Recreating a classic physics experiment leads to some highly unexpected consequences in Kosmatka’s thriller The Flicker Men.
What interested you about the double-slit experiment?
In my first brush with it, I just assumed that I had some fundamental misunderstanding about the experiment. How can something be both a particle and a wave? Later, I stumbled across a more detailed explanation of the experiment, and rather than clearing up my misconception, I realized, with some disquiet, that I’d actually understood it right the first time. The whole experiment acts as a kind of black box. You know what happens, but you really have no idea how it happens. I always knew I’d write a story about it someday. This book was me trying to come to terms with the central enigma of quantum mechanics and the idea that the universe itself seems to contain a paradox at its heart.
What does the public not get about quantum physics?
A lot of people think that because there are a lot of really smart people working on something, and thinking about it constantly, and developing theories and formulas and proofs, then that means it is well understood. Verifying that something is true isn’t the same as really understanding it. We know quantum mechanics is true, because we see evidence of its truth, and because we can use it to accurately predict outcomes—but in a way it’s like seeing irrefutable evidence of a ghost. Believing in it shouldn’t necessarily give you comfort.
How have your varied jobs influenced your writing?
I don’t know how I would have found my way into a lot of the stories I’ve written if not for my work history. Since I was 10 and delivering newspapers in my neighborhood, I’ve always had some kind of job, often two at a time. I come from a family of steelworkers, so that strong work ethic was really instilled in me early. I’ve been a house painter, a waiter, and a corn detassler. I’ve run electron microscopes in a laboratory and shoveled coke into steel mill furnaces. For the last half a decade I’ve been writing video games. It’s been a strange, crazy life, so I’m sure all of that has found its way into my writing. At least I hope it has.
Is it easier to write novels or for video games?
With video games, you’re working as a member of a team, and that feedback helps constrain things. But when you write a novel, you’re in the darkness on your own, and your only feedback tends to be your own fears and insecurities. For me, there’s always this sense that I’m discovering the path as I go, rather than seeing the finish line in my head the whole time. That makes novel writing harder.