THE FRIAR'S LANTERN - GREG HICKEY
You may win $1,000,000. You will judge a man of murder.
An eccentric scientist tells you he can read your mind and offers to prove it in a high-stakes wager. A respected college professor exacts impassioned, heat-of-the-moment revenge on his wife’s killer—a week after her death—and you’re on the jury. Take a Turing test with a twist, discover how your future choices might influence the past, and try your luck at Three Card Monte. And while you weigh chance, superstition, destiny, intuition and logic in making your decisions, ask yourself: are you responsible for your actions at all? Choose wisely—if you can.
MM: Hi Folks. Thanks for joining us @Martin Matthews Writes for our latest and greatest author feature interview. This week I have the pleasure of bringing you Greg Hickey, a former international professional baseball player turned forensic scientist, endurance athlete, author and screenwriter. Greg, welcome to Martin Matthews Writes!
GH: Thank you very much for having me, Martin. I’m glad to be here.
MM:Thanks. Well, I'll try not to throw you too many curve balls, but if I do, you'll probably handle them just fine, right?
GH: I was always a better fastball hitter but I’ll do my best.
MM: I have to ask, how does one go from handling a Louisville Slugger to a forensic microscope?
GH: Well, like the vast majority of college athletes, a professional athletic career just wasn’t in my future. After I graduated from college, I was fortunate enough to get paid a little bit to play and coach for a baseball team in Sweden and to live with a family in South Africa while playing and coaching for their local team. But I was never good enough to make a serious living as a professional baseball player.
Forensic science had been in the back of my mind for a long time. I always liked that it was a very practical use of science and enjoyed the problem-solving aspects of the discipline. But I found philosophy far more interesting as a college major than chemistry or biology. So I majored in philosophy and took enough science courses to qualify me for graduate school. Once I was done with baseball and I knew I wasn’t going to be a professional philosopher, forensics kind of pushed its way to the forefront. I enrolled in a Master’s program in forensic science and got a job at the state police crime lab in Chicago the year after I graduated.
MM: So your new book is called FRIAR'S LANTERN. It released not too long ago with Black Rose Writing. I love the retro-abstract book cover, by the way. Tell us a little about the book. Let's start with that title and go from there -- what's the meaning behind FRIAR'S LANTERN?
GH: A “friar’s lantern” is another name for a will-o'-wisp/will-o’-the-wisp or ignis fatuus (Latin for “foolish fire”), all of which refer to a ghostly light seen by travelers over swamps and marshes at night. The light results from the oxidation of gases produced by the decomposition of organic material. Folklore warns travelers to beware this light, since following it could lead them away from the safe path and onto unstable ground.
The Friar’s Lanternis a choose-your-own-adventure novel, meaning readers will get to pick their own paths through the story. So the title cautions readers to find stable footing as they move through the novel’s different paths. More specifically, the novel addresses the long-standing philosophical debate between free will and determinism. It questions whether or not free will is a myth, an illusion that one is consciously deliberating about a decision. If determinism is true, then we have been following the wrong path, which could have serious consequences for personal responsibility, morality and the justice system.
There are two main storylines that run throughout the novel. In the first, a university scientist tells you he can use an MRI brain scan to read your mind and offers to prove it by giving you the chance to win $1,000,000 in a predicted choice scenario. In the second, you serve on the jury for the trial of a college professor accused of killing his wife’s murderer a week after her death. And then there are several other scenarios that present choices to the reader.
MM: Wow, choose your own adventure? That had to be quite the challenge. I have a hard enough time writing ONE book with ONE ending! But you're also asking some big questions here, Greg -- free will versus determinism. Calvinism and arminianism. Cause and effect. Morality. Why did you decide to write this book?
GH:They are big questions. And they’re questions that fascinate me. I actually think they fascinate a lot of people, especially if they’re presented in an accessible and entertaining form, which is what I’ve tried to do. I thought of the idea for a choose-your-own-adventure novel about ten years ago. At the time, I was only aware of the kids’ books; I didn’t realize there were full-length choose-your-own-adventure novels for adults. But I think most of those books offer an excess of choices, far more than we really deliberate about in everyday life. For example, if I’m summoned to jury duty next week, I’m going to go. Strictly speaking, I could choose not to go, but that thought would barely cross my mind. That’s not to say it’s predetermined that I’ll go, just that I’m a generally law-abiding person who doesn’t mind fulfilling basic civic obligations.
But to me, the really interesting decision happens when I’m at jury duty. How do I weigh the evidence presented and make a decision about the accused’s fate? Can I make an impartial decision, or is my psyche twisted by inherited prejudices? Could the defendant have avoided his supposed crime, or was he a victim of his genetics and environment? These are big questions—determinism, free will, etc.—and as we learn more about how the mind works, we see that those issues begin to filter across multiple fields like neuroscience, biology, morality, law and more.
I realized that choose-your-own-adventure was a great format for exploring these questions. The book asks readers to make choices about the very nature of choice and forces them to consider whether they are ever truly responsible for any of their decisions, not just those in the novel.
MM: So there's a million bucks at stake, as well as a man's freedom. Can you tell us a little more about some of the main characters from the novel?
GH: Sure. The protagonist is, of course, you (i.e. the reader). Because it’s a choose-your-own-adventure novel, the story is told in the second person and presents a series of choices to the reader which lead to different events in the story, some positive, some negative. Aside from the reader, there’s Dr. Franko Pavlov, the enigmatic university research scientist with a hidden source of millions of dollars in funding. If you agree to act as a subject in his experiment, he claims he can predict your decision one week in advance and offers to pay you $1,000,000 to prove he’s right. There’s also Dr. David Solon, the brilliant and honest university professor accused of killing his wife’s murderer; Eve, your witty and sage best friend and confidant; and John Mann, your fellow juror, computer scientist and chess aficionado.
MM: Sounds like a great cast. What are you looking for readers to take away from this book?
GH:I’m hoping readers question their views on how and why we make the choices we do, and what these views and their alternatives say about personal responsibility. I’d like to think The Friar’s Lanternis a fun and engaging way to present some of these issues.
MM: What are you currently reading?
GH: I just finished Thus Spoke Zarathustraby Friedrich Nietzsche. I still like to keep up with my philosophy education.
MM: Tell us about some of your biggest influences.
GH: The terms of Dr. Pavlov’s experiment, in which the reader has the option to win 1,000,000 (fictional) dollars, are based on Newcomb’s Problem, a philosophical puzzle developed by William Newcomb and first published and analyzed by Robert Nozick in the 1969 essay “Newcomb’s Problem and Two Principles of Choice.” In The Friar’s Lantern, I use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in place of the unexplained psychic abilities of the Predictor from the original formulation of Newcomb’s Problem. There are two studies cited in Dr. Pavlov’s experiment in The Friar’s Lantern. Both of them are real and give credence to the possibility that fMRI could serve as a predictor in the sense required by Newcomb’s problem.
One of those studies, in particular, is really interesting. In 2010, researchers at UCLA showed subjects a video promoting the use of sunscreen while the subjects underwent an fMRI brain scan. Immediately following the scan, subjects were asked to rate the likelihood they would increase their sunscreen use in the subsequent week. The fMRI scan results were also used to predict each subject’s choice. When subjects reported their actual sunscreen use a week later, the fMRI accounted for 23% of actual changes in sunscreen use beyond what the subjects had predicted. So the fMRI was more accurate in predicting changes in subjects’ behavior over the course of a week than were the subjects themselves. In The Friar’s Lantern, I just made the fMRI-generated predictions a little more accurate.
MM: Are you working on your next book? Can you tell us anything about it?
GH: Yes I am. It’s a novel about a fictional mass shooting incident that occurs in my hometown of Chicago. The story follows four characters in the year leading up to the shooting and explores how and why they might be involved in the attack.
MM: I'm going to go out on a limb here and predict it's going to be great. Well, it's been great catching up with you, Greg. FRIAR'S LANTERNis available by checking out the links below, and you can also follow Greg on his blog and website. Greg, it's been a pleasure, come back and talk to me again soon, okay?
GH:Thanks again for having me and for your insightful questions. I’d be happy to come back anytime.
Greg Hickey started writing his first novel the summer after he finished seventh grade. He didn't get very far because he quickly realized he preferred playing outside with his friends.
Eight years later, he began to find a better balance between writing and life. He wrote the early drafts of his first screenplay Vita during his last two years of college. Vita went on to win an Honorable Mention award in the 2010 Los Angeles Movie Awards script competition and was named a finalist in the 2011 Sacramento International Film Festival.
After college, he spent a year in Sundsvall, Sweden and Cape Town, South Africa, playing and coaching for local baseball teams and penning his first novel,Our Dried Voices. That novel was published in 2014 and was a finalist for Foreword Reviews' INDIES Science Fiction Book of the Year Award.
Today, he still loves sharing stories while staying busy with the other facets of his life. He is a forensic scientist by day and endurance athlete and author by nights, lunches, weekends and any other spare moments. After his post-college travels, he once again lives in his hometown of Chicago with his wife, Lindsay.
You can follow Greg Hickey here:
His novel THE FRIAR'S LANTERN is available here: