Yeah, I know, but some of these authors are so high maintenance (just kidding!) that I had to acquiesce. Sigh! Anyway, now that summer is here I thought this week's featured guest would love someplace cool to visit while doing our interview. Guess what? She takes control of the transporter and soon we're facing two camels in the Egyptian desert.
Now, I don't know if everybody knows about camels, but they're not nice animals. While avoiding their spitting, we manage to get them to lay down, then climb aboard. On mine, I wait while it stands...butt first, throwing me against its neck. The sound coming out of its mouth is like one of those movie dinosaurs (actually I think the blasted thing is laughing at me).
Anyway, we're off across the vast sand with the pyramids in the far distance. Plenty of water on hand? You bet.
1. Who are you and what makes you the most fascinating person in your city?
Wow. The most fascinating person in my city? OK, here’s my best effort to rise to the challenge of a tough question. I’m a drug discovery biologist but I also write novels and was in a pretty well-known band here in San Diego for fifteen years (at least, well-known in the underground heavy metal part of San Diego.) We released a CD before I quit the band to save what was left of my hearing and write nice, quiet books instead of music. I’m married to a Christian Palestinian who owns a Zagat-acclaimed Italian restaurant, and I have three step-kids, a step-granddaughter, three dogs and six siblings. I love to travel and my novels reflect this.
2. Without revealing a deep dark secret (unless you want to), what one thing would people be surprised to learn about you? My scientist friends are always surprised to learn that I write books and my author friends are always surprised to learn that I’m a scientist.
3. What interested you to become a writer rather than something else such as a deep sea diver?
Well, I get horribly sea-sick, so that would be an easy choice. But I think the best answer to this question is: not enough hours in the day. If I had more time, I would do a zillion other things in addition to writing (United Nations translator, rock star, doggie day care provider, professional goat-roper…) but I can’t seem to tear myself away from Microsoft Word long enough to do the other things.
4. Writers are readers. With which author(s) would you enjoy sharing dinner? Why?
I would love to have dinner with Agatha Christie. I imagine myself with a giant plate of something really yummy, and I imagine that she isn’t hungry. So I can just stuff my face and listen while she makes up a great little murder mystery just for me on the spot.
5. If I were stranded on a deserted island or suffering from a four hour layover at the airport, why would your book(s) be great company?
Well, I think the desert island scenario is different from the layover scenario, so I’ll answer for both. If you only have a four-hour layover, I hope you’d be so addicted to my book that you would stay glued to it all the way to the end and then realize that you had long since missed your plane. But you wouldn’t mind, because then you could re-read it while waiting for the next plane. On a desert island, you’d have much more time, in between building huts out of leaves and catching your dinner with a spear you fashioned from a tree branch with a rock. I’m assuming you have years. So you would pick apart the science, the history, the hypotheses presented, and the story. You would generate paper from the wild papyrus growing on your desert island. You would cut yourself and write reviews in blood, address them to Oprah, and send them into the sea by carrier sea turtle. This would provide years of entertainment to keep your desert island from getting a bit dull.
6. Share your process of writing in regards to: plot and character development, story outline, research (do you Google or visit places/people, or make it up on the spot), writing schedule, editing and number of rewrites.
I’m terrible. I don’t plan anything. I get very specific ideas for how a scene should go, and very specific ideas for certain aspects of a plot line, but only vague ideas for large swaths of stuff in between. So I end up with a beads-on-a-string story where the string is more like angel hair that needs to be thickened up in order to make those lovely beads stay together. Then I end up throwing out half of the beads, rearranging the other half, finding some new beads, and converting the angel hair to bamboo, slicing my fingers open in the process (this is the old-school angel hair, the kind that’s made out of glass.) My characters tend to come from all over the place. Friends, family, colleagues, strangers at Sea World – anyone who has ever played any role in my life, however large or small, has the potential to provide someone with a single character trait or an entire persona. I both Google and travel, and I edit and rewrite more times than I care to admit.
7. “I think I have a good idea for a story, but I don't know where or how to begin. Your process may not work for me. Any advice?”
Beats me! I was going to ask you the same question.
8. I saw an amusing T-shirt the other day which read, “Every great idea I have gets me in trouble.” what is your philosophy of life?
This quote couldn’t be closer to home. I used to work in a lab that was working on biological weapons defense, and I was working on anthrax. More about this can be found here, but the moral of the story is that the work I was doing in this lab was what gave me the idea for my first book, The Death Row Complex. When you’re working on anthrax, even if you’re one of the good guys trying to block its mechanism of action, Homeland Security has your number. Then I got into writing mysteries/thrillers, so of course my Internet browser history looks like that of a serial killer. Or a whole family of serial killers. My books sometimes bad-mouth the pharmaceutical industry that writes my paycheck, and they also point fingers at real bad guys - in some cases, real bad guys who are still alive and on the streets, cited by name. Oh yeah, and I married an Arab. So I’m not sure what to expect first: If I’ll be dragged off to the big house or if someone will put a hit out on my life. Whatever happens, I’ll write about it.
9. Please tell me you're not going to stop writing? What's next for you?
The aforementioned “first” novel, The Death Row Complex. I already have an entire semi-rough draft of this manuscript on the back burner. It was the first novel I wrote, but I was halfway through it when I got the idea for The Vesuvius Isotope. As I finished writing Death Row with Vesuvius in the back of my mind, I came to the conclusion that Vesuvius should be the first novel on the shelves. So I finished the rough draft of Death Row and then moved forward to Vesuvius. Starting right about the time this blog post goes live, I’ll be winding down the initial marketing efforts for Vesuvius into steady-state. And the editing of Death Row will begin. This will be the prequel of Vesuvius, featuring the same protagonist.
10. Where can people find more information on you and your projects?
Thank you for asking! My personal website is at www.kristenelisephd.com and my blog, which isn’t as much a personal blog as it is a mystery/thriller community, is at www.murderlab.com. I can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and a few other sites around cyberspace.