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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Broken Chain re-released by Crossroad Press!

Now that DarkFuse has shuttered, Crossroad Press has been re-releasing my prior titles as well as all-new titles.  They have re-released Broken Chain, my BigAg thriller!  It can be found all over the place:

Barnes and Noble

Amazon

Smashwords

And more…

Thanks for reading!

Lisa

 

The Making of: THE JANUS LEGACY

JANUS LIGHT AND DARK*

In THE JANUS LEGACY, I return to my obsession with looking at how a potentially beneficial technology can be twisted to serve dark purposes.  I find endless fodder in the daily news to fuel my work.  Absolutely endless.  For me, it’s a matter of coming up with a solid plot and populating it with characters my readers will want to follow into the hell I create for them.

For JANUS, the technology is the manufacture of replacement organs cloned from the patient’s/client’s own cells.  At least, that’s how it starts.  Naturally, things spiral out of control in due course, unfortunately for the characters.  But think about it—wouldn’t that be a great technology to have?  Today, donor organs are hard to come by.  People sit on the waiting list for years, often dying before the needed organ becomes available.  Sometimes a communicable disease or cancer comes with the gift organ, to disastrous results.  The technology in JANUS would eliminate all that.  Well, at least for wealthy clients.  JANUS explores the beneficial side of this technology—and then delves into the tragic consequences when things go too far.

The idea of cloning as the subject for a novel is one that has been bouncing around in the back of my head for so long that it’s on my original handwritten “list of story ideas” that I’ve toted around since I first became serious about writing fiction.  I’ve wondered for quite some time, if we ever did clone a complete human being, what would be the nature of that being’s consciousness?  If he or she only ever experienced a lab environment, what would go on in the clone’s mind?  What sort of point of view would he or she have?  I won’t say any more here at the risk of spoiling some of the plot, but I will say that this was a key challenge I took on when writing JANUS.

THE JANUS LEGACY is only my second novel.  As I’ve mentioned in other articles and forums, I actually wrote the manuscript for my first novel, THE GENESIS CODE, some time back and then disappeared off the face of the earth for several years to attend law school and emerge into a new career and a new place to live.  I began writing THE JANUS LEGACY shortly after DarkFuse accepted THE GENESIS CODE for publication—but before I could get started on it, I had to remember how to write a novel-length work and adjust my methods based on what I’d learned.

With GENESIS, I was in a very different place and time, and so would draft a chapter or two on the weekend, print them out and take them and a medium-sized spiral notebook to work with me, then write/edit during lunchtime each day.  I edited each chapter to completion before starting another one.  While I am pleased with the end result, I don’t think this was the most efficient way to go about it.  Then again, this was before iPads and ultrabooks and such—so it worked for what equipment I had and the nature of my work day and location at that time.

In preparing to draft JANUS, I had to think through what logistical approach would work for me in my current situation.  I don’t typically get out for lunch these days—and even if I did, I’m not located near quick, cheap little places to eat as I was in my Minneapolis/GENESIS days.  It was so convenient to scoot out of the office, hustle to some fast-food place, grab something to eat, and hunker alone in a corner and work on the manuscript until it was time to head back.  Reliving those days as I developed my new approach made me a wee bit nostalgic, and that is one reason I chose to set JANUS in the Minneapolis area.  That and the fact that Minnesota’s dramatic seasons formed an absolutely crucial backdrop to the story.  I spent a considerable amount of time arranging key plot elements to coincide with the seasons before I began drafting.

For JANUS, once I completed the plot outline, instead of editing each chapter to death before moving on, I wrote the entire manuscript, and then undertook several revision cycles top to bottom.  And I did it all on the computer, no printouts.  This approach worked well for me.  It certainly saved an entire forest of trees.  But beyond that, I think it let the entire plot breathe and adjust as needed before committing “final edits” to each chapter.  That was a much more efficient use of time right there.  It took me more than two years to write GENESIS; it took me four months to write JANUS.  Then once I was done, I had the urge to write something noir, and that became ASH AND BONE.  And that’s a story for another day.

I hope you enjoy THE JANUS LEGACY!

*Originally published in DarkFuse Magazine, when THE JANUS LEGACY was first released.

The Janus Legacy on Amazon

The Janus Legacy on Smashwords

Status of my backlist–gone now, returning soon. Stay tuned!

Due to recent changes in direction at my prior publisher (DarkFuse), rights to my existing titles have reverted to me and those titles are no longer on the market (at Amazon) as of today.

However…

I am thrilled to announce that Crossroad Press will be republishing my existing titles and handling my new work!  Stay tuned for more details as they become available.  Meanwhile, if you need a von Biela fix, my novella, MOON OVER RUIN, is still available on Amazon in ebook and dead tree forms (wasn’t published through DarkFuse).

Thank you and have a great weekend, all.

Pleasant dreams…or not!

Part 1 of my podcast with SWRT is up now!

Alida Winternheimer and Company at SWRT (Story Works Round Table) graciously invited me to discuss my work, dark fiction, and the craft of writing with them.  And lo and behold, you get to hear my voice and see my smiling mug in this podcast!  (I really do exist.)  Part 1:
 

The Inspiration Behind MOON OVER RUIN…

For me, there is nothing like a road trip.  Jetting off to faraway places is not my cup of tea, never has been.  I prefer terra firma, and seeing everything there is to see along the way.

Don’t get me wrong.  The views from up in the air can be pretty amazing.  But you can’t really pull over and investigate if you see something interesting, now, can you?

And I prefer out-of-the-way places, not major cities.

In other words…give me wide open spaces!  Because you never know what you will find out there, where there is supposedly nothing.

In this case, it was an abandoned resort up in Canada, situated next to a huge, peaceful lake.  I wish there’d been more identifying information.  I tried to find something about it on the Internet, without a lick of success.  (My BF and I saw another abandoned resort on that same trip and at least found other people’s pictures of it, and its name.  But for this one, not a thing.  Just adds to the mystery, right?)

Looked like a really nice setup, back when it was alive, anyway.  Eight rooms in one single-story building, some other common building overlooking the lake, and some other building (Café?  Storage?  Not sure.  Not about to trespass to find out.)

So.  A cool little place.  In the middle of nowhere.  Set on a lake.  But abandoned and aging.  Just the thing to set off my weird little imagination.  Who stayed there when it was operational?  What was their story?  What stories could the walls tell?  I knew right away this place had the potential to make an appearance in my fiction.  Just a matter of when and where.

Different stories start with different seeds.  For another of my novellas, Skinshift, it was the animal skulls we found in an abandoned campsite on another road trip.  For Ash and Bone, it was a noir-ish mental image I had of a waterfront at night.  And so on.  My stories aren’t always inspired by an irresistible setting.  But some are.  Like Moon Over Ruin.

The Quarry Resort is a fictionalized version of this abandoned resort.  Peter Watson takes a solo road trip to escape a very painful loss.  Or so he thinks.  Then he winds up at the Quarry Resort, alone, at night.  And he gets more than he bargained for.  Way more.

Thanks for reading!

And may I wish you:

Pleasant dreams…or not…

Lisa