MICHELE NORRIS, host:
The latest blockbuster novel from Dan Brown traffics in surprising twists and turns. And in real life it's been quite a twist and turn for Marilyn Schlitz.
Ms. MARILYN SCHLITZ (President, Institute of Noetic Sciences): Waking up one morning to find yourself a fictional character in a bestselling novel has taken a little adjusting to, but we're working on it.
NORRIS: That's right. Schlitz's story version of her is in the novel.
NPR's Barbara Bradley Hagerty tells her story.
BARBARA BRADLEY HAGERTY: The day before "The Lost Symbol" arrived in bookstores, Marilyn Schlitz began to notice some unusual traffic on Twitter. Rumor had it that the heroine in the book was a woman at the Institute of Noetic Sciences, which researches things like consciousness and healing. Schlitz bought the book the next day and read into the wee hours.
Ms. SCHLITZ: As I'm reading along and I'm hearing the descriptions of the types of research that she's doing and the kinds of data that she's using to support her case, I, you know, my husband would be falling asleep and I'd be jabbing him, listen to this, you know. It was really very surprising and delightful at the same time.
HAGERTY: Surprising because Dan Brown never contacted the institute, yet he seemed to know all about their research, even the fact that they had built a 2,000-pound electromagnetically shielded laboratory which Brown calls the Cube. Then, on the day of publication, contact.
Ms. SCHLITZ: Dan Brown sent a very sweet email saying, as you know, I'm a big fan of the Institute of Noetic Sciences, and I had hoped to give you a heads up. But because of security around the book he wasn't able to, but hoping we were enjoying the attention.
HAGERTY: You might say so. Traffic to their Web site has increased twelvefold. New members are joining up, and places like NBC Dateline, not to mention NPR, are calling for interviews. At the center of "The Lost Symbol" is Katherine Solomon, who helps Brown's returning hero, Harvard professor Robert Langdon, solve the mysteries of Freemasonry gone wrong. This being a thriller, there's a hint of romantic tension. Here's how Katherine is described.
Unidentified Man: Katherine Solomon had been blessed with the resilient Mediterranean skin of her ancestry. And even at 50 years old she had a smooth olive complexion. She used almost no makeup and wore her thick black hair unstyled and down. She had gray eyes and slender, patrician elegance.
Ms. SCHLITZ: Short of long black hair and olive skin and a wealthy family, there were a lot of similarities in terms of the research, maybe not so much my looks.
HAGERTY: Schlitz has short, reddish hair and fair skin, but there are several similarities. Like Katherine, Schlitz's father and brother were Masons. Both women studied distant intention, prayer and healing. And both believed that ancient wisdom traditions predicted discoveries in modern science.
Schlitz says she can identify 10 experiments by her institute in "The Lost Symbol." But she says there's a lot of science fiction in the book. I won't spoil the plot, but there's a death and resurrection. That's an experiment that's never been done. Then there's this passage…
Unidentified Man: Katherine's work had begun using modern science to answer ancient philosophical questions. Does anyone hear our prayers? Is there life after death? Do humans have souls? Incredibly, Katherine had answered all these questions and more - scientifically, conclusively.
Ms. SCHLITZ: No. So that's a bit of a stretch. And at the same time I think those are the compelling questions that science should be looking at. They are also the taboo topics that science doesn't want to look at.
HAGERTY: And thanks to "The Lost Symbol" there's probably going to be a lot more interest and money to research those questions.
Barbara Bradley Hagerty, NPR News.