Friday, May 6, 2016

Mixing facts into a thriller helps to develop characters and plot


 Major characters in novels need backstories. Instead of fantasizing histories for all the characters in my novels, I like to plant several into real situations.

Here are the facts: In the early 1960s, scientists identified zinc deficiency in Iran. At that time, 2-3% of the villagers in some regions of Iran didn't pass the physical for the army because of stunted growth. The head of the research team Dr. James Halstead, Sr., was married to President’s Roosevelt’s daughter, Anna.

I used these facts to explain how certain characters in I Saw You in Beirut became involved in espionage in Iran. Isn’t that a lot more believable than the backstory for James Bond?

Facts are often stranger than fiction. When I wanted to show, not tell, the readers about another fiery character in I Saw You in Beirut, I used a real incident from my research lab.

Summary of the real incident: On a fall Saturday in 1979 or 1980, one of my foreign female graduate students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison became so annoyed with a fellow student that she threatened him with the knife, which she was using to cut a birthday cake.

Science headlines can advance plots. The development of a nuclear “industry” in Iran has long been a source of headlines. I enhanced common fears to create the plot for I Saw You in Beirut. Then I included a map with major cities and important sites for the nuclear industry at the front to the novel to add authenticity.

Plot summary: A mysterious source of leaks on the Iranian nuclear industry, known only as F, sends an email from Tabriz: Help. Contact Almquist. Intelligence sources determine the message refers to Sara Almquist, a globetrotting epidemiologist, and seek her help to extract F from Iran. As Sara tries to identify F by dredging up memories about her student days at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and her work in Lebanon and the Emirates, groups ostensibly wanting to prevent F’s escape attack her repeatedly. She begins to suspect her current friendship with Sanders, a secretive State Department official, is the real reason she’s being attacked.

I Saw You in Beirut (Kindle & paperback) is available at Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/dp/1610092201.