Ctein

saturn run

Ctein has a double-degree from Caltech in English and Physics. He has written over 500 articles, columns, books, and manuals on photographic topics, and done research in everything from solar astronomy to computer screens, and from the seventy-year-old dye transfer printmaking process to state-of-the-art electronic color displays. He has made new discoveries about ordinary B&W photographic printing and new designs for computer printers. Most recently, he became a novelist, co-authoring Saturn Run with John Sandford, and is hard at work on a new novel, a disaster thriller, with Scifi author David Gerrold (who, among many novels, wrote “The Trouble with Tribbles” script for Star Trek.) 

Jonathan Lowe) How did your book collab with John Sandford come about? I heard he wrote you, and you didn’t want to do it at first, money being “the root of all evil.”

Ctein) This is, in fact, 99% true. We concatenated a couple of different conversations for the sake of narrative, and I never said money was the root of all evil. John stuck that in – he thought it amusing, but it is true to life.

Lowe) And the new book project? Not with Sandford?

Ctein)  No. After Saturn Run, I had an idea for a natural disaster thriller, based upon a paper that appeared in Nature about 15 years ago – a computer model of what kind of tidal wave would occur after a major Hawaiian offshore landslide, which happens every couple of hundred thousand years. John wasn’t available to write another book with me. He and I like working together, but he’s contractually obligated to turning out two of his series novels a year, and there are only so many hours in the day. We may well work together at some point in the future. I’ve got this idea for next book. I could write it myself, but it happens I like collaborating. More fun. About the time the Saturn Run was coming out a long time good friend of mine and science fiction author David Gerrold asked me if I might be interested in having him as a collaborator at some point. So I rung him up on the phone, pitched the natural disaster novel idea to him and asked him if he’d be interested in doing something like that, and he said hell yes. The new novel is tentatively titled “Ripple Effect” and it’s about 75% done.  Can’t tell you when it will come out, but I’m hoping within a year. In the meantime, a 35,000 word excerpt from it that stands on its own will be appearing in the May/June issue of Asimov’s science fiction magazine under the title “Bubble & Squeak.” To be clear, Ripple Effect isn’t science fiction. It’s a contemporary natural disaster thriller, set a few years from now for convenience, but it doesn’t make particular use of that. But it is hard science – all the actual disaster/geology stuff is as accurate as we know how to make it.

Lowe) Sounds great. Look forward to it. Do you have a mentor or someone who influenced you to write? Mine was Ray Bradbury, who answered every letter I wrote him as a teen fan.

Ctein)  I met Ray Bradbury when I was in college. Several of us got to go out to dinner with him. It was not long after I had decided that my chosen career would be photographer, not physicist, and nobody was objecting but it was not the sort of thing that one got a lot of explicit support for at Caltech. After dinner, Ray asked us what we planned to do with our lives. He got to me and I very hesitantly said, “Well, I was planning on becoming a photographer.” Ray clapped his hands and boisterously exclaimed, “Good for you!” It was the first time anyone had shown enthusiasm over my choice. It made a huge difference to me. That is why my first book was dedicated to Ray Bradbury.

Lowe) As was one of mine! Incredible. It’s a small world, after all. Thanks.

Science

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Horse Racing with Barry Abrams

Barry Abrams

Jonathan Lowe) There is a Barry Abrams horse trainer from Belarus who retired with throat cancer, and an article I saw said, “he was barely audible.” Like Audible. How did you start as a Voice actor? Was it a transition from horse race announcing? Which came first—the voiceover egg or the jockey? 

Barry Abrams) I started doing the horse racing podcast, “In The Gate” for 2 reasons. First, as a marketing tool. In researching the voice-over industry, I found that several name voice artists did podcasts of some kind. It didn’t necessarily matter what the topic was, as long as it was sustainable and presented reasonably intelligently.  I settled on thoroughbred racing since I know a lot about it, and I am fortunate that my day job employer allows me to post the shows on their world-renowned website. The second reason I started the show was to get built-in mic time each week… practice. I also learned better ways to edit my own stuff, since that is now part and parcel of the job. I actually had the trainer, Barry Abrams, on the podcast, but he really didn’t get the joke. Opportunity wasted.  Nice man, though. First-generation immigrant. Hope he recovers completely. 

Lowe) I once interviewed Seabiscuit author Laura Hillenbrand, who loved the horse, as did so many at the time due to the horse being an underdog that people in the Great Depression identified with. What do the numbers say about the greatest horses of all time, like Secretariat, and what horse is your personal favorite? 

Abrams) In terms of numbers, Man O’War has the longest stride of any horse ever measured – something like 28’, a good 2-3 more than most, so he was gaining on you just by running your speed. Secretariat had a heart twice the size of a normal equine heart, and a third larger than any ever previously measured. He had a bigger engine and could pump more blood so his muscles recovered faster.  

Lowe) Lance Armstrong had similar advantage. A physically big heart.

Abrams) Well, they are arguably the two best American thoroughbreds ever, and now you know why. My favorite, though, is a female named Rachel Alexandra. In 2009 as a 3-year old, she beat males 3x including a Triple Crown race – the Preakness. Her win against older males, which very rarely happens in American racing, in the Woodward Stakes at Saratoga still makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up. Check it out on YouTube. 

Lowe) The Letterman incident where he got you to repeat the phrase “He shoots, he scores!” Were you surprised to see him sitting there at your internship interview at NBC?

Abrams) The date was Monday, April 13th, 1990. As I reached the spring of my first year at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communications, I went to NBC to apply for a summer internship. Rob Burnett, still a budding producer at that time, came into the waiting area to announce that Letterman wanted to do a gag where he pretended to be personnel director. We in the waiting area were assured we would also get a real interview afterword for the internships we wanted. I called my mother, since I was to be home at 12:30 in order to vacuum the house for that night’s first Passover seder. That’s why I was back at home that day, and the internship interview made sense to do while home. My mother didn’t know or care about Letterman, and she said, “When are they doing this?” “Now (10am),” I replied. She said, “be home by 12:30pm.”  

Lowe) Some titles you’ve narrated include The Well-Tempered City, The Four Things That Matter Most, Watching Smarter Baseball, Scienceblind, Whiskey Business, Brady vs Manning, This Narrow Space, and Destination Earth. Mostly non-fiction. Favs? 

Abrams) I enjoy primarily non-fiction. Since I am a journalist by trade, I am wired to want to learn about the actual world around us, not necessarily a made-up world. I mean, I enjoy a good story or a good movie as much as anybody, but the publishers I service figured out, without my even having to tell them, that I perform non-fiction well. Of all the titles I have done so far, I really enjoyed This Narrow Space. It is about a pediatric oncologist who moves from New York to Israel to try to set up a pediatric palliative care unit at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem. Hearing from an American perspective about the cultural differences between the two places was fascinating. The timing was coincidentally perfect, also – I traveled to the Holy Land about two weeks after completing the book, and it all hit home for me.

Lowe) Fav books you haven’t narrated?

Abrams) To Kill a Mockingbird, and the Torah.

Lowe) You recorded the title Vitamin N. How can listening to audiobooks while hiking get one more attuned to nature, with a capital N? 

Abrams) Vitamin N is a perfect book to which to listen while walking around. Wear small earbuds, though – not big cans that block out the natural sound. Walking around while listening to Vitamin N is like talking a guided tour of a historical location. You’ll start to notice so many little things that your eyes and mind would normally just pass right over. Even though you’ll be using an electronic device to get there, you’ll start to unplug and learn to appreciate the simple but wonderful gifts of nature.

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The Luster of Lost Things

Sophie Chen Keller

In this story for readers of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and A Man Called Ove, when all seems lost, you need to find what matters most. Walter Lavender Jr. is a master of finding. A wearer of high-tops. A maker of croissants. A son keeping vigil, twelve years counting. But he wouldn’t be able to tell you. Silenced by his motor speech disorder, Walter’s life gets lonely. Fortunately, he has The Lavenders—his mother’s enchanted dessert shop, where marzipan dragons breathe actual fire. He also has a knack for tracking down any missing thing—except for his lost father. So when the Book at the root of the bakery’s magic vanishes, Walter, accompanied by his overweight golden retriever, journeys through New York City to find it—along the way encountering an unforgettable cast of lost souls. Steeped in nostalgic wonder, The Luster of Lost Things explores the depths of our capacity for kindness and our ability to heal. A lyrical meditation on why we become lost and how we are found, from the bright, broken heart of a boy who knows where to look for everyone but himself.
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Jonathan Lowe) What gave you the idea to write this book?
Sophie Chen Keller) Some of my earliest memories are of my mom reading out loud to me from the books we’d check out from the library in stacks of twenty or thirty at a time—books that would whisk me off to magical places, by authors like EB White and Roald Dahl. I wanted my debut novel to be a grown-up version of those childhood classics—a tale that was warm and wondrous and pure, yet at the same time layered with meaning and observations on what it is to live, to be human. I wanted to take people back to that lost time, when the world was bright and brimming with possibility, because as we get it older, it becomes easier to forget that it can still be that way. There are times when we all could use that breath of fresh air—that reminder of the goodness that lives in us, and in the people around us. The specific idea of a boy who looks for lost things came to me later, in the summer of 2014. I came across a “Lost” flyer posted at a campsite, for a missing camera that contained sentimental family photos. I started wondering whether the lost camera had been returned, and about all the other things that people lost. What did it say about them? What were they really looking for when they looked for something like a lost camera? As I wondered if anyone responded to “Lost” flyers like that one, I had my first idea of who Walter would be—a boy who answered “Lost” flyers, finding the things that people had lost and were so desperately looking for.
JL) How does food figure into your conception?
SCK) I spend a lot of time eating food, thinking about the food I’m going to eat next and watching people on TV prepare food that I can then imagine eating. I like exploring different foods—I’m the one holding up the line at the gelato shop or the bakery, inquiring about every item in the display and hemming and hawing over which one to choose. So really, I couldn’t resist writing about food.
JL) A real sweet tooth! And Walter?
SCK) In the book, the main character, Walter Lavender Jr. struggles to find a place to belong because of the motor speech disorder that renders him virtually speechless, trapping him inside his own head. Food, desserts especially, have a way of bringing people together, and of transporting them back to a time and place where they felt like they belonged. One bite, one whiff of warm chocolate chip cookie, and you’re transported decades back to Grandma’s kitchen as she’s pulling a baking sheet out of the oven. At The Lavenders, the magical bakery run by Walter’s mother, Walter is able to experience the sense of belonging and connection that he longs for. The Lavenders is what my ultimate dream bakery would look like, comprised of my favorite elements from various bakeries I’ve been to—the whimsical touches of a California chocolatier, the home-spun coziness of a German bäckerei, the classic brass elegance of a French patisserie, the sugary brightness of a closet-sized Manhattan bakery.
JL) So inviting, and imaginative.
SCR) You’d step in, order, and be transported to anywhere in the world you wished—the bourbon peach pie would take you to the South, the maple walnut whoopie pies to New England, the mango napoleon to Thailand, the sticky toffee pudding to England, the rose macaron to France, the green matcha croissant to Japan. And now…I’m hungry!
JL) What is your favorite dessert recipe?
SCK) Rainbow cupcake cones! On the surface, they look like that hot-weather staple from childhood…but once you dig in, you’re in for a delightful surprise. These “ice-cream cones” are actually cupcakes baked inside ice-cream cones and frosted to look like scoops of ice cream. Whimsical, delicious and easy to make, I love them most of all because they capture the magic of being a kid, in a fresh, unexpected way—kind of like The Luster of Lost Things itself. To get the recipe, download The Luster of Lost Things custom book club kit from Putnam’s Facebook page, here: http://bit.ly/2eRCBSH.
JL) Have you found your writing voice, and what’s next for you?
SCK) When my parents and I first immigrated to the US from China, I didn’t know a word of English. I remember starting school and not being able to understand what anyone was saying to me. I couldn’t communicate my thoughts or even my basic needs—being thirsty, hungry, tired. I wound up crying in the bathroom at lunchtime from the loneliness and frustration. But as Walter does in his journey, through my journey, I ended up discovering something unexpected: my writing voice. To help me learn English, my mom would spend hours reading out loud to me every night, and that was the beginning of my love for books—those bedtime stories that taught me English and kept me company when I felt alone. Soon enough, I started writing stories of my own while continuing to read anything I could get my hands on—books of all genres, books on the craft of writing, short stories. My first short story was published when I was 15, in Glimmer Train. A decade later, I started writing The Luster of Lost Things. Now, I’m working on a second novel, and am already very excited about it!
JL) Kirby Heyborne is your talented narrator for the audiobook. He narrated a Murakami book recently, plus romance from Karen Kingsbury, and children’s books like “Terrific,” which was terrific. What did you think?
SCK) Kirby Heyborne is phenomenal. His voice is the epitome of timeless magic, all golden warmth and nuanced emotion. I felt like I was sitting in front of a crackling fire—with a giant hot chocolate, of course—being regaled by a master storyteller. His range is incredible, and that’s another reason I’m so excited he’s narrating the book. As Walter searches for the one lost object that will save The Lavenders, he encounters people who are a familiar and distinctive part of New York City, including food vendors, can collectors and train conductors. These characters are the beating heart of the story, and Kirby imbues each of them with that unique spark as he brings them to life. I am deeply grateful for the love and care that he and the Penguin Random House Audio team put into bringing The Luster of Lost Things to audiobook.