Debunking myths on genetics and DNA

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Ten years into the making, the HIV-1 mosaic vaccine finally goes into human trial

© Bette Korber et al.

I hope you will all forgive me if this week I'm gushing over my amazing mentor Bette Korber, as last week she shared some awesome news on Facebook:
"A landmark in my life happened yesterday, a major step in a long story. A decade ago I had an idea for making an HIV vaccine that had the potential to work globally. After a struggle (in my first 2 failed proposals, reviewers declared what I proposed was impossible), I got an internal grant from Los Alamos to develop the idea (third time's a charm). With that funding I could bring together a group of computational people to work together on expressing the idea -- a talented guy named Simon Perkins wrote amazing code to make it so, with computational design suggestions from the group, particularly my husband James Theiler. Then James, Will Fischer, Tanmoy Bhattacharya, and I put it through its paces, optimizing running conditions and devising ways to compare mosaics with natural proteins, with additional help from our friends Karina Yusim, Carla Kuiken and Bob Funkhouser. We called it a mosaic vaccine.
After so many years of hard work, and with the collaboration of experimentalists at Harvard and at Duke (Drs. Haynes, Letvin, and Barouch), two weeks ago a phase I safety trial finally opened, and an HIV mosaic vaccine went into the arm of a human volunteer for the very first time. "Safety trial" means that this is just the first phase in testing the safety of the vaccine (I explained the three phases of human trials in this post). We will gather immune responses and we are hoping to see the same good results we saw in monkeys [2-5]. If all goes well, HIV mosaics are in the pipeline for 4 more human vaccine studies. I'm so excited about this study and so proud of my mentor.

When I explain to people the challenge we are facing when designing an HIV-1 vaccine, I usually make a very simplistic comparison with the flu virus. Influenza evolves from one season to the next, which is why every year we need a new flu shot. So, basically, the flu evolves into a new virus every year. Well, HIV evolves so rapidly that every person has a different virus. In our database alone we have half a million distinct HIV viral sequences: how can you vaccinate people against half a million different viruses?

In the past, successful vaccines against diseases like polio or the measles have been made by taking a real virus, inactivating it (for example, you just take one or two of its proteins, but not the whole virus, to ensure it loses its ability to infect cells), and then injecting it into the body. The immune system "sees" the viral proteins and initiates a response. The response is then "saved" into memory cells, which, next time they encounter the pathogen, will remember how to produce the right response that will promptly clear the virus before it can start an active infection.

So, as you can see, the problem with HIV is that the viral population is so diverse that no one virus found in nature will protect people from contracting the infection. How to bypass the obstacle, then? Bette's idea is to basically use a computer that mimics HIV's evolutionary mechanisms to create an in-silico virus [1], something I've discussed in this post. The algorithm takes as input a population of, say, 100 different HIV sequences, and then recombines them creating a new population of artificially constructed viral sequences. HIV viruses can naturally recombine when infecting the same cells, and what the algorithm does is mimic this mechanism making sure that after every recombination step the new sequence is still a viable and functional virus. The computer mimics this process, iterates it multiple times and then the best representative is selected as a potential vaccine.

The first caveat is: is this new, artificially constructed sequence a real virus? After all, it was never found in nature. It was created by a computer algorithm. It turns out that when reconstructed in a wet lab, the mosaic proteins are functional and viable.

The second hurdle was to prove that these artificially constructed sequences are safe to be used in a vaccine and that they do elicit protective responses against not just a few HIV viruses, but many, many HIV viruses -- enough to prevent infection. So, you get an idea of why the mosaic vaccine took 10 years from concept to the first human trial.

Animal studies [2-5] demonstrated that mosaic vaccines elicit good immune responses. In one study in particular [3], compared to controls, vaccinated monkeys required many more challenges to get infected (for a risk reduction of 80%), and once infected, they were able to control the viral load and survive the infection.

So, as Bette said, we are hopeful. Hopeful and excited!

[1] 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

[2] Nkolola JP, Bricault CA, Cheung A, Shields J, Perry J, Kovacs JM, Giorgi E, van Winsen M, Apetri A, Brinkman-van der Linden EC, Chen B, Korber B, Seaman MS, & Barouch DH (2014). Characterization and immunogenicity of a novel mosaic M HIV-1 gp140 trimer. Journal of virology, 88 (17), 9538-52 PMID: 24965452

[3] Barouch DH, Stephenson KE, Borducchi EN, Smith K, Stanley K, McNally AG, Liu J, Abbink P, Maxfield LF, Seaman MS, Dugast AS, Alter G, Ferguson M, Li W, Earl PL, Moss B, Giorgi EE, Szinger JJ, Eller LA, Billings EA, Rao M, Tovanabutra S, Sanders-Buell E, Weijtens M, Pau MG, Schuitemaker H, Robb ML, Kim JH, Korber BT, & Michael NL (2013). Protective efficacy of a global HIV-1 mosaic vaccine against heterologous SHIV challenges in rhesus monkeys. Cell, 155 (3), 531-9 PMID: 24243013

[4] Santra S, Muldoon M, Watson S, Buzby A, Balachandran H, Carlson KR, Mach L, Kong WP, McKee K, Yang ZY, Rao SS, Mascola JR, Nabel GJ, Korber BT, & Letvin NL (2012). Breadth of cellular and humoral immune responses elicited in rhesus monkeys by multi-valent mosaic and consensus immunogens. Virology, 428 (2), 121-7 PMID: 22521913

[5] Barouch DH, O'Brien KL, Simmons NL, King SL, Abbink P, Maxfield LF, Sun YH, La Porte A, Riggs AM, Lynch DM, Clark SL, Backus K, Perry JR, Seaman MS, Carville A, Mansfield KG, Szinger JJ, Fischer W, Muldoon M, & Korber B (2010). Mosaic HIV-1 vaccines expand the breadth and depth of cellular immune responses in rhesus monkeys. Nature medicine, 16 (3), 319-23 PMID: 20173752

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Gene Cards release day!

Science fiction fans: my futuristic/dystopian technothriller GENE CARDS is finally here! And here's the best news: for a limited time only (i.e. one week!) it will be at the special price of $0.99 (Kindle edition, US and UK only). Please share the news, post on Facebook, tweet, send it as a gift to the sci-fi lovers in your family and circle of friends, in other words: help me spread the word.

Read the first chapter here.

Review Highlights:

"I found Gene Cards a rewarding read, one that kept me glued to the pages throughout to see what comes next. And come they did - many suspenseful and nail biting moments." --

"Ms. Giorgi has a very unique voice, a word artist, with a vivid and descriptive vocabulary." -- Juneta Key, Amazon Review

"Packed with action from the first page to the last, the characters are engaging and flawed in a relatable way." -- C., Amazon Review

Book Blurb:
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.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Is EV-D68 causing mysterious polio-like symptoms in children?

Bubble fun at the Santa Fe Renaissance Fair © EEG 

One of the twists in my latest book, Gene Cards, is an unknown pathogen threatening the fictional city of Liasis. I confess that when I came up with the idea I was a little nervous. My story is set in the future, and with all the state-of-the-art technology we already have, is it feasible to think that we will still deal with diseases without a known causative agent? The thing is, new viruses and new pathogens arise all the time. Take the flu, for example. Every time it jumps from one species to another, it has the potential to recombine in new strains and create a new virus. Influenza viruses are usually recognizable from their surface proteins, hemagglutinin and neuraminidase. But the point is that for as long as there are pathogen that thrive in animal reservoirs and then suddenly jump to humans, these pathogens could potentially lead to unknown organisms. And it's hard to test for something you don't know. Another issue with viruses is that they can "hide" in cells (like neurons) that are not accessible through standard test, making them harder to detect unless one resolves to invasive techniques.

One thing is to theorize that it's possible, and one thing is to find it's happening, as you can read in this post from TWiV:
"In February 2014 I wrote about children in California who developed a poliomyelitis-like paralysis, also called acute flaccid paralysis or AFP. However, the cause of this paralysis was not known. The CDC has released its study of these cases and concludes 'The etiology of AFP with anterior myelitis in the cases described in this report remains undetermined'."
The CDC report is available online, and perhaps the most striking quote is the following:
"Additional laboratory testing for infectious diseases conducted at the CDPH Viral and Rickettsial Disease Laboratory did not identify a causative agent to explain the observed clinical syndrome reported among the patients."
So, what is the story, here?

Acute flaccid paralysis happens when muscles become weak or limp and can no longer contract. In order to be diagnosed as AFP, the symptoms must arise spontaneously and not be caused by a trauma. A number of viruses can cause this condition, including polio. When caused by polio, the paralysis is associated with inflammation of the spinal cord, and the whole condition takes the name of "acute flaccid paralysis associated with anterior myelitis." A total of 23 cases of acute flaccid paralysis associated with anterior myelitis have been reported in California between June 2012 and May 2014.
"Affected patients resided in diverse geographic areas throughout California with no indication of clustering. During the 30-month inquiry, no indication of seasonality or temporal trends in disease onset was established."
Twelve patients had been vaccinated against polio, two hadn't, and for the rest no information was available. Nineteen of the 23 patients had been tested for the "usual suspects" (polio, enteroviruses, West Nile virus, rabies, etc.), but only two tested positive for Enterovirus EV-D68, which in most cases actually manifests as a respiratory disease. The CDC report excludes polio as a cause of the 23 cases in the study and concludes that no common etiology could be found.
[. . .] whether these cases represent an actual increase from baseline incidence of AFP with anterior myelitis in this population is unclear. A study examining AFP in children aged 15 years in California during 1992-1998 reported an incidence of 1.4 AFP cases per 100,000 children per year, with the most common diagnoses being Guillain-Barre syndrome (23%), unspecified AFP (21%), and botulism (12%). None of the 245 reviewed cases had recognized anterior myelitis, which is characteristic of paralytic poliomyelitis.
If you do a quick search on PubMed, you'll see that the most common etiology for AFP is polio, and in those cases it's usually associated with anterior myelitis. A Korean study carried over the span of 10 years (from 2001 to 2010) found a total of 285 AFP cases, for which Guillain-Barre syndrome was the major leading causes [1]. Usually triggered by an infection, Guillain-Barre syndrome is a disorder that affects the peripheral nervous system. With prompt treatment, it is 100% curable, though if not treated promptly, it can cause life-threatening complications.

What about the two patients who tested positive for Enterovirus D68? EV-D68 was first isolated in 1962. Since then, there have been rare reports of clustered cases, particularly in summer. However, this summer, there has been an unusual increase in reported cases of severe respiratory diseases, and most of these cases tested positive for EV-D68. Here are the latest numbers from the CDC:
"From mid-August to October 8, 2014, CDC or state public health laboratories have confirmed a total of 664 people in 45 states and the District of Columbia with respiratory illness caused by EV-D68."
What makes this virus worrisome is that it affects young children (usually under the age of 10) and that currently there is no vaccine or treatment against it. And while it normally manifests as a respiratory disease, in some rare instances, the virus can affect the nervous system. In the two California AFP cases that tested positive for EV-D68, the virus was found through nasal swabs. There is a possibility that in the other cases the virus was not found because it was elsewhere, namely in the nervous system (where it would be found only through invasive procedures).

In a different report, the CDC describes
"a cluster of nine children evaluated at Children's Hospital Colorado with acute neurologic illness characterized by extremity weakness, cranial nerve dysfunction (e.g., diplopia, facial droop, dysphagia, or dysarthria), or both. Neurologic illness onsets occurred during August 8‚ September 15, 2014."
Four of eight Colorado children tested were positive for EV-D68. And even though these symptoms are not quite equivalent to AFP, they still fall within the spectrum of acute neurologic illnesses.

Bottom line: we can't quite hold EV-D68 as responsible of the mysterious AFP cases, but we can't exclude it either. Viruses tend to target specific cells in the body, and sometimes they can spread beyond their usual "hunting grounds." When a pathogen is symptomatic (or manifests certain symptoms) only in one particular subset of the population, the reported cases appear to be unrelated, making it very hard to reconstruct the etiology of the outbreak.

Yes, sometimes reality is weirder than fiction. Ad if you are curious about the premise of my new book Gene Cards, you can read the first chapter here.

[1] Kim H, Kang B, Hwang S, Lee SW, Cheon DS, Kim K, Jeong YS, & Hyeon JY (2014). Clinical and enterovirus findings associated with acute flaccid paralysis in the Republic of Korea during the recent decade. Journal of medical virology, 86 (9), 1584-9 PMID: 24114945

[2] Zangwill KM, Yeh SH, Wong EJ, Marcy SM, Eriksen E, Huff KR, Lee M, Lewis EM, Black SB, & Ward JI (2010). Paralytic syndromes in children: epidemiology and relationship to vaccination. Pediatric neurology, 42 (3), 206-12 PMID: 20159431

Thursday, October 9, 2014

First Page Review Blog-Hop: Gene Cards

Today's post is part of the First Page Review bloghop. Here's how it works: if you are writer, on your own blog, post your first 1,000 words of something you're writing or have written, then sign up on this page, linking your 1,000 word post. Visit other people on the list and read theirs, then leave a comment to let them know if you liked it, what worked, what didn't, and if you'd keep reading. And if you don't have any work in progress to share... visit the First Page Review bloghop page to discover new, forthcoming books!

My excerpt is from my new book release, GENE CARDS. Here's the first 994 words:

The blue bar inched forward.
Thirty percent download.

Orange light pooled through the electrochromic windows and drew jagged lines across the walls. Outside, helicopter blades swooshed closer. Yulia waved a hand in front of the switch sensor and the glass went from opaque back to transparent. She watched the chopper—a Sikorsky quadcopter—maneuver through the sky. Thick billows of smoke enveloped it.
A red, angry sun watched with her.

Sirens blasted in the distance, a megaphone barked down the street.
Yulia’s eyes strayed back to the screen in her hand.
Forty percent download.
Nestled in the palm of her hand, the forty panels forming the screen of her Computerized Personal Assistant buzzed with activity. Bites of data rushed across firewalls, swirling through fiber-optic cables and eluding encrypted servers, slowly filling her CPA’s two terabytes of RAM.

“New message,” the CPA said. “Display?”
On the bottom right corner of her screen, Yulia read, Inbox(1).
She tapped the screen and said, “No.”
The blue bar inched to fifty percent. The beat of the quad skycrane hammered against the windows.
“New message,” the CPA repeated. “Display?”

Her muscles twitched, her foot rapped the floor. She tapped the Inbox. The screen went black, a new image quickly filled it.
She saw red, at first. Red, like the sun outside.
Red’s not good.
She bit her lip, watching.
He’s sick again.
Sick, like the sun outside. 

Yulia’s fingers wavered. She peeked at the downloading bar at the bottom of the screen—sixty-eight percent—then back to the image: the rusty skeleton of a boat deck stranded on a gray beach. Ravenous ocean waves swelled around it, dark clouds looming above.
No time now.
“Close.” She tapped the screen and the image was gone.
The sirens outside wailed closer. 

A tree on the street burst, sending debris and ashes drumming against the windowpanes.
A loud buzz, the electronic voice of the security system crackling to life. “Code nine-eight-nine. The system has been informed of an emergency.”
“Really?” Yulia snapped.
“Recognition failed. Please repeat.”
She bit her lip. Stay calm. You’ll get out of this

With its syncopated cadence, the central computer dictated its impersonal warning: “The system will proceed to shut down at seventeen-oh-five GMT on August ten, two thousand fifty-six. Shut down will complete in ninety seconds.”
Yulia locked her fingers around her CPA. She had ninety seconds to finish the download and leave. The shutdown was irreversible. She could yell some random command at the speakerphone, but the voice recognition software would reject it.
Come on! 

“Gas. Disconnected.”

Through the electrochromic windows, she could now see the plume of smoke loom over the horizon. The sky darkened, the red disk of the sun glimmered through the haze like a reversed eclipse. 

“Electricity. Disconnected. Battery life. Fifteen seconds.”

Light burst through the OLED TV screen one last time and then died. Suddenly muted, digital frames scattered on the white walls flickered and went black. The wireless power source tower faded from red to gray.
Ninety percent download.
Come on!

Down the street, barked the impersonal voice of a security drone: “Mandatory evacuation for all residents. Please evacuate. Now.”
Heedless, the central computer resumed its warning. “Q-Network. Dis—”
Another loud buzz, this time followed by sparks.
The system exhaled its last breath, Yulia thought.

Electronically controlled, all doors in the apartment closed. Sprinklers came down from recesses in the ceiling.
Yulia ducked to cover her CPA from the water.
The shelves rattled, one of the picture screens fell and crashed into a million fragments. The metal cabinet shook, its long forgotten treasures trembled: a black and white picture in an old-fashioned wood frame. A seashell. A vintage 35mm camera. 

The CPA emitted a brusque bleep.
Download complete.
Yulia exhaled. She unplugged the cat-5 cable, morphed her CPA to a cube, and slid it in her pocket.
This is all I need.
The sprinklers spit rust-smelling water on her face.
Car keys. Check. Data. Check.
My K45

A whiff of gunpowder emerged over the reek of fire smoke. And blood. Not much, just a trickle snaking its way on the floor. Duane stared at her with vacant eyes, an arm loosely wrapped across the back of the couch as if he’d just sat down to chat. A hint of surprise lingered in his gaze. His wet forehead was plastered with strands of ash blond hair.
Yulia brushed her fingers along the back of his hand, the same hand that yesterday had run on her breasts, teasing, caressing. 

Her two-millimeter H&K K45 lay on the cushion next to him. She picked it up, pressed the release and checked the magazine.
Twenty more rounds.

She snuck the handgun in her waistband and kissed Duane’s forehead—a wet kiss, lulled by the monotone hiss of the sprinklers.
“Bye, babe. Sorry you didn’t enjoy the ending.”
The acrid smell of wildfire welcomed her outside, stinging. The plume loomed and covered the sky, as if night had fallen. She heard the chopper but couldn’t locate it. Ashes prickled her face like soft raindrops. The metallic voice of the security drone sounded far away now, its distant call an unheard lullaby. 

Her Toyota SX waited on the curbside, under a layer of soot. She climbed behind the wheel, called the engine on, then the wipers.
The fifteen-year-old engine roared. Without a GPS or QNet communicator to inform it of the current emergency, the navigator’s greeting seemed surreal.
“Welcome, Alex. Where should I take you today?”
“Away,” Yulia ordered the navigator. “As fast as you can.”

Headlights on, the Toyota whipped into the street.
She saw the flash first, through the rearview mirror. Then came the blast, so strong it made the car jump and propel forward. Glass shattered and exploded. Debris washed on the windshield. 

She didn’t stop to look back. It no longer mattered.
Nothing mattered anymore.
Tires skittered on soot.
The Toyota lost ground, then gained it back.

Book Blurb:
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.

Preorder GENE CARDS on Amazon (release date October 15).

Monday, October 6, 2014

Golden fall colors and a little experimentation

Gold © EEG
The aspen leaves are turning again and I feel lucky I live in an area where I can witness their splendor. As with most things when it comes to landscape photography, fall colors too are best rendered either at sunrise or at sunset. Sadly, the forest closest to where I live burnt in 2011, and the next closest one is 1 hour drive away. Did I mention I'm not much of a morning person?

Last Friday I got there at 10 am. The colors were stunning, but I knew the light wasn't the best one could get. Still, I decided to make the best out of it. I came back home with 150 shots, of which this one was my favorite:


It's pretty, gives an idea of the gorgeous colors, but it's not a biting picture. I wanted something more, so I tried a little experiment (the result is the picture at the top). It turned out a lot more work than I had anticipated, and since many asked me how I achieved the final result, I decided to document it step by step.

First, copy the original picture into PS as a new layer, then make a duplicate layer. Mute the top layer and on the visible copy select Blur -> Motion Blur. Set the angle to 90 degrees. The pixel field will give the amount of blur you desire. I set it at 790 and got this:

The above has the foreground leaves blurred too, resulting in the yellow smears toward the bottom. I wanted the foreground leaves to be surrounded by dark colors, like in the original picture, so I duplicated this layer, took the bottom part only and then extended it so it now looked like this:

Next, I used the magic wand to select (from the original picture, which you can see as the hidden "Layer 1 copy" on the right) the dark colors for the branches I wanted in the foreground. When you do that, you get all browns in the picture, not just the ones you want, so you have to go back and erase the extra stuff you don't want in the background. This is what I got after that tedious process:

Same thing with the yellows this time:

And since neither the yellows or the browns got everything I wanted, I went back and manually selected everything I wanted in the next two steps:

It's tedious and it requires a lot of patience (and I'm sure the experts know of better and easier ways of doing this especially in CCS6 -- I'm only using elements here), but I really like the end result. :-)

If you're interested, I made a poster: $45, shipping included (within the US), email me at eegiorgi(at)

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Sunday Snippet: Gene Cards

From GENE CARDS, Chapter 1:
The blue bar inched forward -- thirty percent download.
Orange light pooled through the electrochromic windows and drew jagged lines across the walls. Outside, helicopter blades swooshed closer. Yulia waved a hand in front of the switch sensor and the glass went from opaque back to transparent. She watched the chopper—a Sikorsky quadcopter—maneuver through the sky. Thick billows of smoke enveloped it.
A red, angry sun watched with her.
Sirens blasted in the distance, a megaphone barked down the street.
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.

Download the first chapter of GENE CARDS here. You can also enter the Goodreads giveaway to win one of two signed copies! Thanks for visiting!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The IWSG is making a book!!

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.

This month marks the anniversary of the IWSG website and FB group, and to celebrate the IWSG Team is putting together an eBook that will benefit all writers - The IWSG Guide to Publishing and Beyond. The eBook will be free and available for all eReaders by early December.

My post this month is also the contribution to the e-book, which is why I'm sharing my thoughts on what I learned so far on writing and publishing from my still very limited (but hopefully expanding) point of view.

To me, these are the most important things that make for a good story and a solid readership:

Research. Spend at least as much time researching as you do writing. Talk to people. Read non-fiction on the topics you deal with in your book. For example, when I started jotting down my ideas for my debut novel, CHIMERAS, I knew nothing about police procedural, and had never talked to a cop before. So I went on amazon and bought a bunch of books on forensics. I also found two true crime books written by Miles Corwin, a journalist who was embedded in the RHD for one year. Fantastic read, I can't tell you how much those books (Homicide Special in particular) have helped me shape my story and make my characters ring true.

But I needed more. So I went looking for people I could talk to. I'd met a writer online whose books where set with the LAPD. I asked her where she did her research and she introduced me to a retired LAPD cop who helped her lot. That retired LAPD cop is now one of my best friends and his memoir sits in my Favorite Books shelf. Through him I learned not only the lingo cops use, but also their modus operandi, their witty humor, their lifestyle. And it paid off: I've had readers praise my characters because they "ring true."

Writing rules. Every time the topic comes up I roll my eyes. Can you do X in writing? Are you allowed to do Y? Why is Z strictly forbidden? For me, it all boils down to this: do not be afraid to break rules. Rather, be afraid of not breaking them well. 

Build a solid and reliable readership. By that I mean a group of readers that will always buy your books, will always write reviews and will always give you valuable feedback. The group doesn't have to be large, but it does have to keep growing and it should be a steady presence in your writing career.

Provide interesting content. Now, I know a lot of fellow writers will disagree with me on what makes interesting content. When I browse people's blogs I see that most writers talk to other writers. They post about publishing, writing, and the ins and outs of the life of a writer. And mind you, I really appreciate this because as a writer, I learned a lot from other writers who generously shared their experience on writing, publishing and marketing. But you must not forget that who will ultimately read your books are readers, not just writers.

If you look at the most successful authors out there you'll notice that on their blogs they talk to their readers. Not fellow writers, not friends or family. They engage their readers in their writing process. So yes, keep the blog posts on how to format books, what platforms are best and what promos work versus the ones that don't work. But also talk about your characters and how you got inspired to write them and what you're working on next...

Be patient. Michael Bunker wrote a great post a while ago on Kindle stuffers. A lot of people stuff their Kindles. Yes, those people will likely give you a spike in rank and it will feel good. It's a high that doesn't last long, though. Many of those Kindle stuffers will keep stuffing their Kindles and your book will be buried under a pile of stuff that may or may not be read some day. You want reliable readers, readers that pick your book because they read the description and loved he reviews. Those readers are harder to get but I promise, they are here to stay with you for the long run. So work on getting those more than you are at working on your ranks. It takes more time and even more patience, but in the long run it pays off.

Make your readers part of your writing process. Create a newsletter for your upcoming ARCs. Sending out ARCs is a must in order to build that reliable readership. Don't just send them out, ask for feedback. Tell your readers you love to hear back from them and always thank them for the time they put into reading and reviewing your work. My drafts got much better thanks to the feedback of my reviewers, and many of my readers have now become great friends.

Your time is better spent writing. Yes, I know, there's a lot of books on how to publish successfully out there, a lot of blog posts, a lot of tricks, do's and dont's that people talk about. Have I read them? Some. Would I recommend going through all that stuff? Maybe. To be honest with you, I think they're just tricks, and, statistically, what works for one book/author is not likely to work for all books/authors. Yes, if you're good at marketing you may have a better time than others struggling to push their work out there. But really. Don't waste too much time on that stuff. The time you spend writing is your investment in that faithful readership that you need to build. Let your readers push your book for you while you focus on producing the best story ever written.

Final considerations. My advice will likely be the least popular you will find out there. Why? Because it's the kind advice that overlooks fast rewards in favor of hard work that takes a long time to build. And maybe I will be proven wrong. But I see a lot of writers rise fast and then just as fast fall (and this is true for both traditionally published as well as indie authors). Fire burns through hay very quickly. If that's what you want, then go for the fast reward approach, aim at those Kindle stuffers, etc. But if you want a long lasting fire, go for the slow burning coals. Your ranks won't be shocking any time soon, but your readers will follow you through time.

I want to thank everyone who will be stopping by and leaving comments today. I'm on the road today so I will publish them and reply as soon as I can.

Monday, September 29, 2014

How to Climb the Eiffel Tower: a novel about life ... and cancer

I've often talked about cancer here on the blog, from a purely scientific point of view. Today, though, I'll switch perspective, as I talk with women's fiction author Elizabeth Hein, who is about to release her book How to Climb the Eiffel Tower.

Book Blurb:
Lara Blaine believes that she can hide from her past by clinging to a rigid routine of work and exercise. She endures her self-imposed isolation until a cancer diagnosis cracks her hard exterior. Lara’s journey through cancer treatment should be the worst year of her life. Instead, it is the year that she learns how to live. She befriends Jane, another cancer patient who teaches her how to be powerful even in the face of death. Accepting help from the people around her allows Lara to confront the past and discover that she is not alone in the world. With the support of her new friends, Lara gains the courage to love and embrace life. Like climbing the Eiffel Tower, the year Lara meets Jane is tough, painful, and totally worth it.

Elizabeth writes women's fiction with a bit of a sharp edge. She is fascinated by how friendship and human connection can help a person through the most difficult moments in their lives. I actually won Elizabeth's book through a Goodreads giveaway (on a side note, Goodreads giveaways are awesome, if you guys haven't tried them yet, you should: you get to find out about so many new releases and you do win free books from time to time!), so I had to privilege to start the book early, and I'm already hooked by the main character's strong voice.

EEG: Welcome to CHIMERAS, Elizabeth!

I love the premise of your book: it offers a fresh take on disease, a hopeful and energetic one instead of a teary/sad one. I know from your bio that you are a cancer survivor yourself. How much of your personal experience is in the book and in particular in your main character, Lara?

EH: Lara's experiences in How To Climb The Eiffel Tower are only tangentially based on my own. I was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma, a blood-related cancer, in 2002 and was far more ill than Lara is in the book. Then again, I had far more support. I was a 34-year-old mother of two young girls when I was sick, so family surrounded me the entire time. My parents and my in-laws took excellent care of my girls and me. Lara, on the other hand, was completely alone.

When writing How To Climb The Eiffel Tower, I wanted Lara’s cancer to be more than a disease. I wanted her illness to be a metaphor for Lara’s history of sexual abuse destroying her from the inside out. Cervical cancer is one of the few cancers that is known to be caused by a sexually transmitted virus and also can be successfully cured when detected in an early stage. Lara’s cancer was a direct result of her sexual abuse and its treatment was a literal eradication of her past. The beauty of fiction is that we can manipulate the facts to turn out the way we want them to be. Getting cancer really was the best thing that ever happened to her.

EEG: Rather than survival, your book is about rediscovering life, am I correct? Do you think that sometimes we "forget" to live our lives fully and it's not until we face such important "turns" in life that we finally stand up and live to our full potential?

EH: By all means I believe we forget to live our lives fully. Most of us concentrate on simply getting through the day and lose sight of the big picture. Experiences like a cancer diagnosis, the death of a loved one, or the loss of a job can stop us in our tracks and force us to reassess where we are going in life. Impermanence is hard to ignore when it smacks you on the back of the skull with a board. This can lead to large changes like changing careers or divorcing your spouse, or small things like becoming a vegetarian.

In the case of Lara Blaine, the cancer diagnosis forces her out of self-imposed isolation and opens her up to human connection. Allowing people to care for her teaches Lara how to love again.

EEG: From your bio: "Elizabeth Hein writes about the people that go unnoticed in everyday life." What inspires you to tell their stories?

EH: I am inspired by the stories of ordinary people quietly facing extraordinary challenges. You truly see what a person is made of when they are under pressure. I could write about people in exalted positions performing heroic acts, but I want readers to see themselves in my characters. If Lara and Jane can get through cancer treatment, other people can too. The everyday provides plenty of drama if you look closely.

EEG: Tell us about your current writing projects. When's the expected publication date of your next novel?

EH: I am working on several projects right now. The project I am trying to concentrate on is called "The House," largely because an abandoned mansion is one of the main characters. The frame story of this novel regards Kai Hast, a woman in her late forties, who has recently discovered that she is an heiress and has inherited a mansion in Massachusetts. As Kai slowly renovates the house, she discovers things about the lives of her mother, her aunt, her grandmother, and the first Mrs. Hast. This novel is a bit of a departure for me. It is my first foray into historical fiction. It is also the first time I am playing with multiple points of view, as well as parallel story lines taking place in different time periods. I hope to get this novel published sometime in 2016.

The other project I am working on is the sequel to my first novel, Overlook. The working title is Escape Plan and picks up where Overlook leaves off with the same two main characters and a few new characters. Where Overlook dealt with infidelity and gossip, Escape Plan will deal with domestic violence, guilt, and the limits of friendship. I am also sketching out a novel set on Cape Cod and a travel mystery series.

EEG: That's all very exciting. Best of luck to you, Elizabeth and congratulations!

Find out more about Elizabeth's new book How To Climb The Eiffel Tower and her future book releases by following her on her blog, Facebook, and Twitter.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

International Photography Awards

The Music Within © EEG

The Honorable Mentions of the 2014 IPA Annual Photo Competition have just been announced, and I was stoked to see the series I submitted, titled "Il Mal di Vivere" (the pain of living), among the awardees (edited to add: I was actually awarded third place in the self-portrait category). Il Mal di Vivere is a poem by Italian poet and Nobel Laureate Eugenio Montale, and with my series I wanted to portray the "pain of living" as a state of the mind -- a constant turmoil of the heart, the longing for change and the struggle to accept change.

The IPA competition is very prestigious, and the level of images submitted is outstanding. Check them all out here.

Two Doors © EEG

Restricted © EEG

Displacement © EEG

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Sunday Snippet - GENE CARDS

From GENE CARDS, Chapter 2:
The pain--the hardest thing is the pain.
He doesn’t mind the darkness, or the stench of latrine. He doesn’t mind the rats gnawing his cot, or the screams haunting the hallways like drunken ghosts.
The hardest thing is the pain.
It slices through his chest like a chilled blade. His lungs freeze, his throat gags for air. There’s no escape. Pain is his harshest prison.

This is from Julian's POV. He's not a happy lad. ;-)

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.

Download the first chapter of GENE CARDS here. You can also enter the Goodreads giveaway to win one of two signed copies!

On other news, my short story Lady Lilith is now Amazon! But wait, just read it for free, free is better! ;-) --> sign up!

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.