with whoever will willingly sit still (and some that won’t).
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