Author E. E. Giorgi. Courtesy photo
Introducing E. E. Giorgi and her first novel, “Chimeras: A Track Presius Mystery,” with a twist of epigenetics
Full disclosure: I’ve known E. E. Giorgi for less than two years, but have become close friends with her since our first encounter.
I am forever amazed by her active mind, thirst for learning, and extraordinary creativity. EEG is a scientist, a photographer, a writer of both science and fiction … in addition to being a parent of two young teens. In her own voice, “ [EEG] spends her days analyzing HIV data, her evenings chasing sunsets, and her nights pretending she’s somebody else. Her photographs have been on various collective shows in New Mexico, California and Texas, and her debut thriller, CHIMERAS, is now available on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00JI6UNPE
And EEG is a Los Alamos resident … well, transported from Italy more than a decade ago, with sojourns on both the East Coast and West Coast before settling in our community. As she indicates above, her photography has gained much attention, and now she has written a novel. I am excited for my friend, and for Los Alamos; this is a great opportunity for the community to get to know yet another multitalented resident.
Below is my interview with E. E. Giorgi (EEG).
Q: What was the impetus for the novel?
EEG: To be completely honest, the “impetus” was a vampire book that I picked up and found so disappointing I couldn’t get it out of my head (no, I shall never pick up a vampire book again!). I guess there is such a thing as a “negative inspiration,” because I couldn’t get over how bad the book was, and how differently I would’ve written the story had I been the author.
Around the same time, I discovered that most of our genome is made of genes that have lost their function. I was reading a paper on these “silent genes,” when it occurred to me that while vampires do not exist, predators like lions and wolves not only exist—their genes are still embedded in our genome. And that’s when that alternative story brewing in my head took a completely new angle.
Q: Is there a genre into which your novel would fit? If not, how would you educate/inform potential readers what your novel is about?
EEG: CHIMERAS is definitely a mystery/thriller. The reason why I think the genre issue came up with acquiring editors is because the main character has the “senses and instincts of a predator.” While I did use my poetic license to come up with this premise, I also researched the science and genetics very carefully. My claim is no more preposterous than Dan Brown’s assumption that you can put a blob of antimatter in a small, portable canister (Angels and Demons). We have ancestral genes that we inherited from our predator ancestors. In the book I explain how extraordinary circumstances could possibly “turn on” some of these genes.
I also suspect that the publishing world has a general bias against science. For example, one editor suggested changing the book into a paranormal novel. But if I did that, what would have been the novelty of the story? There are so many paranormal creatures with “predator instincts”: vampires, werewolves, zombies … I wasn’t interested in any of that. I was interested in human nature: how much of who we are is dictated by our genes? How much of it can we control and how much instead is encoded in our genetic history?
Q: How did you develop the plot and characters? (I am always interested in the creative process)
EEG: The idea for the main character, Detective Track Presius, came from the following question: what if the ancestral genes we have in our DNA suddenly turned on? Our predator ancestors heavily relied on their olfactory and auditory senses to hunt. Humans, instead, are most sensitive to visual stimuli. As we made the switch from olfaction to vision, evolution gradually silenced some genes and turned on others. The old genes lost their function, but they were never erased from the DNA: they became what we now call “pseudogenes.”
With CHIMERAS I took the poetic license of turning back “on” these silenced genes and created an ordinary man with extraordinary senses. The hyper-sensitivity to smells in particular has not been exploited enough in fiction, and I soon realized that it was the perfect trait for a crime investigator.
As for the plot, I can’t explain it precisely because I don’t plan ahead. The plot unfolds as I write, and the nice thing about it is that I don’t know the ending until I get there and write it. I suspect that’s why my plots always end up being so complicated.
Q: How did you organize your research? In what areas did you have to spend most of your efforts?
EEG: I researched the genetics first. Gene therapy became a substantial part of my plot early on, so I spent quite some time reading the literature and latest developments. But I confess that the part I enjoyed the most was researching the police procedure. I read true crime books that featured the Los Angeles Police Department and researched all the information on the LAPD I could find online. I visited law-enforcement forums to get a sense of the lingo. It wasn’t enough, though: I had some specific points in my plot that I needed to run by a real police officer and I had no idea how to do that. So I wrote to a fellow writer friend whose books are set with the LAPD. Through her I met the one person without whom Track Presius would’ve been issuing parking tickets on skid row instead of being a Homicide Special detective: retired LAPD officer Tim Bowen called me as soon as he read my email requesting his advice. We talked over the phone, by email, and even met in person in Los Angeles (a few months later), where he gave me a tour of the old Parker Center (the LAPD headquarters), the new Parker Center, the 911 dispatch center, the Coroner’s Office, and the LAPD Hopper Heliport. It was a lot of fun!
Q: What were some of the major changes you had to/wanted to make between the first draft and the final version (not counting various agents’ and publishers’ whims)?
EEG: I don’t quite remember, to be honest. I can tell you, however, that CHIMERAS being the first “serious” book I wrote, it went through three or four drafts before it was in shape to be queried. Because I wrote instinctively, as scenes came to mind, I had to re-do many parts. Now I tend to think more about my scenes before I write them, and the whole process is much smoother.
The best advice I got while I was still on my second draft was to read Raymond Chandler’s books. My detective already had a bit of a snarky attitude, but as soon as I picked up Chandler’s books I knew exactly where I wanted to go with the voice. Chandler’s style is unique and inimitable. I can best define it as “sarcasm with a sentimental note” – it fit perfectly my detective, too. How else would you look at your life if you were affected by a one-in-a-billion chance genetic defect?
Q: I know you have gone through the conventional channels with regular publishing, but now have chosen the self-publishing route. Can you enlighten the readers on the pros and cons of these two pathways? What was the “last straw” that decided you to self-publish?
EEG: I was mildly optimistic when my book went on submission to publishing houses. All agents who’d read my book had been enthusiastic about it. One of the first things I realized, though, is that loving the book does not necessarily imply a sale. I remember one editor in particular who read the whole book from beginning to end (I know because she had comments about the ending) and had a lot of good things to say about it, but alas, she couldn’t acquire it. That was the first epiphany I had: the fact that a publisher loves a book does not mean that said publisher will buy it. A lot depends on whether or not they think they can sell the book. Apparently science is not high on publishers’ salability scale—the only exception being science fiction. But my book wasn’t science fiction. All my science was real!
The second epiphany came from talking to other writers. I learned that there are many things that can go wrong even with a big publishing house. For example, a publisher can decide to print very few copies of a book, thus deciding its fate even before it hits the shelves.
The major advantage of traditional publishing is distribution. Publishers have access to the big channels in the industry: they can give an author visibility by sending the book to established authors for endorsement, and to magazines and newspapers for reviews, reaching millions of readers nation-wide. A traditionally published author has also the privilege of working as a team and no longer as a single author: he/she has an agent, an editor, multiple proof-editors, a publicist.
Publishing on your own is a lone endeavor. For the longest time I didn’t even consider it. My agent still loved my book, and she kept pushing it. But the rejections we were getting made no sense. It finally dawned on me that publishers had no idea how to sell my book. The science puts it in a very particular niche, one that maybe publishers don’t know how to reach—but I do. I discuss science on my blog. I participate to science discussions on G+. Today you can have an online presence if you dedicate some time to it. You can find like-minded people who appreciate what you do.
Indie authors may have a harder time gaining visibility but they have a lot more control than traditionally published authors: they are in control of the whole process, from start to finish. Traditional publishers can take up to one year to place a book on the market. At the same time, they demand new books one after the other. You may have that first book ready to go on the market right away and haven’t even thought about the next two. Writing under the pressure of a deadline takes a toll on quality. Indie authors, on the other hand, can publish at their own pace and their books never go out of print.
Q: How would you go about doing your own marketing and promoting?
EEG: These days the best way to promote a book on your own is to embrace social networking. My blog’s audience has doubled since I announced the book release. I try to keep readers entertained by hosting interviews and discussing fun science trivia related to the plot of CHIMERAS. I’m also doing many book giveaways: on my blog, http://chimerasthebooks.blogspot.com/2014/04/launch-week-write-review-and-enter.html, on Goodreads [https://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/enter_choose_address/85981-chimeras], and also on book review blogs. I have one coming up at the end of the month on ScienceThrillers.com [http://www.sciencethrillers.com/] and another one next month at The Reading Café’[http://thereadingcafe.com]. And finally, together with the Science Sunday team over at G+ we are planning a live hang-out with other panelists in which we discuss the numerous scientific topics touched by CHIMERAS: epigenetics, gene therapy, oncolytic viruses. All science geeks/fans/lovers/aficionados are welcome – details will be posted on my blog [http://chimerasthebooks.blogspot.com/].
Q: I know you are a devoted scientist as well as a photographer. I have to ask you the question that all readers want to know – How in the world do you find the time to do all of these things, and do them well? (in addition to being a parent of two young teens)
EEG: Heh. I sleep very little.
I also get very depressed when I think too hard about the issues that affect our planet, our world, our future, our kids. Writing for me becomes a form of escapism. Rather than ducking my head in the sand, I ask a myriad of What if questions that gradually morph into characters and stories. I seem to be able to cope better if I turn into fiction all the world issues I can’t solve.
Q: What’s the next project?
EEG: My new project is completed and in the hands of my agent right now. Aware of CHIMERAS’s trans-genre issues (I just made that word up), this new book (GENE CARDS) is set in the future. This was very challenging for me, at first. I’m a scientist, my nature is to research things, not make them up. I started researching state of the art technology — things that now cost millions of dollars and yet in a near future we’ll likely see in every household. That was a lot of fun and it opened up a new realm of possibilities. In the end, I also made up some of the stuff and, contrary to my initial fears, I enjoyed it very much.