Confessions of a science nerd wannabe: Guest post by author C.E. Lawrence

ScienceThrillers welcomes author and playwright C.E. Lawrence, a self-professed “science nerd wannabe.” In this guest post, she discusses her physics-themed play Strings and her new serial killer thriller Silent Slaughter, which features a math-obsessed villain.


C.E. Lawrence: From as early as I can remember, I liked science and nature. As a kid, my idea of a great Saturday afternoon was sitting in the library drawing pictures of sharks, diving underwater in Lake Erie to find interesting rocks, or digging around in the woods to see what I could find to interest/amaze/gross out my friends. My career choice on those aptitude tests they give you in grade school: marine biologist.

The problem was that I had no talent for science. I personally broke more chemistry equipment than the rest of the ninth grade class combined. Cheryl Clark and I giggled through Mr. Buck’s entire lecture on the Mole Theory, just because his mouth looked funny when he said “Mole Theory” (the fact that he had a big fat mole on his chin didn’t help.) And calculus left me trembling with inadequacy.

So I became a writer who enjoys writing about science. I spent an entire summer in a cabin in the woods lying on the couch with physics books piled on my stomach, studying quantum entanglement, string theory and M-theory. The result was my play Strings, which was produced in New York City with – be still my heart – Keir Dullea and his wife Mia Dillon in the lead roles. (For those of you not old enough or nerdy enough, Keir was Dave in 2001: A Space Odyssey. As in “I wouldn’t do that if I were you, Dave.”) He told some cool stories about being on set – Hal’s famous voice was added later, for example. On the set the lines were read by an English guy, one of the filming crew members. Kind of makes you think, doesn’t it?

Strings was based on a real train ride taken by three scientists in which they came up with an alternative theory for the Big Bang. I saw a BBC special about it on TV.  They were attending a conference on string theory in Cambridge, and they took a train to London to see Copenhagen, Michael Frayn’s play about a meeting between Niels Bohr and his protégé Werner Heisenberg. And they came up with this theory on a train, which Einstein and others used to illustrate his Theory of Special Relativity. I thought it was a beautiful story and that it would be a damn shame if no one wrote a play about it.

So I wrote Strings, which was produced Off Broadway with this great cast, and John Simon called it the most engaging play in New York. Two of the scientists I wrote about advised me, and showed up on opening night, where I hosted a brief symposium between them and the audience. It was the greatest night of my professional life, and I went to bed believing my career was sky rocketing unstoppably to fame and fortune.

Of course, that was the movie version of my life. In reality, the play eventually closed and I started writing thrillers, in that same cabin in the woods, only now I lay on the couch with books on forensic psychology in piles all around me. Books with titles like The Unknown Darkness, The Stranger Beside Me, Sexual Murder, and Serial Killers: The Method and Madness of Monsters. I sometimes wondered what the nice ladies at the Woodstock Library thought when I showed up to pick up a stack of the latest books I had ordered on criminal psychology, forensic pathology, or crime scene investigation.

When searching for a “hook” for my fourth thriller, Silent Slaughter, I knew that I wanted the killer to be very evil and very brilliant. I have had some success writing Sherlock Holmes novels, so I decided to pattern the character after Professor James Moriarty. Since he was a mathematician, I decided to make my sociopathic killer a math professor. I wanted to work math into the story somehow, but remembering my aversion to calculus, I wasn’t sure how.

Shortly afterward, I was at a party hosted by some friends, Neall Burger and her husband Wes Ostertag, who teaches math at Dutchess Community College. When I mentioned the book to him over a glass of Zinfandel, Wes said, “Oh, why don’t you use the Fibonacci Sequence?”

I paused mid-sip. “The what?” He went on to describe it – no need to insult anyone reading this blog, who will undoubtedly know what it is – and I was hooked. Even the name sounded mysterious: The Fibonacci Sequence.

Back to the library for the math books. Except now I had the internet, and Wikipedia, and all the other great websites where people much smarter than me write about wonderful things, allowing me to pick their brains with a click of the mouse. I was entranced – I had found the hook for my killer! I could hardly wait to start writing. I wrote Silent Slaughter more quickly than any other novel – I had a first draft in less than eight months. The Fibonacci Sequence plays a key role in the killer’s signature – and in my hero’s hunt to discover his identity.

So how exactly does my nefarious killer use the Fibonacci Sequence in his crimes? To find out, you’ll have to read the book.

Click here to take the Silent Slaughter math quiz!

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