By the time this article is in print, I will have published three novels. I never planned to write a novel, let alone a trilogy, but my brain just woke me up one night and gave me no choice.
Isaac Asimov, a famous scientist-turned novelist, has been credited with saying, “The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not “Eureka!” but “That’s funny …” As a scientist for nearly 30 years, I can attest to that. When things go exactly as planned, breakthroughs are rarely made. However, when something unexpected happens and you are able to figure out why, that’s when science leaps forward.
Many times I have lain in bed pondering some unusual result and trying to understand what the data meant. Occasionally my sleeping brain will put the pieces together and wake me up with a crystal-clear understanding of the surprising findings. When that happens, I am instantly awake no matter the time, and I must write it down lest I forget. In January of 2021, I woke in the middle of the night with a solution to a very different problem.
Three years ago I bought four AncestryDNA kits for my family. I thought it would be interesting to see our genetic makeup since my children are a mix of Asian and Caucasian. A few months after we received our results, I was contacted by a man from California. He had recently and unexpectedly learned he was part Vietnamese. AncestryDNA told him he was related to my children and their dad, and he reached out to us hoping to find his birth mother. Over the next few months, my newfound relative’s story began to unfold. What we learned was fascinating, but many questions were left unanswered. I often found myself lying awake in bed wondering how things had happened—what events had led his birth mother to make the choices she had made? But even if the answers were known, it was none of my business. I had no right to ask, no right to probe for more. It wasn’t my story to investigate.
Then in the middle of the night, I woke up and instantly knew that I should write my own version of my new relative’s story, a novel inspired by the one told through his DNA. That very night I wrote the first two chapters of Time Intertwined. Over the next few months, I would often lie in bed thinking about events that needed to happen in my novel and wonder how I could make the story develop in a realistic way. Just like my previous experience with our research data, if I later woke with the answer, there was no going back to sleep. For this reason, much of Time Intertwined was written in the wee hours of the night.
It was also in the dead of night when I realized I should weave a bit of science into Time Intertwined. Like so many soldiers and Vietnamese civilians, it occurred to me that one of my characters should be exposed to Agent Orange, the deadly herbicide used during the war. It was supposed to be harmless to humans, but it wasn’t. Much of our lab’s scientific research focuses on understanding the generational effects of Agent Orange exposure. Although many still dispute that the children and grandchildren of those exposed can be affected, our data and that of others proves that it can.
After Time Intertwined was published, I continued to find myself lying awake and thinking about my characters. I missed them and wondered what happened to them next. I also felt I had not said enough about Agent Orange and the devastating effects that chemical continues to have more than 50 years after the spraying stopped.
And so, one summer night a few hours before dawn, the Agent Orange Trilogy was born.