Author Kristen Elise, Ph.D. is a drug discovery biologist and the author of The Vesuvius Isotope. She lives in San Diego, California, with her husband, stepson, and three canine children. Please visit her websites at www.kristenelisephd.com and www.murderlab.com. The Vesuvius Isotope is available in both print (www.kristenelisephd.com and www.amazon.com) and e-book formats (www.amazon.com for Kindle, www.barnesandnoble.com for Nook, www.kobo.com for Kobo reader.)
She is releasing today, July 3, 2013, her novel The Vesuvius Isotope and is beginning her book’s blog tour with this interview on my blog. My questions are numbered. I know magazine interviews do not number. This is not a magazine. Welcome Kristen to Tim Desmond Blog ……..
1. I enjoyed your websites and was intrigued immediately visually. My first question on seeing the twin Caduceus was going to ask if you were in the military in a medical field. As well as in medicine as a professional symbol, that is the insignia military doctors, corpsmen, and nurses wear. So, any connection there?
Interesting question, and one I am asked a lot because I have a tattoo of the same symbol. The symbol is used by the military as well as by civilians in the medical field – it’s a medical symbol, not a military symbol – but, because people are used to seeing it on the military medical staff, they associate it inadvertently with the military.
Personally, I like being “accidentally” associated with the military, even though I have never served (and this is actually one of my biggest regrets, as expressed here.) I do come from a military background. My father was a RECON Marine who served two tours in Vietnam and earned a Purple Heart. His father was a RECON Marine before they were called RECON (they were called the Rangers back then,) and he served in both WW2 and the Korean war. And my other grandfather was in the Navy and served on an aircraft carrier in WW2. So yeah, I’m proud of our military.
And while we’re on the subject, I’d like to take the opportunity to call readers’ attention to your WW2 story, Dieter.
As a side note, you’ll notice on my website that I actually altered the caduceus symbol. Whereas it normally has snakes winding up the staff (and is featured in The Vesuvius Isotope, btw…,) I replaced the snakes with a DNA molecule on my website. This reflects the fact that I’m a biomedical researcher and not a medical doctor. On my tattoo, it’s a treble clef, because I’m also a guitarist.
2. Also on the questions answered by Katrina about PhD definitions, though amusing, had me wondering, who is Katrina?
Thanks for asking! Katrina Stone is the protagonist of The Vesuvius Isotope and the forthcoming prequel, The Death Row Complex. Like me, she is a drug discovery biologist. Like mine, her professional life started in infectious diseases and then moved toward cancer research. Unlike mine, her professional and personal lives have borne witness to a lot of murders, betrayal, scientific dishonesty and political backstabbing. So her story is much more interesting than mine.
The “Ask Katrina” section of my website offers readers and (frequently) other authors an opportunity to ask questions about science – either to incorporate in a book being written, because they saw something on CSI and want to know if it’s real, or just out of personal curiosity. When readers send me an e-mail to ask a question, I post the answer on the site.
3. I am always curious about other writers’ credentials. What major was your Bachelor’s degree in? Any M.A.?
My bachelor’s degree was in Biochemistry and Cell Biology. I don’t have an M.A. (I wish) but my Ph.D. is in Cell and Molecular Biology. I also hold a professional certificate in Drug Discovery and Development. And you get the award for being the first person in the history of my creative writing life to ask me that question.
4. Your PhD dissertation was in what area or entitled?
Haha. OK, methinks it’s naptime for most readers. Here goes:
My dissertation was entitled, “Transcriptional repression of IL-2 and MMP-1 and anti-invasive activity of p21SNFT.” In a nutshell, I entered the lab where I got my doctorate right after they had discovered a new protein. My project was about finding out what the protein did. It started as an immunology project, but I discovered a role for the protein in cancer, which I found very interesting, as I have always had an interest in oncology. So, I followed up with that angle for the latter half of my dissertation project.
OK, readers, please wake up now.
5. More on Katrina later, your work as a cancer drug biologist must be fascinating in itself, when did you turn to writing fiction?
I started writing fiction on a dare, and it just sort of grabbed a hold of me. A long time ago (more years than I’m going to admit to here…) I was working on anthrax research. I was working in a laboratory that had a big robot named Squidy who ran biochemical assays. My job was to program Squidy to look for inhibitors of an anthrax protein called lethal factor, the idea being that a molecule that can block lethal factor can block anthrax as a biological weapon. But during those studies, I accidentally stumbled across a powerful activator of lethal factor. Whoops! After joking with a few of my friends in the lab that we could generate a very nasty biological weapon if we wanted to, I took the thought home and at that point, it really started freaking me out. I thought, damn, if this happened to me, how many other (potentially disgruntled) researchers come across similar things? And yes, a lot of researchers are very disgruntled.
At the same exact time, a good friend of mine dared me to write a story. The real-life lethal factor episode was still at the forefront of my mind, so I wrote a short story that would later turn into the seed for The Death Row Complex. Squidy the Robot makes an appearance as a character in that novel. Death Row also birthed protagonist Katrina Stone, who found her way into The Vesuvius Isotope. I got the idea for Vesuvius while I was still working on Death Row, and I realized that Katrina was the perfect protagonist for that novel as well, and that was when I decided I wanted to release Vesuvius first. So now, Vesuvius has just been launched and Death Row is expected to come out as a prequel in 2014.
6. I liked also the blog subtitle of “global science thrillers.” Where else are we going besides Italy?
Vesuvius starts in San Diego (where I’m from) and Katrina Stone heads to Italy in the chapter 3. In contrast to most books featuring Italy (at least, the ones I have read,) Katrina never sets foot in Rome, Florence or Venice (sorry.) Instead, the story takes place exclusively in Naples and the surrounding regions. This was dictated not by me, as the author, but by the story. But I’m glad it turned out that way, as I get the unique opportunity to introduce readers to some really cool places in southern Italy that they might not have even been aware of. If you want to see the Duomo of Florence, the Vatican of Rome, or the Grand Canale of Venice, I’m afraid you’ll have to read a Dan Brown book instead of mine.
In chapter 17, the story migrates to Egypt and remains there for the duration of the novel. And I can’t wait to introduce the reader to the Egypt they might or might not be familiar with. Here’s another hint: Katrina Stone never even sees the pyramids.
7. I have to ask you about the CSI craze. I few months back I watched a TV interview with renowned crime writer Patricia Cornwell. She has a background in real forensic/CSI work. Her comment on the CSI and spinoffs was amazing, as she talked about the “fiction” of those shows. She told of a real life trial juror asking in a court case how come the CSI didn’t do a certain lab study like she saw on TV. The lab test in question was not real. Does your Katrina invent new LAB techniques?
I have to admit, I don’t watch much TV, although I’ve seen a few CSI episodes and love to pick apart the science. But to answer your question, Katrina doesn’t invent new lab techniques. She does use real techniques that not everyone is aware of, and of course, her data and results are strictly fictional (this is my standard disclaimer to appease the lawyers of the pharmaceutical industry, of which there are many.)
8. Forensics aside, and knowing each author wants their own style, are there thriller writers, or others, who influenced you?
Yep. I mentioned Dan Brown above and I am a fan. While his recent novels have done a lot of things that bug me, I love the overall approach of incorporating the ancient with the modern, and traveling all over the globe to solve a cool mystery with a scientific component. One of the aforementioned thing that bugs me is the feeling that we traveled to a certain location for the sake of incorporating a cool location into a novel. My novels are different in that the story comes first, and that is what determines where the characters end up – which is why my protagonist ends up in a Naples jail and at and an underwater archeological museum, rather than in the Duomo and the Vatican.
I have also read a lot of Stephen King in my life and I think I incorporate some of his influence in my creepier scenes. And, in contrast, I read a lot of historical fiction (Philippa Gregory, etc.) I think I incorporate some of the voices from this genre.
9. On a hotter topic these days, I happened across a website with a long list of crime/thriller writers, and it sort of boggles one’s mind at the competition for potential readers. Marketing is a part of this authorship endeavor. What are your favorite marketing angles?
I really believe in finding your target audience. I know a lot of mystery/thriller readers are looking for a story that is quick and easy, that they can burn through in a day and then forget about. I really do NOT think that my books are for them. I think my books are intended for the type of reader who likes to be challenged, likes to learn a thing or two in the process of enjoying the adventure, and likes to be brought on a nail-biting quest. These are the readers I look for.
10. You have a long list of blogs who you follow. I believe that is a great clue. Are they reciprocating and following you?
Many of them, yes, but not all. I read all sorts of stuff. My blog list isn’t a “tit for tat” thing, it’s just the list of stuff I read in case my readers want to see it as well.
11. When I went to your Murder Lab site, I see that it is a workshop. How did that start?
It started when I was looking for other workshops for mystery/suspense/thriller type genres and couldn’t find any! I was also in the process of thinking about how to build a platform…and, voila. I said to myself, OK, there’s my platform. If I can’t find another website that does this, then this will be the one! It has worked really well. We have a lot of regular participants on the site and are always finding new ones. The site gets a lot of traffic and I have met some really cool people with it. Mystery and thriller writers, stop by and introduce yourselves! I’ll offer you some publicity…
12. I was intrigued by that, and I notice you gave a pitch to a Black Opal Books author and title. But, Murder Lab is your own small press name. What made you go that way?
Black Opal Books actually contacted me after I had already decided to self-publish. They offered me a contract, and I was tempted, but in the end I was sort of already set on how I wanted to do things. I hope this doesn’t turn out to be a mistake LOL. But if it is, I’m not too proud to share it as a warning for others who are making the same decisions…
I’ll also take the opportunity to say that I had some great discussions with the folks at Black Opal, and also those at Oak Tree Press, and would recommend both of those presses to anyone who is checking them out.
13. You are printing The Vesuvius Isotope first, then, offering an e-book version of it later. Is that the norm, from e-books being offered first, then in print if they sell well? Does it matter?
It’s just logistics, but I actually expected both versions to be physically available at about the same time (right around July 1). I made the print version available for pre-order, about a month before it was actually ready, because I had a lot of requests for that from people who wanted to buy it in advance and then just wait for it to arrive. Both books are now available.
Thank you, Kristen for spending time here.
To order The Vesuvius Isotope, please visit her website at: http://www.kristenelisephd.com
When her Nobel laureate husband is murdered, biologist Katrina Stone can no longer ignore the secrecy that increasingly pervaded his behavior in recent weeks. Her search for answers leads to a two-thousand-year-old medical mystery and the esoteric life of one of history’s most enigmatic women. Following the trail forged by her late husband, Katrina must separate truth from legend as she chases medicine from ancient Italy and Egypt to a clandestine modern-day war. Her quest will reveal a legacy of greed and murder and resurrect an ancient plague, introducing it into the twenty-first century.
Timothy J. Desmond
Tim’s Amazon author page at: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00694KQQO
Blog at: https://timdesmondblog.wordpress.com
Writing site at: http://timsfiction-art.com
Art site at: http://artbydesmond.com