Collapsing The Wave: An Interview with J. Frederick Arment

I really liked J. Frederick Arment's new book Backbeat - A Novel of Physics. This is a story that demonstrates real writing power; he makes the ideas behind quantum mechanics come alive in a fascinating tale about people you'll care about. How he does this, I have no idea. I highly recommend that you read this book for yourself and find out.


(Backbeat by J. Frederic Arment)

When physicist-entrepreneur Frank Whirlpool is murdered, his runaway adopted son, Romey Argasti, is named sole heir to the two-billion-dollar Whirlpool Estateówith one stipulation. The nineteen-year old must find a lost piece of music composed by his birth mother just before she and his birth father, Justin Bishop, died in a plane crash over the English Channel.

Fred Arment is not an easy man to pin down; at any given moment this fall, he's probably either on a book tour, giving lectures, working on his upcoming books, or wintering in Florida. I was able to "collapse the wave" of probability for this interview.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background?

A couple of years ago, I could have answered this quickly, but the writing of Backbeat: A Novel of Physics has given me a much larger perspective. Who I am at this moment is the superposition of every wave of experience, past, present and future: growing up in suburbia, blue collar father, fundamentalist Christian mother, undergraduate degree in History, masters in the French Enlightenment, post-graduate work in physics, teacher and lecturer, married with two children, divorced with a second chance at love, technical writer for corporations, advertising business owner, sailboater, peace advocate, infant of the sixties who bought the idea that anything is possible if we just use the energy in our minds. Like the characters in Backbeat, Iím the culmination of foreshadowing. A waveform, in effect!

Did you read science fiction as a child? If so, what did you read?

I must confess, it was Danny Dunn that floated my boat when I was in grade school. I went through a few of Asimovís work and on to the Dune series, but where abstract ideas and literature met was my real obsession. If I didnít learn something from fiction, it seemed pointless. Good and evil didnít do it for me. There is much more out there, I believe, and the type of science fiction that flourishes where the scientific method leaves off is really the edge that thrills me. Unfortunately, most science fiction is still dealing with the duality thing.

When did you start writing fiction?

In my early twenties, I decided it was about time to fulfill my eleven-year-old dream to write a book. However, I was involved in too many things -- politics, history, psychology, science, theology -- to concern myself with the craft of writing. Thatís why it took me twenty years to turn those ideas into presentable stories that intrigue peopleís senses of art as well as subject. My first book was a techno-thrill called The Synthesis (www.bluehotbooks.com) that dealt with the end of history. Today, Iím very comfortable with writing and hope my work shows the result of many years of craft catching up with ideas.

What made you decide to write novels in the sf genre?

Science fiction is one of the few genres with the flexibility and depth to deal with ideas beyond our tools of measure. Most would call it speculation, but it is more than baseless imagination. Science fiction allows us to take what we know and make suppositions about the next logical step in our understanding. Backbeat: A Novel of Physics does not stray from sound physics, but through the use of plot and character, fiction allowed me to experiment and test my theories.
In some ways, science becomes a character in the book, and as with other characters it takes on a life of its own. It learns and grows and becomes an integral part of the plot. That, I believe, is the difference between an worthwhile book and one that simply replays books of the past (an example would be the Romance genre, which replays Jane Austin over and over).
In Backbeat, physics is a mysterious character that grows in the readerís mind until the climax and resolution when the reader realizes how science is central to the plot. Whodunit? The quantum mind!

Where, when, and how do you write? In Florida?

In the winters, my partner and I escape the Northern freeze and our landed responsibilities to live aboard our Hunter sailboat in the Keys. Lisa spends mornings topside letting the blue and green waters inspire her work (sheís a ceramic artist) while I stay confined in the cabin clicking away on my Mac. Living on a sailboat, I must say, is a very freeing experience. The watery life lets you escape the usual busy life simply because you canít get here from there. Quick and always available is the ball and chain that our sailboat unlocks and concentration on our work is more easily found.

What gave you the idea for writing Backbeat - A Novel of Physics?

When I write, I start with the idea and then develop a plot to investigate its validity. With Backbeat, I began with the observation that we humans tend to separate ourselves from nature, which is absurd. This led to the hypothesis that if at our root we really do have a quantum nature, we must be a composite of quantum characteristics. At the macro scale, things are smoothed out and, with our inadequate senses, we take little notice of the quantum world. None-the-less we are quantum beings, made of energy, interfering as waves with frequencies and wavelengths. Since the scientific method requires me to create an experiment to test this hypothesis -- and since our current tools of measurement do not enable us to do that at the quantum scale -- I chose fiction as the apparatus. All indications from readers say the experiment worked well.

Where do you get your interest in quantum mechanics?

Iíve always been interested in fundamental questions, and quantum physics deals with the root of our being. You canít get much further down into our relationship with the universe or our own nature than the Planck scale. Because it is an evolving science, most of what we know of quantum physics is just analogy, much like our religions. Yet it allows us to contemplate our place in the universe with more precision than superstition and fear.

Music plays an essential role in the book; do you have any musical talents?

I played drums when I was in school and now have an electronic drum set that, unfortunately, sits idle most of the time. Iíve had music teachers say I had perfect pitch, and I must confess that mediocre musicians drive me crazy, but a well-played song in any genre, from jazz and classical to hip-hop and reggae, gets me closer to the backbeat of life.

In eastern philosophy, the mind is sometimes compared to a pool of water; thoughts and emotions are described as waves disturbing the surface of the pool. In the book, you seem to use the idea of the waveform hypothesis to say that this eastern concept is not a metaphor, but a literal description. Do you think there might be scientific value in seeing people as complex wave phenomena?

There is huge potential in finally coming to terms with our essential nature, which is energy. Think what could happen if scientists began to investigate the possibility that phenomena can be understood with more precision by measuring its frequency than the antiquated way we describe things now. Color, texture, length, width, opacity Ė these are inefficient descriptors at best, antiquated at worst. If we put research dollars into finding ways to measure the wave characteristics of things, then we could simply apply a wave matrix to explain many of the results and behaviors, which now only seem unsolvable mysteries.

You obviously enjoy writing about southern Europe in the book; what personal experiences inform those pages?

Iíve taken several trips to Europe and find the history and culture of the individual countries fascinating. I find the people of Europe are very concerned with making this life mean something more than quantity. They suffer inconvenience to ensure that the means of production, how they make their living, does not control their lives. Perhaps it is because they live with thousands of year of history that quality of life is so strong in their minds. In the U.S., what is old is continually destroyed or remodeled into new and with the firm ground of antiquity goes much of our contemplative spirit.

In the novel, you write about people with very different life experience and social status. Can you name and describe most alien human culture you've ever encountered?

Einstein taught us that because the speed of light fixed, we only experience reality from our own inertial frames of reference. Alien human cultures are simply different frames of reference. The next evolution may be that we embrace a worldview that relishes the differences and faces the fact that we are all alien cultures to each other. How else could everyone be so wrong, and me so right?

What projects are you working on now?

During my book tour this fall, I had a chance to stop for five days at Pismo Beach in California and concept my next novel. Itís a sequel to Backbeat: A Novel of Physics that follows one of the secondary characters on a waveform of his or her own (that would be telling). Iím intrigued with the thought that physics might help us understand and perhaps give new energy and depth to our religious traditions. If science can help us travel to distant moons and planets, why shouldnít it be used for traveling to the core of spirit?


J. Frederick Arment winters in Florida on the sailboat Serenata and summers with his family in Yellow Springs, Ohio. After an early career teaching history, Arment founded a successful writing and marketing firm and began lecturing at Wilberforce College and Wright State University. He has penned numerous technical publications for Fortune 500 companies as well as non-profit and governmental organizations.

Arment is also author of The Synthesis, an techno-thriller from the FictionNetģ bookplate (1995). He was a board member of the Antioch Writersí Workshop and a book editor for WAM publishing. He is a founding board member of the Dayton International Peace Museum project and serves as co-chair of Dayton Peace Action. In addition to a bachelor of science in history education, Arment holds a master of humanities with a focus on the eighteenth-century American and French Enlightenment. His post-graduate study has focused on the integrated disciplines of philosophy, theology, and physics.

For more information, go to his website: FredArment.com.

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