The prolific Robert Masello is an award-winning journalist, television writer (for such projects as Charmed, Sliders, and Poltergeist), and the bestselling author of many books, most recently the historical thriller, The Romanov Cross, which Kirkus praised for its "delicious sense of creeping dread."
His new thriller, The Einstein Prophecy, beings around the end of World War II, when an Egyptian sarcophagus is brought to Princeton University for study by army lieutenant and professor Lucas Athan. Assisted by archaeologist Simone Rashid, Lucas soon discovers the box's contents could hold the key to victory in the war and and possibly the downfall of mankind. As they uncover a connection between the mysterious relic and the work of Albert Einstein (then living in Princeton), Lucas and Simone must turn to science and the supernatural to save the world from potential destruction.
Robert Masello stops by In Reference to Murder today to take some Author R&R:
Now that I think about it, I started researching my new novel, The Einstein Prophecy, about forty years ago. I just didn’t know it at the time.
I was a freshman at Princeton University, and I was walking past a charming, two-story, white house with black shutters, tucked behind a fence and a small but tidy front garden, on Mercer Street in town. 112 Mercer Street, to be exact.
The house that Albert Einstein bought, and lived in, after fleeing the Nazi tide on the European continent once and for all.
He had taken up a position at the relatively new Institute for Advanced Study, where he was the brightest star in a firmament that included such other luminaries as the topologist Oswald Veblen, the mathematician Hermann Weyl, and the quantum physics pioneer Wolfgang Pauli. Although he wasn’t thrilled with the provincial attitudes of many Americans, there and elsewhere in the country, he liked the quiet, arboreal feel of the college town, along with its campus dotted with Gothic spires and cloistered walkways, its extensive libraries and massive chapel. (Although he was Jewish, he had attended Catholic schools in his youth, and harbored a lasting affection and respect for many of the moral lessons and stories that were an integral part of the Christian tradition.)
Anyway, I think those impressions I had of the man, who had walked the same streets I was walking, and possibly under some of the very same ancient trees, stuck with me, and provided a nucleus for the novel I was to write decades later.
As with most of my recent books, this one was to be a dark fantasy steeped in real history and fact. In Blood and Ice, I had written about the Crimean War. In The Medusa Amulet, the Italian Renaissance and French Revolution. In The Romanov Cross, the end of the Russian dynasty and the pandemic of the Spanish Flu. Most of the time spent writing my books is spent not on writing the story itself, but on the reading and research necessary to make sure that the story, when I do get around to concocting it, feels authentic and convincing. I don’t ever want to jolt the reader out of the story with some anachronism, or obviously counter-factual element. I usually tell people that 90 percent of the history, whether it be about art or science or politics, is right, but that that last ten percent is pure conjecture. In other words, don’t write a term paper based solely on the history you have read in one of my novels.
In the olden days, back when I lived in New York, I would haunt the main library on Fifth Avenue, where there were actually people – live human beings – who would go down into the subterranean stacks and retrieve any arcane text or long out-of-print book you asked for. And get this – there was a phone line, too, that you could call and ask any question – “When was the Great Wall of China built?” “How many soldiers are there in a platoon?” “How much was a doubloon worth?” – and someone would go off and find the answer for you. To those hard-working and information-bearing moles, I offer my most heartfelt thanks.
These days, researching is so much easier it’s a joke. There’s this thing called Google, and I can look up anything, at any time of the day or night (and I tend to write into the wee hours), and nearly always find an immediate answer. For this Einstein book, I was able to discover everything from a map of the Princeton University campus in 1944 (which is where and when the bulk of the book takes place) to a quick tutorial (and I needed several) on the theory of relativity and quantum mechanics. I also wanted to get a sense of who Einstein was as a man, and not simply as the great genius of his age. I learned that he hated to wear socks, loved to smoke (against his doctor’s orders), played violin to relax, flirted like crazy with the ladies, enjoyed a good joke.
There is a danger, however, to the Google era of research. It’s easy to get lost, forever, in the endless supply of information, in the countless links to other sources. There’s the temptation not only to research something endlessly, but to slip all of those gems that you uncover into the book itself. Yes, readers want a sense of verisimilitude, but that’s not the main reason they’re there – they want a story first and foremost. Otherwise, they’d be reading a biography or a history textbook.
And if you do make a mistake, including some fact that’s just plain wrong, you will most definitely hear from some reader out there - usually in the form of a flame – who is an expert on that particular subject. Trust me on that.