Debunking myths on genetics and DNA

Musings on writing, genetics and photography. Sign up for my newsletter to get exclusive stories, ARCs, and free desktop wallpapers from my photography portfolio.

Friday, September 19, 2014

My tribute to Scotland

My City © EEG
Edinburgh Castle © EEG
As always, prints available here.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Author Chrys Fey talks about her new book release, 30 Seconds

Today my guest is a music lover, a blogger, and the author of Hurricane Crimes and her new book release, 30 Seconds, whose title was inspired by her favorite band, 30 Seconds to Mars. Chrys Fey wrote her first novel at the age of twelve, she started writing her first novel, which flourished into a series she later rewrote at seventeen. Chrys created her blog, Write with Fey, in 2012 to help and inspire other writers.

Welcome to CHIMERAS, Chrys !

EEG: Tell us a bit about your background.

CF: I started writing when I was twelve and the four books I wrote at that young age have greatly influenced my writing today. As you can imagine, I wrote more freely when I was twelve. My writing was full of spelling errors and head-hopping, but throughout the years I’ve mastered my style and learned how to make my writing better. I still have all the notebooks containing my childhood series, too, and it’s so much fun to see how my writing improved. I later rewrote that series and hope to publish it someday in the future. *fingers crossed.*

Last year I realized my dreams of being an author when I published my first e-book, a short story titled Hurricane Crimes with The Wild Rose Press. Now I am publishing my second e-book, a romantic-suspense novella named 30 Seconds.

EEG: Where do you find inspiration?

CF: Music is my biggest inspiration. Whenever I’m writing, I’m listening to music and have songs that help me with certain scenes. My dreams are also a huge source for inspiration. A scene in 30 Seconds actually came from one of my dreams.

EEG: If you were to find a common thread between all your stories, what would that be?

CF: Romance. No matter what kind of story I write—if it’s a supernatural-thriller or suspense—there is always a romantic storyline, so you can bet there’s romance in 30 Seconds, and some steamy love scenes, too.

EEG: Tell us about your recent release, 30 Seconds. What is it about and where did you get the idea to write it?

CF: 30 Seconds is about a woman who finds herself in the middle of a war between a police-force and a deadly Mob. Dani Hart goes from being a doctor in the ER to a victim of a Mob. As she fights to stay alive, she falls in love with Blake Herro, the officer protecting her and the man who made her the Mob’s target.

I got the idea for 30 Seconds from the dream that inspired the scene I mentioned before. In this dream, I was spinning on a swivel chair with my eyes closed when hands halted the fast rotation and lips touched mine. I opened my eyes to see a hot officer in full uniform. Before I woke up he said, “I shouldn’t have done that.” In the morning, I started to think about writing a story where a woman falls in love with a cop even though she knows she shouldn’t.

EEG: What's your next project?

CF: Right now I am working on the sequel to Hurricane Crimes, which will serve as book two in the Disaster Crime series. I also have something else planned...a surprise for anyone who enjoys 30 Seconds, but I’m going to keep that little secret for a while longer. ;)

Blurb for 30 Seconds:
When Officer Blake Herro agreed to go undercover in the Mob, he thought he understood the risks. But he's made mistakes and now an innocent woman has become their target. He's determined to protect her at all costs.

The Mob's death threat turns Dr. Dani Hart's life upside down, but there is one danger she doesn’t anticipate. As she's dodging bullets, she's falling in love with Blake. With danger all around them, will she and Blake survive and have a happy ending, or will the Mob make good on their threat?

EEG: Wow, that's intriguing. Thanks so much for being with us today Chrys!

Visit Chrys's blog for writing tips and recommendations, and connect with her on Goodreads and  Facebook. She loves to get to know her readers!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Snippet Sunday: Gene Cards

From GENE CARDS, Chapter 14:
Guarded by firewalls, connected by underground tunnels, nourished by stocks of bioengineered food and the lake’s twenty cubic miles of water, the city of Liasis was an unbreakable fortress to the outside world. Yet pockets of underworld existed within the city, too. Dark alleys where you could trade a joint for cheap sex, where eyes had no color and faces no mouth. Here, the QNet warped into black holes of solitudes: Internet games, cybersex, virtual worlds where lives melted into a multitude of non-existing possibilities, the rabbit hole where Alice kept falling and falling and falling...

Skyler knew such world well. She was once an Alice too, and climbing out of the rabbit hole was the hardest thing she ever did in her life.

It's actually 5 sentences, but it felt complete like that, without adding the following 3.

The above is my Sunday snippet submission for the Weekend writer Warriors (you can find the Snippet Sunday group on Facebook, too). Make sure you check out all Weekend writer Warriors participants, it's a fun way to find forthcoming books -- all genres welcome, there's something for everyone's tastes.

Now that MOSAICS is out in the world, I thought I'd switch gear and introduce you guys to my next thriller, GENE CARDS, a dystopian mystery set in the future which is due out in October (you can read the blurb at the end of the post). I know, two book releases in less than a month, how crazy is that? The truth is that I've been waiting so long to push these out -- you can read this post if you're curious about the whole story behind my books and why they've been sitting in my drawer for so long.

On other news, I've polished a short story I wrote a while ago and I'm planning to send it out to all my newsletter subscriber before I release it on Amazon. So, if you want to read for free... sign up! :-)

GENE CARDS (A Skyler Donohue Mystery)
When the cure for some means death for others, how far will you go to save your own?

    Yulia Szymanski is a murderer and one of the best hackers of the century. Her mission: break her brother out of a high security jail before he dies of a rare genetic condition. On her trail is Biothreat Agent Skyler Donohue, a decorated Muay Thai fighter with a strange fascination for corpses. The obstacle to overcome: an invisible, deadly disease that strikes at random and has the city of Liasis locked in a bioterrorism siege. 

    When the latest to fall ill is Skyler's best friend's daughter, Skyler wants to drop the Szymanski case to chase the baffling pathogen that nobody is able to isolate. What she doesn't know is that finding Yulia is the only way to stop the epidemic and save the child's life. 
   In a world where identities are based on gene cards, and privacy no longer exists, survival is only granted to the rich, the healthy, and those who've learned to become invisible to the system. 

Download the first chapter here.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Alex Cavanaugh on why he founded the Insecure Writer Support Group: "The IWSG means more to me than even my books because it’s had such an impact on others."

I've been part of the Insecure Writer's Support Group since last May and I have to say, it's a wonderful group and I made some really great friends. The group was founded by Alex J. Cavanaugh, the Ninja Captain of the group and the best selling author of CassaStar, CassaFire, and CassaStorm. Alex J. Cavanaugh has a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and works in web design and graphics. He is experienced in technical editing and worked with an adult literacy program for several years. A fan of all things science fiction, Alex's interests range from books and movies to music and games. But most of all, Alex is an awesome guy, very supportive of all writers who come join the group, no matter at what level of their career they are.

I'm really happy to have Alex guest on Chimeras today because I've been meaning to ask him about the IWSG and his books. So, welcome, Alex!

EEG: Tell us a bit about your background. In particular, how do computer graphics and/or your passion for music influence your writing? 

AJC: My work with graphics, web design, and technical instruction gave me structure and the desire for perfection, not to mention it allows for creativity. I’ve been a musician for forty years, not to mention I’ve always loved music, and that’s had an even bigger impact on my writing. Music is such a driving force when it comes to moods. It can set the tone and inspire.

 EEG: Correct me if I'm wrong, but I read on your blog that you set aside the first draft of your bestselling book, CassaStar, for many years, before going back and deciding to finish it. What was the impetus that made you go back?

 AJC: I wrote a really rough first draft when I was a teen and then forgot about it for almost thirty years. I happened to find it again several years ago. The story and writing were awful, but the characters were solid. It was one of those ‘why not?’ moments, so I rewrote it and my wife prodded me to pursue publication.

 EEG: What's your writing process? Do you outline? If not, how do you develop your plots?

 AJC: I have to outline! I spend more time working on the outline and character details than I do writing the first draft. It’s always the ending that comes to me first and I work back to the beginning. The story usually plays in my head a few times, like I’m watching a movie, before I begin committing it to paper.

 EEG: What are you currently working on ?

 AJC: I’ve spent this year writing and revising a story outside my Cassa trilogy that was inspired by a song. Fingers crossed my publisher likes it.

 EEG: When was the Insecure Writer's Support Group born and what gave you the idea for it?

 AJC: The idea for the IWSG came to me August 2011 when I told a fellow writer he needed such a support group. I started mulling over the concept and finally announced it on my blog. The first Wednesday of September 2011, we had our first post – almost exactly three years ago! Last year we set up the website and Facebook group. The IWSG means more to me than even my books because it’s had such an impact on others.

EEG: Wow, that's so wonderful to hear, Alex. Thank you so much for bringing authors together like this. 

 AJC: Thanks, EE!

Remember, you can join IWSG by signing up here. Next post will be up on October 1st. Alex loves to hear from new followers, so go say hi on his blog or follow him on Twitter. I don't know how he does it, but he responds to every one!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

And it's a MOSAICS launch party!

It's here: MOSAICS, book 2 in the Track Presius mystery series is finally here, at the special launch price of $2.99 for a limited time only! To celebrate I'm giving away a signed copy of the book and a $25 Amazon gift card -- enter the Rafflecopter giveaway below for a chance to win. The next three winners get a Kindle copy of Mosaics.

To enter the rafflecopter giveaway at the bottom of the post you have to like at least one of FB pages and/or follow at least one of the Twitter accounts (1 entry per like/follow), and the more you like/follow the better your chances to win. Besides, these are all the author friends and book bloggers who are helping me spread the word about MOSAICS. They are all super-cool people and you'll love seeing their posts in your stream. 

Wait, there's more: if you subscribe to my newsletter you get 3 entries in the rafflecopter below AND this brand new desktop wallpaper AND you will be notified about the forthcoming CHIMERAS audio book:

So, what are you waiting for? Enter the giveaway, then go grab your copy of MOSAICS, grab one for your mom, sister, dad, spouse, and nephew, and go read. Just leave the lights on. You never know. ;-)

MOSAICS is book 2 in the Track Presius mystery series, a hard-boiled detective thriller with a genetic twist. CHIMERAS, book 1 in the series, is a 2014 Readers' Favorite Book Award Winner in the murder-mystery category. You haven't read the first book yet? No problem. To make the celebrations even bigger, CHIMERAS is only 99 cents right now -- but hurry, the deal expires at the end of the week!

MOSAICS (Track Presius #2) $2.99 for a limited time only!
Dubbed the Byzantine Strangler because of the mysterious mosaic tiles he leaves at the crime scene, a new serial killer is stalking the streets of Los Angeles. Racing to decipher the code encrypted in the tiles before the killer strikes again, Detective Track Presius faces a new challenge: the "awakened" genes that make his vision and olfactory sense so sharp are now taking a toll on his life. When a new set of tiles appears in his own backyard, Track makes a chilling realization: those very same genes that are threatening his life are drawing the Byzantine Strangler closer and closer. The line between hunter and hunted has suddenly blurred. Will Track be the next piece of the mosaic puzzle?

CHIMERAS (Track Presius #1) $.99 until 9/13!
Haunted by the girl he couldn't save in his youth, and the murder he committed to avenge her, Detective Track Presius has a unique gift: the vision and sense of smell of a predator. When a series of apparently unrelated murders reel him into the depths of genetic research, Track feels more than a call to duty. Children are dying -- children who, like himself, could have been healthy, and yet something, at some point, went terribly wrong. For Track, saving the innocent becomes a quest for redemption. The only way he can come to terms with his dark past is to understand his true nature.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Book releases, crowdsource editing and the lonely life of a writer

This is a monthly event started by the awesome Alex J. Cavanaugh and organized by the Insecure Writer's Support Group. Click here to find out more about the group and sign up for the next event.

I started a new book, the sequel to my forthcoming release GENE CARDS. No matter how many times I do this, whenever I start a new project I look at the blank pages and the miser word count and feel completely daunted. Does this happen to you too? On top of that, I have not one but two book releases coming up in the next four week so, needless to say, I'm a nervous wreck.

So, why am I still doing this?

Because I now have readers. And for a writer, that's the most beautiful thing.

I've often wondered, why is it that us writers need readers? I think it's because writing is a lone endeavor. We care for these characters in our head, we love them and want to get to know them better, so much so that we can't help but isolate ourselves from the rest of the world and write about them. We lock ourselves in a room with our laptop, or notepad, or whatever writing device we use, and write. In the meantime the world outside goes on: people go to the movies, friends meet up for coffee, kids go to school, couples get married, and in the meantime, us, lone writers, miss out on all this. Why?

Because readers make it all worth it. When we have readers, suddenly we're not the only one caring for these characters. There's a whole world out there that wants to know more about them, even if that whole world is just your mom, your spouse, your sister. Suddenly, we're not alone.

You know the best thing that happened to me last week? I got the proofs for my forthcoming release GENE CARDS. My kids came home from school as I was opening the box. My older one is a teenager. Remember those? Grumpy, demanding, constantly dissatisfied teenagers? Yeah. Anyways, my kids peeked inside the box, saw my book and started screaming in excitement. My teenager in particular said: "How cool is it that Mom writes books! Hey, Mom! Come sign my copy!"

And that... that... was true happiness. Because believe me, for a teenager her parents are the un-coolest thing on earth. And to see my daughter so happy to hold my book... really, it doesn't get any better than that.

My readers are also my best editors. Yup. I call it crowdsource editing. You see, I did something stupid when I sent out the ARCs for Mosaics. I was late, I'd promised to send them out in July and, well, July was coming to an end and the book hadn't been proof-read yet. So I gave it another quick read, found a few typos, and then sent it out. Of course, I sent it to my proof-readers too, but that meant that the ARC readers were getting a non-proofed copy. Did I mention that my readers are awesome? Not only did they understand and forgive me, they started sending me notes. And here's the best part: every single reader will catch some and miss some. But when I put all the notes together I knew my book was 99% clean. Yes. crowd-sourcing editing, how do you like that? :-)

So to all my readers out there. THANK YOU.

Monday, September 1, 2014

"Every piece of art is a reflection of the everyday world": award winning poet Samuel Peralta talks about physics, art, and science fiction.

I've been doing author interviews for a few years now and I always try to limit my questions to 4-5 because I know writers are busy people and so are blog readers. However, today's guest is such an interesting person that I really couldn't refrain from asking more. Samuel Peralta is a physicist, an award-winning poet, a bestselling author, and just a beautiful person to meet and talk to. His work has been recognized with numerous awards, including from the BBC, the UK Poetry Society, Digital Literature Institute, and the Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature. His love story Hereafter, is part of the anthology Synchronic, a collection of time travel stories written with other great authors I've interviewed on the blog like Michael Bunker, Susan Kay Quinn and Jason Gurley. Sam has another short story coming out mid September, Humanity, and is also producing "The Future Chronicles", a series of speculative fiction anthologies edited by David Gatewood. Yhe first title in the series, The Robot Chronicles, was released last July and reached #1 Bestselling SF Anthology.

Welcome to CHIMERAS, Samuel, what an honor to have you here today!

EEG: You have a PhD in physics and science has always been a big source of inspiration for you: tell us about the role of science in your art, whether it's poetry, fiction writing or filming.

SP: Every piece of art is a reflection of the everyday world, whether that part of it you reflect is inside you, or outside you. Science brings me a another perspective on that world, like a periscope lets you see above possibly murky waters into the clear air. It gives me another language, a different vocabulary, to express my art. Many poets reject the world of science and feel that it sullies their appreciation of the world. I see exactly the opposite: a knowledge of science enhances that appreciation. I believe in both science and God, in physics and beauty, in mathematics and art.

EEG: Why physics?

SP: Physics seemed to me one of the purest of sciences that still had to do with the real world. And I had an affinity for experimental physics - experimenting with catapult trajectories, constructing solar arrays, building nitrogen lasers from plastic and aluminum foil. It was fun, despite my mother's frequent concern.

EEG: You are an award-winning poet and you've been writing poems throughout your life. You've said of poetry: "Poetry demands a higher level of precision in language and imagery that needs to be worked at, cultivated, honed." How do you hone your craft? Do you have a particular routine or is every poem different?

SP: Every poem is different, but to me cultivating my craft means challenging myself with form, structure, all the elements of classical poetry, while managing to fool the reader into thinking that the poem is modern, free. natural, "unencumbered" of craft. I believe that to write free verse, you must first learn to write sestinas and sonnets, pantoum and rubaiyats. I once wrote a poem that was an condemnation of a terrorist act, that was celebrated by my readers; the poem only used the vowel "e" - and no one noticed. A private triumph. I write acrostic poems, use sonnet forms disguised as free verse, slant rhymes. My poem "Flying to Nantucket" is a limerick cycle - and a memorial to John F. Kennedy Jr. If you believe my readers, they told me the poem transcended the form. Having the fearlessness to do that - that's honing your craft.

EEG: What are some recurrent topics in your poetry and why?

Everything I find worth writing about is about love. It doesn't matter whether it comes down to the love between a man and woman, a mother and child, a person for himself, or the loss of it. That emotion is what makes us human. It comes down, all of it, to love.

EEG: You are also an independent film-maker. How did you get into film making and why? What are the current projects you're working on?

SP: I'm not so much an independent film-maker as an enabler for film-makers. It started off with one crowd-source contribution to an animated film, blossomed into producing a few select films, and has become a bit of an obsession. I think of it as paying forward my success in poetry to other creatives, in a field of art where I couldn't otherwise contribute.

I've now helped support about 90 independent films - many at the executive producer level. One of my favourites, the award-winning "Dorsal", is opening for the Atlantic Film Festival and is a selection of the Vancouver International Film Festival. Other films - "The Nostalgist", "Le Gouffre", "Man from Reno" - have also won film awards. My current interests are helping produce the English-language versions of some classic Japanese films, including "Patema Inverted" and "The Time of EVE".

EEG: Let's talk about your books: if I understand correctly, fiction is a recent diversion from poetry. Was it a conscious decision to start writing science fiction or did it just happen?

SP: It was a conscious act. A a poet, I had an epiphany in a bookstore - I was browsing through one of Margaret Atwood's wonderful collections of her poetry, when I realized that the entire shelf was filled with her numerous novels, but only one volume of her poetry was represented. I realized that the rest of her writing was still poetic, that books like Kazuo Ishiguro's "Never Let Me Go" could be looked at as, at the heart, extended poems in prose. I wondered, could I do that? Write speculative fiction and still be true to my poetic core? And so here I am, trying to do just that.

EEG: Tell us about your upcoming series "Labyrinth Man": what was the inspiration? How many books will it comprise?

SP: The Labyrinth is the world that most of my speculative fiction will be anchored in. It's a world a world where corporations have expanded beyond governments, where pervasive surveillance is a part of life, where non-human self-awareness has begun to make humanity face difficult questions about itself. If that world sounds almost familiar, you’d be right. Change “telepaths” to “intelligence agencies” and “robots” to the name of any one of the many displaced segments in our societies, and we’d be talking about the world we live in today.

"Labyrinth Man" was the story I intended to start the series with, but it didn't happen that way. I was able to place several other stories in that world - "Hereafter", "Liberty", "Trauma Room" and "Faith" - with four anthologies before the release of "Labyrinth Man", which becomes the sixth story in the series. All of these titles are standalone and can be read in any order, but all of them contribute to an understanding of the tapestry that makes up the world of Labyrinth. And yes, I write humanist science fiction, if you will; the point of every story still comes down to love.

EEG: How does fiction writing compare to poetry writing?

SP: For me, it's just as difficult. Most people would say poetry is easier, because they channel poetry, let the muse take over. I don't - poetry consists, for me, of building a concept, doing research, outlining, writing a first draft, going through numerous edits and parallel versions, listening to the cadences of it as it's read aloud, and finally tweaking every word to a final version. Doesn't that sound a lot like the process of writing a short story or novel? I've always written poetry that way, so the process is similar. To me, the short story or novel is another form, like a sonnet or a sestina, with which to hone the craft.

EEG: What are the next titles in the anthology seires you are producing, "The Future Chronicles"?

The next title in the series is "The Telepath Chronicles", which will be released in November. the next ones will be: "The Alien Chronicles" (soon to be announced, author roster complete, for release in Jan); "The A.I. Chronicles" (publicly announced as sequel to "The Robot Chronicles", release date not finalized). There are more planned, but these are the ones that are publicly known.

EEG: Thanks so much for being with us today, Sam!

Check out all other books and poetry collections by Samuel on his Amazon page. You can also connect with him via FB, his blog, and Twitter.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Sunday Snippet -- One Week from Launch!

From MOSAICS, beginning of Chapter 8:
“What heated argument? We brainstormed over the next budget report, that’s all. Who gave you that kind of misinformation?”

“We prefer to ask the questions, Doctor,” Satish replied.

Dr. Fredrick Lyons walked fast and in long strides. A gaudy Hawaiian tie and the neon green of the reading glasses swinging from his neck intentionally clashed with his white-shirt, black-suit attire. He had longish gray locks, a short beard trimmed close to the jaw, and shrewd eyes that sized us up impatiently, yet found the time to linger over a nice pair of legs as we strode across the curving corridor back to the office suites. He looked too wealthy not to be opinionated, and too smart to be unpretentious.

The above is my Sunday snippet submission for the Weekend Writer Warriors (you can find the Snippet Sunday group on Facebook, too). Make sure you check out all Weekend Writer Warriors participants, it's a fun way to find forthcoming books -- all genres welcome, there's something for everyone's tastes.

Aaaaaand... drum roll, please ... MOSAICS is coming out in one week! I'm so excited and have lots of great news to share:

  • MOSAICS will be at the special launch price of only $2.99 for a limited time only.
  • In conjunction, CHIMERAS will be on sale too, last sale before I take it out of Kindle select, so grab it while you can -- sale will run from Sept 7 through the 13.
  • The audio book for CHIMERAS will be available soon! I can't wait, you won't believe how good the narrator is!
  • Come by on Sept 7th for a special MOSAICS release party and get the chance to win an Amazon $25 gift card, a signed copy of MOSAICS and two Kindle copies for the next two winners. Woo-hoo!

Book Description: Dubbed the Byzantine Strangler because of the mysterious mosaic tiles he leaves at the crime scene, a new serial killer is stalking the streets of Los Angeles. Racing to decipher the code encrypted in the tiles before the killer strikes again, Detective Track Presius faces a new challenge: the "awakened" genes that make his vision and olfactory sense so sharp are now taking a toll on his life. When a new set of tiles appears in his own backyard, Track makes a chilling realization: those very same genes that are threatening his life are drawing the Byzantine Strangler closer and closer. The line between hunter and hunted has suddenly blurred. Will Track be the next piece of the mosaic puzzle?

Friday, August 29, 2014

Investigating the past: Cindy Amrhein and Ellen Lea Bachorski recount how they pieced together the life (and murders) of Polly Frisch

Today I have not just one guest but two! Cindy Amrhein was the historian of the town of Alabama, NY, from 1997 to 2007 and currently serves as the Assistant Historian in Wyoming County, NY. Ellen Lea Bachorski is the former owner of The Trading a Post, a shop in Alabama, NY, and is currently a member of the Batavia International Peace Garden. Together, Cindy and Ellen authored the true crime book Bread and Butter: the Murders of Polly Frisch, the story of one of the first women in Genesee County to ever go on trial for murder.

Bread and Butter is not your usual whodunnit because, for starters, we already know who the murder is. But don't be fooled: this is a completely different kind of investigation that keeps twisting and twisting because it's a historical investigation. Forget fingerprints and luminol: to get to the bottom of the story Ellen and Cindy spent months digging into historical archives, reading trial transcripts, and looking for news clips (and there weren't that many news clips in the nineteenth century). They had to sort out often contradictory testimony to find out who the real Polly Frisch was.

Intrigued by the idea of conducting a historical investigation, I invited Cindy and Ellen to the blog to tell us about their experience writing Bread and Butter. Welcome, Cindy and Ellen!

EEG: I'm curious about your job, Cindy: what does a historian do on a day-to-day base?

CINDY: We get genealogists in on a regular basis, of course. The office of Wyoming County Historian has been in existence since 1946, so we have built quite a collection of family files and other research material. The office has printed a quarterly publication since 1947 called Historical Wyoming, so I do a lot of research and writing for that. My favorite subject is crime, particularly murders, but I've done some articles that were fun to explore like the UFO sightings back in the 1950s and 60s.

Then there are the more unusual tasks: people will bring us in everything from Bibles to silverware they have found in recently purchased homes for us to track to see if we can find descendants for us to pass them along to. We do a lot of work on historic properties in which I get to use my skills as an abstractor to track the land backwards. Since we are part of county government, we also provide information to town or county officials on certain projects.

EEG:  Tell us about Polly: how did you come across her story and how did you have the idea about the book?

CINDY: When we were working on The Basom Post back in the early 90s, someone asked us, "Why don't you do something on Polly Frisch? She killed her family and they are buried up at Alabama Center." So we went up there and asked the locals what they knew. What we found was a lot of folklore and not many facts, so we dug deeper. We printed one article about her, if I remember, but the more we investigated, the bigger the story got, so we decided the only way to tell the story well was in a book.

ELLEN: During this time I owned and operated a small store in Basom, a hamlet within the Town of Alabama. The small printing business Cindy and I ran was called the Basom Press and our monthly newspaper, The Basom Post. During this very busy time we both had young children and at first could not fathom how any mother could be capable of murdering her husband and children. As the new information contained in old local newspapers and court documents began to accumulate, we both realized it was way too much for our small newspaper.

EEG: What I loved about your book is that it's a murder investigation done through historical records, which entails a completely different set of skills than a normal murder investigation. Tell us a bit about the process and what were some of the challenges you had to face.

ELLEN: Although we both enjoyed writing, we also had families, young children; they were our first responsibility. Second was the business, so the book just waited until the time was right to compile it. We focused on the story daily while we continued operating our business and tending to our separate families.

We spent many hours collaborating with each other with new information found in the articles of different papers during the time of her trials. Every new piece of information became our quest. We were determined to uncover the truth. At first we thought perhaps she was innocent. Once all the documents and articles surfaced, reality of her guilt became clear. Once the decision to compile our vast research into a book was made, our most challenging story began.

CINDY: As far as the story itself, the challenge was trying to find records that still existed from the 1850s. Since at the time I was the historian for the town of Alabama (in Genesee County, NY) the Genesee County Clerk allowed me access to some of the older records that aren't out in the regular public area. So I was able to go through and copy inquest files, transcripts, court motions, county receipts, affidavits, minute books, etc. The county should be commended for retaining them. The case was also covered extensively in all the local newspapers as well others out of the area. We had a lot of information to go through, and putting it in chronological order was key.

We also tracked down descendants of Rosalie and Albert Hoag, the two children that lived. We wanted any stories that got passed down through the family. The children had been taken away from Polly by relatives in different states, so they were split up. We know Albert's story that was passed on was that his mother shot them all while he hid under the bed. That was the furthest from the truth. Rosalie was a bit sympathetic to her mother at the trial, being only 7, but 14-year-old Albert had testified against Polly. What he did was basically severed his ties with his sister.

EEG: Ellen, I hear you do a lot of volunteer work in your community. Can you tell me a bit about that, and what is the Batavia Peace Garden about?

ELLEN: The Batavia Peace Garden is dedicated to the War of 1812. Batavia, NY played an important role at that time. It is located next to the Holland Land Office Museum and gift shop on Main Street. Commemorating the war of 1812, it is stop number 13 on a 600 mile trail that runs through Canada and the United States. During the war, Batavia became a rallying location when British forces burned most of the homes in Buffalo; many families came to Batavia for shelter and relocation also providing an encampment for American soldiers. Flags from 23 countries fly proudly representing the international connections of peace gardens throughout the world. For more information go to www.bataviapeace

The Friends of the Batavia Peace Garden is a non-profit organization that maintains and continues to enhance the garden. Fundraising, promoting, and educating is necessary for the growth of the garden. The perpetual care is provided entirely from volunteers and donations. I am proud to be a part of this wonderful and rewarding organization.

I’m also part of The Batavia Cemetery Association, which is also a non-profit organization. Located on Harvester Avenue in Batavia, NY it is the final resting place for many founding people of the area. William Morgan’s epitaph is also located here. He was the free mason who disappeared due to printing a book about the masons in early 1800's. Cemeteries are an important resource for documenting many types of histories. The upkeep is endless as time and weather continues on. Both these nonprofits have hard working volunteers that I enjoy volunteering with to enhance and promote the rich history of Batavia.

EEG: Cindy, I know you have more books on the burner: another non-fiction about Native Americans and a fiction book. Tell us a bit about those books and when you think they will be out to the public.

CINDY: The Native American book is called, The Right of the Soil: An Abstractor's View of Indian Land Title in New York. Although this one is being looked at by a publisher, I'm still not sure if I want to go that route or self-publish. I wrote a weekly column for a Native American newspaper in northern New York State called The Akwesasne Phoenix Sundays for 2 1/2 years, and in it I wrote a lot on Native American land rights and the theft of their land through shady means. In it I don't just look at treaties like most books on the subject, but the land itself. For example, I did a land title search on the St. Regis Indian Reservation back to 1796, and it took going to three different counties in northern NY to do it. Much of their land was conveyed illegally. Even after the newspaper ceased production I still got phone calls and emails wanting more information. What I decided to do was put all my articles in book form, expanded upon it, and add maps and other images. I hope to have it out in spring of 2015 if I decide to self-publish it.

The mystery is a book I did for NaNoWriMo called The Milk Carton Murders.  I am editing it now but I'm not quite satisfied with the ending. The very ending I like, it's the part right before that needs adjusting. My MC Dave Robertson, a seemingly average guy with an average name, is a reporter for his small town weekly newspaper. When Dave goes to cover a story on the dredging cleanup down at Wiscoy Creek after a storm, three small coffins come loose from the bank—coffins where they are not supposed to be. Pinned to the dress of each skeleton is a clipping off a milk carton of a missing child. Dave recognizes one of the pictures as a foster child that stayed at his house when he was a kid. Only problem is Dave can't remember what happened to her. Then there is this voice in his head that he always thought was normal—who doesn't talk to their self once in a while, right? But as the case progresses and he tags along after Investigator Pepper Black to get his scoop, more and more of his past comes back—along with the needling voice in his head. Add that to Dave suspecting his dad is the killer, and well, average Dave's life just got a hell of a lot more complicated.

I would like The Milk Carton Murders out sometime next year, but it depends how confident I feel about it being good enough for public consumption. Writing fiction is a heck of a lot different than writing the non-fiction I am used to. History is a lot of telling and facts. I try to make historical accounts interesting and write it like I'm sitting down and telling someone a story. Fiction is much different than that—show, don't tell. I found creating a world where people did what I wanted quite freeing, if that’s the right word. I think the plot is great, but it will need a few beta reviews and reworks until I feel it is crafted on a level I'm satisfied with before it’s put before the public for purchase. I do post 8 sentence snippets on Sundays on my blog if any of your readers want to check this story out.

EEG: Well, you already have at least one beta reader who can't wait to put her hands on the book! :-)

Thank you so much Ellen and Cindy for stopping by the blog today.

You can find Ellen on Facebook and Cindy on Facebook, Blogger, and Twitter.
Bread and Butter: the Murders of Polly Frisch is available on Amazon, B&N, Kobo, and iBooks.

Ellen (left) and Cindy (right)

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Milky Way Galore, 2014 edition

Milky Way Galore is one of my most popular posts from last year -- my first attempt at Milky Way photography. This year I've been eagerly waiting to reproduce the same results but, alas, monsoon season has always been in the way (which is actually a good thing, we need the rain around here!).

Until last night.

Prints available here.

Monday, August 25, 2014

From smashing particles to post-apocalyptic fiction: Massimo Marino talks about his award winning trilogy, Daimones

You know I always get excited when I meet a fellow scientist who's also a fiction writer, but this time I have one more thing to be excited about: today's guest is Italian, writes in English, and has lived on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Massimo Marino was born and raised in Sicily, got his PhD in physics and worked for 10 years at CERN and 8 at the Lawrence Berkeley Lab in California. His debut novel Daimones received the 2012 PRG Reviewer's Choice Award in science fiction, was awarded with the Hall of Fame - Best Science Fiction by Quality Reads UK, is a 2014 National Indie Excellence® Awards finalist.

The sequel to Daimones, Once Humans, is a 2014 Readers Favorite Book Award finalist, like my Chimeras, which is how I came across Massimo's amazing work. Together with the third volume The Rise of the Phoenix, Massimo's Daimones Trilogy is a post-apocalyptic story where one of the dominant races in the galaxy culls the human race for inscrutable reasons.

Please welcome Massimo Marino to the blog today.

EEG:  I usually start discussing the science: you spent many years working at CERN. How did you enjoy working there? Has that experience resurfaced (in one form or the other) in your stories?

MM: CERN is one of the ultimate destinations for physicist and researchers. It’s the kind of place where it’s common to sip a coffee in the morning in the same hall as three or four Nobel Prizes in Physics. My time spent in fundamental research is the most rewarding, almost close to writing :)
CERN appears in the first novel, “Daimones”, as one of the locations explored by the survivors, and has a role in the plot that the discerning reader will be able to discover.

The international environment that one breathes every day at CERN gives me lots of material for developing characters; the diversity in human types is so large that I have material to describe aliens’ minds and their twisted logic as well ;) Some of those physicist ‘live’ on a different sensorial dimension.

My scientific background helps in creating future technology and envision alien scientific breakthroughs that have a solid scientific ground and are within what could become reality in due time. I don’t like much the kind of science fiction where fantasy and lack of scientific rigour voids a story of all its value and potential. Readers' belief is to be challenged, not ignored or ridiculed.

EEG: How long have you been writing fiction?

MM: Probably since I’ve been able to hold a pencil in my toddler's hands. My dad and older brother were into science fiction. I grew up, when allowed to read those books, with the greatest names in the genre. Concerning the seed for writing, the fault lies on the “Astounding Stories” covers. For years I could only lurk at those pictures and imagine what stories might arise from them or lead to that conclusions. The next step of putting them on paper was little enough for a child to exercise his imagination and hone his skills.

EEG: How does science inspire and/or shape your writing?

MM: A lot. All I conceive and invent — as technology — is a possible consequence from the extrapolation of our current scientific knowledge. In addition, I happen to befriend other scientists in different branches. When in doubt, I ask them. For example, in “Once Humans” — finalist at the 2014 Readers’ Favorite International Book Awards for Science Fiction — I have (induced) brain tumors as part of the plot. I entertained lots of discussions with an oncologist friend of mine, and she has provided me with some leading edge papers on the subject.

EEG: What about the fact that you've lived in so many different countries -- how does that affect your writing?

MM: It has changed and affected me as a person, thus as a writer as well. Accepting diversity, embracing cultural shocks — rather than rejecting them — learning languages, traditions (even culinary), allows to open your heart and mind. And these last are like umbrellas: they work at their best when they’re open.

EEG: Have you considered writing any other fiction genre besides science fiction?

MM: I did, as an exercise in style. There’s a collection of short stories, crime dramas and horror little tales, that have encountered the favour of the readers. Some discovered me through those.

EEG: What are you currently working on?

MM: I’m writing my fourth novel. The galaxy that resulted from the events described in the “Daimones Trilogy” is in turmoil: different, competing forces are in place, and the relative peace enjoys only an unstable equilibrium. The novel — per se — is not a fourth book in the trilogy, but readers of the trilogy will find themselves in a familiar ground.

It will be a YA sci-fi tale, and the themes I explore in it are Law and Order, repression for security, racial tensions, and love between two young members of different races. It’s about the reasons of the heart vs the diktats of the brain. The struggle between what you *feel* you must do, and what you *must* do because of how you feel.

EEG: Do you ever write in Italian?

MM: No, I don't. My stories and dialogues are born in English. In fact, I had "Daimones" professionally translated and the Italian edition should be release in September.

EEG: That's exciting! Thank you for being with us today, Massimo.

You can find out more about Massimo on his webpage, his Amazon Author page, on Facebook and on Twitter.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Sunday Snippet: MOSAICS

From MOSAICS, end of Chapter 1:
“Shit happens, Track. Never forget that.”
“Hard to forget on days like this.”
I rolled down the window and let cool air blow in my face. The freeway droned in the distance, as another night descended upon Los Angeles. Another murder, another killer on the loose.
It was June 2009, the beginning of summer.
Killing season had just started.

The above is my Sunday snippet submission for the Weekend Writer Warriors (you can find the Snippet Sunday group on Facebook, too). Make sure you check out all Weekend Writer Warriors participants, it's a fun way to find forthcoming books -- all genres welcome, there's something for everyone's tastes.

MOSAICS, the second in a detective thriller series featuring LAPD Detective Track Presius, is slated for publication on September 8. I'm planning a giveaway with lots of freebies on the release day, so, to make sure you don't miss all the fun, sign up for my newsletter and download a free desktop wallpaper as a thank you for subscribing.

The first book, CHIMERAS, is now available from Amazon.

Book Description: Dubbed the Byzantine Strangler because of the mysterious mosaic tiles he leaves at the crime scene, a new serial killer is stalking the streets of Los Angeles. Racing to decipher the code encrypted in the tiles before the killer strikes again, Detective Track Presius faces a new challenge: the "awakened" genes that make his vision and olfactory sense so sharp are now taking a toll on his life. When a new set of tiles appears in his own backyard, Track makes a chilling realization: those very same genes that are threatening his life are drawing the Byzantine Strangler closer and closer. The line between hunter and hunted has suddenly blurred. Will Track be the next piece of the mosaic puzzle?

Friday, August 22, 2014

Enhancement: Anthony J. Melchiorri envisions a world of renegade biohackers and the powers to fight them

My guest today is another author who, like me, is fascinated by DNA. And that's not just a coincidence: Anthony Melchiorri is a bioengineer working on tissue engineered blood vessels for children with congenital heart defects. When he's not busy with his research and PhD dissertation, Anthony writes. His first book, Enhancement is a fast-paced, near-future thriller about genetic engineering, organized crime, and the abuse of advanced technology. And now Anthony has two more books coming up, The Human Forged and The God Organ, both near-future science fictions that explore the consequences of advanced biotechnologies and the improper use of DNA.

Welcome to Chimeras, Anthony!

EEG: First of all, tell us a bit about yourself: I know you are pursuing a PhD in biomedical engineering. Can you tell us more specifically what you're working on?

AJM: In one sentence, I’m developing a method of 3D printing custom tissue engineering scaffolds for children born with heart defects.

Heart defects, or congenital heart disease, is the most common form of birth defects worldwide. Many of these defects require surgery to restore normal blood flow, which is absolutely essential to a child’s growth and well-being. In cases where surgeons must correct the anatomy of a patient, they often are forced to use grafts, or artificial blood vessels, that are made from a limited array of sizes and shapes. This means that the surgeon must cut and shape a graft (or more than one) while the child is on the operating table. Plus, the grafts that are currently used in these surgeries are made from materials that do not grow with the patient. This means that the grafts must be replaced as the child’s body changes and grows. Not to mention, these grafts used today often cause blood clotting or calcification, which can lead to more complications!

So, my work addresses these challenges in two ways.

First, we are using 3D printing to create custom grafts suitable for a patient’s specific needs. This means that we can take a medical image of the patient using commonly used techniques like MRI or CT scans. From that computer image, we can make a computer model of a custom implantable graft for the patient. That graft will be unique to the child and designed specifically for them, eliminating the time a surgeon needs to decide how to address the heart defect.

Second, the big development in my research is the material we are using to construct these grafts. It is very difficult to print a material that can withstand all the forces and motions of a pumping heart. Not to mention, we have to make sure that the material is soft and flexible—and, of course, it must be able to be 3D printed. To add to our list of challenges, we wanted to design a material that biodegrades over time. That means our graft will encourage the patient’s own tissue to grow over the implant. Over time, our 3D printed implant will disappear and be replaced entirely with the patient’s own tissue. No more implant! The child is left with only their own cells which should adapt as their body grows. This, in theory, eliminates many of the challenges associated with the permanent grafts used today.

That was long but I hope it all makes sense!

EEG: Your latest release, Enhancement, is set in the future and deals with "black market genetics." Tell us about the premise behind the book.

AJM: Genetic-based therapies are commonplace. But not everyone is satisfied with using genetic-based technologies as the medicine. I think we often dream about a future, especially in science fiction, where we can easily modify our bodies with a simple injection of viral vectors, nanoparticles, or what have you loaded with new genetic material. We dream of superhuman strength and stamina, improving our cognitive capabilities, or maybe just keeping our skin free from wrinkles.

Of course, anything related to medical devices (including toothbrushes!) are regulated by the FDA. That means you need sometimes decades of research and millions of dollars just to get a new medical-related product to the market.

Some people aren’t willing to wait that long. Christopher Morgan, an enterprising bioengineer, tries to jump on the underground market of illegal genetic enhancements. But his forays land him behind bars. He thinks he’s learned his lesson until someone else from the world of black market enhancements places a hit on Chris’s head. Chris has to figure out why someone wants him dead and finds that he can’t escape the world of black market DNA as easily as he once thought.

EEG:  Do you see any of the issues you deal in the book becoming a reality in a few decades?

AJM: I think it’s entirely possible that we’ll see renegade biohackers messing with genetic enhancements just like skilled computer hackers exist today. So much of medical research is available through the internet. Everything can be accessed, from experimental methods to gene sequencing information. And it’s not just this availability of information that makes this a reality. There’s been a small, but increasing movement of do-it-yourself bio-research with the decreasing price and increasing availability of discount laboratory equipment and supplies. It might sound silly but it’s true. (There are a couple books on the subject by Marcus Wohlsen that cover the subject.) The “biohacking/biopunk” movement is relatively small, but so was the community of computer software and hardware developers just decades ago.

So, I think we’ll have plenty of capable people interested in do-it-yourself research for fun or for noble causes. But there will undoubtedly be people looking to make a mint through whatever means necessary. Or they might just be out to cause trouble.

EEG: Through your field, you get to see state of the art medical advancements and technology. What amazes you the most of such technology and what, instead, scares you the most (meaning: what if it gets in the wrong hands, etc.)?

AJM: One of the most amazing medical technologies that I’ve seen in used today is the combination of medical imaging and 3D printing. A couple of collaborator’s at the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, DC recently used high-resolution medical imaging to visualize the internal organs of a set of conjoined twins. Amazingly, they used these astounding images to create a 3D model of the infants and their entangled organs. They 3D printed these intricate models like stackable LEGOs. Using these models to guide them, the team of physicians and surgeons planned out their surgery. The separation was a huge success.

While my currents works focus on genetic enhancements, I think a more frightening technology related to the bio-punk movement is bio-terrorism. If synthetic biology really takes off, it could be possible for a renegade at-home “researcher” to engineer, for example, a deadly, contagious virus.

EEG: What's your next writing project?

AJM: I’m about ready to release two new novels. One is set to release in early September. The Human Forged, follows an ex-soldier who is abducted and imprisoned in an off-shore medical research facility. The only person that can help him is someone he never knew existed—his clone. This book is more of a sci-fi action/adventure novel. Another, will be released at the end of September/early October. The God Organ is a near-future medical thriller based in Chicago. It’s centered on the LyfeGen Sustain, an artificial organ designed to give its users virtual immortality. Instead, its owners are dying. The inventor of the organ, Preston Carter, must figure out why before the organ kills him too. The novel involves elements of conspiracy and financial thrillers with biotechnological based science fiction. Besides those two upcoming releases, I’m currently working on the second book in the Black Market DNA series. This one incorporates the fear of engineered diseases I was talking about earlier!

EEG: Wow, between your PhD and your forthcoming book releases, you sure are busy! :-) Best of luck to you and thanks so much for visiting Chimeras today!

AJM: Thanks so much for having me on the blog.

You can find Anthony on Amazon, Facebook and Twitter. Sign up for his newsletter to make sure you won't miss the launch of his forthcoming books.

Monday, August 18, 2014

When the "cure" is only the beginning: author Deirdre Gould's talks about war, guilt, and the inspiration behind her books

There are many zombie and post-apocalyptic books out there, yet very few ask the following questions: "How do people live with each other after doing horrendous things to each other?" Especially when those "horrendous things" weren't meant, as if, for example, enforced by a disease. What if the "zombies" were cured and suddenly realized they had killed and eaten other human beings?

Author Deirdre Gould addresses these and many other questions in her books After the Cure and The Cured. Deirdre is an anthropologist whose novels were inspired by "a severe addiction to Post-apocalyptic literature combined with a lifetime of a very rural existence, first in central Maine and now in northern Idaho," as she herself states in her biography. And, also quoting from her bio, she says: "Though fiction can never come close to the reality of living with atrocity, it can help us ask important questions about our world and our treatment of each other." I was so intrigued by these ideas that, after buying Deirdre's book, I knew I had to have her here on Chimeras for an interview.

EEG: Welcome Deirdre! Let's start from your background: what prompted you to study anthropology and how does this inspire your stories?

DG: I studied anthropology because writing, husband and kids weren't part of THE PLAN (you know, the one you think your whole life is going to follow perfectly). I went to college to study war. Not how to fight it and not the history of war, but why we as a species seem to have a perpetual need to fight. And not the way an animal fights. We fight over the same things that animals do: territory, mates, and resources, though we dress it up in more complicated reasons. But we take it farther than other animals. Most animal fights don't end in death (some will, but most don't). One animal capitulates and to the victor go the spoils. And the fight is done. We don't do that. Our wars cost more. We're cruel to one another, we do terrible, terrible thing to the losers in war, even today. Enslavement, torture, genocide. And I wanted to know why. I wanted to know why so I could help stop it. I'm not crazy and I'm not isolated- some colleges even have Peace and Conflict Studies majors. Most of these recommend political science classes as their core. But during my freshman year I happened to take an anthropology class on Postmodernism and Development (which is a fancy way of saying that because of terrible things like slavery and war and colonialism in the past, some countries are at seemingly permanent disadvantages to others) and it struck me that studying man as a species, how we act and why we think the way that we do both as individuals and as societies was going to get me much farther in understanding war than any obscure law on international trade ship flags ever would. That's not to discount international law and its importance, it's a vital tool in ending and preventing wars. But anthropology was like studying the face behind the mask of government, the why instead of the how.

Obviously, anthropology and warfare are heavily present in my stories and in my own reading lists. It colors everything from how my characters think and act to their societal setting and the long running themes of all my stories (even the children's book!) though a lot of the time it's more of an unconscious way of exploring those things than something I set out to do (I try not to be preachy).

EEG: Your book's premise is novel and fascinating: a cure has been found. For most books, this would be the ending. Yet you take it as the beginning point and ask the question: "What now?" When did you get the idea and how did it evolve into After the Cure?

DG: After the Cure started as a mash up of me reading too many zombie books and studying warfare as mentioned above. I was on the gazillion and first zombie novel I'd read (I love em, all sorts, can't get enough) and it struck me that of all the causes of zombieism, I hadn't read any that started with a bacteria. Viruses, chemical spills, radioactivity, weird signals, all kinds of stuff, but no bacteria. And I started to wonder why. It struck me that there is no cure for a virus. Vaccines, yes, cures, no. But a bacteria could have a cure. And I thought, what would a place that had cured zombies look like? (this was before In the Flesh by the way so I had no guide!) The story would have to have certain rules: 1. the "zombies" couldn't be undead, just normal people that got sick, 2. it had to be the sickness that caused the violence, not people's will, and 3. I wanted my zombies to be able to remember. Without that third rule, the story would become a dystopia, sure, the healthy people would never trust the ex-zombies and would treat them as second class at best. And without memory it lacked what real war sometimes also lacks: Guilt. With a massive "G" Because this world would be very much like a country that had been at war and had certain groups commit atrocities during that war. Think Germany after World War II, Rwanda, Serbia and Croatia, Cambodia, the U.S. after slavery and forcibly confining Native Americans to reservations. These people who had done terrible things, for the most part, went back to their daily lives afterward, with their victims as their neighbors. And that is both fascinating and maddening to me. So I got to arrange a little Karmic justice and complicate things even a little more. The ex-zombies in After the Cure remember, whether they want to or not, both what they have done while they were ill (which in many cases included killing and consuming loved ones) and what has been done to them (being hunted or in Henry's case in the next book, The Cured, being used as a guard dog or for other purposes by healthy people). Unlike some real atrocities, nobody in this world is innocent. The innocents are long dead. Everyone has killed or thieved or left someone else to die in order to survive. And the memory is what makes them accountable to each other. Sure, the ex-zombies are still treated as semi-second class, but they aren't hunted down and an uneasy peace exists, at least within the City. And absolutely everyone is walking around with this massive weight of guilt for what they have done, because the memory still exists. They can't deny what's happened. There are witnesses. And the fact that everyone is involved makes those witnesses undeniable and undismissable. Of course, this is fiction and no fiction can ever come close to what people have actually suffered in the world, but maybe it can help people think about how personal guilt can perhaps lead to healing, about the impact of war, and especially about blame. At least, I hope it does.

EEG: What's next in the series? How many books do you have planned?

DG: The next book in the series will be called Kríses and is the third book in what is planned to be a five book total. It will introduce a few new people but readers will also see a few familiar faces from After the Cure as well. I'm working hard at it right now!

EEG: You've also written a children's book. What was the inspiration behind The Moon Polisher's Apprentice?

DG: The Moon Polisher's Apprentice is completely due to my daughter, Laura. The Moth Queen is the first of four parts. I needed something to escape from the grim post-apocalyptic stuff I was writing too, so this is a nice change of pace :) I wanted something that would give her something to reach for as an early reader but would also be entertaining when she was older. She wanted a "real" book so I worked very hard to make it something that would appeal to others as well. It's about a little girl who has to save four versions of the moon from thieves. The next part will be The Mist Pirates and I will be working on it as a break after Kríses.

EEG: Ooh, I love those titles! What else are you working on besides the next installment in After the Cure?

DG: I just finished a story for the Robot Chronicles and a part of a collaborative story for a box set, and aside from The Moon Polisher's Apprentice episodes, that's probably all I will schedule myself for besides the Cure books this year. I do have ideas percolating away, so if I get a chance to work on things between, I will be doodling away on those, but probably nothing serious yet. Once all the kids are in school, I will hopefully be able to be more ambitious!

EEG: Oh, yes. I too have been waiting for school to start ever since the beginning of summer! ;-) Best of luck with all your writing and thank you for sharing your thoughts on wars, guilt, blame and human nature.

DG: Thanks for inviting me to do this Elena!

To connect with Deirdre Gould and learn about her forthcoming books, follow her on her blog, Twitter and Facebook.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

A mosaic vaccine that could potentially protect from different ebola strains

Disclaimer: The mosaic vaccine paper discussed in this article is from my own group and overlaps with some of the research I do. 

I'm sure you've been following the latest news about the Ebola virus outbreak in Africa.
"The Ebola outbreak in West Africa is the world's deadliest to date and the World Health Organization has declared an international health emergency as more than 1,000 people have died of the virus in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria this year." [Source: BBC News]
The ebola virus was first described in 1976, with outbreaks reported starting from 1967 [3]. It's part of the Filovirus family and its natural reservoir is believed to be fruit bats, though there is evidence that it could be wider than we think. In fact, ebola can infect other animals like monkeys and pigs. Because the virus is transmitted through bodily fluids and it can survive for a few days after the host's death, it can be easily spread through the butchering and consumption of bushmeat.

You've probably heard from the news that two infected Americans were treated with "serum". Some headlines even dubbed it a "secret serum." The serum is actually no secret and has been used not just for ebola but also for other viruses like RSV [1]. The treatment, called passive transfer of antibodies (or antibody serum), is based on the transfer of antibody serum from one organism to another. The idea behind it is that the immune system of a person previously exposed to the virus has developed antibodies that can help other immunologically naive patients fight the infection. For the ebola virus, the therapy is still in the experimental phase and, up to these two patients, had only been tested in animals.

There are several vaccines currently being tested, each one at various experimental phases. Friedrich et al. [1] list a nice summary of all the current testing in their review. The one they do not mention in their review is a mosaic vaccine being developed by my group, which is based on ideas originally designed for an HIV vaccine.

What is a mosaic vaccine?

A vaccine is an attenuated form of a virus. Even though unable to start a full infection, when injected into the body, the attenuated virus is detected by the immune system, which can then mount the appropriate response and "create" neutralizing antibodies. Typically, the attenuated virus is created from the natural virus found in organisms.

And then came HIV and baffled everyone.

The problem with HIV is that every single HIV-infected person has a different virus. In order to protect from every possible infection, one would need to put into a vaccine the over half a million genetically distinct circulating strains. Clearly, that's not possible. How do you protect people from a viral population that's so diverse? Natural strains are no longer sufficient. You have to come up with clever ways to 'summarize' the whole population of viruses with just 2-3 viral strains.

That's when computers come in handy: the mosaic vaccine is a vaccine created in silico. Suppose you want to create one genetic sequence that "summarizes" all the genetic variants found in a population of 100 strains. The algorithm that creates the mosaic starts from the 100 strains and it literally reshuffles them bit by bit. The "bits" are not cut out randomly but in a way that, when reassembled in a full genome, the proteins are still functional and working. In other words, you want to make sure that after the reshuffling you still have functioning viruses. You repeat the reshuffling for a few times and at the end of the iterations you pick the one strain that best represents the original pool of 100 genomes.

HIV-1 mosaic vaccines have given great results in guinea pigs and monkeys. But what would be the advantage of using them for ebola?

If you are familiar with phylogenetics, you will certainly object that the two viruses (HIV and ebola) are quite different: while HIV spreads out in a star-like fashion (which translates into the fact that no two individuals have the same virus), ebola evolves more like the flu, with new emerging viruses causing new outbreaks. So, why would the mosaic vaccine help with ebola?
"While the techniques used here are very similar to those used for HIV-1 mosaic vaccine design, a pattern of repeated introductions of the filoviruses into humans (and primates generally) gives a crucial difference from HIV-1. HIV-1 shows great diversity within the pandemic, but that diversity has developed continuously, leaving intermediate isolates in its wake. In contrast, known filovirus diversity has episodically increased as new outbreaks are found to result from novel viruses, lacking intermediates." [3]
The fact that the ebola virus "lacks intermediates" seems to indicate that there are reservoirs that we don't know of where the virus accumulates diversity. This is worrisome: we not only need to protect from the current outbreaks, but also be prepared for new viruses that might emerge in the future. In [3], Fenimore et al show how the mosaic algorithm can be readapted from HIV to ebola, accounting for the evolutionary differences between the two viruses.

A mosaic vaccine would protect from all ebola subspecies and also against new strains that could potentially develop from the current outbreaks. The problem with ebola is that its reservoir could be wider than we think. The viral diversity found in bats has not matched the diversity of the ebola strains found in humans. So, where are the new viruses coming from? There are likely pockets of diversity that come from reservoirs we don't know of.
"The implication is that a vaccine against the filoviruses should strive for good coverage of common epitopes from the maximum number of types and strains currently available, in the hope that future outbreaks will retain these elements, so the vaccine will still be effective when challenged by a novel strain in a new outbreak." [3]
The authors tested the ebola mosaic vaccine on a mouse model and compared it with a vaccine created with a single natural strain from Zaire. All vaccinated mice in either group (mosaic or natural) survived the challenge. The natural strain vaccine provided 82.8% coverage of other Zaire strains, but only 14.0% coverage of non-Zaire strains. On the other hand, the single mosaic vaccine provided 54.7% coverage of other Zaire strains (still sufficient to protect the mice from infection) and 23.2% coverage of non-Zaire ebola virus strains, proving that a mosaic can indeed improve protection against different subtypes. Furthermore, comparing a cocktail of a two-mosaic vaccine with a two-protein natural cocktail and a vaccine that was previously tested in macaques (Hensley et al., 2010), the mosaic cocktail achieved the highest coverage.

[1] Friedrich BM, Trefry JC, Biggins JE, Hensley LE, Honko AN, Smith DR, & Olinger GG (2012). Potential vaccines and post-exposure treatments for filovirus infections. Viruses, 4 (9), 1619-50 PMID: 23170176

[2] Fischer W, Perkins S, Theiler J, Bhattacharya T, Yusim K, Funkhouser R, Kuiken C, Haynes B, Letvin NL, Walker BD, Hahn BH, & Korber BT (2007). Polyvalent vaccines for optimal coverage of potential T-cell epitopes in global HIV-1 variants. Nature medicine, 13 (1), 100-6 PMID: 17187074

[3] Fenimore PW, Muhammad MA, Fischer WM, Foley BT, Bakken RR, Thurmond JR, Yusim K, Yoon H, Parker M, Hart MK, Dye JM, Korber B, & Kuiken C (2012). Designing and testing broadly-protective filoviral vaccines optimized for cytotoxic T-lymphocyte epitope coverage. PloS one, 7 (10) PMID: 23056184