Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Guest Post by Kath Russell

Yesterday I posted my review of Deed So by Kath Russell. I enjoyed this thoughtful work of historical fiction.

Today I have a guest post from her. Here's Kath......

Introducing Readers to New Worlds

Through my writing, I enjoy introducing readers to a world I know well -- the biotechnology industry. Don't get me wrong, I am not trying to be the Tom Clancy of biotech. He can go on for pages about the submersion technology of a nuclear submarine, and his readers love it. I don't want to restrict the audiences for my mysteries to the geekiest among us. My goal is to 'translate' this world into a setting every avid mystery reader can inhabit. When I was working in the bioscience industry, an important aspect of my job was to describe esoteric scientific advances in terms non-scientists could understand. For example, if you want to buy shares in a public biotech company, you want to understand what they do and how their products work, but you're not going to get a Ph.D. just to pump up your stock portfolio, so people like me 'translate' the discoveries into annual reports and press releases everybody can understand. I do the same thing with my fiction.

Also, mystery readers don't want to plow through a lot of backstory or how-to explanations in the middle of the action. Remember in Moby Dick when Melville stopped to tell us how the whaling industry carved up a whale carcass at sea and rendered the blubber into oil? He would never get away with that today! I can just see the pile of rejection letters! What readers do want is a ring side seat to watch how people live and work in the world of biotech. What are their passions? What are their conflicts? What do they want and how do they go about getting it? How does it feel to invent a new cancer drug?

Delivering this world to lay people is easier than you think. Nobel prize winners put their shoes on one foot at a time. They fall in love. They fall out of love. They feel jealous about another researcher's discovery. They get scared when their startup comes close to running out of money. They get angry at an employee who does something stupid.

The important thing for a writer to achieve is authenticity. The sci-fi fantasy folks create entirely new worlds with original species, new moral codes and elaborate governing organizations. They write all the rules. By contrast, I'm working with an existing universe inhabited by real people, technologies and constraints. You can check on these things independently, so I have to work hard at portraying the entrepreneurial biotech world with fidelity. Another challenge is that it is a moving target. This is a cutting edge, competitive environment , so it won't stay still. At times, I wish I had chosen historical fiction. Nah, just kidding!

I'm most happy when one of my old colleagues reads my work and says she felt right at home. I want biotech folks to feel like they are putting on an old lab coat when they open my books. I also want young people to feel they can try this dynamic field on for size, and say, "Gee, I might like to do that for a living!" For every reader, I want you to feel you've stepped through the looking glass into a lively, intriguing place that provides a great escape from the toils of your daily life. Enjoy!


Yes, Kath. I agree that authority matters whether you are talking about a current industry or talking about the past. I thought Deed So had a very authentic voice. I felt right at home in your story.

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