Wednesday, May 12, 2010

How I came to write my novel Tranquillity Initiative.

I came to write Tranquillity Initiative, my novel that is coming out this fall, because I picked up a fascinating little book on Techno-Terrorism. At the time I wanted to write an action movie. I was a few years out of Paramedic training and fascinated by emergency medicine, so I decided to write about an anthrax attack on New York. This was well before 2001. I wanted my villains to drop a bomb containing anthrax off a building where the germs would spread in the worst configuration possible – so I chose the World Trade Center. The twin towers were still standing at the time and were perfect for my requirements.

Several drafts later I showed it to a friend. “You can’t have the worst possible thing happen at the beginning of the book,” he said. “The whole script goes downhill from there. I went back to the drawing boards.

How would I structure the release of the Anthrax so that everyone in the city would know it was there, and still have something to be scared would happen at the end? The answer was two bombs. One opened by mistake and distributed into the city at the beginning, one to be properly deployed from a tall building at the end – with everyone painfully aware of the consequences. To point out some of the things I didn’t approve of that were going on politically, I made the bombs American issue, stolen off one of our bases.

Next, I had to decide where the accidental distribution would take place. Why not Times Square? There were old buildings on the west side of the square that would do well for immigrant housing. Lots of people from all over the world travel to the Square. Later in the tale, I could still have my battle on top of the twin towers, which remained the best place from which to deploy weapons grade germ warfare armament. Actually, in one early draft I had made the germ warfare contagious, but it rapidly became clear that I could wipe out the human and animal populations of the world so I switched to a deliberate decision not to make the spores transmit human to human. Of course that discovery was made when I was still using optimal deployment off the North Tower at the beginning of the story.

The story became good enough and solid enough to transpose into novel form so I spent months expanding the film. I was now working with a movie and a novel. That’s a wonderful exercise because you learn so much about your film characters in the process. Then came 9/11 and the loss of the optimal buildings on the west side of the City. I went back to the drawing boards. I needed another ending. I needed another building. This time I had to rewrite both a novel and a movie.

I’ve always loved Grand Central Station with its whispering corners, countless entrances and exits, bookstores and junk food, the feeling of history that treats the eye with every glance. While my villain settled on the magnificent Chrysler building for his final deployment, my imagination traveled to the dark tunnels of Grand Central and the ending fairly wrote itself.

A visit to the Chrysler building was a complete surprise. I had walked past it all my life without going inside. I was unprepared for how beautiful the lobby was. A quick study of its history and the way its construction played into my plot was an unexpected bonus. I spent months and months rewriting, using the Grand Central tunnels I remembered all the years from early childhood riding the trains out of the lower level on the New Haven and Hartford line in the years before Amtrak.

And now, after a zillion changes, my novel is almost ready to be released and I’m thrilled. Look for it in your bookstores this fall. Tranquillity Initiative.

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