Debunking myths on genetics and DNA

Friday, January 30, 2015

Apocalypse Weird: Kevin G. Summers talk about his book, The Bleak December, and what it is like to live on a farm

Three of the 5 books coming out February 23 !!!

Are you guys getting excited? Because I am!! Mike Corley is working hard at making us all shiny new covers, look at what he did so far!

Today my AW author guest is Kevin G. Summers, author of The Bell Curse, The Man Who Shot John Wilkes Booth, and Legendarium (the latter co-written with Michael Bunker). Kevin is here today to tell us about his story set in the Apocalypse Weird world, a one of a kind project started by a guild of independent authors who got together and decided to make their own brand world (more info on AW at the end of the post).

 Welcome to CHIMERAS, Kevin!

 EEG: How did you get involved in the AW project? 

KGS: Michael Bunker had been hinting to me for several weeks that he was working on some big secret project but he was too busy to talk about it. He spends every waking moment rolling cigars, posting on social media and writing (all at the same time) so this was understandable. After about a week of threatening to come down to Texas he finally agreed to tell me the big secret. We had a Skype call where he pitched the AW concept and my story sprang to life in my mind almost instantly. I didn't even have to think about it. I wrote it all down and sent my pitch to Nick Cole the next day. Nick is about the nicest guy in North America and he green-lit the project just like that. Then he started talking about deadlines and I started to get nervous. But here I am, almost two months into the manuscript and I've killed half the people in a little town in Coos County, New Hampshire.

EEG: Tell us a little bit about your AW story and its premise.

KGS: My story arc is called the Winter Wasteland and the first book is The Bleak December. It's set in New Hampshire, where the snow starts falling and just never stops. The state is snowed under, the power goes out, and then all hell breaks loose. There's a religious cult that has been secretly infiltrating NH for years and they choose this moment to seize control of the state. Any anyone that opposes them... they get killed by demonic ice zombies. It's like if Our Town were set on the other side of The Wall in A Game of Thrones.

EEG: Who is Joshua Webb and what inspired you to write his story?

KGS: Webb is the protagonist of my weird western, The Man Who Shot John Wilkes Booth. He's the editor of a rag newspaper called the Paradise Ledger and he's pretty much the most ridiculed man in Colorado. He write stories about the supernatural and conspiracy theories, and that's how he gets connected with Boston Corbett, Booth's killer. Together they are swept up into a conspiracy with agents of a secret society out to silence them forever.

This story actually started out as a comic book. I had a really talented artist and we were under contract with a small but respectable publisher. But things were moving too slowly and the project got cancelled. I had these finished scripts just gathering dust so I decided to turn them into a novel. Part 1 is out now and Part 2 should be out by the end of the month. Part 3 will be out after I finish the manuscript for my Apocalypse Weird novel.

EEG: What do you like about Westerns?

KGS: I didn't grow up loving westerns... it all happened by accident. I went through this phase where I was watching every Jimmy Stewart movie. After It's A Wonderful Life and Mr. Smith Goes To Washington and Harvey, I happened to see The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. I loved it and I was hooked. Westerns are American mythology and the setting for many of our greatest stories. I just finished reading Lonesome Dove and it was one of the best books I've ever read. Just brilliant.

EEG: You live in a 100+ year old farm and together with your family you raise your own food. How many animals do you have and what's an ordinary day like in the Summers household?

KGS: I'm not sure how many animals we have at any given time. We raise meat chickens during the warmer months so the number is a lot higher in the summer. We raise everything on grass and sunshine and out in the open, none of that industrial stuff like you see in Food Inc.

A typical day on Crowfoot Farm looks like this: Get up, drink some coffee and read a chapter of Ecclesiastes, have breakfast with the kids and then head out for chores. Chores take about an hour every day. I feed hogs, chickens, ducks, geese and turkeys while my wife milks the cow and feeds the sheep. Then I'll split firewood for a little while before I sit down and write for about 2 hours. Then it's on to whatever project await me that day (I do the writing first so I'm fresh).

Afternoon chores around 6pm and then it's supper, family time and off to bed. My kids all have to do chores because it's good for them to have responsibilities. And probably 95% of what we eat is grown on the farm. We also don't have TV coming into the house. We watch DVDs, mostly of older movies and shows. And we read together at least a couple of times every week.

EEG: Wow, that's really awesome. So, what's the best life lesson that farm life teaches?

KGS: To everything there is a season. Sometimes you work from sunup to sunset with no time to rest (or write). Other times you can put your feet up and relax a little. We just go with the season of the day and try not to fret about things we'd rather be doing. There will be a season for those things down the road. Also, don't name a sow Misery.

EEG: Thanks so much for chatting with us today, Kevin.

Don't forget to check out Kevin's books on his website, Facebook page, Amazon page, and Twitter.

Intrigued by Apocalypse Weird? Then read the first book, The Red King, by Nick Cole, which is completely free and sets the world of Apocalypse Weird. You can also sign up for our mailing list to make sure you don't miss the big launch on february 23rd. And you can join us on Facebook, too.

Michael Bunker also has a great post about Apocalypse Weird on his blog.

 Author Hank Garner is also doing a series of podcasts on Apocalypse Weird: last week he interviewed Nick Cole, and this week Hank just posted a new podcast in which Michael Bunker talks about his AW book, Digger, the first in his Texocalypse world.

 And if you are a writer and you would like to take part in the Apocalypse Weird project, Nick has a wonderful post where he explains how to apply.

Apocalypse Weird Authors: Ellen Campbell (editor) Stefan Bolz Christopher Boore Michael Bunker Nick Cole Jennifer Ellis Hank Garner E.E. Giorgi Tim Grahl Weston Ochse David Parish-Whittaker Lyndon Perry Chris Pourteau Steven Savile Daniel Smith Lesley Smith Kevin Summers Eric Tozzi Kim Wells Forbes West

Texocalypse Now by M.Bunker and N.Cole

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Two new stories coming on Friday to email subscribers

I've added two more stories to what originally was just one story on Amazon, and I'm offering them for free to all my email subscribers. Sign up here and on Friday you'll get a link on how to download all three stories. Here's the description:

The Elm Tree
When sixteen-year-old Lily Andrews takes her life, one of the darkest secrets of the small town of Mariposa Springs is buried with her. Three months later, baffled by an inconclusive investigation, County Sheriff Albert Contardo turns to the only person who can help him uncover the secret: the doctor who held Lily’s heart while she died.

Ethan, a 12-yr-old boy who doesn't quite fit in, teaches his blind friend Estelle how to recognize colors. And she teaches him something he'll never forget.

Lady Lilith
"Call me Lilith. Lilith, the night creature. The first wife of Adam."
A man and his nightmares. An apathetic daughter. A retired neighbor.
What begins as a portrait of mediocre lives and failed relationships gradually morphs into a tale of hope and redemption.

Click here to get the free stories in your inbox this coming Friday ->

Monday, January 26, 2015

Angie Cavanaugh talks about her debut novel, Otherworlders

Today my guest is Angela Cavanaugh who, after debuting as a flash-fiction author, just launched her first science fiction novel, Otherworlders. Angela and I will both have a story in the forthcoming anthology The A.I. Chronicles, the next installment in Samuel Peralta's Future Chronicle series.

Welcome to the blog, Angela!

EEG: Tell us about the premise in Otherworlders and how you had the idea for it.

AC: Otherworlders began with the idea: What would happen if a large amount of people were sent to a parallel dimension at the same time?

Official description: When a virus threatens humanity with extinction, the desperate and dwindling number of uninfected seek refuge in a parallel universe. The technology is untested. The other universe is unprepared and one thing is made violently clear: they are not wanted.

As a weaponized, fatal virus mutates and threatens to kill all life forms on Earth, Special Agent Williams and the government conspires to send the healthy away. After space travel and going underground are ruled impossible, all that remains is the theoretical technology of an autistic savant: escaping to a parallel universe. But when they travel to the other dimension, their arrival is met with suspicion and hatred. To evade persecution, experimentation, and to save their lives, the Otherworlders must find a way to escape, survive, and outwit Agent Williams's murderous double.

EEG: What inspires your writing?

AC: There are many things that inspire my writing. Reading articles about new technologies, and imagining where they may someday lead. I also read a lot of fiction, and sometimes I'm inspired by a genre or a writing style. I'm inspired by the success and dedication of others. And I'm inspired by my fans. Knowing that someone enjoyed something that I created is one of the best feelings in the world.

EEG: What other projects are you currently working on?

AC: I just finished a short story for the up coming anthology: The A.I. Chronicles. I'll also be writing a story for The Z Chronicles. I've just sent my Kindle Worlds novella Silo Saga: Witness to beta readers. And I'm working on a series of short stories that explores what happens when the rich hibernate most of the year, and the poor work around the clock never sleeping. It's a semi-futuristic tale about addiction, society, and the limits people face.

EEG: You also write flash fiction: do you find it challenging to condense a full story into just a few words?

AC: I don't. My stories usually come out the right length on the first try. But I did have to learn how to do it. I think that flash fiction can build skills. It's great to have tight writing, and having a word limit lets you think critically about what can be cut and what needs to stay. Which is something that I think can be applied to works without limits.

EEG: What's your favorite place in the world?

AC: I haven't had the opportunity to see much of the world. And I know from experience that even the best places can be miserable if you're there alone. So I guess, for me for now, my favorite place in the world is anywhere that the people I care about are.

Thanks so much for chatting with us today, Angie.

Find out more about Angie's books by visiting her website at . You can also subscribe to her newsletter here.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Writer, director and producer: Eric Tozzi talks about his take on Apocalypse Weird

Last week I posted the new, freaking awesome trailer for Apocalypse Weird, made by author, film director, documentary producer and editor, and so many other things that it's hard to keep up with, Eric Tozzi. Eric started in 2007 with the web series The Dirty Bomb Diaries, which won several awards and reached over two million views. After that he produced documentaries for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and in 2012 he directed the award-winning film Kaleidoscope, based on Ray Bradbury's short story. Wow, right?

Eric is here today to tell us about his story set in the Apocalypse Weird world, a one of a kind project started by a guild of independent authors who got together and decided to make their own brand world (more info on AW at the end of the post).

Welcome to CHIMERAS, Eric!

EEG: How did you get involved in the AW project? 

ET: I would have to say my involvement with Apocalypse Weird began last spring when I was invited by Michael Bunker to contribute a short story to a time travel anthology he was putting together: Synchronic: 13 Tales of Time Travel. I was a last minute add, and so I had two weeks to write something and get it to editor David Gatewood. My story “Reentry Window,” became a part of that work, and it afforded me a chance to get to know a whole new group of amazing authors. That’s how I met Nick Cole, Jennifer Ellis, Susan Kaye Quinn and Samuel Peralta, just to name a few. The anthology did extremely well and hit the #16 spot overall in the Kindle store at one point. They must have liked my writing because from that pool I was asked by Michael and Nick to join Apocalypse Weird. I cannot thank those two enough for the opportunity to be a part of something so cutting edge and cool! In this writing game, I’m the new kid on the block here and just really jazzed about being asked to contribute to AW!

 EEG: Tell us a little bit about your AW story and its premise.

 ET: I’m a big fan of Science Fiction, especially alien invasion stories. I used it as the backdrop for my debut novel, The Scout. As soon as I read the outline for the entire Apocalypse Weird universe, my mind landed in alien country. Big surprise, I know, but I felt the momentum on that field and wanted to keep it in motion. Each AW story takes place in a particular region with some sort of apocalyptic event happening there. I currently live in Phoenix, Arizona, so I’m tackling the central Arizona region. Keeping in mind I would be using aliens as my apocalyptic device, I didn’t have to look far to connect my story with some incredible UFO events that have been reported in the Grand Canyon State. I decided to use a well-known UFO sighting that occurred in March of 1997. It was a high profile event that was subsequently referred to as the “The Phoenix Lights Incident.” Anyone who Googles “Phoenix Lights” will immediately find a massive volume of links with pictures and articles. No matter what you believe about it—whether it was military aircraft or something else—it cannot be denied that the event left many thousands of people awestruck and to this day wondering what exactly happened.

 The basic premise of my AW book centers on what happens 18 years after the Phoenix Lights incident. The V shaped ships have returned and it’s an all out attack on the valley. Additionally, I’ve incorporated the idea of a secret, underground facility—an Area 51 mirror site—buried in the desert near the Superstition Mountains. And in the book I imply that this site has something to do with the Vs showing back up. In a world of reality TV shows that cover the unexplained and paranormal, I’ve built my lead characters around a documentary/reality TV crew who call themselves the UFO Busters. And needless to say, they’re going to get way more than they ever bargained for when the ships start falling from the sky over Phoenix. It’s a whole lot of fun writing in this world, and cannot wait to see how big this project actually becomes! I made a very short Apocalypse Weird Teaser that’s running on YouTube. It’s a great little taste of what’s about to come. It’s just a snippet of the kind of work I normally do as a video/film editor and FX artist.

 EEG: When and how did you become passionate about making movies?

 ET: It all started when I was a kid, growing up in Malibu, California. It was 1977, the year Star Wars and Close Encounters came out. By the end of that year I was hooked and wanted to make films. Ever see the JJ Abrams movie, Super 8? That was me. I was that kid with the super 8 camera and the film cartridges, running around my neighborhood with monster masks and Air Blaster guns doubling for laser rifles. I’d come up with stories and then spend weekends filming with my friend and neighbors. One fifty-foot cartridge of film at a time. That’s what started the whole thing.

EEG: Movies and books are two different ways of telling stories. When you get an idea for a new story, do you ever wonder if it would work best as a book or as a movie?

ET: It was that very question that got me to shift my gears from screenplays to writing novels. I had a script version of The Scout, which I completed in 2009 but I was not happy with it. I was working at JPL at the time, and wanted to dive into the details of an entry, descent and landing, as well as what kind of survey an otherworldly robotic geochemist might be conducting on earth. I wanted to take my time and tell a first contact story that unfolded gradually, piece by piece.

 In 2011 after my father died and my mother was not far behind with late stage Alzheimer’s, and a month before the launch of the Curiosity Mars Rover, I decided to write The Scout as a novel. I promptly sat down one afternoon with my laptop, and instead of typing EXT. FOREST – NIGHT, I typed CHAPTER 1 and kept going for the next year and a half until it was finished. It was entirely liberating for me as a writer. I was painting pictures, directing scenes, if you will, with words on a much larger canvas. I wasn’t worried about how much this “movie” was going to cost or which studio might be interested in it. Locations, visual effects, etc. None of that mattered. It freed me up to focus solely on telling a good story the way I saw it.

EEG: Does your writing influence your movies and, vice versa, do your directing skills influence your writing?

ET:  My directing and editing skills most definitely influence my writing. I find myself working on scenes and cuts while I write, picturing angles and edits as I go through the story. Especially for pacing when there may be some kind of action sequence, or tension, or some kind of heavy, emotional beat. I definitely see the characters, hear their voices, and, as the writer direct the reader through that scene or moment. The words are my camera lens by which the audience gets to view this story, at least that’s how I function. One of my tricks as a video editor is to watch a piece I’m cutting with the sound off, just to see the cuts and make sure they really work. It’s amazing how you can see bad edits when you don’t have sound there to perhaps cover it up. It’s the opposite with book for me. I’ve been making an effort to read out loud what I’m writing. In my opinion, if it sounds funny or awkward, it probably reads that way too.

EEG: Tell me about your experience with Ray Bradbury.

ET: I was given a gift (I see it as nothing less than that): the opportunity to direct a short film based on the iconic author’s short story, “Kaleidoscope,” from his book The Illustrated Man. The film itself took over a year to produce and involved a lot of visual effects that were painstakingly realized by some very talented artists. We had an amazing cast and crew. I know every director says that, but I swear we couldn’t have gotten it done without them. All of our visual effects were produced at the photo-real level. Stunning. “Kaleidoscope” played at roughly two-dozen festivals and we won nine prizes including a Grand Prize at the New Media Film Festival in LA. We were nominated for a Golden Blaster award at the Octocon in Dublin, Ireland, and we played at the SciFi London festival. Here's a complete festival list and prizes

The producer/star, Brett Stimely, and I were afforded the chance to screen the final film for Ray at his home just a few short months before he passed away. Getting a chance to meet Ray in person, especially having him love so deeply our adaptation of his work, was a life changing moment. I have to thank my friend and mentor, Marc Zicree, for setting that up for us. Ray talked about writing, and the last thing he told us before we left was to “go forth and produce more” (of his work.) I hope that someday I’ll be given the privilege of doing just that!

EEG: What was it like to work for JPL? And what was it like to work with all the rocket scientists

ET: Extraordinary is the only possible describer. It was a chance to get an in-depth behind-the-scenes look at space and planetary exploration. And it afforded me time to meet some of the most brilliant, friendly, and humble folks I’ve ever met. The engineers who’ve built such spacecraft as Cassini, Voyager, Mars Curiosity Rover, Mars Spirit and Opportunity, etc. are in my book, rock stars! I mean it—they deserve so much more appreciation and attention than most celebrities get in a given hour. Let’s see… Kim Kardashian or Adam Steltzner? Hmm, tough one, but in my book, guys like Adam are the real celebrities. I often wish the rest of the world would see that. I produced and edited a documentary series for them titled “The Challenges of Getting To Mars,” covering various aspects of the Phoenix Polar Lander Mission, The MER Twin Rovers and the Curiosity Mars Rover. If you go to YouTube and type: JPL, Challenges of Getting To Mars, you’ll find a whole bunch of pieces I produced during my tenure there. Some of my most thrilling experiences were at launches and landings, most notably the Phoenix Polar Lander and the Curiosity Mars Rover. I have a real fondness for JPL, and I paid tribute to them in The Scout, and Reentry Window.

EEG: What are you currently working on?

ET: Besides working on Apocalypse Weird, I’m writing a superheroine piece that’s a mashup conceptually of the movie Galaxy Quest and Supergirl. It’s a fun story about an out-of-work actress who played a superhero, Mighty Woman on a short lived TV show, who must become the real thing in order to stop an evil force from basically wiping out the city. It’s mostly about her and raging insecurities about her career as an actress, turning 30, and her mercurial love life. This project has a long history. I shot a concept trailer for it, and within a short amount of time it was optioned for TV, based solely on the trailer. See the trailer I shot here. Now, as is the case when a TV studio options your material, as a newcomer, you have no control over how things happen. And unfortunately, Mighty Woman never got produced as a show. It hovered in development purgatory for a year and then the rights came back to me. And I was majorly disappointed. Not long after that I decided to write Mighty Woman as a series of novellas, with the first being titled THE GREATEST ADVENTURES OF MIGHTY WOMAN: RESURRECTION. Fitting title I think. I hope to have this first piece out sometime in April and reenergize the character and the story. And I’d really like to see this get a comic book or graphic novel treatment at some point! Can you also please list all the links you would like me to mention in the post? 

EEG: It does sound like it would make a great comic book! Best of luck with all your projects, Eric!

Visit Eric's website to find out more about his film projects and his recent books The Scout and Reentry Window.

Intrigued by Apocalypse Weird? Then read the first book, The Red King, by Nick Cole, which is completely free and sets the world of Apocalypse Weird. You can also sign up for our mailing list to make sure you don't miss the big launch on february 23rd. And you can join us on Facebook, too.

Michael Bunker also has a great post about Apocalypse Weird on his blog.

Author Hank Garner is also doing a series of podcasts on Apocalypse Weird: last week he interviewed Nick Cole, and this week Hank just posted a new podcast in which Michael Bunker talks about his AW book, Digger, the first in his Texocalypse world.

And if you are a writer and you would like to take part in the Apocalypse Weird project, Nick has a wonderful post where he explains how to apply.

Apocalypse Weird Authors:
Ellen Campbell (editor)
Stefan Bolz
Christopher Boore
Michael Bunker
Nick Cole
Jennifer Ellis
Hank Garner
E.E. Giorgi
Tim Grahl
Weston Ochse
David Parish-Whittaker
Lyndon Perry
Chris Pourteau
Steven Savile
Daniel Smith
Lesley Smith
Kevin Summers
Eric Tozzi
Kim Wells
Forbes West

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Eight things you should know about viruses

Today I'm a guest blogger over at Dan Koboldt's "Science in Sci-fi, Fact in Fantasy" blog. Dan is an author and a geneticist and he has a wonderful series of posts written by experts in all fields, from horses to bow-hunting, from computers to genetics, teasing fact from fiction specifically for writers who want to use these topics in their books.

My post is -- surprise, surprise -- is about viruses: 8 things you should know about viruses. Check it out and if you are a writer, subscribe to Dan'd blog, you won't regret it!

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Healer: A new medical thriller from German-born author Christoph Fischer

My guest today is an eclectic writer of many genres: his first published book, The Luck of the Weissensteiners, the first in the Nations Trilogy, is a historical fiction, followed by Sebastian and the Black Eagle Inn. But then, German-born author Christoph Fischer went on to publish two contemporary novels, Time to Let Go and Conditions, and has just released a medical thriller, The Healer. Christoph is a prolific writer who's not afraid to explore new genres, and whose portraits of relationships capture the challenging dynamics within families and life in general. His last book, The Healer, is a spiritual journey with its good share of mystery, intrigue and corruption.

I really enjoyed reading The Healere, and here's an excerpt of my 5-star review: "Reminiscent of Paul Coelho's the Alchemist, The Healer is a beautiful tale about not just healing but also self-discovery and second-chances."

Welcome to CHIMERAS, Christoph!

EEG: You were born and raised in Germany but now live in the U.K.: what brought you there?

CF: Chance. I came to the UK during a student exchange programme in 1993. I fell in love with a Welsh man and was offered a great job in London. What was intended as a temporary stay turned into something permanent. The timings of subsequent break-ups and job changes were such that I never got round to live anywhere else (as I had originally planned). My wanderlust, however, got satisfied by working for an airline, while using the UK as my base.

EEG: Did you always write in English? If not, when did you start?

CF: Yes, I’ve always written in English. Back in 1993, when I arrived in the UK, I didn’t know any other Germans and had to speak English 24/7 right from the start. I began to think in English very quickly. My writing didn’t happen until much later. By then my German was even more under-used and rusty. My niece calls me an Englishman because she says my German has a thick English accent. A cousin of mine is currently translating “The Luck of the Weissensteiners” into German since my own attempts at it were so poor.

EEG: Interesting. I can relate to that, as my Italian friends now tease me that I no longer know how to speak proper Italian. :-) What German authors would you say influence your writing?

CF: Hermann Hesse. I adore his raw and honest writing style and his themes of authenticity and self-knowledge. Berthold Brecht wrote political, confrontational and ‘documentary stage plays’. A lot of his style has found its way into my historical novels. Siegfried Lenz is my favourite German author and I’m sure he has influenced me a lot: he writes about similar subjects as I do.

EEG: I absolutely love Hermann Hesse! Siddharta is my favorite of his. Correct me if I'm wrong, but your books seem to all rotate around family relationships: what is it that fascinates you the most about this aspect of life?

CF: I come from a large family on my mother’s side and a tiny one on my father’s. That contrast clearly has left its mark on how I see and write things. I’m not really sure I would say that I’m fascinated by family relationships as such but I may be compensating for not seeing my family abroad very often.

My new book, “The Healer”, has no family theme and neither has my next historical novel. I may have got it out of my system.

EEG: Tell us about your new book, The Healer.

CF: “The Healer” is a medical thriller about an advertising executive with nothing left to lose. She decides to try her luck with a controversial and now retired healer, but throughout their meetings new and different doubts arise and both of their pasts come into play, too. You could also call it a mystery and a psychological thriller.

EEG: Did the book represent a genre shift for you?

“The Healer” is my first thriller, which is a big genre shift from my previous historical novels and family dramas. As author I enjoyed the challenge and hope that my readers will bear with me. I’ve met a few healers in my life; some were amazingly good and some seemed more like charlatans. The ambiguity of something that can’t be measured by science and puts people into a conflict of mind and senses, faith and doubt, that seemed a fascinating premise for a book.

EEG: And that certainly makes an awesome premise! Thanks for chatting with us today and best of luck with your new release.

How to find out more about Christoph's book: visit his website, follow his blog, find him on Goodreads, Facebook, Pinterest, and Amazon.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

BPA, BPA-free and why Internet titles can be misleading

A few years ago, when I still had both kids in preschool, I became painfully aware that plastic is made of oil. I know, I know, where had I been until then? Underground, I guess. All the bottles I'd used to feed milk and drinks to my kids were scratched and chewed and horrid. I screeched in panic, threw them all away and replaced everything with stainless steel. My kids hated the new bottles and refused to take them to school. Yeah, the joys of parenthood.

So, imagine my joy when BPA-free came around. Finally something my kids will love and that will not harm them. Except, my friend Cristina sent me the bad news a few days ago:
"Dozens of studies link the common plastic chemical bisphenol A (BPA) to all sorts of health problems, including breast and prostate cancers, heart trouble, type 2 diabetes, autism, liver tumors, asthma, infertility, and even obesity. With such a bad track record and hormone-disrupting tendencies, many companies, particularly plastic water bottle manufacturers, have switched to the BPA-free chemical called bisphenol S, or BPS. But a groundbreaking study from University of Calgary researchers suggests we need to diligently avoid both, thanks to newly discovered impacts on the brain [Source]."
Aware of the journalistic exaggerations that infest the Web, I logged onto the PNAS website and downloaded the original paper [1], titled: "Low-dose exposure to bisphenol A and replacement bisphenol S induces precocious hypothalamic neurogenesis in embryonic zebrafish."

Kinch et al. [1] treated embryonic zebrafish (not humans!) with low doses of both BPA and BPS (the compound commonly used in BPA-free products). Apparently, both chemicals are so widespread that, quoting from the PNAS article,
"A recent examination of urine samples in the United States and Asia confirmed previous work showing that 93% of people had detectable levels of BPA but surprisingly showed that 81% had detectable levels of BPS, illustrating the wide-spread use of this poorly known bisphenol analog in consumer products [1]."
BPA molecules behave as receptor antagonists to sex steroid (estrogen or testosterone): what this means is that they bind to the sex steroid receptors, thus blocking the hormone effect. While the general dosage in plastic bottles may be really low to have any effect on adults, the question as to whether or not they are relevant during embryonic development is indeed well posed since that's the time when the hypothalamus is particularly vulnerable due to lack of blood-brain barrier.

The researchers treated the zebrafish embryos with a very low dose for BPA, 1,000-fold lower than the accepted human daily exposure, and then repeated the experiment with the same dosage for BS. They chose the same BPA dose measured in the Oldman River, which serves two major cities in Alberta, Canada. Their results show that BPA exposure in the zebrafish embryos induced hyperactivity and caused precocious neurogenesis in the hypothalamus. Unfortunately, BPS (the BPA-free alternative) wasn't any better, as it still altered brain development and behavior.

Two questions popped in my head. First, the researchers immersed the embryos in the contaminants, whereas human embryos are immersed in amniotic fluid, which is always filtered by the placenta, a filter between what circulates in the mother's blood stream and the child's. Given this, did Kinch et al. make a fair comparison? The researchers address the placenta issue, claiming that BPA concentration has been measured in the human placenta and that the dosage used in the experiment was 100-fold lower than circulating levels found in fetal serum.

The other question a critical reading of the paper should pose is: how good of a model is the zebrafish embryo for human embryonic development? Especially knowing that zebrafish embryos develop in a mere 72 hours and grow up to a couple of centimeter long, whereas the hypothalamus in the human embryo starts forming around week 8, when it's roughly 1.5 centimeters. It turns out, it is a good model when it comes to embryonic neurogenesis:
"Despite the large evolutionary distance between fish and mammals, the overall organization, basic structures, and functional capacities of major hypothalamic components are highly conserved between zebrafish and mammalian brains. [...] In contrast to mammals, zebrafish embryos develop externally and are transparent, and highly amenable to genetic manipulation, making them an ideal vertebrate model for in vivo studies of neural patterning and neuronal specification. As such, zebrafish models have been used extensively in recent years to study the roles played by key signaling pathways in controlling the development of hypothalamic neurons [2]."
Having addressed in a satisfactory way my two main concerns with the PNAS paper [1], I particularly like the two points the researchers make in the discussion section. The first one is that the way tolerable levels are determined is using a linear model, starting from the highest possible dose and gradually lowering until no effect is detected. Kinch et al. rightfully argue that dose-response relationships are hardly ever linear when it comes to endocrine-disrupting compounds like BPA and BPS.

Second, the researchers claim that the switch from BPA to BPS was done without adequate toxicology testing. What if it turns out that BPS is comparable to BPA in terms of damaging potential?

BPA and BPS aside, I wanted this post to also make a case for critical thinking. I'm seeing way too much junk on the Internet being passed for science when in fact it's just bad reporting/journalism (in genetics in particular!!). While the Internet article my friend sent me didn't make any incorrect statement, and it did discuss the actual study a few paragraphs into the article, still, the title, "Popular 'BPA-Free' Chemical Causes Brain Damage, Study Finds" had me frowning because it lacks to mention two fundamental points: 1) the study was conducted on zebrafish (not on humans!) and 2) the supposed brain damage was on the zebrafish embryos (not on humans, and not on children or adults).

In fact, let me open a quick parenthesis and cite some numbers a friend of mine posted on Facebook: a paper on some break-through research on Alzheimer's published by the Journal of Clinical Investigation titled "Prostaglandin signaling suppresses beneficial microglial function in Alzheimer’s disease..." got shared 116 times. Stanford posted the story under the title "Blocking receptor in brain’s immune cells counters Alzheimer’s in mice, study finds" and got shared almost 10,000 times. The Telegraph titled its piece "Has Stanford University found a cure for Alzheimer's disease?" and got almost 50,000 shares. But at the very top of the sharing contest came Rod D. Martin  (over 130,000 shares) with the title "Happy New Year! Stanford May Have Just Cured Alzheimer’s" .

Bottom line 1: yeah, you can get very popular when you blow up science.
Bottom line 2: if you want to draw some useful conclusions from any pseudo-sceintifc news, go back to the source before getting too excited and/or too alarmed.

The zebrafish experiment indicates that compounds containing BPA and BPS could potentially harm the fetus and as a safety precaution it recommends pregnant women to steer away from plastic bottles, but it doesn't present any evidence on the effects on children or (non-pregnant) adults. It does not conclude that BPA and/or BPS exposure has the same effect in humans, but it does pose a foundation for further studies as it raises a flag that there may be a risk associated to these chemicals. The way to further validate this hypothesis would be to measure BPA and BPS levels in the urine of pregnant women and then follow the babies' neurological development for a few years to see if the women with higher levels had problematic children compared to the women with lower levels.

Of course, it's still a good idea to avoid plastic and use it only when other alternatives aren't handy. Plastic use has certainly increased exponentially in the past few decades and it's a good idea to reduce its use anyways, since it could not only be potentially harmful for our bodies, but it's also definitely bad for the environment. As in all things, cautiousness (whether it's used to avoid plastic or to avoid Internet content) is the best measure for a happy living.

 [1] Kinch, C., Ibhazehiebo, K., Jeong, J., Habibi, H., & Kurrasch, D. (2015). Low-dose exposure to bisphenol A and replacement bisphenol S induces precocious hypothalamic neurogenesis in embryonic zebrafish Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1417731112

 [2] Machluf, Y., Gutnick, A., & Levkowitz, G. (2011). Development of the zebrafish hypothalamus Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1220 (1), 93-105 DOI: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.2010.05945.x

Friday, January 16, 2015

Apocalypse Weird: interview with Forbes West and new, freakin' cool trailer !!

Pssssst.... did you see the new, freaking awesome trailer for Apocalypse Weird made by the one and only Eric Tozzi?? Isn't it cool??

Today my Apocalypse Weird author guest is Forbes West, author of Nighthawks at the Mission and Once Upon a Time in Temecula. Forbes was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois and graduated with a Master's Degree in Political Science from California State University, Long Beach. He's here today to tell us about his story set in the Apocalypse Weird world, a one of a kind project started by a guild of independent authors who got together and decided to make their own brand world (more info on AW at the end of the post).

 Welcome to CHIMERAS, Forbes!

 EEG: How did you get involved in the AW project? 

FW: I was screwing around at my old job and I started to harass Nick Cole online after harassing Michael Bunker online from work and then one thing sort of led to another and I got a cease and desist letter from Nick’s lawyer and then I got an invitation to join up after I ignored that cease and desist letter because I won’t be ignored both of these men appeased my aggression.

Nah, in all honesty, Nick Cole and Michael Bunker liked my stuff from my book “Nighthawks at the Mission” a lot and they were like “bring the motherfucking thunder” and I responded with a simple “What up. I’m down. ” Maybe not in so many words, but you know, that’s how it, you know, basically worked out. They liked “Nighthawks at the Mission”, they wanted me in. And I’m in all in for this. Nick, Michael and Tim Grahl have come up with something golden for the ages and I’m so happy to be in on the ground floor of this thing as we build it up into a legendary monstrosity of literature. I don’t think there’s been a more interesting array of ideas that are connected since the early days of Marvel and this is some special shit. This is a wildfire that’s gonna burn up the internet. 

EEG: Tell us a little bit about your AW story and its premise.

 FW: Mine’s called “Medium Talent” and it's about a young woman named Wendy Wicker who owns her own boat and works small jobs throughout the abandoned Florida Keys that are covered in very satanic looking undead and Lovecraftian abominations that rise out of the sea. She’s a former artist, she has an adopted family to take care of, and she gets off on killing. A simple job she pulls transporting a couple of terrorists out of Key West flips her life around and sends her down a spiral that slowly reveals to her some nasty little secrets of her actual life and the universe itself. I like to think it of post-apocalyptic noir in the David Lynch sense of the term “noir” meaning “shit’s gonna get weird fast”. It’s also an homage to Hemingway’s “To Have or Have Not”, the book, not that 50 year old Humphrey Bogart hitting on a 19 year old the whole time movie.

 EEG: Is it true that you own a house in Japan?

 FW: Yes, I damn well do. You don’t think I do, you go and talk to Bunker- I sent his family Japanese goodies and stuff and IT WAS VERY WELL RECEIVED AND EVERYBODY LIKED IT AND THEY DIDN’T EXPECT IT. WHY DOES EVERYONE THINK-

Ahem. Yes, I do. Let’s- erase that. Skip that first part. Yes, I do. We bought it in 2012. It’s in Shizouka Prefecture, about five hours south by drive from Tokyo, close to Mt.Fuji. It’s mostly green tea farms around us and beyond that some dense forests too. The Pacific is about a twenty minute walk away if walk next to the river.

EEG: Oooh, that sounds beautiful! Why Japan, though, what do you love about it?

FW: It’s not a paradise on earth by any stretch of the imagination but it’s a great place nonetheless. I love the fresh food (Tuna is the best in Shizouka, it's the freshest in the country, they catch the big mothers in the waters outside the prefecture).

I love that drinking a beer at 10:00am with breakfast is A-OK. And that breakfast is raw tuna over rice and that tuna was still moving 15 minutes ago. I love the fact you can still smoke in bars without in being an issue and that bar food is some of the best food you’ll ever have. I love the people who are unfailingly polite, I love my in-laws, there. I love that it rains in Japan when it never does in California anymore. I love that vending machines look like they are twenty years in the future compared to us with a variety of drinks that aren’t just Coke or Diet Coke.

I love that Tommy Lee Jones’s face stares out from every vending machine and billboard because he is the Boss of Boss Coffee (a Japanese brand you never see in the States). I love that down the road from our house is a temple older than the USA. I love that there’s bullet trains that I can take from Shizouka to Tokyo that lasts 45 minutes when a car ride is 5 hours. I love that you can leave your door unlocked at night anywhere, including Tokyo and that a bike being stolen was front page news in my adopted hometown and that a liquor store being robbed was national news even though no one was hurt and nothing was unique about it.

I love that a car is nice but unnecessary. I love that gas station/rest stops are some of the best places to be and that you want to stop off at one instead of needing to stop off at one. I love that everything has a mascot (Shizouka’s is an Ultraman type character, the police have a bear in a police uniform, a moving company has giant ants, JAL has Pokemon). I love that its culture is always an unfolding mystery for me. I love everything about Japan.

 EEG: LOL, cars are nice but unnecessary in Europe, too. I miss thatTell us about your book Nighthawks at the Mission, the premise and what inspired it. 

FW: “Nighthawks at the Mission” was supposed to be a simple young adult adventure novel but I sort of fucked that up and it became something a little bit deeper. The simple premise of it is this young woman from California, Sarah Orange, lives in a reality where we in our own modern time can enter into another world called The Oberon through a portal in the South Pacific.

The Oberon has become the real final frontier and once she finds out she’s got nothing left at home because her boyfriend is a piece of shit and her mother is a real piece of work, she decides to sign up and become one of the many American settlers who have decided to move to and colonize this place that’s half Lord of the Rings, half H.P. Lovecraft nightmare. She wants to go in order to start again and also get money- the place is filled with orichalcum, a special mineral found on The Oberon that allows people to use magical powers.

 But as she’s there, she finds out some dark truth about her dead sister who had gone before to The Oberon and has to face down a terrorist threat from people and Ni-Perchta (the indigenous beings that live in The Oberon) who don’t want the colonists to be around. Oh, and there’s a lot of alcohol and adderall being used and lots of zombies that live in these abandoned but very high tech cities scattered throughout the countryside. In its way, it is of a deconstruction of the Young Adult genre at the same time. I look at everything she faces and inject some horrid reality into it.

 EEG: What is your best quality and what's your worst one?

 FW: I think my best quality is I can think out of the box and I can generate different ideas when I write and be cordial and polite and professional. I think. I could be delusional about that. The worst one is I doubt my work too much but I think that’s just something of a cross that every writer has to bear.

 EEG: What inspires you?

FW: Alcohol and marijuana. Seriously, though it's just marijuana. And lots of travel. I like going to new places and talking with people and people watch at the same time and sort of peak into realities I hadn’t experienced before. I get inspired by bad movies and thinking up ways I could have made them better as a sort of mental/artistic exercise- and that if bad movies (and bad books) could be made and published, I can do the same too. That’s a low bar to get over, I know. But it’s sort of true. I also get inspired by wife the eternal optimist. She knows the sky is the limit and she pumps me up every time to go at any project with everything I got and not to settle for doing what others are doing.
EEG: Wife always knows best! ;-) Thanks so much for chatting with us today, Forbes!

Intrigued by Apocalypse Weird? Then read the first book, The Red King, by Nick Cole, which is completely free and sets the world of Apocalypse Weird. You can also sign up for our mailing list to make sure you don't miss the big launch on february 23rd. And you can join us on Facebook, too. Michael Bunker also has a great post about Apocalypse Weird on his blog.

  Author Hank Garner is also doing a series of podcasts on Apocalypse Weird: last week he interviewed Nick Cole, and this week Hank just posted a new podcast in which Michael Bunker talks about his AW book, Digger, the first in his Texocalypse world.

 And if you are a writer and you would like to take part in the Apocalypse Weird project, Nick has a wonderful post where he explains how to apply.

Apocalypse Weird Authors:
Ellen Campbell (editor)
Stefan Bolz
Michael Bunker
Nick Cole
Jennifer Ellis
Hank Garner
E.E. Giorgi
Tim Grahl
Weston Ochse
David Parish-Whittaker
Lyndon Perry
Chris Pourteau
Steven Savile
Daniel Smith
Lesley Smith
Kevin Summers
Eric Tozzi
Kim Wells
Forbes West

Monday, January 12, 2015

Eco-fantasy: Duncan Harper, author of Witch of the Fall, talks about his world, Acadia, and the link between nature and magic

I met fantasy author Duncan Harper, author of Witch of the Fall, over 10 years ago, when I was still living in Valencia, Spain. Duncan was one of the writers in my first writers group, all English-speaking expats living in Spain. On our first meeting, Duncan brought a scene he'd been working on, where his main character was fencing against and enemy, and I was blown away by his writing. I remember thinking, "Why isn't this published yet?"

Well, I'm thrilled to have *published author* Duncan Harper as a guest on CHIMERAS today, to tell us about his first novel, Witch of the Fall, and his Acadia series.

Welcome, Duncan!

EEG: Your Forests of Exile series is set in the world of Acadia: tell us a bit about the world and how you had the ideas to create it.

DH: For many years, since I was very young in fact, I have wanted to write a fantasy series. I wanted to do it well and I was always aware of how daunting a task this would be. I made numerous attempts and I always felt that there was something missing. For a long time I decided I just hadn’t had the life experience necessary to do a good job on such a project. But over the decades thoughts and notions of what I wanted to do came together in the world of Acadia.

It started from an idea of magic. I didn’t want it to be something unbelievable or only reserved for those of high birth or special training. I envisaged it as springing from a way of using the mind, something that can be learned, but that isn’t exclusively the preserve of wizened magicians in high towers. It had to have an internal logic and have its own limits and restrictions. And I wanted to put it in the hands of characters for whom it could be unexpected and challenging, even to the point of driving them mad.

I wanted it to be rooted in the natural world; an eco-fantasy or forest fantasy if you like, with echoes of Wicca, where the seasons and the elements play a part in the story, and I have tried to link this to the naturalness of the magic in Acadia. Some of the characters are at home far from civilization, and derive strength from the wilderness, but others are not and find it bleak and frightening, and I like to play with their fear of the unknown and what they discover when they overcome their trepidation. Indeed the concept of exile (self-imposed or otherwise) and what it does to a person’s mind and soul has always seemed very interesting to me.

EEG: That's very intriguing. What about the characters who inhabit Acadia?

DH: The protagonists took a long time to form in my head, and were the last to arrive, long after Acadia become very real to me and I had worked out the story for the three (or four) novels. Merla was the first and my favourite, dreamy and academic; then came Arlana, the wild child, the changeling; and then the Poor Knight Colm and the poacher Finn. I love them all and each has his or her strengths and weaknesses and internal demons. But perhaps the most important, at least early on, is Faye, the only one of the protagonists who is aware of what is going on and who has the knowledge to be able to influence events; and this puts a lot of responsibility on her shoulders.

EEG: How many books do you have planned for the Forests of Exile series?

DH: There are likely to be four, matching the seasons of Acadia which in turn are linked to the waxing and waning of the rule of the Patriarchs in the human settlement and the rise of the Wight Lords in the forests that surround them. I’ve always found the seasons to be very evocative and I wanted to use them as one of the themes for each of the books. They also tie in with the importance given to the solstices in pagan and Wiccan mythology and the cycle of birth, life and death.

EEG: What are some of the main themes of the books?

DH: Death and aging is clearly one of them, in that the Patriarchs are a species of necromancer who, although they clearly age, somehow do not die. This, by the way, makes them excessively wrinkled and repellent, but gives them centuries of experience and cunning. And they survive by harnessing the Acadian magic, but twisting and deforming it, using it for evil ends. I wanted them to be a cabal of men with immense power who it would be almost impossible to defeat. This is another important theme, how power corrupts, and how rulers so often quickly forget who they once were and become something completely different, very far removed from the ordinary people they govern. But corruption and a loss of legitimacy can also be a source of weakness.

Three of the five main characters are women and this was also a conscious decision in thematic terms. I wanted the Patriarchs to represent that oppressive kind of religion that denies opportunity to women and anyone who does not conform or believe. A lot of people forget that in the Middle Ages, religion was incredibly important to almost everyone. Although I’m the first to admit that the world’s religions have over the centuries often been a force for good, they have often also been sources of division and conflict, and continue to be so. And when those in power use religion to further their personal wealth and power this can be terribly dangerous for society and I wanted to reflect this in the novels.

Finally, going back to the theme of exile, but looking at it from the opposite perspective, there are the wights who one could say are the indigenous people of Acadia (although they are not people as such). Quite rightly, they resent the occupation of the land and the cutting down of the forests, and care nothing for the Patriarch’s religion, or the conflict between the Patriarchs and the Witches. But they are also quite malevolent, very predatory on the other races who are also native to the land. And they are night-dwellers, nocturnal, so they are very different from the race of men and have a completely different perspective.

EEG: You've travelled quite a lot and lived in different countries: how does this inspire your writing?

DH: I think there is a lot of Canada in Acadia, and indeed much of the idea for it was inspired by the sad stories of Arcady or Acadie, the French settlements in the Maritime Provinces that were effectively destroyed and their people largely exiled by the English in the 18th century. The stories of Vinland and of the early settlers in New England were also in the back of my mind. No doubt there’s quite a lot of Spain and Latin America in the mix too.

EEG: What are you currently working on?

DH: I have the second book, Witch of the North, mostly completed in draft form, at least the threads involving Faye and Colm trying to defend Stonehaven, and Merla in her quest for the Sanctuary. Arlana’s love affair with Alcuin and the forest ogres is in my head but a bit disorganized as yet. But I’m very keen to finish the novel in the next couple of months if I can, as I’m raring to go on the third book and conscious that if people become interested in my work they may want to read the whole series to its conclusion.

Aside from this, I have published and am working on several short stories, linked to the main thrust of the storyline of the Forests of Exile series, involving main and peripheral characters. Some of these I will be offering free on Amazon and on my website, as well as free excerpts, so that anyone who is interested in reading more can sample my writing.

EEG: That's the best way to get readers to fall in love with your world. Best of luck with your projects and thanks so much for coming over to CHIMERAS today.

To find out more about Duncan's book, visit his webpage. His first novel, With of the Fall is available on Amazon US and Amazon UK.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The viruses inside us: can endogenous retroviruses elicit antibodies?

January Moonrise © EEG

Today I would like to discuss a couple of papers that I used as premise for my new thriller Immunity, which will be part of the Apocalypse Weird series, created by Nick Cole, Michael Bunker and Tim Grahl. Just like all my other thrillers, Immunity too, finds its roots in some fascinating facts about genetics, virology and of course immunity.

The premise of the book has to do with something I discussed a long time ago, in one of my very first posts: human endogenous retroviruses, or HERV's, are small portions of our DNA that we acquired from ancient retroviruses that infected germ line cells of our primate ancestors. Basically, these genes came directly from retroviruses that inserted themselves into cells that then became oocytes or spermatozoa and, once fertilized, passed the viral genes to a new individual. These genomic elements are mostly inactivated in adults (meaning they are in a non-coding part of the DNA), but they have been shown to be transcriptionally active during fetal development. The intriguing bit, however, is that expression levels of these genetic elements have been found to be disrupted in subjects with schizophrenia [1].

I'm sure you are all familiar with the disease, which typically manifests itself through hallucinations (mostly auditory ones), delusions, and the inability to distinguish reality from things that only exists in the patient's mind. It's often characterized also by disorganized thoughts and incoherent speech. Nobel laureate John Nash suffered from schizophrenia, and his disease was portrayed in the movie A Beautiful Mind, though in a very fictionalized way. Another famous case is USC professor Elyn Saks, who wrote an award-winning memoir on her life-long battle against schizophrenia.

Retroviruses are sleek little things. They can infect brain cells and integrate their genomes into the host cell's DNA, causing all sorts of damage. For example, some studies have shown that viruses like HIV and HTLV can indeed infect the brain, causing symptoms such as psychosis and depression [2]. The body fights viruses and pathogens by sending its sentinels (natural killer cells, T cells and antibodies) to find them and destroy them. But what happens if the virus is already embedded in our genome, as is the case with HERVs? Those viral elements have been part of our genome for millions of years, so, in theory, our immune system is not supposed to 'see' them.

 One of the most marvelous and yet most delicate mechanisms that is at the foundation of our immune system is its ability to distinguish self from non-self. T cells and B cells have to undergo strict scrutiny to make sure that they don't mistakenly attack cells of our own body thinking that they are pathogens. This mechanism is tough but not perfect, and failures to recognize self from non-self are at the basis of numerous auto-immune disorders. Autoimmune thyroditis, for example, is an inflammation of the thyroid caused by antibodies attacking the thyroid.

One natural hypothesis as to why HERVs expression levels could be disrupted in a disease like schizophrenia could be that the body is producing antibodies against those genetic elements. This hypothesis cannot be tested directly because, as Dickerson et al. explain in [1], there are no available reagents. However, one can look for antibodies that recognize retroviruses like murine leukemia virus (MuLV), Mason-Pfizer monkey virus (MPMV), and feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) because they have enough similarities with HERVs.

Dickerson et al. measured the levels of antibodies against these viruses in a population of 666 study subjects, of which 163 with a recent onset of psychosis, 268 with multi-episode schizophrenia, not of recent onset, and 235 controls without a history of psychiatric disorders. They found a significant increase in antibody levels in the recent onset group compared to controls, but not in the multi-episode group compared to controls. At the same time, these subjects had no traces of the actual viruses in their bodies, indicating that the antibody response had to be elicited by the endogenous elements (instead of an active infection). Another study [2] looked for an enzyme called reverse transcriptase, which is a marker for retroviral activity, and found that it was 4 times higher in the cerebrospinal fluid of patients with recent onset of schizophrenia compared to controls.

Many autoimmune disorders are caused by the immune system suddenly attacking its own self. I've used this premise before in my books: Track Presius, the main character in Chimeras, has elevated levels of anti-nuclear antibodies, which are antibodies that, in high concentrations, can cause different immunological disorders as they tend to bind to human antigens.

What intrigued me about the HERV-schizophrenia association, though, was: the researchers tested the presence of antibodies against HERV's using viruses that are not commonly found. What if, instead, a common virus like the flu did bear resemblance to the HERV elements in our brain? In order to fight the infection, our body would have to start producing antibodies that could potentially attack those human genes, too. What would then happen to the brain, suddenly under attack by its own antibodies?

I don't know the real answer, but I can tell you that I had fun speculating about it in my novel. Immunity will be released in April and it will be part of the Apocalypse Weird series.

[1] Dickerson F, Lillehoj E, Stallings C, Wiley M, Origoni A, Vaughan C, Khushalani S, Sabunciyan S, & Yolken R (2012). Antibodies to retroviruses in recent onset psychosis and multi-episode schizophrenia. Schizophrenia research, 138 (2-3), 198-205 PMID: 22542615

[2] Yolken R (2004). Viruses and schizophrenia: a focus on herpes simplex virus. Herpes : the journal of the IHMF, 11 Suppl 2 PMID: 15319094

Friday, January 9, 2015

From submarines to sci-fi author: David Bruns talks about his trilogy The Dream Guild Chronicles and other writing projects

My guest today grew up on a small farm in the mountains of northeastern Pennsylvania, spent six years as a commissioned officer in the nuclear-powered submarine force chasing Russian submarines, schlepped his way around the globe as an itinerant executive in the high-tech sector, and even did a stint with a Silicon Valley startup before he fulfilled the dream of his life and wrote a book, and then another, and another.

Please welcome to the blog, David Bruns, author of the sci-fi series The Dream Guild Chronicles (on sale this week at $0.99 each!) and the military-political thriller Weapons of Mass Deception, co-authored with another Navy Grad, JR Olson.

EEG: Tell us a bit about yourself. In particular, I'm curious to know: when you were working as a commissioned officer in the nuclear-powered submarine force, did you ever ride one of the submarines? and if so... what does it feel like?

DB: My first experience with submarines was when I was still a midshipman at the US Naval Academy—this was in the 80’s, during the Cold War. I spent one summer as a crewman on a nuclear-powered fast attack sub and I knew that was the career for me.

When I graduated from Annapolis as a commissioned officer, I entered the nuclear power training pipeline and served about five years in the “Silent Service.” I should also mention that The Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy came out about this time and it was huge influence on me. Although the book is fiction, Clancy does a fabulous job of describing what it’s like to drive a billion-dollar submarine around underwater with a hundred or so guys in very close quarters looking for Russian submarines. To answer your question, riding on a submarine is a very pleasant, smooth experience. There’s none of the rocking and rolling (and sea sickness!) you get with surface ships.

EEG: Tell us about The Dream Guild Chronicles and what inspired you the series.

DB: When I got out of the Navy in the mid-90’s, I went straight into the corporate world and spent the next two decades in the high-tech manufacturing space. In 2013, I took some time between jobs and wrote The Dream Guild, a story I’d had in the back of my mind for years.

Here’s the Dream Guild “world” in two sentences: Earth has a sister planet, Adelphi, on the other side of the universe. The inhabitants of the two worlds are connected by a shared dream space which is guarded by the Dream Guild. It was only after I published The Dream Guild, that I realized I’d started in the middle of a much bigger story.

Irradiance (Book One of the Dream Guild Chronicles) is the origin story of the Dream Guild, and starts on the planet Sindra in a dystopian society called the Community, living on borrowed time. Then one brave scientist learns the truth and decides to take matters into her own hands.

Sight, the second book in the series, picks up with the Sindran refugees trying to find a new home. The adults in the crew are beginning to see the effects of being separated from their home world, so they are looking for a new home for the children. Sight tells the story of Sariah as she tries to fit in with an indigenous clan of hunter-gatherers. You recently released the third book in the series, Sacrifice. Are there any more books/stories in this series?

Sacrifice, Book Three, follows Sariah’s brother, Gideon, when he is captured by a tribe of pre-Columbian natives on Earth. I like to describe Sacrifice as Lost in Space crash landing into an ancient Incan civilization. There is a fourth book in this story arc that is still in the outline stage. I had always intended the universe of the Dream Guild to be flexible, so I can add to the series as the stories develop.

EEG: Tell us about the Collector and the idea behind it.

DB: Last fall, I attended a lecture about crowd-sourced science, i.e. websites that use volunteers to classify images, such as star clusters. The lecturer told us the website curators could identify volunteers who were especially good at certain classifications. Add in some Snowden-esque NSA intrigue and that was all the inspiration I needed to create The Collector, a dark sci-fi short story about an internet-age bounty hunter with a collecting obsession. It’s on Amazon, but I also make it free to my subscribers on my website.

EEG: What are you currently working on?

My latest project is a military-political thriller called Weapons of Mass Deception. The premise of the book is that Saddam Hussein really did have WMDs. In 2003, as Coalition Forces massed on the Iraqi border, a handful of nuclear weapons are smuggled out of Iraq and hidden in the most unlikely of places. They turn up again in 2016, when the Middle East is on the verge of a historic peace deal. This is a book for all my friends in the business world who aren’t into science fiction, but do love thrillers. I’m co-writing this book with another Naval Academy grad. You can follow our progress by visiting my website and looking for the tab, Two Navy Guys and a Novel.

EEG: Sounds interesting, good luck with all your endeavors, David!

To find out more about David's current and forthcoming books, visit his website and follow him on Twitter. David's sci-fi series The Dream Guild Chronicles series is currently on sale, each book at $0.99 only, through January 12, don't miss it!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Millions or billions? How one letter can ruin you

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'm starting the IWSG post of the new year with a confession. I made a stupid mistake in my book. Not that mistakes are usually smart, but still. This was really the stupidest of all.

My debut novel Chimeras was the result of two years of work. I spent one year researching both the science and the police procedural. When it finally came out I was proud of myself. I'd carefully fleshed out everything: the plot, the characters, every single detail you can think of. Then I wrote an appendix in which I explained the science behind the scenes: the genetics and epigenetics that explained my main character's condition, the oncolytic viruses mentioned in the book, and gene therapy, which also plays an important role in the plot.

And then I made the stupidest typo of all. I turned a b into an m. Human DNA is made of 3 billion base pairs, and I 'accidentally' wrote in my book 3 million pairs. Ouch. I'm so ashamed I want to dig a hole and hide in there. Instead, I'm being brave and writing a public apology here on my blog. I figured it would be a perfect fit for the first IWSG of the new year. :-)

Happy new year everyone!!

Monday, January 5, 2015

Scientist and writer Dan Koboldt talks about genetics in fiction, his book The Rogue retrieval, and Clarke's third law

Writers: if you don't know about Dan Koboldt's awesome blog Science in Sci-fi, Fact in Fantasy then go check it out. The blog has some amazing articles teasing facts from fiction in fantasy and sci-fi. Even though fiction is fiction, a writer's duty is to create "suspension of disbelief" to fully pull the reader into the story. How do you achieve that? By doing a ton of research and making sure you have your facts right in order to create a solid foundation for your poetic license.

And Dan certainly know fact from fiction since he is the head the human genetics analysis group of the Genome Institute at Washington University in St. Louis and the author of another blog, MassGenomics, where he discusses next-generation sequencing and medical genomics in the post-genome era. Being Dan both a scientist and a writer, I knew I had to drag him over to CHIMERAS to tell us about his work, both in fiction and non fiction.

Welcome, Dan!

EEG: Tell us about your research work at the Genome Institute at Washington University in St. Louis.

DK: I've worked as a genetics researcher for just over ten years. My group uses next-generation DNA sequencing technologies to study the genetic basis of inherited diseases like cancer, cardiovascular disease, age-related macular degeneration, and Alzheimer's. Remember the Human Genome Project? It took about ten years and cost a billion dollars. Now, we can sequence an entire genome for a few thousand dollars, and turn it around in about a week.

EEG: I know, I started working on genetic sequencing in 2004 too. USC back then had one of the first Illumina machines. It's amazing how far this technology has come in just a decade! 

When did you start writing science fiction and why?

DK: I started writing fiction in 2008 when I took a creative writing course that focused on short fiction. This probably wasn't the best form for me, since I grew up reading epic fantasy (Tolkien, Jordan) and that's what I wanted to write. But I got together with some of my classmates and we formed a small writing group, which really helped me improve my craft. The next year, I found NaNoWriMo and wrote my first novel. It went into the drawer, as did my next novel. I landed an agent with my third.

EEG: It all sounds very familiar. :-)  How does science, and genetics in particular, inspire your fiction writing?

DK: When I switched from fantasy to science fiction for my third novel, I really enjoyed the change. It gave me a chance to use some of the science and technology concepts that I work with for my day job. My agented novel doesn't rely heavily on the genetics, but my current work-in-progress draws significantly on genetic engineering and biotechnology.

EEG: Tell us about your book THE ROGUE RETRIEVAL. What was the idea (or ideas) that inspired it?

DK: In my book THE ROGUE RETRIEVAL, a powerful corporation has discovered -- and kept secret -- a portal to a pristine medieval world. They've spent fifteen years and millions of dollars studying it when the head of the research team goes rogue. He disappears through the portal with a backpack full of disruptive technologies. The company assembles a team of mercenaries and cultural experts to go get him. But they're worried about reports of "magic" in the other world, and so they recruit Quinn Bradley, an up-and-coming stage magician out of Las Vegas. His talents for illusion, backed by the considerable resources the company can provide, make for some pretty convincing magic. They need all the help they can get, because the guy who's gone rogue is crazy smart. He's had time to plan. And he knows the other world better than anyone.

The inspiration for this book came to me when I read about a lawsuit in which Teller (the silent half of Penn & Teller) sued a Dutch performer for copying one of his illusions. Performers like them often leverage advanced technologies in their illusions. It got me thinking about Clarke's third law: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. I wanted to write a book about it, but I also love world building. So I came up with the portal idea. I had so much fun writing it because I could leverage the science and technology I know about from my day job, and bring it to a fantasy setting.

EEG: That sounds very intriguing. Best of luck with the submissions! What inspired you to start the #ScienceInSF blog series?

DK: As I mentioned, I work in genetic research, and the misconceptions about things like genes and inheritance that we see in books or other media are just astonishing. It occurred to me that this might hold true for other areas of science, technology, and medicine. I figured that if I could find professionals to give us the scoop on their areas of expertise, it would be incredibly useful to authors, especially those of us writing science fiction and fantasy. We've done over 20 articles so far and they're getting a lot of attention, so I think that there's a real appetite for this sort of thing.

EEG: There sure is! I've written many articles on genetics on this blog and the best satisfaction has been receiving emails from writers who do care about the science in their books and appreciated my input. Thanks so much for chatting with us today, Dan!

To find out more about Dan Koboldt's forthcoming book  THE ROGUE RETRIEVAL, visit his blog, his Science in Sci-fi, Fact in Fantasy page, or follow him on Twitter. To find out more about his scientific work, visit his genetics blog MassGenomics.