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December 23, 2013

Jeff Abbott and the Mystery of Science vs. Fiction (Holiday Special)

Posted by emily

Jeff Abbott is the New York Times bestselling author of 15 novels. In addition to four stand-alone titles, his books include the Sam Capra thrillers ADRENALINE, THE LAST MINUTE (winner of an International Thriller Writers Award), and DOWNFALL, the latest installment in the series (available in paperback on January 28th). It finds ex-CIA agent Sam Capra entangled, once again, in the dangerous life he wants so badly to retire from. When a beautiful young woman walks into the San Francisco bar, pursued by two gunmen, Sam is thrust into a fight for his life. When Jeff was a kid, he loved exploring the mysteries of the universe, as well as the mysteries he found in the library. In this Holiday Author Blog, he talks about the first Christmas that he knew his heart belonged to stories, not science.

I was nine, and quite sure I was going to be a scientist. I was fascinated by two worlds: the one below, the ocean, and the one above, space. I wanted to either be Jacques Cousteau or John Glenn. I wrote every science report on either the seas made of water or the seas made of stars. And for Christmas, I’d begged for a telescope. We lived in a house far from city lights and I imagined seeing in that telescope the passing glories of comets, the individual craters on the moon, the swirling angry red spot on Jupiter. I could tell you how far each planet was from the sun. (Obviously, I was much in demand at parties.)

But the books I devoured at the school library weren’t science books, or even science fiction. What I mostly read was mysteries.

I loved it when our class got to go to the library. A wise librarian pointed me toward the Hardy Boys series. Frank and Joe taking on the criminal underworld to help their dad was a nice break from memorizing planetary masses.

My parents encouraged my interests, and so on Christmas morning there was a beautiful telescope next to the tree.

And under the telescope, a stack of Hardy Boys books. Ten of them. A stunning number.

You couldn’t really use the telescope in the brightness of morning, so I inspected it thoroughly, thrilled and grateful, and then sat down next to the stack of Hardys. I paged through the books with their thrilling titles: THE BOMBAY BOOMERANG. THE SHATTERED HELMET. DANGER ON VAMPIRE TRAIL. I actually curled up on the floor next to the tree, next to the precious telescope, and started reading.

And I read all day.

When night came, my dad and I set up the telescope and the wonders of the heavens opened to our eyes. I was enthralled, but at the same time, a tiny itch surfaced in the back of my brain: What was going to happen to Frank and Joe next? I’d stopped reading on a cliffhanger. The stars, fascinating as they were, lost a bit of their shine. We put the telescope up, and I crawled back into bed with my book, my brain lit up more with crime than comets.

My life could have taken one of two courses: science or stories. I think part of me knew that Christmas that I’d made the first steps on my path.

It became a joke in my family that given that the Hardy Boys novels were invariably 180 pages, you could time me to the second on how long it took me to read one. And over time they don’t always hold up well (I had to explain to my own sons what a “jalopy” and “chum” were). But those books on Christmas lit a brighter fire in my brain than science did, one fueled by suspense and mystery and justice. They made me first think, this is what I want to do: not find new worlds, but create them.