Co-Writing a Thriller. Learn all about Tom and Chris Dardick and their debut novel Sudden Onset.
Author Interview + Author & Book Info + Author Pet Corner
Dr. Mira Wallace is an autistic, brilliant microbiologist. She has dedicated her life to the pursuit of answers to those questions. When a mysterious and deadly biological threat appears, she is brought in to help. As she fights to prevent the worst pandemic in the history of Earth, we learn what she learns about those big questions. The science is robust, as one author is an accomplished molecular biologist. The story is compelling. Sudden Onset is an entertaining way to learn about the miracle and majesty that is Life on our beautiful planet.
As the story begins, we find her in Antarctica, risking life and limb in the nearly-impossible effort to sample an ancient subterranean lake. Success within her grasp, the US Army summons Mira to investigate a mysterious biological threat in a Southern Utah desert.
SONA (Sudden Onset Necrosis Agent) is a new pathogen unlike anything known to science. Resilient and aggressive, it threatens Earth’s entire biosphere, making Mira fear that she may have just found deadly evidence of the ancient life she’s been searching for.
To purchase Sudden Onset, click any of the following links: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, IndieBound
Sudden Onset took ten years to write together. What did that process look like?
The story began with a conversation between us about the origin of life. Chris explained his thoughts on how modern theories on the origin of life are insufficient yet are being taught at some level as dogma. A consequence of this is a widespread lack of appreciation for just how magnificent, complex, and unlikely Life is.
As Chris explained the reasoning behind his observations, Tom’s reaction was: “If you write a technical paper explaining all of this, 14 people will read it. But, if we could tell a story…”.
The problem we faced was that neither of us had written a novel before. And the subject matter was extremely complicated. Tom’s writing experience was with weekly topical articles and film-length screenplays. Chris was widely published in his field as a scientist. We soldiered forth, working by phone and getting together as often as we could for brain-storming sessions.
Tom translated the discussions to the page. Chris read and reacted.
When it came to the technical aspects of the biology in the story, the roles reversed. We wrote the story four different times. Mostly Tom drafted and Chris edited. After each round, we didn’t know if we had anything commercially viable. And we hadn’t.
Finally, we employed the services of Tessa Shaffer who did a developmental edit. That process got the manuscript to the point where a professional acquisitions editor, Staci Olsen with Immortal Works publishing, saw its merit.
The final version went through additional rounds of edits through Immortal Works’ quality-control process.
The intersection of faith and science is a fascinating, if dicey, topic. How does that intersection inform the novel?
We appointed the protagonist, Dr. Mira Wallace, to be our readers’ guide. She is on the autism spectrum. Her brilliant mind is focused intently on finding the answer to how Life on earth began. We used a fictional life-like entity, called SONA, to draw contrast with the unique properties of actual living things.
This mysterious deadly pathogen draws Mira away from her life’s work and into the action of the story. As Mira works against SONA’s deadly effects, we learn about the underlying mechanisms that comprise Life and come to better appreciate what a miracle it is that Life exists at all.
At the end of the story we go as far as present a fictional but very real hypothesis for the origin of life. We take the reader on a journey with Mira to highlight how faith and science are not at odds but rather two ways of looking at the same thing.
Other characters represent various points of view along the spectrum between faith vs. science. Either way, the authors’ POV is that regardless of where you land on the issue, the truly objective stance is one of humility, awe, and openness to new ideas.
All of this is in the background, as the novel is primarily an action-driven thriller. Part of what took so long to write the novel was getting these philosophical aspects clearly represented in the story and making the science understandable and not overwhelming.
Your protagonist, Dr. Mira Wallace is based on an actual person. Did that person participate in your process? Did you do any interviews or let her read the material? If not, how did you incorporate your observations of her to build your main character?
Mira is fictional. We decided early on that the lead character would represent a purely scientific point of view and would ultimately discover faith as part of her journey. The decision to make the character on the autism spectrum came later.
It was an important decision, as it uniquely qualifies her to be our guide. She is focused and able to concentrate on a single task for exceptionally long periods of time. But she struggles socially.
It was in this respect that we modeled an actual person.
One of Tom’s clients in his inter-personal communications consulting practice is autistic in a similar manner as is Mira. He possesses an encyclopedic knowledge of his field. But he has trouble connecting with other people. He often makes his clients and colleagues angry with his insensitivity to emotional dynamics most people take for granted!
This client uses various techniques to keep from being over-stimulated by his environment. That’s where Mira’s earbuds with constant soft piano and violin music came from. In this story, we don’t deep dive into Mira’s autism. It is in the background, much like the faith vs. science theme.
We decided right away the lead would be female based on Chris’ experience working for women and that a majority of scientists receiving PhDs in the biological sciences are women. However, the expectations for women, even today where there are many in STEM, is not to be risking life and limb in burning deserts and the dangerous freezing wasteland of the interior of Antarctica. Yet they do every day.
Her being a woman provides richer texture and reflects the modern realities of science.
We chose the name Mira with two meanings in mind. In Latin, mira means ‘wonder’ and is the root in the word miracle. In Spanish, mira means ‘look.’ Look for wonder in the world. Yes.
Siblings can have complicated relationships. What drew you two to working together on something as intimate and fraught with challenges and writing a novel? Was there any point you considered calling it quits?
We’re nine years apart in age and have never lived in the same geographic area as adults. This project has allowed our relationship to blossom. Though we never thought of calling it quits, there were times when we were unsure we would ever successfully meet our goals of this book. It was quite a difficult task because we were trying to keep the action and the science as close to reality as possible. That highly constrains the choices you can make.
We spent countless hours discussing the details of the book and often took Chris a long time to come up with plausible scientific scenarios. Finding the balance between character/action and the amount of expository information necessary to impart the knowledge of the complexity of life was tricky. As it is, if readers have had a complaint, it’s that the book is dense with scientific detail and they don’t enjoy the intellectual lift required to follow it.
Meeting that challenge was aided in part by the difference in our perspectives – as a non-scientist, Tom required Chris to explain technical biological details in layman’s terms.
What do you each think the other brought to the table as their best strength beyond Chris as a scientist and Tom as the creative writer?
Tom was impressed by Chris’ creative abilities. Yes, he knows about biology. But he also came up with incredibly clever and imaginative ideas such as Mira’s bracelet, the GreenCar (which is a theoretically-possible technology), the explanation for SONA, the explanation for Primum viverea (important in the story), and perhaps most impressively, Mira’s Treatise that appears throughout the book. It is a work that proffers an explanation of the origin of Life worthy of serious scientific discussion.
Chris was impressed not only by Tom’s writing and insights into the human condition, but also his persistence to stick with a project over so many hurdles and over so long a time. Also with Tom’s growth as a writer and bringing the characters to life in the story. Many of our reviewers have commented on how much they love the characters (especially the lead) and how they were able to follow the science, even if challenging.
Such compliments have been extremely gratifying as these were the most difficult aspects of writing the story and took both of us to get right.
What are you each working on now?
We’re working on the sequel to Sudden Onset, the current title of which is VIRGIN BIRTH. It follows the characters five years after the end of the first book. The scale of the action goes world-wide and epic. Faith and science are still fundamental.
Tom is a silent partner in another writing project, one that he is very excited about and believes will make a big difference in helping women own more of their personal power and increase their leadership skills.
Chris’ other professional work is mostly in the long-term development of agricultural technology, from increasing the yield of fruit tree crops to helping provide food to astronauts on extended space voyages.
Words of Wisdom for Aspiring Writers:
Tom: Writing is thinking. Good writing is clear thinking. Do what you can to be a clear thinker. You have to have the basic courage and honesty for a long look in the mirror that allows you to see your traits clearly. You must check yourself for dogma. You have to build the empathy to see why people on opposite sides of issues feel the way they do. It helps to remember that everyone is the hero of their own story.
Chris: Research, research, research. Details are important in the story. Even if you stray from reality, know what reality is so you know where you taking the reader and why. Recognize that you are always getting better as a writer and that your work can always be improved. It’s a question of when it’s good enough to stop.
Great advice from both of you. Lovely to have you join me on my blog!
The Dardick Brothers
Tom Dardick: When not singing and playing drums in two rock bands, following the NY Giants, or hiking with his wife, Tom mostly thinks about how we might improve the human condition. His professional focus is helping people develop, specifically with regard to inter-personal communication and manifesting manifest real, lasting, positive change in people’s lives.
Much of this process is profoundly influenced by the stories we tell ourselves. He is on a lifelong quest for more powerful, life-affirming story lines. He hopes the ones he helps to create have those effects for those gracious enough to devote time and energy to read.
Author Pet Corner!
Chris Dardick is a lifelong scientist with a deep curiosity about the inner workings of living things. He received his PhD in Molecular and Cell Biology from the University of Maryland, College Park in 1999 and has since published over 100 scientific papers, reviews, and book chapters on the topics of virology, microbiology, evolution, genetics, and plant biology.
His research goals as a Lead Scientist for the United States Department of Agriculture are to help achieve a globally sustainable, healthy, and affordable food supply. He is blessed by his gifted wife with a passion for literature and his 3 amazing homeschooled children. Together they enjoy learning, exploring nature, fishing, and spending time with friends and family.
To learn more about Tom and Chris, click on their names, photos, or any of the following links: Authors Facebook Page, The Immortal Works, SuddenOnsetBook.com, Goodreads,
Elena Taylor is the author of All We Buried, available now in print, e-book, and audio book format at all your favorite on-line retailers. And don’t forget many independent bookstores can order books for you and have them shipped to your home or for curbside pickup.
For more information on All We Buried, click on the link here to visit the home page.
Foreword INDIE Award Finalist, Best Mystery 2020