A great question from a reader on Goodreads came in last week. I spent days writing and rewriting my response...Read More
In the spirit of this election year and all the...colorful(?!) issues that are swirling around us in the news every day, I'm hosting a giveaway for NATION OF ENEMIES! Refugees, candidates' medical histories and questionable ethics...it's a timely thriller, don't you agree? The giveaway is on Amazon (ebook version). People say it's "in the vein of Michael Chrichton and James Rollins" - you can see all the great reviews on goodreads and on Amazon. Here's the link to put your name in the hat! Happy reading!
And see it here on Goodreads.
People often ask me how I – a seemingly well-balanced, part-time working mother of two – came up with the plot of my novel, Nation of Enemies, A Thriller. It’s based in the near future in a (civil) war-torn United States with a new caste system based on DNA. I don’t even read thrillers. And yet…it just came to me.
I remember Beatrice, not quite five feet tall, sweet and funny, yet sturdy and fierce when she needed to be. Though I’m sure it was born into her, surely her childhood strengthened those qualities. One day, sitting next to her at a family party, she talked to me about escaping Poland in WWII as a Jewish child. I watched Bea, then in her early 80’s, wavy white hair and grooves in her cheeks that deepened when she smiled. Of course, I’ve read many books and seen several movies on World War II, but there was something about her words that pulled me in that day. This story wasn’t on a screen or in a book. She gripped my arm as she described her neighborhood in Poland, watching her friends and family fleeing, the neighborhood and everything she knew abandoned or destroyed. The realized fear of absolutely everything when you’re meant to be carefree, enjoying the simple moments of childhood.
She leaned closer and asked me, “Imagine that? Everyone and everything you know, just…gone.”
And I did. I thought often of her story. Until one day my imagination wandered and I felt compelled to answer her question. Her question lead to an unfurling of my own, one after the other, unending.
What if I brought the war home, to the United States? To my neighbors. Parents. Children. Government. The FBI. I considered war – civil war – from all sides and on a personal level – how would it affect a person in different positions? What would they think and believe and what is most important to each of those people? What would they die for, risk everything for?
Then, importantly, what could actually spark a war? Obviously we have plenty options for this lately, but I was asking these questions in the year 2003. Something not so far-fetched, pieces of which we read every day in the paper. Terrorists. Technology. Religion. A very real, very frightening scenario emerged. What would Americans do if war moved into their cities, into their suburban neighborhoods?
I read an article about a biochip that is currently being used in people with high-risk medical symptoms or disease. If they are ever in danger and unconscious, the hospital simply scans them and their medical history is revealed and he/she is treated specific to his/her condition.
The possibilities with such a chip are endless. What if the government mandated that citizens get biochips under the guise of protecting them against home-grown terrorists? And what if DNA was included on the imbedded data? Made public and shared with employers, insurance companies, banks. I imagined a rating system, one that would discriminate between those with longevity in their blood versus those with risk of developing disease. A modern-day caste system. Suddenly I had a thread, and then the threads of several characters whose lives would converge at fateful moments throughout the novel.
I got to work. I developed separate outlines for each character, discovered when, where and how their paths would cross. Then came research. Not my favorite part, but it was my own fault for creating characters in worlds I know nothing of. The FBI. The medical community. The medical biochip. The (near) future of technology from weaponry to security at hospitals.
Then came the writing. The completion of a meandering first draft. Thanks to a very talented and highly critical writers group (I might want to hear how brilliant the writing is, but it’s not very productive!) They were always ready with constructive questions and comments. I grew a very thick skin. Another year passed with the second draft. And then a third.
And then, holy mackerel (as I say to my kids), it was…done. Finished. Or at least as far as I could take it. It was time to go after the Holy Grail, or my own personal Holy Grail. A traditionally published novel.
To be continued.
Nation of Enemies is set in the near future world of 2032 in the United States. People ask me why that year, in particular, and how did I go about creating that future world?
First, the choice to set the story in 2032. Integral to the plot is a presidential election, so that was key in determining the year. Next, and importantly, I wanted it to be near enough that we can almost feel it...imagine it. It’s in our lifetime, depending our age. I didn’t want to get caught up in the technological advances which would put Nation of Enemies more in the sci-fi realm, which would make it a different book entirely. And so then came the research.
In this world I built, the United States is war-torn, like any war-torn country, wrecked by attacks, non-functioning in many ways. People have left the cities, which are easy targets, and fled either to the countryside or else attempt to emigrate to safer shores. They’re less concerned with technology and comfort and more concerned about the safety of their families. As the economy fails, government spending goes toward fighting the war and maintaining hospitals that are on the front line. A doctor is one of my protagonists and for his point of view, I researched the future of medicine. Genetics, equipment, medicine. How a hospital might function with advances in these areas. I interviewed a friend who is a doctor and used the internet at length. Of course, there’s reality and predictions of what will be in the future. I combined those elements with my imagination. I also combined them with the politics of war when I introduced the legislation of the MedID biochip citizens are forced to wear in 2032. There is an actual biochip in use today, though it is quite simple in comparison to my MedID and how it’s been manipulated by the U.S. government. There’s freedom in creating a future world.
I also considered schools - what would happen if schools became even more of a target than they are today? (Though just this week, several schools in my state of Massachusetts had bomb threats.) Knowing that parents are vulnerable, I imagined terrorists using schools to, well, terrorize society on a whole new, emotional level. That forced me to bring all schools online in 2032. Kids attend class virtually, creating a safer but less social educational experience. But children suffer in this way, locked in their bedroom away from friends and situations that foster personal growth.
Finally, I researched the future of the internet, the language used by experts in the field, and the hackers who exist in a darker but very real realm. It was both fascinating and frightening to discover the skills of these hackers and how they challenge governments and corporations on a daily basis for their own agendas. To “futurize” my novel, though I used terminology hackers currently use along with society’s (and government’s) fears about their power, I simply ushered them down the path. As firewalls and encryptions become more sophisticated, so do hackers. Already we are experiencing hacks into financial institutions and government agencies - I found it easy to imagine an even more widespread problem, especially when the country is distracted by war. I don’t want to spoil any plot points in Nation of Enemies, but there was an aspect of the Paris Attacks that included an element I used (researched and pushed farther) in terrorist communications. It sent a chill up my spine.
My near-future world of 2032 is not one in which I want to live. I’m a hopeful, positive person and I have great hopes for the futures of my children. Sadly, it wasn’t difficult and in fact was quite plausible to imagine the darker side of humanity emerging with the state of the world we live in today. Let’s hope my imagination does not win out.
In Nation of Enemies, I write about CRISPR (in the future of course, 2032). If you don't know about it, you should. It may just determine the future of your grandchildren...and certainly your great grandchildren.
This TED talk explains how CRISPR gene drives allow scientists to change sequences of DNA and guarantee that the resulting edited genetic trait is inherited by future generations, opening up the possibility of altering entire species forever. More than anything, the technology has led to questions: How will this new power affect humanity? What are we going to use it to change? Are we gods now? Join journalist Jennifer Kahn as she ponders these questions and shares a potentially powerful application of gene drives: the development of disease-resistant mosquitoes that could knock out malaria and Zika.
Recently I was honored to be asked to be a guest on the Live Happy podcast. They wanted me to talk about Creativity and how / where it fits into life, and furthermore, how it contributes to happiness. Luckily, that's sort of my mantra - I'm happiest when I'm writing. And now that I've made it firmly part of my life, balanced between kids, work, husband, dog, house, friends (not necessarily in that order), etc. I'm not letting go. Making time for myself and my creativity is key to the rest of my life. If you have a few minutes, check out the podcast!
It was hard to believe I was reading news, not fiction. Nature.com's article posed the question: Should you edit your children’s genes?
When I think back on my life, I wouldn't change a thing. Truly - good and bad - it makes me who I am. But my sister may answer differently. At 34, she's already had three major surgeries. And as she is potentially on the cusp of another, knowing her, she'd likely say something to the effect, "Hell yes, I'd edit out my defective genes!"
So if given the opportunity, perhaps she'd be able to delete the degenerative scoliosis gene and clear up that hole in her heart. Now that I'm thinking about it, if such a gene exists, it's tempting to me to obliterate my chronic daily migraines. Hmmm. I know there's a gene - ACTN3 (I wrote about it in Nation of Enemies) that makes people essentially have greater physical power and athletic abilities, strengthening legs among other things. I've always been unathletic...it's tempting to want to change such a trait. But all of it's tempting, and that's the problem. Should we be able to choose? I love making lists and this seems like a good time for one: (caveat - I'm inventing things I assume could be modified by gene editing in the future)
Good Arguments for Gene Editing:
Degenerative diseases (a seemingly endless list)
Bad Arguments for Gene Editing:
Athletic inability (ie. the fact I can't throw a ball)
Skin elasticity (if that's a gene?)
Cosmetic choices (again, a seemingly endless list)
Plenty of people would opt-in to many of these. And many wouldn't. But if you can choose to do one...why not do the other? It would only take a generation or two to slide off that slippery slope. To forget that people aren't perfect, physically and mentally. But even with these changes, there is no perfection as I think we all know. I understand the desire to eliminate disease, the pain and suffering caused when bodies fail us.
Insurance companies are monitoring us more now. They - and our employers - incentivize us if we're healthy. And as we age, we're penalized by rising insurance costs. Crazy, considering that yes, we're aging, and THIS is why we've been paying health insurance our whole lives. And regardless of our age, it goes without saying that we all WANT to be healthy. We're increasingly pushing ourselves with apps and devices like fitbits that help us monitor our movements and to squeeze in a ten-minute exercise session in our busy day. These can certainly be good tools to contribute to a healthy lifestyle. What's not good is when we are required to or asked to share this information to "help" our doctors/insurance companies monitor our care. That's where things are headed.
Food for thought. Recently a journalist asked a young woman born blind if she would erase her blindness, if it had been an option, if she wished she were born with sight. In short, she didn't. She enjoys seeing the world as she sees it. It's what she knows. It's still beautiful, it's still life. It's just not perfect.
This has been one crazy year in my life. As many of us do, I'm driven to reflect on events these past twelve months. I'm also of the mind that I prefer a life with high highs and low lows versus a predictable, monotonous one. Luckily this year is stacked on the "high" side. I’m a listmaker so here goes:
- Nation of Enemies is published. I’m a published author! This actually goes beyond the category of “Good” so I’ll just put it at the top.
- My family is healthy.
- I adore my children 98% of the time.
- My husband and I are employed. This helps with some of the ugliness listed below.
- I’m working on my next book and loving every minute. Not a thriller. Can’t say much at this point.
- In general, on most days, I’m happy. I aim for balance. Achieve it fleetingly. But mostly I am happy.
- It’s highly likely that the above (happy) comes from my family and friends. The lot of them are amazing.
- It’s 60 degrees at Christmastime! Had to give the weather a shout-out.
- My car is still running. 100k + crumbs/spills/etc. but it still hums along.
- We finally building an addition onto our tiny house! (see below, this is a redundant entry).
- My cockapoo is still sprightly at age 12.
- Never enough time.
- Never enough wine.
- 2% of the time with my kids.
- A family member just had major surgery (*technically this could be a redundant entry under “The Good” because she is recovering and will be fine).
- Living in a house that is being renovated.
- Trump (also redundant, I know).
As a gift to any of you who haven’t yet read Nation of Enemies, I want to end the year right by letting you know that the ebook is currently on sale during the holidays - @ $.99 on Kindle and via BookBub.
I'm wishing all of you a hearty, healthy, happy holidays! And a peaceful, more-good-than-not 2016!