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Two Things We Get Wrong About Social Mobility

Michael Goodwin, author of Economix: How Our Economy Works (and Doesn't Work), in Words and Pictures, discusses the challenges with getting ahead in the world. 51rFM2e87lL

A recent study claims that social mobility in the U.S. hasn’t changed for the last several decades. (See “Upward Mobility Has Not Declined, Study Says” by David Leonhardt, New York Times, January 23, 2014.) The paper received a lot of attention; after all, most of us think it’s harder to get ahead than it used to be.

And we’re right. The paper looks at one type of social mobility, and not the important type.

Think of a ladder with a hundred rungs, with a person on each rung. The paper looks at our ability to climb the ladder—the chance that, say, someone born on rung 20 can climb to rung 80.

And it’s true that it’s no harder for a child born at the bottom to climb to the top than it was in the 1970s. (It’s not easy, compared to other countries, but it’s no harder.)

But that type of mobility isn’t what we should be looking at. After all, it’s a zero-sum game—you can’t climb up a rung without pushing someone else down.

By contrast, here’s what social mobility used to look like. Check out how real after-tax incomes increased just from 1941 to 1950 (in constant dollars):

Income rank

Change in After-Tax Income, 1941-1950

Bottom 20%

+42%

Next 20%

+37%

Middle 20%

+24%

Next 20%

+16%

Top 20%

+8%

Source: The Review of Economics and Statistics, Selma Goldsmith, et. al., Vol. 36, No. 1, The MIT Press, Feb., 1954.

So if you were on, say, the 40th rung, your income improved even if you stayed on that rung. An entire generation rose into the middle class, not because other people dropped out of it, but because more people could afford a middle-class lifestyle.

That’s the type of social mobility we want, and that’s what we’ve lost. Where the ladder used to lengthen, carrying us up even if we stayed on the same rung, now we’re lucky to stay even. All too often, people who stay on the same rung fall out of the middle class. (See “The Middle Class Is Steadily Eroding. Just Ask the Business World.” by Nelson D. Schwartz, New York Times, February 2, 2014.)

Why did this happen? Was it, as Time says (in “Time to Talk About Inequality” by Rana Foroohar, February 10, 2014), the unavoidable result of “the forces of globalization and technology?”

If that sounds odd to you, you’re right—we had technology and trade in the mid-20th century, and economic law hasn’t somehow completely reversed itself since then. And other countries share our technology, and trade in the same world, without squeezing their middle class out of existence.

What’s really changed is our politics. In the mid-20th century our economic policies were designed to expand the middle class. Since the 1980s, our policies—whatever their official justifications—have been designed to concentrate wealth at the very top. In both cases, the policies worked.

For instance, check out the income tax, circa 1948:

Income

Income left over after federal income tax

$1,000

$1,000

$5,000

$4,300

$20,000

$13,800

$200,000

$52,000

$1 million

$161,000

Source: Paul Samuelson, Economics, McGraw-Hill, 1948, p173.

To turn that into current dollars, add a zero—a 1948 dollar had roughly ten times the purchasing power of a 2013 dollar (see this CPI Inflation Calculator). So someone who made the equivalent of $10 million would get to keep only a little more than a million and a half.

In the government’s hands, that money became spending and jobs.

Today, billionaires pay lower tax rates than their secretaries (see “Buffett says he's still paying lower tax rate than his secretary” by Chris Isidore @CNNMoney, March 4, 2013) and that’s if they pay taxes at all (see “Millionaires Don't Pay Taxes?” by Dennis Romero, LAWeekly, Mon, Aug 8, 2011). They sit on that money (see “How the rich save today” by Lora Shinn, Bankrate.com), while the government can barely afford to stay open at all.

So we get two things wrong about social mobility. It is falling, and it’s not due to the impersonal operation of economic laws. If we want to return to the sort of mobility we used to have—where “getting ahead” didn’t mean leaving someone else behind—we should try returning to the sort of policies that favor the middle class.

Certainly, favoring the rich hasn’t helped anyone except the rich.

Guest Blogger: Barbara Taylor Bradford on “A Woman of Substance”

A Woman of SubstanceNew York Times best-selling romance author Barbara Taylor Bradford discusses her breakout first novel, A Woman of Substance, one of the top ten best-selling novels ever written with more than 32 million copies sold.

A Woman of Substance was my first novel.  I had attempted to write four others, and every time I stopped when I'd written about 90 or 100 pages. I simply didn't like them.

And then one day, unexpectedly, a young girl popped into my head as if from nowhere. I could see her clearly in my mind's eye. She was a girl of 12, and I knew she would grow up to be a beautiful young woman. Her hair was auburn and she had green eyes. But the important thing was that I sensed she was determined and clever and had a strong will.

That very moment, I took out my yellow pad and started to make notes. And soon I knew her very well indeed! Her name was Emma Harte. I understood she was driven and ambitious, and she was going to become and extraordinary woman. In fact, I wanted her to become a woman who would make it in a man's world of business when women were not doing that. I decided she would become a great tycoon.

Essentially, A Woman of Substance is the life story of a girl who started with nothing in life, who overcame hardships and adversity of every kind and triumphed in the end. I believe it’s an inspiring book because Emma achieves her dreams.

When I started to write the book, I knew I would finish this one. I had to because Doubleday in New York had bought it on a 12-page outline plus 90 pages – and they had done so within 48 hours of first reading those pages.

People have asked me why A Woman of Substance became so successful, and so quickly. I think there are many answers to this question. To begin with, Emma is a compelling character, as are her life long friends Blackie O'Neill and Paul McGill, the love of her life. And of course, the book has everything in it... drama, intrigue, money, passion, power and revenge – all of those great human emotions that make for a good story.

Eventually, A Woman of Substance was published in 90 countries and 40 languages. And I'm happy to tell you that it is still selling today. Woman all over the world told me that Emma Harte was their true role model, and that the book had changed their lives for the better. Some had started businesses. Others left bad relationships or abusive marriages. Many had gone to live in other cities. But they had all moved on and been successful. They thanked me for creating Emma Harte.

I had set out to simply tell a good story about a strong woman. I hadn't intended to send a message. But apparently, quite unconsciously I had. To sum it all up, all I know is that I wrote the kind of story I love to tell about an ordinary woman who becomes extraordinary in living her life a certain way and goes out to conquer the world.

Barbara Taylor Bradford’s second and third book in The Emma Harte Saga, Hold the Dream and To Be the Best, are now available in ebook, along with Act of Will, Angel, Remember, The Women in His Life and Voice of the Heart.

Author Booklist: Comics & Graphic Novels to Watch Out For in 2014

Author and artist Gene Luen Yang (Boxers & Saints and American Born Chinese) talks about his books to watch out for in 2014.

How to be Happy by Eleanor Davis 51hkOHCdzIL

I’ve been a fan of Eleanor Davis for the better part of a decade now.  I’ve marveled at her range, both in her writing and in her art.  She switches genres and styles at will, all the while maintaining the uniqueness of her storytelling voice.  She is a master of the comics short story.  I’ve shared her lovable young readers’ graphic novel Stinky with my children, much to their delight.  The one thing I haven’t been able to do is hold a collection of her comics in my hands.  In 2014, Fantagraphics will finally rectify that situation.

 

The Return of Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke

Zita’s everything a hero should be: brave, loyal, clever, and selfless.  She even wears a cape.  Two graphic novels ago, Zita jumped through a space portal to save her best friend Joseph.  She found herself in a particularly colorful corner of the universe, populated by aliens, robots, and giant mice.  She made some friends, became a planet-wide celebrity, and even got to pilot a giant robot version of herself.  Now, in the final installment of Ben Hatke’s sci-fi epic trilogy, our hero makes her way home.

 

Continue reading "Author Booklist: Comics & Graphic Novels to Watch Out For in 2014" »

Guest Blogger: Gwyneth Paltrow

WithinGwyneth Paltrow is an Oscar winner and author of the New York Times best-selling cookbook, My Father's Daughter. She is a mother and an actress, splitting her time between London and New York.

When my latest cookbook, It's All Good, was nearly complete, I was still searching for someone to write the foreword.  Because the book included amazing recipes based on a particular healing diet I had been prescribed by my physician, I immediately thought of Dr. Habib Sadeghi.  Not only did he understand the medicinal qualities of whole foods, but also the spiritual partnership we have with the earth that provides them to us.  I was extremely grateful when Dr. Sadeghi agreed, and even more so when I recently received the opportunity to return the favor and write the foreword to his incredible new book, Within.

What struck me immediately about Within is that it’s so universal.  Yes, it focuses on the goal of losing weight, but it does so with principles that can be applied to anything we want to achieve.  It’s really a life map instead of a diet.  In fact, it isn’t a diet at all because he never mentions food or even exercise.  The world doesn’t need another carb counting lecture.  It’s really a healing workout for the soul, and that seems only fitting since people often call him the Old Soul Doctor.  

They say that over a lifetime, everyone has at least one story or experience that will break your heart. If that’s true, then Dr. Sadeghi has enough for three lifetimes.  He’s an old soul not because of what he’s been through, but because of how he survived and thrived on the other side of those difficulties. In Within, he shares the tools he used to get through those experiences and the wisdom he earned in the process. 

That’s why I was so proud to write the foreword to Within.  Who hasn’t wanted to change their life in some significant way and felt totally lost as to how to make that happen?  Dr. Sadeghi isn’t a motivational guru.  Even better; he’s somebody who’s “been there”.  If direct experience is the only real teacher in life, then Dr. Sadeghi has a PhD in getting your life off life support.  You’ll feel his compassion on every page and he never talks down to the reader.  Instead, he approaches every subject with the same intuitive empathy that makes him so successful as a physician.

I highly recommend Within, no matter what kind of change you’re seeking in your life.  Just be prepared for a paradigm shift in the way you think and feel that only comes from fearlessly “stepping into your loving”.

--Gwyneth Paltrow

Guest Bloggers: Don Mann and Ralph Pezzullo

Hunt the FalconSEAL Team Six and Thomas Crocker are back hunting their most elusive adversary yet: The Falcon.

When the White House needs someone to track down a group of dangerous terrorists who have been assassinating U.S. diplomats in posts all over the world, who do they call? Tom Crocker and his SEAL Team Six special operators, aka Black Cell. They’re the black ops specialists who are often tapped when anything highly sensitive, time-critical and extremely dangerous has to be done.

This time they raid a bomb-making factory in Thailand where Crocker and his team discover a group of Iranian terrorists holding Venezuelan passports, which points the finger of blame directly at the Iranian Quds Force. And here’s the little known true fact(the one that DC officials never talk about): the United States has been fighting a secret war with the Iranian Quds Force for years. They’re the group behind many attacks against Americans in Iraq (including the rocket attack on the Green Zone) and Afghanistan. Currently, they’re fighting alongside pro-Assad forces in Syria, and they also have a branch of operatives in Venezuela known as Unit 5000 that is in the business of shipping cocaine to Europe and using the proceeds to attack the West, and particularly the United States.

No one talks about them because they’re so nasty and as part of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, take orders directly from the religious leaders of Iran – not the president, but the mullahs. They are, without a doubt, a state-sponsored Islamic terrorist group, much better trained, armed, funded and more insidious than al-Qaeda. And in Hunt the Falcon they’re lead by Crocker’s nemesis and the man behind his wife’s kidnapping in Tripoli (depicted in the previous book in the series Hunt the Scorpion) Farhed Alizadeh – the Falcon.

The question is: what are they up to now? And why are they operating right under our noses? To find the answers, Crocker and his men crisscross South America, trying to stay one step ahead of Unit 5000 operatives. When the latest technical gadgetry from DARPA fails during a raid on the terrorist hideout, Crocker has to rescue one of his wounded men the old-fashioned way: climbing a fence and improvising his way out with bullets flying.

Believe it or not, that’s just in the first hundred pages. And it’s only a fraction of Crocker’s problems. People back home in Virginia depend on him, including a wife at home who is trying to cope with PTSD and a father who seems to have fallen in love with a much younger woman.

The pace and severity of the physical and mental challenges Crocker and his men must face as they attempt to head off catastrophe push them to the brink of exhaustion. But even when they’re asked to undertake a final “suicide mission” deep behind enemy lines without backup, or a credible exfil plan, Crocker and his men answer the call.

--Don Mann and Ralph Pezzullo

Guest Blogger: Michael Connelly

The Gods of GuiltDefense attorney Mickey Haller returns with a haunting case in the gripping new thriller from best-selling author Michael Connelly.

In my new novel, The Gods of Guilt, the Lincoln lawyer Mickey Haller likens the practice of law to juggling chain saws: It can be dangerous, especially if you catch it by the wrong end. I think writing a novel is the same way. There are many pitfalls. You have to be careful and steady with your juggling. Still, every book is a challenge in its own way, and those challenges are set by the juggler himself. So there is no use complaining about it. If you want to take the easy route, then juggle marshmallows.
When I wrote The Gods of Guilt, I think I went with chainsaws. I gave myself a challenge that probably nobody would notice but myself. I just wanted to see if I could pull it off.

First of all, I wanted the book to function as an entertaining legal thriller with lots of intrigue, courtroom drama, and subterfuge. I wanted a few surprises too, including the death of a secondary character that the reader wouldn’t see coming. None of that was really secret in terms of the structure of the book. They were needed ingredients and difficult enough to juggle and keep in the air. The secret agenda I added was with regard to two of the main characters. While functioning as a fast-moving thriller, the book’s true center revolves around the relationship between Mickey Haller and his 16-year-old daughter, Hayley. I wanted that strained relationship to be the engine that drives Mickey’s choices and desires through the book. The book is, after all, called The Gods of Guilt. I wanted Mickey to be operating from a standpoint of seeking redemption in his daughter’s eyes, and if he succeeded, then he would save the relationship that means so much to him and ease the guilt that weighs him down as the story begins.

But here’s the catch—or, I should say, the challenge. I did not want Mickey and Hayley to have a single exchange of dialogue in the book, let alone meet face-to-face. I thought this was necessary, at least in the first half of the book, to underscore how deep the rift was between this father and daughter and how difficult it would be to bridge the gap. I wanted Mickey’s efforts to reach out and to explain his actions to be unrequited. I wanted his phone calls to go unanswered, his texts unreturned. When the centerpiece trial got underway, I wanted Mickey to turn from the defense table to look for his daughter in the public gallery, only to see she was not there.

I hope you pay attention to this as you read my novel. I know there is one scene where Mickey watches his daughter from afar, and another off the page where Hayley visits without Mickey really knowing it—you’ll understand what that means if you read the book. You’ll then be able to decide if the challenge was successfully met, and if it was the right choice. Can the father-daughter relationship be the true center of the book if the two principles never talk to one another on the page? You be the judge.

— Michael Connelly

Guest Blog: “It’s a Lovely, Lucky Thing to Have Children.” by Vivek J. Tiwary

“It’s a Lovely, Lucky Thing to Have Children”

51MKOlwmk1LThat’s what Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein told a distraught John Lennon, who had just learned that his girlfriend Cynthia Powell was pregnant.

As a gay man in 1960’s England, it would have been impossible for Brian Epstein to imagine ever having children. Forget gay marriage or adoption—Brian was worried about staying out of jail. Homosexuality was a felony. Brian fondly called the Beatles his “boys” and while scandal-seeking journalists have suggested that this endearment underscored salacious desires, I think it was reflective of a lovelier, though more complicated truth. For Brian, the Beatles weren’t just treasured clients—they were the children he could never have.

Like many good fathers, Brian dreamed big dreams for his boys—“The Beatles are going to be bigger than Elvis!” he proudly boasted, and “the Beatles are going to elevate pop music to an art form!” He believed that the Beatles would spread a great message of love across the globe. And he moved mountains in the service of these dreams—convincing EMI to sign the Beatles after they (and every other record label) had already passed on the band; crafting the famous Beatles’ suits, haircuts, and performance-ending bows; twisting Ed Sullivan’s arm into booking the Beatles when a British band had never made an impact in the United States; and so on. And yet the most important thing that Brian gave the Beatles was not a business item. It was, simply put, love. Engineering the great runaway freight train that was the Beatles in the 1960’s was a man who nurtured them, protected them, and encouraged them to think of their band as a family. Brian’s love for the Beatles’ was an unconditional love—the love of a father to a child. The kind of love that the Beatles sang about so often.

Luckily for Brian, the trickster amongst his boys John Lennon once said that there were only two people in his life that he actually listened to and would do what they told him to—Brian Epstein and Yoko Ono.

My own father died when I was 20, and my mother died just a few years after that. I was an only child, so the loss was devastating and exhaustive. My home felt so quiet in those years. I didn’t feel so much alone as I felt quiet… And now it’s 20 years later, I’m married to an inspiring wife, I have two delightful children—and my home is noisier than I ever imagined possible! It’s full of childish laughter, joy… and the lovesongs of the Beatles.

Tiwary_family
Vivek with his two children

I’ve loved sharing the Beatles with my children in part because it completes a circle that began when my  parents first played the Beatles for me. It feels like witnessing magic to see my kids respond to their songs almost exactly as I did, to truly see how cross-generational this band really is.

And just as I’ve loved sharing the Beatles with my kids, I’ve loved sharing the Brian Epstein story with them—because it’s the story of a man who in the face of tremendous obstacles made a spectacular dream come true. What father doesn’t want his children to grow up with that kind of inspiration?

I dedicated “The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story” to my mother and to Brian Esptein’s mother, because it’s with these fab ladies that it all truly began. But in many ways, “The Fifth Beatle” really belongs to the next generation.

John Lennon said, “Make your own dream. That's the Beatles' story, isn't it?” I suppose it is. But digging deeper than that, it’s really the story of the man who made the Beatles—the story of The Fifth Beatle, Brian Epstein.

 

 

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Guest Blogger: Holly Black, author of "The Coldest Girl in Coldtown"

The Coldest Girl in ColdtownThe Coldest Girl in Coldtown is a story of rage and revenge, of guilt and horror, and of love and loathing from best-selling author Holly Black.

When I was in seventh grade, I bought a novel for twenty-five cents at a garage sale a couple of blocks from my house. I picked it up even though it had a hilarious photographic cover of three glum-looking people in white face paint and even though I was worried something with vampire in the title would gross me out. The book was Interview with the Vampire, and I must have read it a hundred times since then. It led me to read Tanith Lee’s Sabella, or the Blood Stone, all Les Daniels’s Don Sebastian de Villanueva books, Suzy McKee Charnas’s The Vampire Tapestry, Nancy Collins’s Sunglasses After Dark, and lots more.

I obsessed. In seventh grade, I wore a vintage satin vampire cape to school. In eighth grade, I wrote a massive research paper on vampire folklore.

Looking back, I wonder why I liked them so much and why that fascination endured. I think its because they are contradictory creatures. They’re elegant yet animal. They were like us humans once, but now they’re monstrous. They’ll live forever and at the same time, they’re already dead. And they need us, because they need to drink our salty, delicious, disgusting blood.

They’re us with the brakes cut. Us, without consequences. Our worst, best – most extraordinary, most powerful – selves. The part we secretly love.

But as much as I wrote about vampires as a kid, I didn’t think I would ever write a vampire novel as an adult. I’d loved so many vampire books – and there are so many great ones, so many beloved ones – I just didn’t know if I had anything to add to the conversation. So when I was asked to write a short story for an anthology, I thought back to all the things I loved about vampires when I was a kid and I thought about all the stuff I loved about them now that I was an adult.

I started wondering how the world would experience an outbreak of real, blood-drinking monsters. We already, as a culture, love serial killers. We’re already obsessed with the beautiful, the doomed, and the damned. Imagine how much weirder and worse it could get. Imagine a walled-off, quarantined city where parties live-stream to the Internet. Imagine that the vampires there don’t kill a human every night, but when they do, everyone tunes in.

Did you know that during rally car races, the audience would watch from the side of the track, despite the fact that the cars often plunged into the crowd? It got so that having your leg broken by a famous rally car racer was a mark of distinction. And while laws were passed to make the sport safer – spectators kept right on lining up until they were forbidden from doing so.

We love wrecks. We love disasters. In our domesticated, civilized hearts is a yearning to get close to danger and escape, but also – maybe -- to watch others get too close and not escape.

Which is maybe why one of quickest paths to something like fame is through doing something disastrous – either on television or online. Criminals get caught after posting pictures of themselves with the loot they robbed on their Facebook pages. Three of the most popular videos of all time on YouTube are two men fighting on a city bus, a college student being tasered for loudly questioning Governor John Kerry and, a lady stomping grapes who falls and makes loud wheezing noises while trying to get up.

We love to watch things go badly for people.

And in The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, the world has gone badly for seventeen-year-old Tana Bach. She’s conflicted about the idea of monstrousness, having grown up with posters of literal monsters on the walls of her friends’ bedrooms, monsters with their own YouTube channels. She’s used to seeing girls and boys become famous by becoming dead.

So one morning she wakes up after a party, where she passed out in a bathtub, to find almost all the other partygoers drained of blood. She could be infected herself. She has to go on a road trip through the night with her ex-boyfriend, who is raging with infection and thirsty for blood, and one other person—the first monster she’s ever met, the first one who hasn’t been on the other side of a TV or computer screen.

Tana has had the world presented to her one way, but being among the monsters, is very, very different. What might seem glamorous from a distance is horrific close up. She’s got to save herself, but she can’t help but be tempted to try to save others too – and that temptation will cost her a lot of things, maybe even her humanity.

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is full of stuff I love—all the messy, messed-up stuff. It’s the book I always wanted, the one I never knew I would write. But most of all, it’s a book about a girl discovering her inner monster and learning to love it.

--Holly Black

Guest Blogger: Alan Weisman, author of "Countdown"

CountdownAlan Weisman is the author of several books, including The World Without Us: an international best-seller translated in 34 languages, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, and winner of the Wenjin Book Prize of the National Library of China.

Countdown: Our Last, Best Hope for a Future on Earth? addresses a question I’d left dangling at the end of my last book, The World Without Us, a thought experiment that imagined what would happen if people vanished from our planet. The idea of theoretically wiping us from the Earth was to show that, despite colossal damage we’ve wreaked, nature has remarkable healing powers. When relieved of the pressures we humans daily heap upon it, restoration and renewal commence with surprising swiftness.  My hope was that readers, seduced by the gorgeous prospect of a refreshed, healthy Earth, might ask themselves how we could add Homo sapiens back into the picture—only in harmony, not mortal combat, with the rest of nature.

The question I’d left them to ponder was how many people can this planet really hold without capsizing it? A million more of us every 4½ days didn’t sound sustainable– was it time for us to consider gradually bringing ourselves down to a workable equilibrium with our Earthly habitat, before nature brutally did that for us?

This delicate, potentially explosive notion generated so much subsequent discussion that I realized I should investigate it fully.  It’s easy to grasp why populations of prey, predators, and forage plants have to be kept in balance in a national park, but much harder when your own species is in question.  Anticipating the cultural and emotional pitfalls, I’d need to apply objective tools of journalism to learn if the optimum number of humans could actually be determined, and if there were something we could realistically and humanely do about it.

I also had to confront three corollary questions: How much ecosystem is required to preserve human life – what species or ecological processes are essential to our survival?  And if, in order to survive, we have to avoid growing beyond 10 billion—or even reduce our numbers from our current 7+ billion—is there an acceptable, nonviolent way to convince a majority of the world’s religions, nationalities, and political systems that it's in their best interest to do so, or is there anything in their liturgies, histories, or belief systems that might embrace the seemingly unnatural idea of limiting ourselves? Finally, how might we design an economy for a shrinking population, and then for a stable, optimal one—meaning, a way to prosper without constant growth?

My research ended up taking me to 21 countries, starting in Israel and Palestine, ending in Iran, with much of Europe, Africa, the Americas, and the Far East in between. More than one expert I met commented that I was asking the most important questions on Earth—but they were probably impossible to answer.

My reply was that if these are the most important questions on Earth, we’d damn well better try.

--Alan Weisman

Guest Blogger: Michael Robotham

BombproofMichael Robotham has been an investigative journalist in Britain, Australia and the US. One of world's most acclaimed authors of thriller fiction, he lives in Sydney with his wife and three daughters.

They say that a novel often begins with two ideas colliding, which makes it sound like nuclear fusion, all heat and light and energy. My creative process is much more like a car crash where I play the crash scene investigator, turning up in the aftermath and trying to piece together the evidence.
   
Bombproof began like that for me.
   
It tells the story of Sami Macbeth – the unluckiest man in the world, who is wrongly imprisoned for a jewel theft and is mistakenly perceived to be the greatest safebreaker in the world. While this guarantees Sami respect in prison, it also means that once outside, he’s a man in demand.
   
Sami wants nothing to do with gangsters and safe breaking. He wants to lead a quiet life, play his guitar and dream of being a rock god – but when his sister is kidnapped and held hostage, he has no choice but to play along.
   
Bombproof begins with an explosion on the London Underground, which Sami survives, but he soon becomes Britain’s most wanted man because he can’t reveal what he’s carrying.

The idea for the novel came to me not long after July 2005 London transport bombings, when fear and suspicion gripped the city. I often travel on the Underground with a small rucksack containing water and notebooks. I noticed how people would glance at the bag between my feet. It made me wonder what would happen if I had something else in the bag – not a bomb, but something else illegal. What if I refused to have it searched?

The other story that was still fresh in my mind was the death of Jean de Menezes at Stockwell Tube station in South London. He was shot dead by firearms officers who mistook him for a suicide bomber. After giving no warning, they fired seven shots into his body. De Menezes was an innocent man – a Brazilian electrician, who couldn’t understand what the police were shouting at him.

I didn’t want to make light of such a tragedy, but I did want to explore the sense of community hysteria that is triggered by a terrorist attack.
   
Bombproof is a little different from my past novels. Instead of being a tense and often suffocating psychological thriller, it’s full of sex, violence, one-liners and hopefully some laughs. It’s like something that Quentin Tarantino might film, or a Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels full of gangsters, corrupt police, stand-over men, pimps and colourful women.
   
I hope you have as much fun reading it as I had writing it.

--Michael Robotham