John awakens after a lost week of heavy drinking and self-medication, to find his city still reeling in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. There’s not much I want to add on this short chapter, but it reminds me to write a few words now about the research that went into the book.
One of my first jobs in New York was as a copy-editor for a medical-education company in midtown. Back then, in the mid-80s, when I had a question that couldn’t be answered by a reference book, the next step was to call the reference desk at the New York Public Library. After numerous busy signals, a real person would pick up the phone, and you’d ask your question, e.g., “What’s the wingspan, all-up weight, and range of a TLAM-N cruise missile?” The phone would be set down on the other end, and in a few minutes the real person would return and give you the answer and its source, which you’d write down on your legal pad.
It’s the facts and feelings in a chapter like this one, whether it’s evident or not, that would be very difficult to get right if the Internet didn’t exist. These days, it’s possible with online research to find hundreds of news stories and personal accounts, written at the time, and reassemble a clear, multi-sourced picture of any day or significant event in recent history. Tools like The Wayback Machine can show you the state of Internet pages for any day in its memory, even if they’ve been changed or deleted since.
Just a little more, on the subject of research, fact, and fiction…
I think it’s safe to say that for every hour consumed writing this book, 3 or 4 hours were spent researching it. That’s not to say that the book is meant to be any sort of precise historical record; it’s fiction, set in a very similar but fictional place. With that in mind, there are four kinds of “errors” in the story that I’d like to admit to right here and now:
1. Events that did occur as they appear in the book, but at a different time or place. The “Bush Knew” headline on the front page of the New York Post, for example, didn’t appear on December 6, 2001, but rather on May 16, 2002. This type of change was used to show when actual events would have occurred, had the fictional scenario in the book actually been taking place in the real world.
2. Events that are meant to remind the reader of things that actually occurred, but which were both factually and temporally different in real life. The Northeast Blackout of 2003, for example, is invoked late in the book as if it had occurred on December 10th, 2001, had been caused by a hacker attack on the power grid, and had spread all the way across the country on that day.
3. Outright, fictional fabrications, that are (it’s hoped by the author) made plausible in the story by surrounding, actual events.
4. Mistakes I might have made. We all tried to keep this last category to a minimum, but I invite your thoughtful investigation.