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Interview With an Author: Andrew Mayne

Daryl M., Librarian, West Valley Regional Branch Library,
photo of the author Andrew Mayne on the right side, and book cover for The Naturalist on the left side. All one graphic.

Andrew Mayne, is the star of A&E’s Don’t Trust Andrew Mayne. He is also a magician, novelist and the host of the Weird Things podcast. He started his first world tour as an illusionist when he was a teenager and has worked behind the scenes for Penn & Teller, David Blaine, and David Copperfield. Andrew’s novel Angel Killer is currently in development for television by Twentieth Century Fox and Temple Hill Entertainment, and his new novel, The Naturalist, was released in October. Andrew recently agreed to be interviewed by Daryl Maxwell for the Los Angeles Public Library.

What was your inspiration for The Naturalist

I’ve always been interested in science and the process of scientific inquiry. I’m very fortunate to have a number of friends who are amazing researchers in a wide variety of fields and I wanted to write about the inquisitive mind of a great scientist in an unusual context. With The Naturalist, I thought it would be interesting to take someone (Theo Cray) who is brilliant because he’s detached and then put him into a situation where he could no longer simply be an observer.

How did the novel evolve and change as you wrote and revised it? Are there any characters or scenes that were lost in the process that you wish had made it to the published version? 

I’m very happy with the published version and it reflects what I set out to write. I did experiment with setting the stakes a little bit higher for Theo and even having him put into county jail because of him going a little too far to get a sample to examine. Ultimately it didn’t need that and I got the same effect from a different event.

Are Theo Cray or Jillian inspired by or based on specific individuals? What about any of the professionals in the novel (police officers or scientists)? 

Theo Cray is a composite of some aspects of people I know and his overall analytical approach is based to some degree on Richard Feynman. I had friends that knew Feynman and listening to their experiences with him certainly helped shape Theo.

Jillian is influenced by a few very strong-willed women I know that I would absolutely want to have my back in a fight. She’s got a very clear idea of who she is and what her values are.

Detective Glenn is extremely analytical in his own right but in the areas Theo is not. I based him in part in watching how experienced police officers interact with suspects.

A lot of the observations made by Theo Cray, and the developments in the novel’s plot, seem to be firmly based in real science. Is the science you used and referenced accurate? Did you ever have to take “dramatic license” to make the science work? 

I tried to make everything as grounded in real science as possible – sometimes having to dig through research papers to find the right example to use. Interestingly, the one big leap I took, which was how Theo was able to find the bodies, I found out was actually just now beginning to be put into practice and wasn’t as far-fetched as I thought.

Do you have a background in a scientific discipline or do you do a lot of research for your writing (or both)? 

I spent several years working for the James Randi Educational Foundation developing double-blind testing protocols for unusual claims. This meant working with physicists, psychologists and others, helping them figure out how to test things where observer bias could adversely affect the experiment. While there I helped develop an experiment for the International Space Station and worked with government agencies.

Currently I’m working with an aerospace startup on developing research techniques for microgravity.

What’s currently on your nightstand?

I just finished The Black Cloud by Fred Hoyle. It’s a fascinating, albeit very British, science fiction story written by one of science’s most original thinkers. Hoyle was wrong on a few things, but he was also spot on with others and completely unafraid to ask challenging questions.

What was your favorite book when you were a child? 

Tunnel in the Sky by Robert Heinlein was the first book I ever read where I felt like the author was speaking directly to my young mind about what it meant to be self-sufficient and growing into an adult.

Can you name your top five favorite or most influential authors? 

That’s six. Artistic license.

What is a book you've faked reading? 

I can’t lie about a book. I have no trouble admitting that my tastes are more commercial than literary. My bookshelves are filled with pop-up books.

Can you name a book you've bought for the cover?

I’m so picky about books. But I realized who Chip Kidd was because I was always pulled in by his covers.

Is there a book that changed your life? 

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. He is one of history’s most amazing self-made people.

Can you name a book for which you are an evangelist (and you think everyone should read)?

Not everything is for everyone. I could never recommend one book for everyone. However, my most frequent recommendation to people is Player of Games by Iain Banks. Other than that, I’ve been pushing Ashlee Vance’s Elon Musk biography. While Musk has set the record straight on a few points, it’s an extremely well-done book on a fascinating person.

Is there a book you would most want to read again for the first time?

Dune by Frank Herbert.

What is your idea of THE perfect day (where you could go anywhere/do anything/meet with anyone)?

I’m a very spoiled person. Getting to sit down and write means going anywhere and meeting anyone I choose. That may sound trite, but I’m serious.

I know there is a sequel to The Naturalist, Looking Glass, coming out next year. Is Looking Glass completed? Are you anticipating that the series will extend beyond these two books?

Most definitely.

What are you working on now?

See previous question ;)