Back when I was launching ELISHA BARBER, I reached out to some other authors who combine medical information and historical research with adventurous plots. One of them is Amy Rogers, whose latest novel, THE HAN AGENT, has just launched!
What’s the role of science in your fiction?
In my thriller novels, the protagonist is a scientist and science plays a key role in the plot. Not just science-y gadgets: real science. As in, at some point in each book, a laboratory experiment is performed and the results of that experiment determine what happens next. My goal with the science is to make it entirely plausible and accessible to the non-technical reader, while also keeping it as accurate as the story allows. (I am writing fiction, after all.) For example I like to say about PETROPLAGUE, my debut novel, that you practically have to have a PhD to figure out where the scientific truth ends and fantasy begins.
That’s part of what makes the story so scary. People ask, could this really happen?
You say you write science thrillers, not science fiction. What’s the difference?
When a reader picks up one of my novels (PETROPLAGUE, REVERSION, THE HAN AGENT), they can expect a suspenseful story set in the real world of the present day. Real science and medicine underpin the plot, women scientists drive the action, and a laboratory experiment always plays a crucial role at some point. While these things are true of some SciFi novels, for many people the label “science fiction” conjures up something more speculative.
You cover a great deal of ground in The Han Agent, from WWII history to modern DNA sequencing. How did you bind all those elements into a clear story line?
When it comes to story material, newspapers and history books are sometimes better sources than imagination. Factually, THE HAN AGENT is about bird flu and East Asian geopolitics and science policy, but the glue holding it all together is my main character Amika Nakamura. She’s a young Japanese-American virus scientist who makes some questionable choices in pursuit of her professional ambitions. Because she’s book-smart, she thinks she has everything under control. Guess what: she doesn’t, and she has a rough road ahead as the blinders come off.
Was there anything new you discovered, or surprised you, as you wrote THE HAN AGENT?
As part of my research for THE HAN AGENT, I read about the war crimes committed by Japan in China during the 1930s and 40s. Specifically I learned about Unit 731, a science-driven branch of the Japanese Imperial Army that performed unspeakable experiments on prisoners in their quest for a useful biological weapon. The biggest surprise? The US let the criminals responsible for these horrors off the hook in exchange for information. Unit 731 physicians and scientists never faced the Tokyo war crimes tribunals. They resumed their careers in post-war Japan, and many of them became leaders in their fields.
What’s your overall writing process like?
My writing process isn’t static. As I gain experience with each novel, I learn more about my own strengths and weaknesses as a writer. So my process evolves. For example, for my next book I’m going to experiment with writing unconnected scenes when I begin rather than writing the book straight through from start to finish. I’m more plotter than pantser. I outline my stories, think through my character arcs, and I have an idea for the ending (though that can change). I tend to under-write and have to flesh out my scenes later, as opposed to many writers who over-write and must edit by cutting from the text. Importantly for me, I do a detailed exploration of the science I’ll use in the plot. Because I’m a scientist by training, I’ll often use primary sources in the scientific literature. That information is too advanced to appear directly in the book but it guides my thinking.
About the Author:
Amy Rogers, MD, PhD, is a Harvard-educated scientist, novelist, journalist, educator, critic, and publisher who specializes in all things science-y. Her novels Petroplague, Reversion, and The Han Agent use real science and medicine to create plausible, frightening scenarios in the style of Michael Crichton.
For the book: http://www.sciencethrillersmedia.com/publish/han-agent/
For the author: http://www.amyrogers.com/