Please welcome Ted Kosmatka to The Qwillery. The Flicker Men was published on July 21st by Henry Holt and Co.
TQ: Welcome back to The Qwillery. The Flicker Men, your most recent novel, was published on July 21st. Has your writing process changed (or not) from when you wrote The Games (2012) to now? What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
Ted: Well, I wouldn’t say that my process has changed. I outline the books before I write them, but then the outline always changes halfway through, and by the time I get to the end, it’s usually a different book than I expected. The Flicker Men was no different. I actually ended up writing my way into a corner a few times and had to throw out a lot of material before I found the right path. The most challenging thing about writing is being okay with throwing out the stuff that’s not working. A lot of times, it seems like good writing, so there’s this resistance to just cutting it, but if it doesn’t serve the larger story, it has to go.
TQ: What do you wish that you knew about book publishing when The Games came out that you know now?
Ted: Honestly, my mother was a writer before me, published by Baen, so I had a pretty good idea of what the publishing industry was like before I broke in. There weren’t a lot of things that took me by surprise. My path to publication was different from hers, though, and I collected rejections for years before finally gaining a foothold with short fiction in magazines like Asimov’s and Fantasy & Science Fiction. It wasn’t until I’d been reprinted in seven or eight Year’s Best anthologies that I managed to sell my first novel. Our last names are the same, but I don't think a lot of people realized that my mother was my mother.
TQ: The Games, Prophet of Bones (2013), and The Flicker Men are thrillers grounded in science and science fiction. What appeals to you about writing in this combination of genres?
Ted: As a kid, I’d always been drawn to the sciences. I was particularly interested in genetics, anthropology, and physics, because these disciplines seemed to be asking the big questions. Who are we? Where do we come from? What is this life? When I got older, it was just natural for me to write stories based on my earlier interests. I recently stumbled across a story that I wrote in the second grade, and it stunned me, because I realized that it was exactly the kind of story I’d be drawn to write now, as a forty-year-old. I mean, hopefully I’d write it better now, but the subject matter still felt like something I’d be interested in. I haven't really changed. I also stumbled across this little clay Homo erectus skull that I’d made in middle school, so I put it on the shelf next to the museum quality replica of a Homo floresiensis skull that I’d just bought the previous year. It was so strange to see those two skulls side by side. Like the one had predicted the other. I guess you never really lose your obsessions.
TQ: Tell us something about The Flicker Men that is not found in the book description.
Ted: The book took me two solid years to write. To me, the whole thing is like this big, sprawling scientific proof, and I was struggling to make the equations balance as I wrote it. I had this feeling, almost, that that the story was something that had to be solved. My long-suffering editor, Michael Signorelli, was amazing, and deserves numerous editorial awards for all his advice, and guidance, and patience. He put up with a lot of different drafts and helped me find my way out of the weeds more than once.
TQ: Which character in The Flicker Men was hardest to write and why? Easiest and why?
Ted: The characters actually came fairly easily to me in this book. (It was everything else that was hard.) They were always right there at the tip of my fingers when I needed them. I loved writing Satvik, and Jeremy, and Point Machine. The main character, Eric Argus, was also pretty easy to get down on the page. I worked in a lab for a long time, so I understand what it’s like to function in that kind of environment. I could relate well to all the lab characters. The character Brighton was a blast to write. Writing different characters is a great way for me to argue with myself and figure out what I really think about a subject, and this book has a lot of opportunities for that.
TQ: Which question about The Flicker Men do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!
Ted: Well, I’ll tweak that question a bit, and instead of answering the question I wish folks would ask, I’ll answer the question that I’ve been asked over and over since the original short story “Divining Light” came out (and from which the novel was expanded). The question I always get is, where does the real science end and the science fiction begin? There’s a place in the book where I talk about the “stepping-off point,” and that’s actually the place where the novel ventures into unknown territory. I don’t know what would happen if that particular experiment in the book were run in real life. Writing the novel was my way of thinking about that experiment and coming up with one possible world where things take a dark turn.
TQ: Please give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery lines from The Flicker Men.
Ted: There’s a bit of dialogue that I really like.
“The more research I did, the less I believed.”
“In quantum mechanics?”
“No,” I said. “In the world.”
TQ: What's next?
Ted: More books, hopefully. I have another novel that I’m in the early stages of now, trying to figure out where it goes. I also have four new short stories forthcoming. Two at Asimov’s magazine; one at Lightspeed magazine; and one at Fantasy & Science Fiction. I let myself write short stories between novels, so it’s been a nice burst of activity, but I think it’s time to get back to novels again soon.
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
The Flicker Men
Henry Holt and Co., July 21, 2015
Hardcover and eBook, 352 pages
"If Stephen Hawking and Stephen King wrote a novel together, you'd get The Flicker Men. Brilliant, disturbing, and beautifully told." -Hugh Howey, New York Times bestselling author of the Wool series
A quantum physicist shocks the world with a startling experiment, igniting a struggle between science and theology, free will and fate, and antagonizing forces not known to exist.
Eric Argus is a washout. His prodigious early work clouded his reputation and strained his sanity. But an old friend gives him another chance, an opportunity to step back into the light.
With three months to produce new research, Eric replicates the paradoxical double-slit experiment to see for himself the mysterious dual nature of light and matter. A simple but unprecedented inference blooms into a staggering discovery about human consciousness and the structure of the universe.
His findings are celebrated and condemned in equal measure. But no one can predict where the truth will lead. And as Eric seeks to understand the unfolding revelations, he must evade shadowy pursuers who believe he knows entirely too much already.
Ted Kosmatka was born and raised in Chesterton, Indiana and spent more than a decade working in various laboratories where he sometimes used electron microscopes. He is the author of Prophet of Bones and The Games, a finalist for the Locus Award for Best First Novel and one of Publishers Weekly's Best Books of 2012. His short fiction has been nominated for both the Nebula and Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Awards and has appeared in numerous Year's Best anthologies. He now lives in the Pacific Northwest and works as a writer in the video-game industry.
Prophet of Bones
St. Martin's Griffin, July 22, 2014
Trade Paperback, 368 pages
Hardcover and eBook, April 2, 2013
Ted Kosmatka's sensational new thriller, Prophet of Bones, thrusts readers into an alternate present.
Paul Carlson, a brilliant young scientist, is summoned from his laboratory job to the remote Indonesian island of Flores to collect DNA samples from the ancient bones of a strange, new species of tool user unearthed by an archaeological dig. The questions the find raises seem to cast doubt on the very foundations of modern science, which has proven the world to be only 5,800 years old, but before Paul can fully grapple with the implications of his find, the dig is violently shut down by paramilitaries.
Paul flees with two of his friends, yet within days one has vanished and the other is murdered in an attack that costs Paul an eye, and very nearly his life. Back in America, Paul tries to resume the comfortable life he left behind, but he can't cast the questions raised by the dig from his mind. Paul begins to piece together a puzzle which seems to threaten the very fabric of society, but world's governments and Martial Johnston, the eccentric billionaire who financed Paul's dig, will stop at nothing to silence him.
Del Rey, January 29, 2013
Mass Market Paperback, 416 pages
Hardcover and eBook, March 31, 2012
Jurassic Park meets The Hunger Games in this stunning new high-energy, high-concept tale from first-time novelist Ted Kosmatka, a Nebula Award and Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award finalist.
NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY PUBLISHERS WEEKLY
Brilliant geneticist Silas Williams oversees U.S. selections for the Olympic Gladiator competition, an internationally sanctioned bloodsport with only one rule: No entrants may possess human DNA. Desperate to maintain America’s edge in the upcoming Games, Silas’s superior engages an experimental supercomputer to design the ultimate, unbeatable combatant. The result is a highly specialized killing machine, its genome never before seen on earth. But even a genius like Silas cannot anticipate the consequences of allowing a computer’s cold logic to play God. Growing swiftly, the mutant gladiator demonstrates preternatural strength, speed, and—most chillingly—intelligence. And before hell breaks loose, Silas and beautiful xenobiologist Vidonia João must race to understand what unbound science has wrought—even as their professional curiosity gives way to a most unexpected emotion: sheer terror.