There are two ways to do it best. One is to start with an ending and work backward. I did this in Postmarked for Death, which began as a nightmare I had, involving an abandoned missile silo taken over by a madman. Not the usual scenario, either: there was no Hollywood missile, as in the movie “Twilight’s Last Gleaming.” It was just two guys in the dark, each with a gun, listening intently for movement in the utter silence. The advantages to this method is that once you know where you’re going, it’s a journey of discovery to get there. Why are these two guys there? How did they get there—what led to it? Once you know who they are, and have established them vividly, the novel will write itself. Better if each is not a walking cliché (walking dead man) but a fallible, real person with both good and bad in them. They have made wrong decisions in the past, but redemption comes in making the right decision in the end. The second method is not knowing the ending. Again, you have the main character fleshed out. And a firm idea of what his or her dilemma is. In the case of The Methuselah Gene, I knew it was going to be a thriller about Big Pharma: how pharmaceutical drugs are tested and produced, combined with how the science of longevity may produce a drug in the near future to extend life by a decade or more. (Science validated recently in the Ron Howard series Breakthroughs.) With the main character (a bachelor researcher tortured by anxiety) fleshed out, it became a matter of doing research, and interviewing a few scientists in the field of genetic engineering so that the plot idea would be plausible. After that? A blank sheet of paper. No idea what would happen to this character, who he would meet, and how the plot idea would evolve. I simply put him into a situation, and listened to what he might say. As one of my fav actors, James Garner, once put it in his biography: “I don’t act, I react. Give me a reactor over an actor every time. As soon as you look like you’re acting, you’re dead. You’re just chewing the scenery.” That’s the way I did it. I put him in motion, and told it from his point of view. He surprised me. That way, there is no way the reader won’t be surprised too. Just let go.
1) Because Americans have been sitting too long within easy reach of potato chips and liquid candy, and they need to go outside for some fresh air and exercise before their heart attack, which is coming up right after the next commercial break. (Audiobooks can be also enjoyed while walking, jogging or “while planting bulbs,” too, as author Jayne Ann Krentz suggests). . 2) Because we all need to read more, but can’t seem to find the time, and this multitasking aspect of audiobooks provides a solution, although there may be no solution for sports addicts glued to ESPN. Other than a stomach staple. . 3) Because you can save a tree by downloading an audiobook off the internet. Trees are great fans of audiobooks, just like cows who recommend going vegetarian. . 4) Because the most important organ in the human body in the brain, which runs on imagination. Something you can’t get watching a TV screen, even PBS. (Anyway, TV sure would be more tolerable without so many commercials for junk food, wouldn’t it?) . 5) Because the movie playing in your mind is always more entertaining than seeing the half baked adaptation that emerged from some Tween Hollywood screenwriter’s Freddy Kruger shaped cookie cutter. . 6) Because audiobooks are performed by talented actors (and everyone knows actors are more important than non-actors. Well, except for sports gods. And talent show judges. Or Kanye West. If you don’t believe that, just ask Kanye. . . West.) . 7) Because eyestrain also adds to your potential health care costs, (and, remember, Medicare won’t be around by the time Congress finishes reading all the fine print in any bill they might agree on, if they could read. Or add.) .
8) Because if you read a print book while on vacation you might miss your plane, or the boat, or that girl in the bikini who just winked at you. (Not to mention the scenery. In which case you could run straight into a tree, as one reading jogger I saw do.) . 9) Because, like Bill Clinton, authors often read their books themselves, (although, granted, some of them just want to hear their own voice, and really don’t care how they get your money. Like Bill . . . Clinton.) . 10) Because trying new things gets you out of any rut or habitual bad habits, and doing something–ANYTHING–differently can force change to happen. (Of course, whatever it is, it’ll probably happen anyway. . . but only for the WORST if you don’t change it yourself. Remember, the 2012 Election is slated for just before the End of the World.)
A funny thing happens if you watch both PBS and CNBC. You have a nightmare in which it’s discovered that the Fabric of the Cosmos is actually debt. This is not some alternate universe, either. This is reality, my friend. Because what is debt, anyway? It’s a vacuum. And having interviewed Brian Greene, after reading his book The Hidden Reality, I learned the true nature of black holes, too. Oh yes, when something falls onto a black hole, it isn’t completely lost inside the singularity, but the information that defines it remains on the surface of the black hole, like a cosmic ledger. So all the checks which the government has been printing for decades to feed the swirling accretion disk (entitlements) do not in fact simply go away, but rather accumulate, get recorded, and come back to bite you. Let’s call this a hypernova event, when a massive star (with massive debt) explodes and sends a blast of gamma rays right for your atmosphere and way of life. (Still think man has nothing to do with global warming?) Brian also talks about a theory that our universe is actually a projection from the two-dimensional surface outside it, which contains all information (and not just about your finances), then projects the image of you and everything else into three dimensions. So we may be mere holograms. This tends to make the statements of Senator Lindsay Graham on Chinese currency manipulation ring hollow, somehow. What does it matter, if we’re all puppets on a string (theory)? Just don’t tell someone that the glass of prune juice they’re holding is only a hologram, or they might pour it over your head. And don’t conclude that we don’t know anything, either. (That’s just Congress.) We do know that what goes up must come down. (Or at least we’re now learning that the hard way.) We also know what Einstein had to say on the subject of Greece, Italy, and America (et al.), which was, “Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity. And I’m not sure about the universe.”