NewsI’ve been out of the picture lately due to a mix of trying to get work done and trying to deal with a pesky cold. But today I was glancing at the Yahoo! search page’s headlines and followed a few links, and began to feel rather apocalyptic.

1) Three killed at Indian anti-Bush protests. That’s not good.

2) Ex-official: Iraq abuses growing worse. Hmm.

3) Al-Quaida figure sets rules for oil war. This looked interesting, so I read about some 2003 rules for engagement set by Al-Quaida—namely, blow up pipelines and tankers, but don’t burn oil fields; we’ll need them when the Islamic Republic is established. And now, via Western news, all us jihadists have this detail straight.

3) Video shows Blanco’s assirances on levees. The Katrina (seemingly named after my sister) melee, proving utter incompetence in centers of power.

I don’t really care about Wendy’s selling their Baja Fresh chain, and though it was interesting, the Nazi code-breakers isn’t really that pleasing to hear about. But get this:

4) Antarctic ice sheet in “significant decline”. The apocalypse is coming at us from all sides.

But then I saw the last bit about:

5) Filmmaker wraps movie in just over two hours.

Well, that’s cool, right? So I follow the link and find out it’s an Indian right-to-die movie filmed around a hospital bed.

Maybe it’s the illness or some other personal fact pulling me in the wrong direction, but geez, the world really is going to shit, isn’t it? And that’s not even taking into account smiling Gary Glitter.

But yesterday, the news had the opposite effect. It actually excited me. Why? This story about the assessment that the Soviet Union did in fact order the assassination of the pope back in 1981.

If you know my books, you’ll know generally why I find this interesting. But there’s more. Writing political thrillers, you sometimes find yourself painted into a corner. People are killing one another, secrets are being withheld, and at some point there’s got to be an explanation. And in the world of my books, it’s easiest to call those answers “conspiracies”.I try to make as interesting and plausible a conspiracy as I can, but no matter how hard I try, there’s always a voice in my head saying, “C’mon Olen. You think anyone’s gonna buy that?”In Yalta Boulevard, I had a group of American fundamentalists planning a revolt in Eastern Europe. This isn’t new—Deighton did it in Billion Dollar Brain—but I wanted to make it seem serious and very very possible. In the upcoming Liberation Movements, the story revolves around psychokinetic experiments that lead to, well, psychokinetic conspiracies (kind of). And in Falling Sickness, the work-in-progress, we open with the assassination of Sweden’s great politician Olof Palme in 1986.Of course I know why he was killed, I just want you to believe it when you read it.

Which is why I was quite nearly thrilled when I saw that the world really is as strange and outlandish as an author’s wandering imagination might make it. (Yes, the Soviets tried to whack the pope because they thought he was causing trouble in Poland; and yes—and almost as strange—they failed.) And the world is even stranger than we can imagine it, as Robin has pointed out before.

So writers, make up whatever shit you want! It’s a wonderful freedom.