10 Questions with Ted Kosmatka
1. Mr. Kosmatka, thank you for this opportunity to be interviewed for my blog. Your new thriller, PROPHET OF BONES, came out on April 2, 2013. Tell us a bit more about this book.
PROPHET OF BONES is an alternate history thriller set in a world where creationism is the scientific orthodoxy, and evolution is a fringe theory long ago debunked by scientists. Carbon-14 testing has proven that the Earth is only 5,800 years old, but the fossil record is very much the fossil record of our own timeline. Scientists are still digging up dinosaurs and ancient humans. There are still Neanderthals and Homo erectus, and the whole wide assortment of australopithecines. Only now these fossils must be viewed in the context of a creationist timeline. The novel hinges around the discovery of Homo floresiensis—a strange dwarf hominid found on the island of Flores in Indonesia. In a creationist society, fossils take on new importance, and there are those who are willing to do anything to maintain the status quo. One scientist struggles against powerful, hidden forces to unravel the secret of the bones.
2. Who is Paul Carlson Lamb and how did you go about creating his character?
Paul Carlson is the main character of the novel, and the researcher at the center of the scientific storm surrounding the new discovery on the island of Flores. Writing Paul was very easy for me for some reason. I seemed to glom on early to who he was as a character, and everything seemed to flow directly from experiences in his early childhood. Once I’d written about his experiments with his mice, I knew exactly who he was and what he was willing to do to see things through to the end.
3. What kind of research did you do for PROPHET OF BONES?
I think my whole life was research for this novel. Every class I took back in college. All the books I’ve read on anthropology, all the scientific papers. I was the strange kid back in middle school who started filing his anthropology papers in special folders in his desk. It really was an unhealthy fascination. Genetics, anthropology, evolution, religion. It’s always been there in my head. Part of being a writer is channeling all those unhealthy obsessions you have into some kind of meaningful direction. You try to make sense of these things that you find yourself stuck on.
4. Why do you write?
Why do I write? Ah, such a loaded question. I’d have given different answers to this at different times in my life, but they’d have mostly all been a load of bull, though I might not have known it at the time. Writers might think they know why they write, but that doesn’t mean they really do. I think the truth is that I write because I think better when I’m writing. It’s how I figure things out. It’s how I come to a conclusion about how I feel about something. If I want to think about some particular problem, or some philosophical point of view, or some scientific argument, then writing a story about it is the best way that I know how to do that. It allows me to look at the thing from all sides, and weigh the issue carefully.
5. A word of advice for new writers?
The only advice I’d ever give a writer is tell them to write the stories that are in them to write. Don’t worry about the market, or about the genre, or about what kinds of stories are selling. Don’t worry about the publishing industry. Just write the stories that provide your unique perspective. Be the most extreme version of yourself. Write your obsessions. Make those obsessions work for you. Just tell your stories the way you see them, and let the chips fall where they may.
6. What are your writing habits? How long does it take you to research and write a novel?
My life is always changing so much that it’s hard for me to develop real writing habits. By the time a habit might form, my circumstances have always changed, and I find myself with a whole new situation in which to work my writing. I’ve written on a midnight schedule, and in the day. I’ve written at long stretches, and in short spurts between work shifts. Lately I’ve been writing late in the evening after the kids have gone to sleep. Research for me has always been fun. It’s a great excuse to really dive deeply into a subject and explore the way things work. The writing and the research has always gone hand in hand. The research side is about gathering information, and learning everything I can about something, and then the writing side of things lets me explore where logic takes me, extrapolating from this base of knowledge I’ve built up over time.
7. What are your favorite pastimes?
My newest obsession is sailing. I have a beat-up sailboat that’s the same age as me, and I’ve been busily not sinking it these last 12 months or so, though there were a few close calls in Puget Sound. There’s something about being out on the water that I find very attractive. Some people buy boats and have them for a few months, and then end up selling them because they never end up taking them out on the water. I’ve had the opposite experience and have to keep reminding myself that I still need a place to live on shore.
8. What do you like to read and what are you reading at the moment?
There are so many good books out there right now. I’m currently reading and loving Mark Teppo’s Mongoliad. Nancy Kress has an awesome book called Flash Point. Khaled Hosseini’s Kite Runner was another book I liked that I read recently. I’m also looking forward to Patrick Swenson’s novel The Ultra Thin Man.
9. What other book(s) are you working on?
I’m currently working on my third novel, a study of madness and quantum mechanics based loosely on my Nebula Award-nominated novelette “Divining Light.” I’m not sure what the eventual title will be though. I’m just over 50,000 words into it, and it’s been an interesting ride for me so far. The story centers around the famous two-slit experiment, and explores what happens when one unstable scientist discovers that reality itself is broken.
10. What can readers expect to find in PROPHET OF BONES?
There’s a lot of action and hard science. There’s sex, and blood, and religion, and genetics, and abuse. There are creatures that may or may not be what they seem to be. Beyond that, or within that, hopefully there’s a good story being told.