Monday, December 24, 2012

New Year's Resolutions

Every shopper likes a good deal; every writer a good idea. Most of us see lots of great ideas, but forget most of them. That’s why I “coupon” them.

Is “couponing” a real word? I'm not sure, but there are certainly lots of “guides to couponing” found on the WEB and in popular women’s magazines.

Maybe couponing should be one of your New Year's resolutions. I substituted the word ideas for coupons into a composite guide for couponing. My examples will focus on the development of my two novels Coming Flu, a medical thriller published by Oak Tree Press in July 2012, and Murder: A New Way to Lose Weight, a medical mystery to be published in April 2013.
         1. Look for ideas everywhere. Printed materials, TV, ads, etc. I like to include bits of science in my novels to add authenticity. So when I read Science and other scientific journals weekly, I pull pages that look interesting. I save maps and menus when I travel. Now for the hard part
2. Identify a use for ideas. Write on each saved item an anticipated use when you clip it. For example in April 2010, I read an article “The Microbes Made Me Eat It” (Science 328: 179-180) and labeled it, in my messy scrawl, “novel on obesity.
3. Focus your collection activities. Random collections are difficult to use and bulky to store. That’s one problem with computers, most of us save too much unsorted (or poorly sorted) fluff. 
Throughout 2010, I looked for and found interesting articles in medical journals on how the trillion microorganisms in our guts influence us, including our weight control or lack of it. The result was Dr. Izzy Roth and Dr. Richard Varegos, the diet doctors in Murder: A New Way to Lose Weight. Unfortunately for them, Izzy is killed in the first chapter of this medical mystery and Richard is suspected. 
          4. Don’t save stuff that is easily available on the Web. To emphasize how difficult it is to lose weight, I set many scenes in Murder: A New Way to Lose Weight in popular restaurants in the Albuquerque area. I used the menus published on the web to give descriptions of food.
           5. Review ideas regularly and purge. In 2006, I started saving articles on mutations in the flu virus, the development of vaccines, epidemics, and the Model State Emergency Health Powers Act with the intent of using them in a novel. Re-examining the file when it was a half-inch thick finally gave me the incentive to start writing Coming Flu. Yes, I did use this information to create a realistic (certainly not optimal, but not a worst case scenario either) of what could happen if a new and deadly mutation of the flu virus hit a community before vaccines to the new virus were available.
You know what bugs me about my couponing system? It's easier said than done, especially the regular purging part. That's why my office is a mess and I have two file  cabinets of semi-sorted ideas waiting to be used.  


JL and her faithful Bug

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Are You Ready for COMING FLU in the Winter Book Blast?

Which neighbor would you fear more: a friendly neighbor infected with a new flu virus or a
not-so-friendly neighbor who is a drug dealer? 

Think about the relative amount of column space that newspapers devote to crime and to science. Most of us would fear the drug dealer more. Readers of Coming Flu are challenged to rethink their priorities. 

Don't worry if you don't like a lot of science. Coming Flu is action packed with lots of surprising twists and turns. The realistic characters are like you and your neighbors, just quirky enough to be lovable. 

One reviewer said, "Contagion move over. Coming Flu has realism and heart. I can’t wait to see the movie!" 
Here’s a peek into Coming Flu. A new flu strain – the Philippine flu – kills more than two
hundred in less than a week in the small walled community near the Rio Grande.
The rest face a bleak future under quarantine. One of the residents Sara Almquist, as a medical epidemiologist, pries into every aspect of her neighbors’ lives looking for ways to stop the spread of the flu. She finds promising clues – maybe too many? 

Coming Flu makes a great Christmas gift for men and women. Select it and other books in this Winter Book Blast.

JL Greger and Bug 

Genres:  Crime and Mystery


Thursday, December 6, 2012

Winter Book Blast Event

   Shop December 15-23 the Blog Hop
 Books for yourself and others

THE EDIBLE BOOKSHELF will host a variety of authors. Visit their websites and pick your favorites. Along with daily features, you’ll have a chance to win FREE books.

Here’s how the book blast will be organized.
Dec 15th: Action Adventure
Dec 16th: Drama
Dec 17th: Crime  Coming Flu will be featured.
Dec 18th: Romance
Dec 19th: Young Adult
Dec 20th: Historical Fiction
Dec 21st: Mystery/Detective  Coming Flu will be featured
Dec 22nd: Fantasy

Dec 23rd: Young Adult Fantasy/Paranormal

Giveaway Rules: US residents can enter giveaways for either paperbacks or ebooks. International residents can enter ONLY for ebook giveaways. International residents can enter the grand prize giveaway, but they will only receive ebooks listed, or listed paperbacks will be exchanged for ebooks due to high shipping costs. 

Sharing books
I always try to put something to make you think in every blog. In the winter 2012 issue of On Wisconsin, I read about an interesting idea - little free libraries. It seems that residents of Madison WI have converted birdhouses (or made similar structure with a big latched door on the front), filled them with used books, and installed them on posts in parks or near busy intersections. Anyone can "borrow" one of the books inside the little free libraries. Anyone can leave a book for others. What a friendly idea!

On Wisconsin is a publication of the UW Alumni Association. You can learn more about little free libraries and see pictures at

Monday, November 26, 2012


The U.S.’s rank in the Global Innovative Index dropped from 7th to 10th this year. The validity of the survey published by the World Intellectual Property Organization, an agency of the United Nations, and INSEAD, a business school could be questioned (Education Week, J. Tomassini blog, July 9, 2012). Reports like this cause many to worry about science literacy of Americans and to wonder about the U.S.’s public and private investments in science education. Please forget politics and just keep reading please.

Making science interesting and fun for kids.
The National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Directorate on Education, Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), the National Academies of Sciences, NIH Office of Science Education, and dozens of museums and conservation groups have invested in science education programs for children and teens (K-12). Most of these programs have teamed scientists with educators to create innovative and fun science education modules and curriculum for students. These programs work but do not reach enough children, especially those in poor school districts. If you doubt these generalizations, Google any of these organizations.

What about making science interesting and fun for adults?
Fun depends on the eyes of the beholders. There are hundreds books on science topics (medicine, the environment, astronomy, etc) published for the general public every year. Obviously many adults enjoy these books.

A few of these “science books” read like action novels, particularly Richard Preston’s The Hot Zone and The Demon in the Freezer. If you like horror, it’s hard to beat Preston’s description of the symptoms of smallpox with the skin peeling from the live bodies. And John Barry really “develops the character” of several of the dedicated (but quirky) scientists, leading medicine at the time of The Great Influenza (the early 1900’s).

Okay, you say, but I really like novels better than non-fiction.
Try a novel with a science theme. These novels are not stodgy textbooks but real mysteries, thrillers and romances. The science in these novels adds credence and color to the novel but does not overwhelm the plot.

For example, one reader asked me why I didn’t mention cytokine storms in Coming Flu. I know many severe flu symptoms are due to a cytokine storm (an over reaction of the body’s immune system to the flu virus), but I’ve seen a glazed look in the eyes of too many college biology students when the cytokine storms were explained. Despite the “short cut,” you’ll learn a bit about vaccine development and immunology from Coming Flu. More importantly you’ll think about the wonders and limits of modern biology.

Fun books with tidbits of science written by scientists or physicians
My medical thriller Coming Flu is the point of view of an epidemiologist trapped in a quarantined community because of an unstoppable flu virus. My next novel Murder: A New Way to Lose Weight (due out in April) is from the point of view of an associate dean in a medical school investigating charges of scientific misconduct against a “diet” doctor. I was a professor in nutrition and toxicology.

Robin Cook, a physician, wrote more than twenty-five medical thrillers, the most famous being Coma.

Kathy Reichs, an anthropology professor, writes of modern forensic anthropological techniques in her Tempe Brennan series of crime novels.

Camille Minichino, a retired physicist, writes mysteries with titles based on the periodic table.

So why not borrow one of these books from the library or better still buy one. I think fans of mysteries and thrillers, will enjoy these books. They may even decide that science is fun.

J.L. Greger and Bug 

Monday, November 12, 2012


by J.L. Greger

 Oscar Wilde in The Picture of Dorian Gray said, “There is only thing worse in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.” Was he right? Probably most writers and scientists would agree, perhaps not all politicians (or at least former politicians).

Is publicity just for the ego?
Scientists and writers want publicity for practical reasons. First the obvious reason – sales. Consider the plethora of books, which are written or at least 80% written by ghostwriters, but “authored” by celebrities. The publishers know the celebrity’s name and the attendant publicity (past and present) help sales and ghostwriters happily take the money to the bank. Everyone wins.

Generally, scientists believe a good image and publicity are essential to gain the support for scientific research by the electorate and policy makers and to attract talented students. In 2009, universities in the U.S. spent $55 billion on research and development; the federal government provided 59% and state and local government provided 7% of these funds (NSF/ Division of Science Resource Statistics. Survey of Research and Development at Universities and Colleges, FY 2009 In other words, scientists depend on public opinion for financial support of their research.

Is bad publicity really bad? What constitutes bad publicity?
It depends.

Lots of people complained about Dan Brown’s literary style and his use of historical information in The DaVinci Code. All the attendant bad publicity probably helped sales. The “tell-alls” of disgraced celebrities sell better than well-written memoirs of less famous, but often heroic, people.

Scientists found guilty of scientific misconduct are often barred from being a principal investigator on federal research grants for several years. Many quietly resume their careers afterwards. Those hit with a firestorm of publicity are often forced into a career change. The seriousness of the offenses does affect the level of publicity, at least sometimes. So there is such a thing as bad publicity for a scientist.

Perhaps some variables are more responsive to bad publicity. I suspect recruitment of students, particularly graduate students, to a major in the sciences is a variable sensitive to image and publicity. Between 1998 and 2008, the number of doctorates earned in the sciences grew by nearly 40% (Nature [April 20, 2011] 472:276-279).

Many factors influenced this growth, besides the job market (which was not that good for newly minted PhD scientists). One is the changing image of scientists, i.e.  positive publicity on scientists and science in fiction and in the press.

Before you say no, think of the scientists depicted in fiction and movies before 1980, i.e. Dr. Frankenstein and Dr. Strangelove. Christopher Frayling studied a thousand horror movies distributed in the United Kingdom between 1930 and 1980 (New Scientist [Sept. 24, 2005] 2518: 48). He found “scientific research” was a threat to mankind in 39% of these films. Since 2000, being a scientist has been “cool” in mainstream TV shows and movies. The 2011 movie Contagion grossed $130 million in theatres. Two popular network TV shows (CSI and Bones) feature quasi-realistic scientists as their heroes and heroines.

Bottom line?
Oscar Wilde was probably right, at least much of the time. Maybe that’s why so many authors, scientists, educators, etc. are writing blogs. The next questions are:
Does anyone read most blogs?
Are they worth reading?
What makes some worth reading?

Do you care to comment?
Or will these questions just remain my bugs (annoyances).

JL Greger
The medical thriller Coming Flu will have a sequel in April. It’s called Murder: A New Way to Lose Weight.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Vote and other things to do in November


I always think November is a transition month - from fall to the winter holidays. However, there are some important things to do in November.

1. Vote
Everyone should vote. If you hate the lines, you can vote early in a number of states.

2. Update your vaccinations, including for flu.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests adults, get these vaccinations:
A flu shot every year. If you want an incentive for getting a flu shot, read my novel Coming Flu. It’s an extreme example, but will you make you think.

A booster shot for tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (commonly called whooping cough) every ten years.

Two doses of vaccine against chickenpox sometime as an adult 

One vaccine shot against shingles sometime after sixty.

 If you have questions or are immunosuppressed, check with you health care provider. You may want to visit:

3. Be thankful 
Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday - quiet, no presents to buy, and a chance to make favorite recipes. Here’s how I add zip to my Thanksgiving stuffing. The limiting factor is me – when I get tired of chopping.

Zip for Your Thanksgiving Stuffing
 Add any or all of these to your traditional bread stuffing:
1/2 -1 cup of grated carrots
1 cup of sauted sliced mushrooms
4-8 ounces of fried ground sausage
1 cup of chopped, sauted onion
1 cup of chopped celery (If you like, saute the celery with the mushrooms, sausage, and/or onions before adding to your bread crumb mixture.)
         1/2 cup of chopped parsley or cilantro

How does this relate to my bugs?
Two ways. I’m thankful for my dog Bug. And it bugs me so many Americans can’t find time to vote, get vaccinated, or be thankful.

JL Greger

Which neighbor would you fear more: a friendly neighbor infected with a new flu virus or a not-so-friendly neighbor who runs drugs?
COMING FLU will challenge you to rethink your priorities.


Friday, October 19, 2012


Today I’m going to write about one of my bugs (in this case something annoying or of concern, i.e. definition 4 in the margin) - the image of women scientists. I was always amazed how many new graduate students told me that I was not what they expected when they first met me.

When I asked what did you expect, they always stuttered. These were the points that they admitted; I suspect the points they didn’t admit would be more interesting. They expected me:
• to be older,
• to be gray-haired,
• to not always have a Diet Coke can or two on my desk and a bag of cans ready for recycling in the corner,
• to be more proper, less frank in my comments,
• to have a neater office.

What is the public’s image of scientists?
My students’ comments made me think. Does the general public have preconceived images of scientists? Do scientists in fiction reflect these popular images? Or does popular fiction affect the image of scientists among the general public? Or a  little of both?

From the 1880’s through the 1970’s, Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll, and Dr. Strangelove characterized the images of scientists in movies and novels. Scientists were aging, un-athletic, males with anti-social tendencies. Comic strips changed the image of scientists to be handsome, male superheroes with big egos (like Batman, Iron Man, and the Avengers). Now TV shows (like CSI, Bones, and NCIS), feature attractive, young women as scientists.

Have the faces of scientists really changed that much?
To a certain extent, the changes in the images of scientists in fiction reflect reality. In 1958, women earned 8% of the doctoral degrees awarded in science and engineering in the US. In 1985 and 2006, women earned 27% and 40%, respectively, of the doctorates awarded in these fields. Women held 4.5% of the full professorships in science and engineering in 1973 and 17.9% of the full professorships in those fields in 2003.

Why should you care?
Recruiting students into science is always a challenge. Negative or unrealistic images only make it harder to attract students, especially women and minorities to science majors.

• Scientific discoveries offer great ideas for novels, plays, and short stories. Tidbits of science can add a sense of reality to a novel. Science belongs in more than just science fiction novels and movies. I tried to includes bits on epidemiology, virology, and science policy in my novel Coming Flu.  

Many strong-willed heroines can be found among the women scientists of the twentieth century. They’d make great lead characters or minor characters in any type of fiction. I think you’ll find Sara Almquist, an epidemiologist and the lead character in Coming Flu, fits right into this group.

I’m profiling three women scientists, whose careers occurred prior to 1980 in this blog. Maybe they’ll inspire an author to include a woman scientist in their next novel or encourage a female undergraduate to persist in her science major. They certainly demonstrate it takes grit as well as intelligence to succeed as a woman scientist.

Rosalind Franklin (1920-1958) helped to define the fine molecular structures of DNA with her meticulous X-ray crystallography  (a way of picturing the location of atoms in molecules). If she had not died at thirty-seven years of age in 1958, many wonder if she, rather than Maurice Wilkins, would have been awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine with Watson and Crick in 1962.

Elizabeth McCoy (1903 -1978) was a microbiologist. In 1946 the New York Times ran this headline “Wisconsin University Girl Wins Patent on an Industrial Solvent.” At that time, the “girl” was 43 years old and was only the second woman (outside those in nursing or home economics) to achieve a full professorship at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. No one reported her response, but she was known for her salty vocabulary. She was fiercely independent and shoveled snow from her long driveway in her seventies. (If you haven’t lived in the upper Midwest, you may not appreciate this feat.)

Hellen Linkswiler (1912 -1984), a nutrition professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, was more ladylike than McCoy, even though her background was probably rougher. As a child, she ate moldy bread because there was no other food in Oklahoma during the dust bowl years. In 1960, a banker refused her a mortgage for a home, even though she was full professor, unless a man cosigned the loan. So her father (whom she supported) signed the loan. Although highly professional, she had a domestic side. She was an avid gardener, a great cook, and rated painting (walls not art) as one of her favorite pastimes.

Sara Almquist is Coming Flu is a combination of McCoy and Linkswiler. She’s tough and practical, with a salty tongue. Maybe it reflects her farm background and years as a scientist in fields dominated by men.  

For more information on Coming Flu and JL Greger, go to

See you next week
JL Greger

Thursday, October 11, 2012

THE NEXT BIG THING – a chain letter with set questions

I’ve spent so much time advertising my medical thriller Coming Flu (Oak Tree Press published it in July 2012.) lately that I’ve not thought much about my book now in review. This is a great chance to dream and hope it’s the next big thing.

What is the working title of your book?
I like the title Death of a Diet Doctor; a reading group preferred Murder: A New Way to Lose Weight. Which title would catch their eye more in the bookstore? Let me know in comments to this blog.

Where did the idea come from for the book?
First off, I wanted to write a sequel to Coming Flu, but feature Linda Almquist, the younger, more contemplative and nervous sister of Sara Almquist (the lead character in Coming Flu).

Second, I wanted my second novel to also have a science theme – but not one involving infectious diseases, as my first novel had. I particularly wanted a medical syndrome with a New Mexico tie-in, if possible. Obesity and the related health problems are common in New Mexico. But I wanted something quirkier to add to the mix. As I was searching through journal articles, I came across one that had been published by medical researchers from New Mexico in the New England Journal of Medicine. I’m not going to tell you more or I’ll give away too many secrets in the plot.

What genre does your book fall under?
Death of a Diet Doctor is a mystery set in a medical school. Coming Flu was a medical thriller.

The differences in the two books reflect the lead characters – two sisters. The feistier sister Sara Almquist, a supposedly retired epidemiologist, is the lead in Coming Flu. Linda Almquist, a physician and a newly appointed associate dean in a medical school, is the lead character in Death of A Diet Doctor. Both are in both books.

As I wrote I viewed the sisters as the “Odd Couple of Modern Women.” Sara is the messy Oscar Madison (the Jack Klugman character in the TV show The Odd Couple). Linda is the proper, neatnik Felix Unger (the Tony Randall character).

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Frances McDormand has the toughness and Midwest background that would make her a perfect Sara Almquist. However, a younger version of Shirley MacLaine might be an interesting version of Sara. Besides MacLaine lives near Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Jodie Foster is a perfectionist, has an intellectual bent, and is petite. She would make a perfect Linda Almquist.
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
As Linda Almquist investigates scientific fraud by medical researchers, she uncovers simmering feuds among faculty members, long hidden secrets, and two dead bodies – and they’re not patients.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Oak Tree Press published Coming Flu and hopefully will publish Death of a Diet Doctor.  

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
Researching and writing the first draft took one year.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
My books are similar to Patricia Cornwell’s mystery series, featuring pathologist Kay Scarpetta, but I show more of the Almquists’ personal lives and quirks. Kathy Reichs’s mystery series, featuring medical anthropologist Tempe Brennan (also of the TV show Bones) is also comparable. But my books include more science tidbits that are relevant to readers’ lives.

Who inspired you to write this book?
My students. I taught nutrition and toxicology for thirty years at Purdue University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Students generally found metabolic pathways dull and hard to remember, until I mentioned health problems caused by aberrations in the pathways. The students taught me to show not tell them about science.

Thank you.

JL Greger