Aug 1, 2016

Seven days in the book world an interview with Blake Crouch

Something a little different this week as Dark Matter is out now 9781101904220 here is a Q&A with Blake. 

A Conversation

Blake Crouch
Author of
Crown; July 26, 2016

Q. In your own words, can you introduce readers to the premise of Dark Matter?
A. A brilliant physicist named Jason Dessen is living in Chicago with his wife, Daniela, and son, Charlie. He is a true genius, and while there was a point in his late twenties when his research could have made him a star in his field, he instead chose a family-focused life. One night, while walking home, he’s abducted by a mysterious masked man and injected with a drug. When he next awakes, his world has completely changed. He’s no longer married, doesn’t have a son, and has achieved professional success beyond his wildest dreams. This sets him on a thrilling, mysterious, and at times terrifying journey to learn what has happened to him, and to find his way home to the people and the life he loves.

Q. Where did the idea for the novel originate?
A. For the last decade, I’ve wanted to write a story that hinges on quantum mechanics. I tried several times to write a version of Dark Matter . . . getting into SPOILER TERRITORY HERE. Three different story lines had been teasing me, and I’d tried and failed to write them all separately. One story line involved the box. Another involved the idea of meeting yourself. And the last was about a man being hopelessly lost in time. The novelist Marcus Sakey is one of my good friends, and we always meet up at the inception stage of a new book to pressure-check each other on our ideas. While we were in Chicago two years ago, I was pitching each of these ideas to him separately when it occurred to me they were actually all part of the same story. They suddenly clicked together, like puzzle pieces, and I was off and running. I find the writing process endlessly mysterious and wonderful.

Q. Millions of readers will recognize you as the author of the bestselling Wayward Pines trilogy and for your suspense novels and short stories. Dark Matter is a new direction for you. Can you tell us a bit about what sparked the change?
A. In a way, Dark Matter is very much like the Wayward Pines trilogy in that it’s a thriller with a backbone of speculative science. But with this book, I wanted to push myself to do something bigger and better than I’d ever written before. The story opens up much faster than Wayward Pines and is larger in scope—about as large as it’s possible to get, really, given that it takes place (SPOILERS AHEAD!) in the multiverse. And the quantum-mechanics underpinning for the premise was a huge challenge to tackle. Trying to understand that science, even on a basic level—let alone incorporate it into a story without dragging the narrative down into incomprehensibility—seemed so daunting. But I knew that if I pulled it off, it would let me play with some really big ideas about our day-to-day existence and the choices we make that haunt us. It allowed me to build a really cool, far-out thriller plot around themes that felt very grounded and meaningful to me.

Q. Dark Matter is grounded in very real scientific theory and principles—quantum mechanics, superposition, etc. How did you go about weaving the science so seamlessly into the narrative and making it understandable to a lay audience?
A. I hope it’s seamless, thank you! I am definitely not a physicist. In fact, I took as few science and math courses as I possibly could on my way to my English degree at the University of North Carolina. If the science is understandable to a lay audience, it’s because I’m a lay audience. To prepare, I read a ton of books on the subject and pulled out the elements of quantum mechanics that intrigued me—and that I could actually comprehend. One of the most fascinating things I stumbled across was a Ted Talk by Aaron O’Connell entitled “Making Sense of a Visible Quantum Object.” Unlike most material on quantum mechanics, which focuses on subatomic matter and can feel very abstract, O’Connell’s talk is about how quantum mechanics might actually be at work at the macro level. At our level. And what that might imply about the world around us. His presentation (which is short and easily findable on YouTube) is worth viewing.

When the book was done, I hired a brilliant professor from USC named Clifford Johnson to read the manuscript and make sure I hadn’t gone too far off the rails. This is speculative fiction, and there’s still a certain leap the reader has to be willing to make, but I wanted to present the concepts behind the story with as much accuracy as I could.
Q. Do you yourself believe there could be other Blakes out there living in alternate realities?
A. According to the Many-Worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, every choice we make and every event that affects us really does cause reality to branch into alternate timelines. So, as crazy as the concept sounds—sure, it’s absolutely possible. The idea of different versions of myself living different lives, with different careers, spouses, children, etc., was actually my main inspiration for writing this book.

Q. If you had the chance to enter “the box” and explore parallel universes, would you?
A. Never! I can’t imagine a more dangerous place to be. The chances of finding another world like ours are unimaginably slim. The odds of stepping into a world of ruin and fear and destruction are massive.  

Q. While Dark Matter certainly has elements of science fiction and is a vivid suspense thriller, themes of love and family also seem to be at the heart of the story. Would you say that’s a fair assessment? 
A. Absolutely. Dark Matter is a thriller, of course, but it’s also the first love story I’ve ever written, and I worked hard to strike a balance among thrills, science fiction, and genuine emotion. To me, it’s the love and family elements that make up the beating heart of Dark Matter.

Q. Daniela’s character is also essential to not only the plot of the novel but to the tone and emotional feel. What was the inspiration behind her character?  
A. With Daniela, I wanted to explore the flip side of Jason’s experience. What would it be like to meet another version of your spouse? What if they were married to someone else or worked a different job or you two had never met? Would there still be a flicker of electricity? Would there be some recognition? Would the intensity of your relationship in your world bleed over, on some small level, into others?

Q. Do you see any of yourself in your characters?
A. Very much so. It never really occurs to me until I’ve finished a book, but all of my novels are ultimately therapy and reflective of what I’m dealing with personally during the writing. The last few years have been insanely busy for me on the professional front, and I often feel the tension between me the writer and me the father and husband. The pull of both worlds. It’s not as simple as either/or, but every day we make choices about the person we want to be, the life we want to have. So Jason’s story hits close to home, because I feel like I’ve been wrestling lately with the same push and pull between family and career, and trying to find that balance. 

Q. Speaking of being busy, in addition to being a novelist, you’re currently adapting the screenplay of Dark Matter for Sony, producing for the Wayward Pines TV series on FOX, and writing/producing Good Behavior, a new TV series (based on another of your novels), for TNT. How are you able to move so fluently across mediums? And how do you find the time?
A. I view myself primarily as a novelist, but I love the process of taking a book and turning it into film and television. The mediums are quite different, but it’s all about story structure at the end of the day. The film/TV business lights up the extroverted part of my personality, while the novel writing very much speaks to my introverted self.

Time is becoming an issue, because I never imagined I would be lucky enough to have two TV shows going into production simultaneously and this script adaptation of Dark Matter to contend with. As much as I’m enjoying it, I also find myself getting more and more excited about that moment when I get to go back to the basics of being a novelist and figure out my next book. The brainstorming process of a new novel is my favorite part of writing. All potential and possibility.

Q. You’re originally from North Carolina and spend a great deal of time in New York and Los Angeles for your film and TV work, but you live in Durango, Colorado. What drew you there?
A. I moved to Durango out of college, sight unseen, because I love everything about the West. The wide-open space. The history. The mentality. Rain curtains over the desert. How much deeper and more rattling thunder sounds as opposed to everywhere else. Sage brush. Mountains. Desert. Snow. But most important, a serene, contemplative place to write.

Thanks to Dyana at Random House for her assistance.
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