1. Tell us a little about your new novel.
Short: It’s about high-energy particle physics, gentlemen explorers, gifted and talented teenage girls, Mary Kay ladies, and one South Asian woman’s assimilation to 1980s suburban Chicago, with a special focus on her fascination with American novelty convenience foods.
Long: Rural Nicolet, Illinois, is a city anchored between two opposing forces, a living history museum devoted to the American frontier and a laboratory for experiments in high-energy particle physics. When a proposal to build the Superconducting Super Collider under the town sparks debate between the scientists and the locals, two families find themselves on opposite sides of a controversy that fractures the community, exposing deep cultural rifts between longtime friends.
Abhijat, a scientist from India now working at the National Accelerator Research Laboratory, has a sole obsession: making a name for himself as one of history’s great theoretical physicists. The search for answers to questions about the creation of the universe blinds him to the burgeoning distance between him and his wife, Sarala, who devotes herself to their daughter, Meena, and to assimilating into suburban America. In the same neighborhood, Rose Winchester strives to raise precocious Lily, stitching together an unconventional marriage from the brief visits and vibrant letters of her husband Randolph, who fancies himself the last great gentleman explorer.
Based on real events surrounding the Superconducting Super Collider, a facility begun in the U.S. but never completed, Charmed Particles traces the collisions of past and progress, science and tradition.
2. You must have had to do quite a bit of research for this book - what were the rewards and challenges of the research experience? I know you made a visit to the FermiLab, for example.
Yes, this project involved a lot of research, which I loved getting to do. I spent time at Fermilab in 2010—it’s the inspiration for the book’s fictional National Accelerator Research Lab. There, I interviewed theoretical physicists, tagged along on a field trip, and worked in their archives. I also got to tour a living history facility in the area and read lots and lots of books, articles, and government documents (Environmental Impact Statements, transcripts of public hearings, etc.). While the latter may seem like they’d be dry, they really helped bring the conflict over the Superconducting Super Collider to life for me. Here were the actual voices of the people whose lives were being impacted by this potential project. Here were the things they worried about, the things they hoped for. It felt like I was listening in on a conversation my own characters were having.