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

 

A little more on DOWN THE BRINK…

For-profit prisons. Imagine the business model has grown in volume and political influence to become a driving force in the economy. Imagine laws purposely made draconian to feed that business model, fill those beds. Imagine getting tangled up in that system through an innocent mistake. Gil and Aggie Balderas find out what lies behind those walls, and their lives are forever changed.

How far would Guardian Systems go to keep the pipeline full, boost profits? Zach Winters discovers their insidious scheme and decides to do something about it…but will he survive?

What if it’s not fiction, after all?

Undoubtedly the darkest thing I’ve ever written…

Enjoy:

Amazon

Smashwords

Barnes and Noble

For-profit prisons. Imagine the business model has grown in volume and political influence to become a driving force in the economy. Imagine laws purposely made draconian to feed that business model, fill those beds. Imagine getting tangled up in that system through an innocent mistake. Gil and Aggie Balderas find out what lies behind those walls, and their lives are forever changed.

How far would Guardian Systems go to keep the pipeline full, boost profits? Zach Winters discovers their insidious scheme and decides to do something about it…but will he survive?

What if it’s not fiction, after all?

Undoubtedly the darkest thing I’ve ever written…

Enjoy!

Find DOWN THE BRINK at:

Amazon

Smashwords

Barnes and Noble

 

For-profit prisons. Imagine the business model has grown in volume and political influence to become a driving force in the economy. Imagine laws purposely made draconian to feed that business model, fill those beds. Imagine getting tangled up in that system through an innocent mistake. Gil and Aggie Balderas find out what lies behind those walls, and their lives are forever changed.

How far would Guardian Systems go to keep the pipeline full, boost profits? Zach Winters discovers their insidious scheme and decides to do something about it…but will he survive?

What if it’s not fiction, after all?

Undoubtedly the darkest thing I’ve ever written…

Enjoy:

For-profit prisons. Imagine the business model has grown in volume and political influence to become a driving force in the economy. Imagine laws purposely made draconian to feed that business model, fill those beds. Imagine getting tangled up in that system through an innocent mistake. Gil and Aggie Balderas find out what lies behind those walls, and their lives are forever changed.

How far would Guardian Systems go to keep the pipeline full, boost profits? Zach Winters discovers their insidious scheme and decides to do something about it…but will he survive?

What if it’s not fiction, after all?

Undoubtedly the darkest thing I’ve ever written…

Enjoy:

For-profit prisons. Imagine the business model has grown in volume and political influence to become a driving force in the economy. Imagine laws purposely made draconian to feed that business model, fill those beds. Imagine getting tangled up in that system through an innocent mistake. Gil and Aggie Balderas find out what lies behind those walls, and their lives are forever changed.

How far would Guardian Systems go to keep the pipeline full, boost profits? Zach Winters discovers their insidious scheme and decides to do something about it…but will he survive?

What if it’s not fiction, after all?

Undoubtedly the darkest thing I’ve ever written…

Enjoy:

Amazon

Smashwords

Barnes and Noble

New release: DOWN THE BRINK

Greetings!

I know, it’s been a while since I had a brand-new release to announce.  That said, I assure you I’ve been writing at the same clip I’ve kept up since DarkFuse picked up THE GENESIS CODE about five years ago.  No, it’s been more a matter of happenstance, with DarkFuse shutting down this year.  Now I am very pleased to announce that my new publisher, Crossroad Press, just released my latest, DOWN THE BRINK.

DOWN THE BRINK is definitely the darkest novel I’ve written to date–and perhaps the most frighteningly topical/timely.  I’ll let the back cover copy introduce you.  I hope you like it.  Let me know what you think!

Human misery is a profit center. Zach Winters knows this all too well.

In his IT job at Guardian Systems, Inc., the nation’s largest for-profit prison company, Zach sees all the numbers. GSI stops at nothing to drive up profits. He despises everything GSI stands for and is thrilled to land a job at MoonPop, developer and publisher of the wildly popular free game app of the same name. Zach loves his new job. He thinks he has it made—until his curiosity gets the better of him. 

Life is good for Gil and Aggie Balderas. Gil’s working hard to make his dream of opening his own construction firm a reality. But one day, Gil makes a simple mistake. A simple mistake that lands him in prison for six months. What he experiences inside changes him forever. 

Not all prisons are made from concrete and razor wire…

Find it on Amazon.

Find it on Smashwords.

Thank you!

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

The Making of: BLOCKBUSTER

BLOCKBUSTER:  THE FUTURE OF PATHOGENS?*

Lots of things scare me, some more than others.  While this can be mighty inconvenient in daily life, it does give me plenty of writing ideas.  See?  There’s a silver lining in just about anything if you look hard enough.

Several of my biggest fears play starring roles in my BigPharma thriller, BLOCKBUSTER.  For one thing, it scares the bejeepers out of me that some very nasty pathogenic bacteria have become resistant to our arsenal of antibiotics, and that more will likely follow.  So, what if a bacteria got loose that was readily transmitted and extremely deadly—and was resistant to all available antibiotics?  Well, that’s part of what happens in BLOCKBUSTER.  The idea scares me so much that as I was writing the book, if I happened to feel a simple itch on my toe, for example, a part of me would begin to panic because of what happens in the novel.  Can you imagine how frightening it would be if something like that started spreading, and no existing antibiotic could fight it?  Talk about being fresh out of bullets.

Just so you know, I actually completed the manuscript long before the recent Ebola crisis that made the news a couple of years ago.  Though a virus, Ebola shares some characteristics with the bacterial disease(s) in BLOCKBUSTER, in that there is no particular cure, and that it is incredibly vicious and deadly.  However, Ebola is far less communicable than the diseases in BLOCKBUSTER, and because it’s a virus, antibiotics aren’t helpful anyway (except perhaps as prevention for secondary bacterial infections).  When I “created” the diseases in BLOCKBUSTER, I deliberately combined the pathology of MRSA (the flesh-eating bacteria) with the terrible internal ravages of Ebola (and some more grisly features for good measure).  I find it hard to imagine a more terrifying communicable disease.

On another level, I’m scared of disease in general, of being ill and in a hospital, under treatment, and fearing for my life.  I’m sure most people are.  In BLOCKBUSTER, that fear is magnified by the strict quarantine procedures necessitated by the nature of the disease.  What would it be like to be gravely ill and in a quarantine chamber—with no human contact whatsoever—just when you’re at your most vulnerable and frightened?  Unfortunately, that very thing plays out in an Ebola outbreak.  The disease itself is horrific enough, but to be denied even the slightest bit of human comfort is unimaginably heartbreaking—though necessary.

As some of my readers may know, I edited a weekly email newsletter for biotech attorneys, the BioBlurb, through much of my time in law school.  I’d gather stories from the week centered on the legal and ethical issues of various biotech developments—and I’d insert my own snarky little comments that my readers really enjoyed.  On one level, it was fun to do and I learned a lot about what was going on in the biotech world.  On another level, it provided all manner of novel fodder to my twisted little brain.  But alas, in law school, there was little time for anything but…law school.  So all those ideas fermented in the back of my head.  And now I get to reap the benefits of all that fermentation.  BLOCKBUSTER didn’t stem from any one particular story, but from a sort of gestalt of the stories, together with a “what if” question about a particular form of corruption.

Another thing that shaped BLOCKBUSTER is an annoying bit of reality:  it takes a long, long time to develop a new drug and bring it to market.  There are early trials, false starts, human trials (if you even get that far), FDA approvals, and all the activities needed to actually produce and distribute the eventual drug.  If I’d adhered to that reality in the book, readers would have passed out from boredom by page 4.  I had to do something about this!  So, I decided to set it 10 years in the future, and “create” a very lovely and enviable piece of lab equipment that fast-tracks the drug development process, and even eliminates the need for human trials—the fabulous Pathosym.  Such equipment isn’t totally without a basis in reality, however.  There are prototype testing devices “on a chip” for certain things.  I just took the concept a whole lot further.  And this is why writing fiction is so, well, empowering.

And because I’d set the story 10 years out, I couldn’t just slap a fancy piece of equipment in the lab and stop there.  I needed to envision future versions of normal, everyday electronics that we take for granted.  Most such items in the book are either on their way or are based in some part on reality.  For example, wristwatch computers are becoming a reality, or at least early versions of them.  I just imagined something more mature and put it in the book—the PortiComm.  These things had to feel like fairly natural extensions of current devices that might be real 10 years out.  They were meant more as part of the environment, the “set” as it were, rather than stars of the show, like the lab equipment.

BLOCKBUSTER was a fun book to write:  lots of biotech, high-tech, skullduggery, greed, and things going horribly awry.  I hope you enjoy it…and that you have lots of antibacterial scrub handy.  You’re going to need it.

Thanks for reading!

Lisa von Biela

*Originally published in DarkFuse Magazine when BLOCKBUSTER was first released.

Blockbuster on Amazon

Blockbuster on Smashwords