Wednesday, November 29, 2006

More Background

This is all going to take longer than I thought it would, but what the heck...

Fall From Olympus aka Dear Irene,

Greek mythology is part of the plot for Dear Irene,. I had unsuccessfully lobbied to keep Irene's name out of the title for the second book, but I had started this manuscript before Goodnight, Irene was published, so I didn't foresee the title struggle. By the time I actually turned it in, I didn't use this title on the manuscript my then-editor received.

Under Deep Sky

Thinking of this working title brings a fond memory to mind.

The amateur astronomers' phrase "deep sky object" appealed to me when I came across it while doing research for Hocus. The idea of the sky having depth kept my mind occupied for a time.

So where did I hear about deep sky objects?

Let me tell you about the Szals.

I met Regina Szal at a library fundraiser. She won an auction item I offered -- to have a character in one of my books named after the highest bidder. The next book was Hocus, although I wasn't calling it that yet. Regina invited me to visit her to talk about the character.

She's a delightful woman, a generous, kind, and vivacious person. Saying all the good things I could say about Regina would take a long time. It was so easy to talk to her. To my good fortune, she was also an experienced speech therapist. I had been researching selective mutism (then called elective mutism) for the book, and this was a subject she knew well.

She arranged for me to come to the house in the evening to talk to her about her character, because it would also allow me to view the sky through a telescope in their home. Her husband, Greg Szal, is an amateur astronomer, and he used the term "deep sky object" when talking to me about Messier objects.

Messier objects could take up a whole post. Another day...

Anyway, above you'll see a photograph of one of the Messier objects I saw that night through Greg Szal's telescope, the Sombrero Galaxy, aka M104. According to NASA, it is "the equivalent of 800 billion suns." The photo above was taken by the Hubble space telescope.* You can learn more about this big galaxy and the photo here.

Those of you who have read Hocus may recall that at one point in the book, Irene visits a couple in Bakersfield — the Szals — who help her unravel more of the mystery surrounding those who have taken Frank hostage. I liked the real life Szals as much — or more — than she liked the fictional ones. (And, after posting this, I will make a note to call these folks, who honored me with their friendship.)

Alas, as enamored as I became with the phrase "under deep sky," it didn't have much to do with the rest of the book, while the word "hocus," not to be confused with the incantation "hocus-pocus," has two meanings, both of which fit the plot perfectly.

*Note re the photo, from the Hubble site: The Hubble Heritage Team took these observations in May-June 2003 with the space telescope's Advanced Camera for Surveys. Images were taken in three filters (red, green, and blue) to yield a natural-color image. The team took six pictures of the galaxy and then stitched them together to create the final composite image.

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