Sunday, July 25, 2010

When Truth is Stranger Than Fiction: Author Jacqui Murray

I love techno-thrillers! Tom Clancy's The Hunt for Red October remains one of my firm movie favourites, and anything by Michael Crichton gets my vote. So, I was particularly interested when VBT author Jacqui Murray popped up on my guest list.

Tell us about yourself, Jacqui:
I was born in Berkley California to Irish-German parents. After receiving a BA in Economics, another in Russian and an MBA, I spent twenty years in a variety of industries while raising two children and teaching evening classes at community colleges. Now, I live with my husband, adult son and two beautiful Labradors and I write. I write how-books, five blogs on everything from the USNA to tech to science, and a column for the Examiner on tech tips.

What type of fiction do you write?
I call it scientific fiction. It continues my love of spreading knowledge to kids, but is geared for high school or college. I pick science topics and weave them into the plot so readers learn about them while they’re engrossed in the story. So far, I’ve covered DNA computers and Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak (oh yes, it exists and is a great plot twist).

After a background in technical and educational writing, what made you decide to try your hand at fiction?
I am a teacher by day. It is always a challenge to get kids interested enough in science to get through the technical stuff. I think complicated science-type stuff is much more palatable when couched in the traits of fiction--an exciting plot, appealing characters, a story arc filled with twists and turns. That’s what I do in my techno-thrillers. Lots of nail biting and it is all because of the sizzle of science.

You describe your fiction as 'scientific fiction' - it sounds fascinating! To Hunt a Sub is the title of your first novel. How hard was it to create a storyline out of what are essentially hard cold facts?
Not difficult. Fact is stranger than fiction. The problem with ‘fact’ is its perception as boring. That simply is not true. To counter it, I broke the science up into bits and pieces, presented it a little at a time, in different ways—i.e., different point of views, in scene as well as narrative, using all those wonderful fiction traits that make us unable to put down a good story.

Can you describe any amazing scientific things that sound made up but are actually scientifically proven? I mean things that we see in comics like rocket boots or little jet things one can wear on one's back to fly around. How about Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak? How you know that technology exists?
The Navy is researching the use of metamaterials as the foundation for an ‘invisibility cloak’ for submarines, tanks, military equipment. Holographic soldiers are not too far away. Look out drones! We will soon have another way to save lives. I also use a DNA computer virus in one of my plot lines—a virus that gets by firewalls and virus scanners on silicon-based computers because it is organic. I have lots more, but you will have to read the books!

Your next novel is To Hunt a Cruiser - did you already know this much about naval vessels or did this interest come about from writing your non-fiction book Building a Midshipman?
My daughter was the USNA Midshipman I wrote about in Building a Midshipman. Now she’s graduated from the USNA and serves on the USS Bunker Hill, which happens to be the most modern cruiser in the Navy thanks to its upgraded AEGIS systems. It’s an interesting fact that America has had no Naval battles since WWII so these wonderful offensive/defensive systems have never been tested under fire. That’s the kernel of my story: a foray into a 21st century Naval sea battle.

I discussed it with my daughter because it would require much collaboration on her part as well as the crew of her ship. Everyone on the USS Bunker Hill from the Captain to the XO to the enlisted engineers—and everyone in between--has gone out of their way to answer my questions, explain complicated systems (such as the degaussing coils and the AEGIS systems) to my layman’s level of understanding. I am very excited about how it’s all coming out.

I read how Tom Clancy began writing fiction based on his interest in various non-fiction topics. He has become such an expert that the US Military use him as a resource. Do you see yourself treading the same ladder?
I would never compare myself to Tom Clancy. He’s one of my heroes in the military fiction genre. What a cool thought, though.

You've been very successful with your non-fiction and educational books. Have you found your fiction road to fame a smooth ride or rocky in places?
Writing non-fiction is a much different animal than fiction. Where my background as a tech teacher can provide credibility to my tech workbooks and my legacy as the mom of a USNA Midshipman gives me authority in that realm, fiction is not the same. Publishers are primarily interested in how many books you have already published. I have two fiction books that I haven’t found publishers for. Since they are both along the lines of To Hunt a Cruiser with their focus on making science exciting for people, I’m hoping that once I find a publisher for one book, the rest will follow.

With my fiction choices, I love action/thrillers that show how people solve problems when under stress, and how they come up with unique solutions to never-before-solved problems. The human mind fascinates me. We’ve done so much no other species has managed to accomplish. Your words here prompt me to ask - are you a cerebral or an emotional writer? Do your characters’ feelings or actions come first?
My stories tend to be plot-driven rather than character-driven. I delve into my characters, but it is the plot that will keep people coming back. I have the usual amount of interior monologue and reaction scenes to allow my point of view characters to show their emotions and thoughts regarding an action scene, but I have to say, it is the action that drives things.

Anything you'd like to share with readers that I haven't asked you.

Anyone interested in my books, here is where you can find them:
  • My six technology workbooks are available on and the publisher's website. The ebooks are available on
  • My two computer lab toolkits are available on and the publisher's website. The ebooks are available on
  • Building a Midshipman is available on and the publisher's website. The ebooks are available on
  • If you’re interested in To Hunt a Cruiser, leave a comment on my WordDreams blog and I’ll let you know when it’s out.
  • My Building a Midshipman site is USNA or Bust.
  • My Computer Lab Toolkit and Technology Workbooks site is Ask a Tech Teacher
  • My writing tips blog is WordDreams
  • I also write a column for I invite everyone to read that, add comments, follow me!
  • Oh—my Twitter handle is @askatechteacher

Thanks for all this info, Jacqui. I'll be interested in reviewing To Hunt A Sub when it's out!


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