Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Poet's Vaccine: A Novel Travelist Mystery

Edward Jenner Statue, Kensington Gardens, London
In Kensington Gardens of London stands a tribute to the physician Edward Jenner. Best known for his invention of the world's first vaccine, Jenner is frequently referred to as the "father of immunology." The plaque that graces the statue tells the story of this "country doctor who benefited mankind:"
In Jenner's time smallpox was a dreaded disease worldwide and caused many deaths particularly in children. Survivors were left badly scarred and often blinded or deformed.  
In 1796 Jenner vaccinated James Phipps with cowpox and showed that the boy was then immune to smallpox. He predicted the worldwide eradication of smallpox. This was finally achieved in 1980.  
Jenner was born, practiced and died in Berkeley, Gloucestershire and studied at St. George's Hospital, London. 
Plaque on Edward Jenner statue, Kensington Gardens, London
Another tribute to the world-renowned physician stands in Gloucester Cathedral, a monument to Gloucester's most famous hometown boy.
Edward Jenner Statue, Gloucester Cathedral
The story on the Kensington Gardens plaque is the accepted version of historical events: Milkmaids, exceptionally prone to a much lesser disease called cowpox, rarely contracted the frequently fatal smallpox. In 1796, Jenner diagnosed cowpox in a milkmaid named Sarah Nelmes, who had contracted the disease from a Gloucester cow named Blossom. To test his hypothesis that cowpox could prevent smallpox, Jenner drew material from a pustule on Nelmes' hand and used it to inject an 8-year-old boy named James Phipps, the son of his gardener. Lo and behold, the boy became immune to smallpox; upon deliberate later exposure to the disease, he could not catch it.

The word "vaccine" was thus coined from the Latin "vacca" for cow, and the world's first example of deliberate acquired immunity was born. Jenner was inaugurated into what is now the Royal Society of Medicine, his vaccine became standard-of-care in London, and he later became the personal physician of King George IV. And all of this success was the result of his observation of cowpox, his groundbreaking research with a young milkmaid and a boy, and his invention of the world's first vaccine. Or so the legend goes.

The truth, however, is a different story. Edward Jenner was neither the inventor of the world's first vaccine in general nor the discoverer of cowpox specifically. Indeed, he might never have lived long enough to take credit for the find, had he not been personally vaccinated against smallpox as a young child.

The inoculation that vaccinated Edward Jenner against the deadly disease was brought to London by a brave, headstrong, outspoken woman: Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. And she introduced it almost thirty years before Jenner was even born. 
Lady Mary Wortley Montagu
The use of cowpox to prevent smallpox was also nothing new: it had been performed as early as 1774 by a Dorset farmer named Benjamin Jetsy, who was finally recognized as the true inventor of the technology in 1805. 

And still, the name known to history is Edward Jenner.

In this Novel Travelist Mystery, we ask the question: Why was credit for the smallpox vaccine so heartily bestowed upon Edward Jenner, who in reality had very little to do with it? This quest will lead us from Bath to Istanbul, from Jenner to Alexander Pope, and into the war between poets that eradicated smallpox forever.

Protagonist Katrina Stone chases Lady Montagu's vaccine to stop a powerful 21st century cult in The Queenmakers, the forthcoming sequel to The Vesuvius Isotope. Buy The Vesuvius Isotope on Amazon.

When her Nobel laureate husband is murdered, biologist Katrina Stone can no longer ignore the secrecy that increasingly pervaded his behavior in recent weeks. Her search for answers leads to a two-thousand-year-old medical mystery and the esoteric life of one of history’s most enigmatic women. Following the trail forged by her late husband, Katrina must separate truth from legend as she chases medicine from ancient Italy and Egypt to a clandestine modern-day war. Her quest will reveal a legacy of greed and murder and resurrect an ancient plague, introducing it into the twenty-first century.

Kristen Elise, Ph.D. is a drug discovery biologist and the author of The Vesuvius Isotope. She lives in San Diego, California, with her husband, stepson, and three canine children. 

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Eavesdropping in Mr. Huntington’s Gardens

Occasionally I am invisible. If I sit in one place long enough and draw, people start treating me as part of the environment. This is good when people don’t ask me questions while I am trying to draw. This is bad when people step right in front of me and block my view. This is what happened last week at the Huntington Library.

So there I was sketching a fountain on the North Vista lawn with Mr. Huntington’s mansion in the background, and I must have been making myself very invisible because an entire tour group walked right in front of my view and turned their attention to a rather pedantic looking older gentleman in a tweed coat, barely ten feet away from my spot on the grass.

I had just finished the block in and was starting in on the details, only now all I could see were a bunch of big touristy backsides. I tried craning my head awkwardly to get a view between their legs, and you think at least one of them would take the hint, but my view was completely blocked by yards of khaki. So I waited. And it turns out I was rewarded with a bold bit of fabrication.

The older gentleman stroked his mustache and beard and nodded very seriously and tapped a finger to the temple of his glasses. “Now this lawn wasn’t part of the original plans," he said. "Mr. Huntington created this lawn for a beautiful young French girl, Arabella, who was Mr. Huntington's mistress for many years. The young lady was a frequent visitor to the house, but Mr. Huntington could never convince her to leave her beloved France. ‘No, I could never leave the beauty of Paris,’ she would tell him. Arabella would stay with Mr. Huntington for a while, then go back to Paris for months and months. Now you should know that Arabella was very beautiful. And Mr. Huntington very much in love with her. So he began collecting art to impress her. Every season, he would buy some new painting or sculpture or furniture, and he would travel to Paris and go straight to Arabella and say, ‘You must come back to Pasadena and see this marvelous thing I have bought for you.’ Flattered, she would always accept his invitation and travel back to Pasadena with him. And they would have a wonderful journey. She would arrive at the mansion full of excitement for this new marvelous thing and for Mr. Huntington. Mr. Huntington would host a grand party to show off his new acquisition, and he would parade Arabella around on his arm, and they would seem to be radiantly in love for a few weeks. Then Arabella would begin to miss Paris, and she would go to Mr. Huntington and say, ‘I cannot stay. Your house and its art and its grounds are beautiful, but I miss the gardens of France.’ Soon afterwards, she would pack up her bags and leave.”

“As you can imagine, Mr. Huntington was distraught. Every wall in his house was full of fine paintings, and every possible space held beautiful sculptures and figurines. The furniture was rich and wonderfully French. His house was full of artworks for Arabella. Yet it was not enough. She always left him and returned to Paris. One day, Mr. Huntington sat in the window on the second floor and looked out over his grand driveway running through his woods to his grand gate. And he almost gave up. Then an idea came to him and he smiled. If Arabella wanted gardens, he would turn the grounds around his mansion into gardens that would rival Versailles. Then he got to work. This lawn we are standing on was the first of Mr. Huntington’s gardens, and he filled it with fine statues from around Europe.”

One of the women raised her hand and asked, “Did it work? Did Arabella come back to stay?”

“No,” said the older gentleman, “It did not work. Arabella came to see Mr. Huntington’s lawn, then returned to Paris as before. He tried again and again and again. He built the Lilly Ponds, and the Australian gardens, and the Rose gardens, and Arabella came to see them all. And she was always excited at first. But in the end, she always returned to Paris. Frustrated and hurt, Mr. Huntington took Arabella back to Paris, and left her there. He wanted to be alone for a while so he went on a journey to far off Japan. He stayed in a small village for a year and a day, in an old wooden and paper house that he came to think of as a second home. When it was time to return to Pasadena, Mr. Huntington decided to build a new garden just for himself. He brought the old wooden house back with him from Japan, and had it rebuilt on his grounds, board by board. And around the house he created a garden that reminded him of the small village where he had stayed. When all was done, Mr. Huntington looked over his new garden with pride and love, and he thought no more of Arabella until he saw her at a party in New York. They talked, awkwardly at first, then spilling into their old affection for each other. At some point he invited her to Pasadena and she accepted, but Mr. Huntington did not think she would visit. He went back to Pasadena alone. To his surprise, Arabella followed him a few days later. It was a beautiful autumn day and they walked through all of the gardens Mr. Huntington had made for her. Then they came to the garden Mr. Huntington had made for himself. Arabella gasped and gripped his hand. She fell in love with the Japanese garden, and with Mr. Huntington, and she stayed with him here in the gardens until his death. Now if you follow me, we will go and see the gardens that Mr. Huntington built for his one great love.”

After that the older gentleman waved the tourists on towards the mansion. I caught his eye as he turned, and I raised an eyebrow at him. He gave me a mischievous wink and smiled and trotted off with a new spring in his step. With my view of the fountain clear, I finished my sketch. I laughed to myself and wondered what other tall tales that old trickster would tell his audience as they walked around the gardens.

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Noveling Chef

The ego driven, perfectionist character perfect for your novel.

That Cheffing Novel
Brad Ray - Contributor

Chefs are becoming popular characters in all forms of media - from celebrity chefs teaching you new recipes on the TV, to culinary competitions. There are entire channels dedicated to nothing but food programming, Food Network being the first one that comes to most people’s minds. People are eating out more, becoming more food conscious. Chefs are at the forefront of a revolution.

Naturally, this would make a chef an appealing character in a novel. However, the depiction of chefs that you see on TV is typically a persona. By basing a character off of that, it’s not quite right. Obviously, aspects of it are correct, but there are a few differences. So then what’s a chef actually like?

As a chef myself, I have been formally schooled in the Culinary Arts, and have experience working in multiple kitchens under many different chefs. We are as diverse a lot as can be, but all of us share certain traits. There are qualifications that a successful chef must have.

All chefs have big egos. It comes with the territory. We take pride in the food that we produce, and will defend it. Our food is good food, our food is the best food. You get a group of chefs cooking in a kitchen, and the egos will come out to play. It can lead to anything from friendly competition, to heated arguments. Taking pride in your work is a good thing, but it can also lead to conflict, which is great for a novel.

The best chefs, however, have that ego, but they also know when they are wrong. One key factor is knowing that even if you are considered the best in your cuisine, area, city, etc., there will always be someone who is better or who knows more. A successful chef will listen to constructive criticism and will be able to put their ego aside in the never ending quest for perfection in their craft.

I worked in one kitchen where the chef was quite the egomaniac. I was a lowly cook, a nobody. My opinion on things meant nothing to him. Yet, it took him three tries to make a simple bechamel sauce, while I could do it on the first try. He had issues doing the math to figure out how much product to order, despite me trying to correct him. The last thing anyone in that kitchen wanted to do was to stop working the day of a big catering event and drive to the restaurant supply store in order to purchase food that we should already have had.

This chef, to put it simply, refused to listen. His ego told him that I, as a cook, knew nothing. He, as the chef, knew it all, despite the fact that he kept messing up. He wouldn't even listen to his sous chefs, as he was the big boss and knew best. Eventually you just have to shrug and let him be. His ego will cost him his business, sooner rather than later.

Busy Kitchens are LOUD!

Another aspect of a chef is that we are all loud. A production kitchen is a very noisy place. At any given time you've got multiple stoves going with all kinds of dishes. Pots and pans are clanking, the industrial dishwasher is running. It’s loud, and you have to be louder to be heard over everything. When giving out instructions, you have to shout. All kitchens have a rule: when the chef says something, you respond with a shouted, “Yes, chef!” so the chef knows you heard them.

The effect this loudness has on a chef outside the kitchen varies. Some chefs continue to be loud, even when there really is no reason to do so. Other chefs become very quiet. That has more to do with the chef’s actual personality. However, no matter how quiet they are outside a kitchen, get a chef into a kitchen and they’ll be the loudest person in there.

Chefs are creatures of perfection. They are detail-oriented and have an eye for the small things. Being a chef is akin to being an artist. Where a painter uses paint as his medium, a chef uses food. We create works of art on each plate that goes out the kitchen door. Unlike a painter, our works don’t last very long. However, that doesn't stop us from being so darn fussy about each dish.

Most chefs have a certain way they do things, and that is how their kitchen works. Plating a dish is done up to their standards. A chef must take into consideration things like colors, flavors, smells. There’s a saying that “You eat with your eyes first.” A plate has to look good. To this end, chefs have to be good at the small details. This usually comes out as them being a perfectionist, which is true. While they may not seek perfection in all aspects of their lives, chefs certainly strive to achieve perfection in their work.

For me, each new place I work at comes with learning how the chef wants things to be done. Usually that involves watching someone else plate a dish once. From then on, I’m expected to be able to recreate it perfectly. Oftentimes, I get only one day of training, which doesn’t involve learning the recipes but is instead a quick tour of the kitchen showing where everything is, then I just get tossed into the fire and start cooking.

Every dish is supposed to match the Chef's standard are look the exact same.

The final most common aspect of a successful chef is their dedication. Being a chef isn’t all the glamour that you see on TV. Kitchens are hot and noisy. Knives and fire are going everywhere. Cuts and burns are a daily aspect of the job. Often a chef is at work for ten hours a day, six to seven days a week. If a chef is also the owner of the business, that number goes up. Chefs spend most of their time in a small, hot, windowless kitchen.

Despite all that, there’s a passion for the job that any good chef will exude. On a whole, we love what we do and wouldn’t trade it for anything. We strive and work for that one customer who will send back word with the server that they loved the meal. Making just one person happy is all we want.

This is just a short list of common aspects you’ll find amongst successful chefs. If the chef in your novel is unsuccessful through their own fault and not simply the economy, then simply take one or more of these aspects and reverse them. There’s a lot more to being a chef than what I’ve mentioned here. I’ll be exploring those other components in more posts as this series continues. Until then, remember to thank your chef the next time you eat out.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Balloon Tour Over Cappadocia, Turkey

I woke up at 4:45 am.
Balloon tour day - and me and my friend are really excited!

A bus took us to a field where there were lots of baskets and wadded clothes. Men used flame throwers like cannon and the clothes blew up into balloons in a moment.

Although it was a cold morning, the fire cannons warmed us, but I still needed my jumper. Shockingly, there were four Korean girls wearing scanty clothing and high-heels. They were gathering around each other and shaking.
We couldn't understand why...
They were really out of place.

Finally all the balloons were set up.
8 persons each plus pilot for one basket.
And guess what!!
Those scanty clothing girls were in our basket!!
Basket has four corners, so the pilot was at one corner, the Girls in the second, an Aussie couple in the third, and me and my friend in the last corner. I thought this to be a tacit agreement.

But! The Girls captured one long side, taking over their corner and my corner and the pilot needed space, so we had to see the view through the heads of scanty girls and couldn't look down from the edge.

Was this normal? To not think about other people's happiness or satisfaction? To have no consideration?
The Aussie couple allowed us to share their view, but the Girls never noticed their rudeness. This would be a great way to torture a character in a novel. Lock her in a basket at 1000 feet with rude, scanty girls. Maybe a high heel can get stuck in the basket weave. Who wears high heels to a balloon ride?? Maybe they never go to bed the night before, and went straight from a club to the balloon?

Anyway, we flew up to a height of 1000 feet and the land looked like "Google earth". Rose valley looked really amazing even from the sky and cave houses looked like an ant hill.

The fire cannon was just behind me and roaring.

The pilot was amazing. There was no handle but only cannon. He controlled the fire very well - up and down, then he would feel the wind and move from right to left without ever crashing into the rock or another basket. If writing an action sequence over Cappadocia - Balloons can hit each other. It would be very easy to happen. Write it as suspense, suspense, will the balloons hit, suspense, then crash! What happens? Do the balloons collapse for a moment, then recover? Do people fall out and hang from ropes? Does the evil person climb into the hero's basket? Because the balloons move so slowly, and gracefully, it would be like a slow motion action sequence. 

Admittedly, we never felt danger, but a balloon accident happened in Egypt recently before our trip. I shivered from that news. The balloon caught fire, collapsed and plummeted to earth, killing 19 people. So yes, the danger is real.

After sky tour we had breakfast and champagne and got a certificate from the pilot. He was cool, focused and no smiles during the tour, so he was kind of scary - but on the land he was very warm and smiled many times.

We visited some places after that and left Cappadocia. 

◆Pray for the Japanese girls killed in Cappadocia....

Ai Ogata resides in Japan, travels the world and blogs from her incredibly high speed phone. 

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Google vs. Feet On Location

Philadelphia's 30th Street Station - The setting for a scene in DOHA 12 by Lance Charnes

I met a great Author, Lance Charnes, who conducted a fascinating experiment perfect for Novel Travelist. He mentally built Philadelphia's 30th Street Station via google and then compared his accuracy during a trip to Philadelphia. 

Building 30th Street Station By Lance Charnes

In my international thriller Doha 12, assassins follow our heroes Jake Eldar and Miriam Schaffer to Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station. There, the bad guys launch an ill-prepared attempt to kill Jake and Miriam, which devolves into a three-way shoot-out running the length of the terminal. This is one of the major set-piece scenes, and because the place is so familiar to a large number of people in the Philly metro area, I wanted to get the setting right.

One problem: like most indie writers, I’m not working on an advance. All travel and research is completely on my own dime. I needed to do as much research as I could for free, since I had no idea when or if I’d ever get to Philadelphia to check out the place in person.

Interior of 30th Street Station - View from Stairs
Whenever I select a setting for a scene, I try to harvest as many high-quality pictures as I can from as many angles as possible. Google Images is perfect for this; put in your search term, and you get back a flood of photos from all manner of sources, including Flickr, newspapers, TV, and so on. If you do this, keep crawling through the results; the farther in you get, the more offbeat the sources. 

  • Train enthusiast websites had close-up pictures of the Amtrak information desk and board, and shots of the arrival platforms. 
  • An advertising firm showed an ad placement it had done in the main hall. 
  • Someone thought to take a snap of a women’s restroom. 
  • Another traveler had been there at Christmas (the shoot-out happens in early December), so I got much-needed pictures of the decorations, including the giant, perfectly conical tree at the east end of the concourse.

At the end of this process, I had a big collection of still photos, but no good idea about the layout of the place. I’d found only one small, blurry floorplan on the Amtrak site. From that and basic photointerpretation skills (I used to be in intel), I constructed a reasonable plan for the concourse; everything else was a guess.

I had lots of random still photos, but no clear idea of the layout.

Next, I turned to video. YouTube offered up 23,000 hits on “Philadelphia 30th street station.” Here’s where the weird diversity of the Internet truly came into play. There were tons of trainspotting videos; after digging through these, I found the one I needed, an end-to-end video taken in a NJ Transit commuter train going from Cherry Hill (NJ) Station to 30th Street – exactly the route our heroes take. I found videos taken by people walking through the concourse (note to future videographers: whip pans are lousy to watch), waiting for pickup outside, a flash mob dancing in the concourse, and a guided tour of the station at Christmas courtesy of a Philly yoga enthusiast. I plowed through a lot of truly awful video (too dark/too bright/out of focus/taken during an earthquake), keeping the links for the ones that were the most helpful.

The videos showed me: 

  • How people move through the space
  • What you can see from where
  • Some of the ambient sounds (note to future videographers: shut up and let the location speak for itself). 
I still didn’t have a good floorplan, though. I used the videos to refine the less-than-wonderful one I’d been able to scratch together, then forged ahead and wrote the scene.

A couple months passed. During an editing session, I decided to see if anything new had surfaced on the web. Lo and behold, the website Metro Jacksonville (Florida!) had posted an essay on the Amtrak Keystone Corridor train service, holding it up as an example for Jacksonville transit. The post included a reproduction of 30th Street’s visitor directory. Not only was it a clear, accurate floorplan, but it told which vendors were in each of the commercial spaces. Eureka!

It also showed that beyond the concourse, my cobbled-together floorplan was mostly wrong.

I dragged this treasure into Photoshop and did some measuring. The real concourse is 135’ wide by 290’ long. The map concourse was 177 pixels wide by 352 pixels long. With a bit of fudging, I was able to lay down a 9’ (three-stride) grid on the map concourse. I could finally measure distances and sizes throughout the terminal, time out how long it would take my characters to move from place to place, estimate how far they could shoot and what they could hide behind. I rewrote the scene using this new information and hoped it was good enough.

Fast-forward to October 2011. Through a series of circumstances I won’t bore you with, I got to go to D.C., Philadelphia and New York City. A few days before Halloween, I found myself standing in the concourse of the real 30th Street Station.

First, it’s a tremendously strange feeling to finally be in a place you’ve known only through photos. (Going to the Parthenon felt exactly the same way: damn, it really looks like the pictures.) Secondly, it’s very strange to go someplace you’ve never been and know exactly where everything is. I spent the next ninety minutes roaming the station, taking pictures and making notes. I traced the steps my characters ran, took cover behind the obstacles they used, checked the sightlines, confirmed which windows would get hit by the missed shots. I have no doubt I’m now on some Amtrak Police watchlist for all the suspicious things I did that morning. What kind of law-abiding citizen takes pictures while crouched behind a bench?

Statue - Great for my hero to hide behind.
The upshot? I had to make only minor adjustments to the action. What I’d pasted together off the Internet turned out to be about 95% right. The other 5% involved the passage of time and the tricks camera play: signs and trash cans had moved, some of the stores had changed out, the half-walls around the stairs leading to the tracks were lower than they looked (or I’d been measuring them against short people). I took notes and made these tweaks when I got home without causing another rewrite.

I also used this research method for some of Doha 12’s other settings, such as the Manhattan Diamond District, Central Park East’s Temple Emanu-El, and Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery. It worked time and again. Still, there are limits. Photo lighting isn’t always normal lighting; some places are darker or lighter in real life. You can’t feel the air temperature (chilly in the station), and until online Smell-o-Vision happens, you can’t get the ambient smells (cleaners and donuts in the station). This wasn’t a major drawback in my case. However, if your scene is set in a Kolkata meat market, the missing information may be crucial.

The take-home lesson: just because you don’t have an advance doesn’t mean you can’t accurately describe a setting in your writing. Another bonus: you can surf for hours and call it “research.”

Lance Charnes is an emergency manager and former Air Force intelligence officer. He’s the author of the international thriller Doha 12 and the upcoming near-future thriller South. He tweets (@lcharnes) about scuba diving, shipwrecks, marine archaeology and art crime, among other things.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

A Few Jane Austen Questions

I'm writing an historical fiction novel in the style of Jane Austen, in the period of Austen, 1802, BUT set in Ireland.

During this writing challenge, I've been reading all of Austen's works, letters, unfinished works, unpublished works, etc. It's been fascinating to watch her grow as a writer, but also fascinating to realize how bloody good she was in her youth. 

If you've never heard of, or read Lady Susan, one of Austen's earliest unpublished novels, I highly recommend it. It's an epistolary novel, meaning it's composed entirely of letters, and the lead character is quite a scandalous lady of her time. Hand-written correspondence has all but disappeared in the modern lexicon of life, so the delight of reading letters is ten fold increased today. Hence, my hypothesis as to why Lady Susan is making a comeback on bookshelves. Reading someone else's letter is a voyeuristic occupation. It allows the outside reader in on a secret. And this book, with a beautiful, charming lady seducing men many years her junior and carrying on an affair with a married man, is full of salacious secrets. The letters from the jealous wives of the seduced men are equally as intriguing. 

This brings me to an observation about all of Jane's writings - the fact that women had little or no power over their fate. Lady Susan is her only character, in any of her books that even attempts to live life for her own happiness, and not to please others. She can not be happy if oppressed by the rules of society, so she defies every rule.
But she is always the Belle of the ball, despite her reputation. Why? Because women, the jealous wives, have no power. In the land of Austen, good morals always win the day; but if an opposite horse ever had it chance at the blue ribbon, it was Lady Susan.

Women in the regency era, 1790's - 1820's, were always at the mercy of either a good marriage or an inheritance. If neither were in a woman's future, she may be forced into service as a governess. The stakes for a low-income, young, unmarried lady are great, it's either marriage or servitude. This situation is exactly why Austen's books are so enjoyable; a lady's merits overrule her income. A rich husband is always found for the lady of high moral character. The books offer hope to all the penniless gentlemans' daughters of the past and the present. The reader is instantly rooting for the underdog.  

Now the question - as it pertains to my own Irish set Austen novel. If my young sisters each have £20,000, like Miss Crawford in Mansfield Park, are they allowed to marry beneath their rank? Knowing that women at this time have little choice in their fate, is it believable that a wealthy Anglo-Irish lady may choose to marry a working doctor? Is it believable at this time, in 1802, that a young lady may wish to find a greater purpose in her life than to simply sip tea with her morning callers, which is any well-bred ladys' fate as she fends off one fortune hunting suitor after another? 

What's your opinion?

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Murder in the Spa

Who opens a thriller with a scene at a spa? This girl, I suppose. And I suppose that shouldn't be a surprise, given that my last novel, through no conscious choice of my own, ended up opening on a nude beach. It's funny how settings (and characters, for that matter) just barge right in and novel-bomb one's latest piece of writing without even so much as an introductory handshake.

This time, it's the spa. Specifically, it's the Spa: The one around which the town of Spa, Belgium sprang up (pun fully intended.) The one from which all other spas take their universal nomenclature.
The word "spa" is thought to descend, as so many things do, from ancient Rome. These healing waters in the mountains of Belgium, once visited by the likes of Pliny the Elder, birthed the Latin phrase Sanus Per Aquam, meaning "health through water." How lovely. Follow the acronym and you get the word "SPA."

Other famous visitors to these therapeutic springs included Peter the Great, Charles II, and everyone's favorite head-hunter, Henry VIII. The natural elixir bursting forth from the underground here is rich in calcium, sodium, magnesium, iron, and bicarbonate (a.k.a. baking soda.) So its healing properties are not a myth: we realize today that each of these minerals is essential.

Indeed, from their discovery in Roman times, to the development of the city of Spa in the 15th century, to today, these waters are where people go to detox and rejuvenate. They are recommended for anemia, cardiovascular diseases, respiratory disorders, rheumatism, gynecological disorders, mental fatigue and stress. And they always have been.

Perhaps Henry VIII should have spent more time here.
So what does all of this have to do with a thriller? Well, I'm sure you can imagine all sorts of possibilities. Drowning in the mineral baths (duh). Strangulation during an overzealous deep tissue massage. Being thrown from the top of the mountain or a drop of arsenic in your mineral water. But you'd be dead wrong.

You see, the protagonist of The Queenmakers is a healer. Having recently discovered The Vesuvius Isotope, Katrina Stone has now built a pharmaceutical empire around the therapeutic properties of natural elements. And so, in pursuit of science and medicine, she must visit the spa of Spa.

Ah, the hardships of field research.

The Queenmakers is the forth-coming sequel to The Vesuvius Isotope. Look for it in Fall 2014. 
Buy The Vesuvius Isotope on Amazon.

When her Nobel laureate husband is murdered, biologist Katrina Stone can no longer ignore the secrecy that increasingly pervaded his behavior in recent weeks. Her search for answers leads to a two-thousand-year-old medical mystery and the esoteric life of one of history’s most enigmatic women. Following the trail forged by her late husband, Katrina must separate truth from legend as she chases medicine from ancient Italy and Egypt to a clandestine modern-day war. Her quest will reveal a legacy of greed and murder and resurrect an ancient plague, introducing it into the twenty-first century.

Kristen Elise, Ph.D. is a drug discovery biologist and the author of The Vesuvius Isotope. She lives in San Diego, California, with her husband, stepson, and three canine children. 

Monday, September 30, 2013

Maui Travel Guides

As writers are are always doing research, sometimes part of that research involves traveling. If you are like me, you especially love researching places you are going to visit.

One of my favorite places to visit in the world is Hawaii. I visited the island of Oahu on my first trip to Hawaii. This time I was planning on visiting Maui and maybe island hop to one of the nearby island of Lana’i.

For my research, I combed through every Hawaii guidebook I could get my hands on. I found Frommer's and Fodor's Hawaii guides to be good if you want a summary of all the major islands in Hawaii. However, if you are looking for a more detailed guide of a specific island, and maybe find some "hidden" gems along the way, I would go with the Hawaii Revealed series. Unlike Frommer’s and Fodor’s, The Hawaii Revealed series dedicates a book to each major island (e.g. Hawaii ‘Big Island’, Oahu, Maui, and Kauai).

Since this trip was to Maui, I found the Frommer’s and Fodor’s guidebooks to be too bulky and limited in their information. Also the Maui Revealed book came highly recommended on Amazon and Tripadvisor. I had used Maui Revealed before for my first very short (48 hours) visit to Maui. This time I had planned to use my Maul Revealed book to its fullest. To my utter delight, the Hawaii Revealed people also released an e-book application version of the guidebook. The app is available for both the Android and iPhones.

The Maul Revealed e-book app is basically the whole Maui Revealed book in a custom digital format. I’m am a person who still prefers to hold a physical book when I’m reading, but when I am traveling and I have to deal with airline weight restrictions, e-books are my new best friends. For $7.99, I can have the whole Maul Revealed e-book on my smartphone, and I don’t have to worry about carrying two extra pounds of weight in my luggage.

This e-book app is the best that I have seen so far, and you do not need to be connected to the internet to access the application since the whole book (~200mb) is downloaded onto your smart device. All the information in the book is in the e-book app. The only time you need the internet is if you want to visit linked websites or find the map location of certain sites using Google maps. I found this very useful when I was trying to find directions from my location to a specific site mentioned in the guidebook.

The opening page of the e-book is a large map of Maui. With just a pinch of your fingers, you can zoom into the map for a more detailed map of the region you need. You can also pinpoint a location and the app will provide you a list of what beaches, restaurants, accommodations, and activities that are close by.

In the bottom left of the opening screen there is a “locate me” icon. If you’re on the island, the app can pinpoint where you are. At the Bottom right the Favorites Icon stores all your selected “favorites” all in one place. The top left corner has the search function and you can click that to get the general index or search for a specific place.

The top right corner is the "Contents" icon, and this will take you to the contents of the guide. The contents are not organized exactly like the book’s table of contents. Instead it looks to be organized by most popular things and “Sights, Dining, and Beaches” are the first three things listed in the contents. Each of the subjects are organized very easily by region (West Maui, Central Maui, South Maui, Hana Highway, Haleakala & Upcountry, and Offshore Islands). Each region is further broken down by things available in that location. The accommodations and dining sections can also be organized by type, price, rating, alphabetically, or location, which is really handy when people tell me the name of a restaurant and I’m not sure where it is located.

All you really need to travel in Maui is this application. You have great information about the island’s history, great recommendations for dining, activities, and lodgings all in one "book". What I like best about this guidebook is the honest reviews. Not all vendor or locations have glowing reviews. I like that the author will honestly tell you if a specific beach isn’t great and has lots of seaweed, or if a restaurant is overpriced for the things they serve. 

One-Ton Chips definitely something not found in the mainland.
However, if you want a bit more local flavor to your trip or your novel is set on the island and you want more authenticity to your character's life, another guidebook that I recommend is Local Girl’s Guide to Maui by Donna Bender. I had stumbled upon this guide just by reading random threads on Tripadvisor. Being someone who prefers eating at more “local” eateries because they generally taste better and are cheaper, and in Maui a lot of your budget expense will go towards food.

For $10 you can get the Local Girl’s Guide in a pdf, or for $25 you can get a printed hard copy. You can also get the pdf and print it out yourself.  I elected for a pdf download that I kept on my phone.

Local Girl’s Guide to Maui is compiled by “Local Girl” Donna Bender. Her guide is great if you're looking for a quick breakdown of local eateries and grocery stores. The guide also has sections for recommended beaches, shopping, hiking, and snorkeling. But I mainly ended up using the guide for food, groceries, and shopping locations.

My attempt at making Hula Pie.
Another perk about the Local Guide are the simple local recipes Donna shares in her guides. During my stay in Maui, I made Hula Pie according to Donna’s easy to follow recipe. Although I did have to figure out how to make my own Oreo cookie crust, the pie turned out amazing thanks to Roselani’s Macadamia nut ice cream. So if you wanted to have a character make a Pineapple Cosmo or a Kona Swizzle, the Local Guide can tell you how it’s made.

A slice of Hula Pie.
While I was on Maui, I made friends with a few of the locals and I asked for a few dining recommendations. Pretty much all of the local restaurants recommended by the locals could be found in Donna’s guide. If you want to support local markets and stores on Maui, this guide is the way to go. Donna also has a local guide available for Oahu as well, called Local Girl’s Guide to Oahu.

Additionally, Donna is very approachable and easy to contact either by email or through her facebook page. I had a few questions about parking in Maui since our group had two cars, and Donna quickly answered my e-mails and gave me some great tips for parking that managed to save us a bit of money when it came to parking in Lahaina and Ka’anapali.

I used to travel with at least two guidebooks, but now all my books are on my phone or on my Kindle reader. Armed with these two digital guidebooks, I was able to travel comfortably throughout Maui and get quick reviews of restaurants I stumbled upon on my adventures. This trip also taught me the importance of e-books to a Novel Travelist looking to travel light.