OLD EARTH is a geological thriller that spans all of time—cutting backward and forward along the space-time continuum as the suspense builds and the mystery unfolds. It begins with an exploration by Galileo in 1601, jumps to a contemporary dinosaur dig in Montana, crosses back centuries to the Inquisition, and ultimately considers the very origins of civilization.
Through the investigation of paleontologists Quinn McCauley and Katrina Alpert, readers are taken on a globe-hopping adventure. Yet, just as the characters stumbled upon their find, Galileo provided me with quite an accidental discovery that became central to the plot development and excitement of OLD EARTH.
I originally outlined a purely present-day story: an excavation leads to a mysterious find, the find sets up an international search, the search reveals an amazing truth.
When I sat down with my initial outline to begin writing, I quickly realized I was missing something important. I needed a powerful inciting incident.
As a journalist and history buff, I looked for something profound, believable, and grounded in truth. As a researcher, I hoped I could dig up something tangible and exciting.
Digging deeper for a story is the part I love.
Open one door, it leads to another. Go down a path, there’s a fork with more possibilities. Come up with a strong notion, then more intriguing intersects reveal themselves, leading to more doors, more paths, and more forks, with decisions to make at each.
For me, the first “door to the past” led to Galileo’s early life—before the telescope. I wondered whether he, like Quinn McCauley in my contemporary story, had ever explored a cave. To my wonderful surprise, he not only had, but I learned something I had never known. In 1593, Galileo invented a rudimentary device to determine temperatures. Yes, Galileo invented the thermometer, or more accurately the thermoscope!
This remarkable fact gave me all the more reason to place Galileo in a cave—a perfect location to measure varying temperatures over a short span of time.
The door was open. I headed down the path. What would Galileo find?
Galileo came to the fork. He made a left. Left, because it was his dominant side. The mathematician was left-handed. He continued, fascinated by the majesty of the cave as it became a cavern, a cavern with an ultimate secret: The secret of OLD EARTH, the inciting incident.
This is where I was able to intertwine his discovery with McCauley’s five hundred years later. It also provided me with my key plot invention: the reason Galileo turned his attention to the stars and was ultimately brought before the Inquisition.
An accident of research. A wonderful accident of research.
Filled with renewed excitement, I now grasped the full potential of OLD EARTH. I could revisit history as we know it, re-imagine antiquity that we don’t know, and provide a sweeping landscape to weigh the age-old arguments between science and religion.
Of course, this sent me down new roads, in search of additional answers. I pulled details from the historical transcripts of Galileo’s Inquisition. I walked through actual and virtual doors and turned to professionals, including a geologist for a primer on earth sciences and deep time, a retired military intelligence officer for inside advice on action scenes, a paleontologist and explorer for details on his hunt for fossils, and theologians who could help me sort through traditional beliefs and revisionist thinking.
The result: my initial story was transformed into a far more complex and dynamic novel. Along the way, it became an adventure for me, which evolved into exciting intrigue for my characters.
In truth, the result shouldn’t have been a total surprise to me. Though different than my international political thrillers (Executive Actions, Executive Treason, Executive Command), OLD EARTH still required building a solid, credible story on a foundation of facts.
To take readers to the unthinkable and ponder the unknowable, writers still have to work within a relatable world. The world of OLD EARTH is filled with the relatable:
- History that readers will recognize.
- The unknown that’s just out of reach.
- A secret organization, which since Galileo’s time, keeps the truth from being told.
- Protagonists who captivate and shine in the daylight and antagonists who live and thrive in the shadows.
- Characters who feel real and captivate.
- People we want to follow who are compelled to seek the answers to the unfolding mystery, despite the dangers.
- Obstacles that continually threaten or thwart them.
- Moral and personal dilemmas.
- Shifting allegiances.
- Twists that engage and surprise.
Now, with the publication of the book by Diversion Books, the real test is set to begin. What will readers think?
I hope that my discoveries—my accidents—sweep you along; that you’ll get lost in the story and find yourself intrigued by the history; that you’ll enjoy the cover-up, and get excited by what McCauley and Alpert uncover.
OLD EARTH took me back to my years as a kid in upstate New York. I was a rock hound chiseling limestone for fossils, an astronomy buff peering up at the constellations, and an enthusiastic student learning that the lessons of today are to be found in the past.
In writing OLD EARTH, it all came full circle. Once I started to dig, I again realized that writing a thriller takes real research, and not everything’s set in stone.
Gary Grossman is an Emmy Award–winning television producer, a journalist, college teacher, and author of the bestselling thrillers Executive Actions, Executive Treason, and Executive Command, from Diversion Books. As a member of the International Thriller Writers he has participated in numerous ThrillerFest panels. He credits Michael Palmer for helping launch his career and thanks other ITW members W. G. Griffiths, Steve Berry, and C. J. Lyons, among others, for their help and inspiration. Grossman teaches at Loyola Marymount University’s Graduate School of Film and Television and is a contributing editor to Media Ethics Magazine.
Click here to watch a trailer for OLD EARTH.
Interested in becoming a member of the International Thriller Writers? ITW offers Active and Associate memberships.
Latest posts by ITW (see all)
- August 21 – 27: “Could an accountant, librarian or nurse be a spy?” - August 20, 2017
- August 14 – 20: “If you could write in another genre, which one would that be?” - August 13, 2017
- August 7 – 13: “How many thrillers do you read each year?” - August 7, 2017