The Making of: Broken Chain

This is a piece I wrote for Broken Chain’s original launch in 2015.  It appeared in DarkFuse’s online magazine at the time.  I’m reposting here as a companion to the novel’s relaunch–a little glimpse inside what went into the novel!  Thanks for reading…

BROKEN CHAIN: HUNTING DOWN THE LINKS

by

Lisa von Biela

You are what you eat.

How many times have you heard that old saying? What if it’s true on a much more fundamental level than you’ve ever imagined? What if something went so horribly wrong with our food supply that this simple admonition to eat properly took on a far more sinister meaning?

You’d have the world I present in BROKEN CHAIN, that’s what.

And it’s not pretty.

Here’s a little peek into what went into writing BROKEN CHAIN…

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While all my novel-length works to date have involved some degree of medical and/or technical research, BROKEN CHAIN by far required the most research before I could even draft the outline. (Yes, for those of you who don’t already know, I am an outliner, not a pantster!) In fact, it required so much research I had to exercise tremendous self-control to avoid outlining/drafting prematurely. Looking back, I’m glad I did. I would have created a messy tangle of inconsistencies had I not taken that time up front to build a cohesive chain of causation for the food supply disaster and its effects on people and livestock.

In my novels, I always base as much of the science as I can in reality before I go forth and take liberties. So, for starters, I needed to know what sort of feed is used in high-volume beef production. What commodities are used to produce that feed? I had to refresh myself on which amino acids belong to the group of “essential” amino acids, those that will become part of the bodily proteins of those consuming them. This research informed my chain of causation for the physical effects that occur in people and livestock in the story.

Recent real-world research has been showing a linkage between mood/behavior and the flora in your intestines. I took this a step further in the story. Frankly, the leap I made doesn’t seem all that implausible, and makes me wonder if I might be onto something that is happening in the world today. I’ll stop there, lest I let out a spoiler!

Given the nature of what happens to the food chain in the story, I also needed to research alternative nutritional sources—food substitutes, if you will. There are liquid diets out there that purport to replace traditional food. Delicious, I’m sure. I also investigated current technology in the production of lab-based meat. Yep, they’re doing it, but a simple hamburger patty costs a not-so-small fortune right now. Not ready for prime time. Of course, the joy of writing fiction is making up your own world. In the book, I improved that technology to allow the production of more sophisticated lab meat products. Yum.

Oh, and this may sound like only meat-eaters are affected. Hell, no. Not even the vegetarians escape the consequences!

The Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS) referenced in the book is a real part of the CDC. Members of the EIS are “disease detectives” who assist with emergency responses, and investigate infectious and environmental disease outbreaks. As the story opens, Dr. Kyle Sommers has just been accepted into the program, and is a member of the team the CDC dispatches throughout the country to figure out what’s causing an apparent epidemic of extremely violent behavior. This is Kyle’s first assignment, and it will cost him dearly.

As far as setting, rural Minnesota seemed the perfect spot, so I created a fictional town in which most of the book’s action takes place. While others of his team are stationed elsewhere around the country, Kyle is sent to fictional St. Joe, Minnesota, near where he grew up and attended medical school. He brings his pregnant wife Gretchen and their precocious young daughter Lara with him and begins what at first appears to be the impossible task of unraveling the mystery. The pressure for an answer builds as the epidemic spreads and people and livestock continue to die.

The agricultural element of BROKEN CHAIN was fun to research and envision. True story: back in high school, we took some standardized career aptitude test. I got my results back and was stunned to see that I scored far, far higher in agriculture than in anything else. A city girl from LA scoring like that, can you imagine? Maybe there really is an alternate universe.

I admit I do enjoy being out in ag territory. We were having dinner at my favorite place for prime rib—The Cattleman’s Club in Pierre, South Dakota—while on a road trip last summer. It’s the sort of place with sawdust on the floor and the best damned prime rib you can get anywhere. You’d better be prepared to wait on a Saturday night. They don’t take reservations and the locals love this place. Farmers and ranchers. I remember sitting there this particular time, watching them all, trying to absorb their mannerisms and imagine their lives to make sure I fashioned my characters properly in the book.

On that same trip, I was enjoying, um, more prime rib in my second favorite prime rib place in Hamilton, Montana. A little girl sat with her family at the table next to us. I took one look at her and nearly freaked out. As I was writing the book, I had a particular mental image of the daughter, Lara. The little girl at that table looked exactly—and I mean exactly—as I’d pictured her. Same age, build, general attitude, hair, everything. Bizarre and disturbing, considering what happens to poor Lara.

So, next time you take a bite of a nice, juicy steak, or chomp into that soy burger, think about what’s in it—or what might be in it. You are what you eat, you know.

As always, thank you for your support and thanks for reading!

 

Pleasant dreams—or not,

Lisa von Biela

 

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