Michelle is scientist and astronomer who runs her own observatory and is heavily involved in the Mariposa Symphony Orchestra. Somehow she has found time to write a book called Dimensional Shift. This is a beautifully written story of a philanthropist motivated to right natural catastrophes and save mankind from a variety of fates. The novel is interspersed with a traditional tale which blends seamlessly into the whole.
It can be found at : http://www.shelfari.com/books/24521867/Dimensional-Shift-First-Step
Roger: How did you choose the opening sentences of Dimensional Shift; and how much have they changed during any subsequent re-writes?
Michelle: Roger, before I begin, I’d like to thank you for this opportunity to answer your questions.
The opening chapter was the most difficult chapter of the novel. It deals with a clan of tribesmen in ancient Sumeria in the year 14,000 BC. It was in Sumeria that we find evidence of the first remnants of modern civilization. It is where the concepts of religion are first shown to us in archeological evidence. The chapter was challenging because I literally had to invent a people who had very little understanding of their environment, could only fashion a few basic tools, had very little language skills to express themselves, and were filled with mysticism. Although I did not intend it, in some respects, this story is homage to Arther C. Clarke with a significant twist, now that I look back on it.
You ask about rewrites. This first chapter has been rewritten at least ten times! For the rest of the book, I rearranged a few concepts in their introduction but for the most part, they really only required a copy edit.
Roger: Did you begin Dimensional Shift with a raft of notes or just a general premise?
Michelle: I began the book with a premise, formed as a question: "What will it take for mankind to take that first step into space?" As I look at the world around us, it seems that monumental quests for knowledge and advancement have dwindled over the past few decades. As a huge fan of the NASA programs, I had naturally assumed that we would have made a significant first step by now. But there is really little public interest in spending money for space programs. I feel it a tragedy of monumental proportions. Nearly everything around us has been improved or influenced by the space program. I don’t care what you look at, there’s a piece of NASA research behind it.
I did have several files of notes that were used to develop the story line. I am a big fan of history and caught a snippet from a documentary a while back that had a real life character that, I felt, could evolve in a useful way to work with the plot. This character, a slave of the Roman Empire, was instrumental in the second invasion of Britain. The history of that battle is well documented. I also have a bit of biology in the book and although it leans towards the improbable, my medical professional acquaintances gave me the go ahead, telling me that it was at least feasible. This aspect of the story line did require some research. The greatest share of that research did not make it to the book, I reduced the explanation so that everyone could understand it. The same is true in the section where I introduce interferometry. In the most simplistic terms, two little 20cm telescopes, integrated with interferometry, can be separated by 10 meters to create a ten meter telescope. Even though I have some knowledge in this area, I felt that sketching a few notes were critical in bringing the conversation to something the lay person might understand.
Roger: How did you decide on the actual structuring of the novel?
Michelle: The timeline is linear for the most part with a very few flashbacks into history. As an engineer, I am well practiced in specifications. I tend to outline, then flesh it out some, create characters that will fill the requirements of the story, and then write it. As the story unfolded, I quite naturally "let my fingers do the walking" as I could see that the story needed to move in different directions. However, thinking through the process before hand, was critical in keeping my thoughts and ideas in a coherent flow. The two teenage protagonists in the story represent much of what I wanted to be when I was a very young child of 8 or 9, and to a great degree, the story was folded around them.
Roger: Do you keep a notebook in which you jot down interesting ideas or thoughts whenever or wherever they come to you?
Michelle: When I get an idea that is interesting, it sticks in my brain until I can lay it down. I am constantly focused in some line of thought and often times I will walk by someone I know without even noticing them. Some people think that I'm stuck up, but those who know me, understand that I'm just thinking through some problem. This story had invaded my sleep time for months. I had to write it to get it out of my mind! So, yes, I do keep notes, but my mind constantly is churning with the details.
Roger: Is there another novel demanding to be written?
Michelle: This title, Dimensional Shift: First Step, is just that. A first step. Although the book does have an ending, there are many questions left unanswered. The second book is in the works and will wrap up many of the loose ends as well as resolve the crisis that has surrounded the globe. I may leave it as a two book series. However, the dimensional shift technology opens many frontiers for space exploration, especially within the solar system.
Roger: What are you reading right now and how do you like it?
Michelle: Right now, I am reading "The Lion" by Nelson DeMille. I've read it before, but I have a great interest in John Corey, the protagonist in this book. The read isn't so much for enjoyment this time around but a study in how DeMille so expertly crafts this character. I've enjoyed most of what I've read by DeMille. Even though a couple of his stories stretch belief, I do enjoy his style of writing immensely.
Roger: You lead a busy life running an astronomical observatory and working with the Mariposa Symphony Orchestra. That can’t leave you much time to write.
Michelle: While my observatory is credited by the Astronomical Union for a supernova co-discovery with Lick, several years ago, and corroborating evidence for other discoveries for other observatories around the world from time to time, the observatory is used mostly for public outreach programs and self indulgence. I decide when it is operational. Additionally, there are only so many days a month where the moon isn't in the way for observing or data collection. My night time observing meshes quite well with my writing in that I prefer the quiet of the night when I work. Some of my friends call me a “creature of the night”.
As for the symphony, there is no question. I must rehearse every day. It is the thing that is most fulfilling in my life.
I should also point out that neither of these endeavors produces any income. I was fortunate enough in my engineering career to provide for a modest early retirement and I decided that living life was more important than pursuing the almighty green back. I now feel that it is my turn to give back to the community whatever is within my means.
Roger: Has being a scientist as well as an author changed the way you view religion?
Michelle: I suppose that the greatest influence on my religious outlook has been the study of the historical evidence. I love books on archeology, especially on subjects that affect us so much today in our current world. I encourage all people to do the same. They will reach their own conclusions. I don't believe that "being" a scientist alters a person's belief in any significant fashion. As to my personal beliefs, I tend not to share them much. I usually tell people I'm a Druid in jest. Ancient Druids studied the stars and tried to fit them into context within their own lives. Of course I'm not a Druid. No one truly knows exactly what they believed. I've always had a curious mind and I've always sought answers in empirical evidence.
Roger: Buckyballs feature in your novel. Now that scientists have apparently been able to de-materialize and move these tiny carbon molecules to other locations, do you think that the world is beginning to reach a stage where science fiction is approaching science fact?
Michelle: Science fiction has produced science fact. Jules Verne, wrote a novel about going to the moon. We’ve been there. I remember reading the Foundation trilogy when I was very young and was fascinated by the use of a hand held computer in that series. That realization was met of course, in the mid 70's when HP and TI introduced the hand held calculators. Now, those are toys in comparison. The science fiction of yesterday has become science fact today. I anticipate that someday, as a society, we will be compelled to continue our search into the unknown with ferocity. Hopefully, that motivation will not come in the form of a dire need as is put forth in my novel “First Step”.
Roger: Thanks for your time.
Roger, thanks again for this opportunity. It’s been fun.