The motivation behind writing Zipporah, Pharaoh, and the Bomb came from remembering some ganzfeld and other psi experiments in which I participated in the 1980s. These were at the Foundation for Research on the Nature of Man (previously the Parapsychology Laboratory, now the Rhine Research Center), just off the Duke University campus.
I initially went to help a classmate who worked there (and, to some degree, on a lark), but my first experience was so remarkable, I could not avoid the conclusion that there was something very odd happening. After three subsequent experiments, two of which involved recording dreams, this conclusion only strengthened.
The people at the Foundation were pleased but not overly impressed; they said there were many students who performed very well in their experiments. The problem wasn’t evidence of psi, it was hypothesizing and testing a mechanism.
This was the same general conclusion reached at the end of the US government’s Stargate Project. I remember reading the news reports in 1995 when it was shut down, and they all started with a description of how expensive and ineffective the program was, then ended with the comment that the program did amass ample evidence that such phenomena did actually exist.
This documentary, which was also broadcast in the US under the program Nova, is an interesting recap of the history of psi research through the mid-1980s:
One of the earliest attempts to document the paranormal was this 19th-century compilation of observations: Phantasms of the Living (1886, two volumes) by Edmund Gurney (1847-1888), Frederic William Henry Myers (1843-1901), and Frank Podmore (1856-1910). The book contains numerous accounts sent in by the general public, as well as the the results of various experiments on telepathy, such as this:
When I first conceived Zipporah, Pharaoh, and the Bomb, I wanted the story to revolve around someone who was trying to understand his apparent ability to foresee important events (“clairvoyance”). My original idea was of someone dreaming about a hit-and-run incident and thus avoiding it. I started writing in November of 2017 with this central moment as the core of the story. In my mind I pictured the long and confusing crosswalk next to my building, in the early summer, with a man being killed in the accident. Throughout the building of the story, as well as all of its revisions, this scene remained.
On June 6th, after several round of proofs, I decided to make the final edits, upload the new version, and make the book live — all in one go. It was a beautiful, warm day, but I stayed at the computer without taking a break and uploaded the final pdf at around 3:45 in the afternoon.
When everything was completed, I went out for a walk, and as soon as I left my building, I could see that some sort of major incident had occurred nearby. The entire avenue was closed, and television crews were making live reports from the sidewalk. Police detectives had placed yellow markers in the street, and some of the officers were photographing pieces of debris.
My first thought was that this whatever happened was very serious, perhaps even something that resulted in a death. I had missed all of this as it had developed, as my apartment is on the back of the building, and I had heard nothing.
I avoided the scene walked up the avenue away from it. I circled around and was able to see it from a distance, and it was clear that some sort of traffic accident had happened at the intersection. I went home and checked the news, and the incident was the top story in Boston: a man had been killed by a hit-and-run driver in the crosswalk next to my building a little before 1:00 PM that afternoon:
Later the driver was identified as Phocian Fitts and the victim 80-year-old Ted Schwalb.