Best-selling author Phoenix Sullivan frequently tells me about various free book promotions, so when she told me about her latest free book offers I asked her if she would write a guest blog post that described who she was, the background information behind her books and the motivation behind the stories, and whatever else she cared to share with the blog members.
Phoenix has two books available for free today: Sector C (click here or type in http://amzn.to/UuiDYJ into your web browser) and Vet Tech Tales (click here or type in http://amzn.to/Tfe2sp into your web browser), so grab them for free while you can.
Since the two constants in my life have always been writing and animals, it was only natural for me to one day marry them up and create an animal-centric thriller. Not content with writing a small and intimate story, I drafted what the industry terms a high-concept book – one with heart, a head-on tackling of tough ethical questions, and an ending that’s anything but tidy.
**If you don’t like major spoilers, stop here**.
The idea germ for SECTOR C implanted itself a few years ago during a conversation with my brother about whether using in vitro fertilization and surrogate mothers to repopulate endangered animals was a good idea or not. Was there any way to make money with the technology without exploiting the animals and, if so, what true purpose would it serve?
After those questions marinated for a bit and designer animals such as lygers and tigrons started popping up with alarming frequency, I started exploring theories about rewilding extinct animals. That inevitably led to the viability of cloning. I wrote SECTOR C a year before the announcement by a team of Japanese and Russian scientists that they fully intend to bring a cloned baby mammoth to term within the next 4 to 5 years. The mammoth’s complete genome has been sequenced for a while. The only thing stalling the project in the past was a way to “tickle” frozen cells back to life. That barrier was overcome when the team successfully cloned mice from tissue that had been frozen for 16 years.
Exciting stuff! But cool ideas by themselves do not a thriller make; they need a plot wrapped around them. In what possible scenario would cloning Ice Age megabeasts be a bad thing? That’s when SECTOR C as a novel took shape.
Unlike Athena springing from the head of Zeus, however, my book ideas don’t come to me fully formed. Thinking about why mammoths and other Ice Age beasties became extinct in the first place, I latched onto the idea of disease as exterminator. But most diseases are either caused by external factors, like viruses and bacteria, or are host-specific, like cancer and diabetes – things that aren’t transmissible. I needed something that’s not only a genetic disease, but one which is transmissible across species and capable of causing a pandemic. Luckily (well, luckily for the story anyway!), I found a candidate.
Then I needed a way for a private enterprise to make money off the animals it produces. About that time, I came up with this log line to help me stay focused on the core of the story:
Cloning Ice Age mammoths and saber-tooth cats for canned hunts seems like a good business venture – until it reintroduces the species-jumping pandemic that wiped out the megabeasts 10,000 years ago. Now history is about to repeat itself, with humans the next target for extinction.
There were a few things I swore early on I wasn’t going to do. I really wanted to create as accurate and believable a scenario as I could. But you know what? Stuffed-shirt science is pretty yawn-inducing when it comes to storytelling. I said no romance. Before I knew it the main characters – Mike , a CDC analyst, and Donna, a veterinarian – were falling for each other in a “two ordinary people get thrown together into extraordinary circumstances and have only themselves to rely on” kind of way.
I also assured myself this novel was not a reboot of Jurassic Park. The beasties safe in their compound certainly weren’t going to escape. A lot of money goes into building enclosures meant to, you know, contain animals. But really, where’s the fun in that?
One thing I didn’t back down from was to take a very balanced look at some tough ethical questions around animals as property and science as the fall guy. I have some pretty strong opinions around hunting (anti), exploitation (anti) and science (pro), but I worked hard to present the opposing views in a positive light too. So hard I *almost* convinced myself to rethink my own positions around some of the issues. So hard that a number of reviewers have praised the compassion the story shows for dairy ranchers losing their livelihoods to the pandemic.
Another thing I didn’t compromise on was the research. After all, I was positing a disease mechanism that doesn’t exist today but that could plausibly have existed 10,000 years ago, be cloned in a collateral damage kind of way, and be transmitted across almost any species. I was determined to get the science right. And getting the science right also meant no vaccine-in-the-nick-of-time ending.
There are no easy answers to the ethical questions posed by bringing extinct species back. The ending of SECTOR C also emphasizes there are no easy solutions when things go wrong. It asks each reader to look within and to consider: In similar circumstances and given a choice, what would you do?
I’m a (young!) retiree living on a small farm in North Texas I call Rainbow’s End, populated with a small herd of ponies and miniature horses; flocks of chickens, ducks and guineas; a rescued iguana; a couple of pygmy goats who strayed up; and several dogs and cats who likewise found their way onto the farm and into my heart. In the corporate world of high-tech computers and networking, I was a writer and editor for 23 very looooong years. Before that, I was a registered veterinary technician. Pick up a short chronicle of those early years in Volume 1 of my Vet Tech Tales — free today!