Guest post written by author Amy Noelle ParksAmy Noelle Parks is an associate professor at Michigan State University. When shes not using One Direction lyrics as a writing prompt, shes helping future teachers recover from the trauma of years of school mathematics. She lives in Michigan with her husband and two daughters. Her new novel, The Quantum Weirdness of the Almost-Kiss, is out now.
I would love to say I wrote a YA romance about a math-loving girl so I could address the plight of women in STEM. After all, that sounds quite noble.
But the reality wasnt quite so high-minded. The simple truth is I think math and physics are sexy as hell.
I knowbelieve methat this is not a typical sort of kink. Lab-coat wearing scientists and absent-minded mathematicians dont really occupy the same prominent place in romance as vampires, athletes, or billionaires. In popular culture, the very idea of super smart scientists as love interests is often played for laughs (see The Big Bang Theory).
But I wanted to create a different kind of world, one where Evie, my teen mathematician, was sought after and where she was unapologetically drawn to brilliance. As Evies best friend Caleb notes, little cartoon birds circle Evies head when she watches physicist Max Tegmarks TED talks. (Im pretty sure the same thing happens to me.)
Writing The Quantum Weirdness of the Almost-Kiss was such a joy. For the first time in my life, I was able to swirl together my passion for romance and my fascination with mathematics and physics. I could make Evie a girl navigating the interest of two boys and a shoe-in for a national math and physics competition. The love of her life could be devoted and emotionally intelligent and a coder. The boy who distracted her could look like a member of a boyband, but also be almost as good in physics as she was. And I could put them all in a STEM boarding school, so every single characterfrom Evies empathetic friend to Calebs ex-girlfriends to their irritating classmates all loved math and science. (The book is absolutely a contemporary rom-com, but I guess, all this makes it a little bit of a fantasy too.)
I knew all that math and physics wouldnt make for the easiest possible path toward publication, (YA romances about writers, readers, and booksellers seem to be a lot more in demand), but I really wanted to use this love story to help others feel that same wonder about math and physics that I do.
I still remember when, as a tween, I turned the page in A Wrinkle in Time to see that drawing of an ant crossing a fold in fabric, Madeleine LEngles model for what it would look like to tesser through spacecrossing vast distances armed with nothing more than the right equations.
My awe was equally great years later when I learned that a tesseract was not something LEngle invented for her fantasy, but an actual mathematical object. Because of this connection between fiction and math, the whole world suddenly seemed magical. My enduring love for A Wrinkle in Time is why Evie chooses Tesseract as her screen name for the anonymous online forum she joins. Caleb recognizes her persona immediately, but she is much slower to realize the true identity of Miloa screen name Caleb took from Norton Justers The Phantom Tollbooth (another mathy favorite of mine).
Ive always loved the way science fiction plays with big ideas and sends me out to read more about our universe, but I am also always disappointed with how little attention relationships get in those books. The short shift Meg and Calvins blossoming romance gets in A Wrinkle in Time is my only real criticism of LEngles story.
I wanted to write a book that gave readers big questions to think aboutlike whether we live in a computer simulation and what it means that mathematics suggests were in a multiverse with infinite versions of ourselves somewhere out therebut I also wanted to give readers lots and lots of kissing. Because heres the thing. There is nothing more fascinating than seeing two people fall in loveexcept maybe figuring out the laws of universe.
Combining love and mathematics is hardly a new idea. In the 1600s, John Donne wrote Valediction Forbidding Mourning for his wife, comparing her to the center of a compass that kept him steady when he had to travel far from home. The poem draws out the mathematical metaphor over multiple stanzas, ending with Thy firmness makes my circle just/And makes me end where I begun. In my book, Evie, who hates most poetry, grabs onto this math metaphor to describe her relationship with Caleb, all while denying that she is in love with him. (A truth her friend Bex sees long before Evie does.)
For his part, Caleb latches onto the idea of entangled particles as a metaphor for his relationship with Evie because however far apart they are, their connection can never be undone. The amazing thing about this statement is that its true.
Experiments in quantum physics have shown that when particles are entangled, changing one affects the other, even if theyre hundreds of miles apart. Einstein hated this. He called it spooky action at a distance to emphasize just how ridiculous it was to believe the mathematics that suggested it was true. But over the last few years, scientists in China and the Netherlands have separated pairs of entangled particles by hundreds and then thousands of kilometers and found that when one of the pair is measured, the other instantly changes.
How does this happen? We dont yet know.
For me, all this just cries out to be written into a love story. In many ways, the question at the heart of physics and at the heart of romance is the same: how does one person (or particle) become connected to another and what does it take to stay that way?
So dont be scared of the math and science in my book. Or in any other book. Youre not in school anymore. This isnt about reciting the times tables as fast as you can. When you begin to wrap your head around the real questions being asked, I think youll find that math can beautiful and intriguing and, dare I say iteven sexy.
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