Friday, October 17, 2014

Turning a Trip to Cuba into a Novel

I visited Cuba in 2013. My tour guide was determined for our group to see Cuba as more than a former haunt of mobsters from the U.S. and a place to see vintage U.S. cars. She bragged about how Cuba was modernizing its economy. I figured many of her comments were carefully rehearsed propaganda.

However, one of her claims caught my attention. She said Cuban researchers had patented a drug for cancer. When I got home, I checked. Researchers at the Center of Molecular Immunology in Havana and scientists in Argentina had developed a therapeutic cancer vaccine, called Racotumomab, to treat one type of lung cancer (non-small cell lung cancer). A multicenter clinical trail is now evaluating the drug’s effectiveness.

This drug is an example of a hot area of research – the development of cancer immunotherapy drugs, sometimes called cancer vaccines. These drugs rev up a patient’s own immune system to produce cells, which recognize substances found on the surface of tumor cells but not on the surface of normal cells. These cells then slay the cancer cells, but not the normal cells.

Okay that’s a heavy dose of science. Do these drugs work? The editors of Science named cancer immunotherapy the “scientific breakthrough of the year” in 2013. Hundred of labs worldwide are developing and patenting potential drugs of this sort. So far, none, including the Cuban one, have been a huge success. Several have helped patients to survive longer in clinical trials.

Why the fuss about this one Cuban patent? This patent demonstrates Cuban scientists are doing competitive science and understand the importance of commercialization of their research. I also discovered Cuban were already visiting American universities, and a number of U.S. scientists were trying to augment these scientific exchanges despite the U.S. embargo on Cuba.

I thought this could be the basis of a novel. Realistically the State Department might send (in the near future) scientists to Cuba to explore the possibility of creating government-sponsored exchanges between the two countries. Certainly scientific exchanges between the US and China were early steps in the normalization of our relationship with China during the Nixon administration.

The birth of MALIGNANCY: A Novel. I thought Sara Almquist, the epidemiologist and heroine of my previous medical thrillers Coming Flu and Ignore the Pain would be the perfect protagonist to do a little “scientific diplomacy” in Cuba. Besides, I could throw in a little intrigue about drugs slipping from Bolivia through Cuba and into the U.S.

Here’s a blurb on MALIGNANCY. Men disguised as police officers shoot at Sara Almquist twice in one day. The real police suspect Jim Mazzone, a drug czar who Sara has tangled with several times, will order more hits on Sara. Thus when colleagues in the State Department invite Sara to arrange scientific exchanges between the U.S. and Cuba, she jumps at the chance to get out of town. Maybe, she should question their motives.

I think you’ll find this novel has plenty of action and deserves thriller status. And it has something no other thriller has – a middle-aged woman heroine.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Interview with John Wills, former FBI agent & now author

Tell me about one of your pet peeves? People who complain about their lives. In my new novel  HEALER, Billy Anderson's situation justifies complaining about. Yet this young man is stoic through it all.

Tell me more about your new novel? HEALER is the heartwarming story of 16-year-old Billy Anderson. Billy has experienced more than his share of tragedy in his young life. Made fun of in school because of a birth defect, he first endures the loss of his mother, and then his father dies in the war.
One day, as Billy attends Mass, his life takes a dramatic turn. An elderly woman dies in his arms. But before she takes her last breath she tells him, “Receive the gift of healing.” Those words instantly change his life. However, Billy has no idea whether his supernatural ability will be a blessing or a curse.
Billy’s story will both surprise and comfort readers. He’s a remarkable young man whose parents imbued in him old fashioned values, morals, and ethics. His honesty and compassion will refresh and inspire. HEALER is a story the entire family will enjoy—from young adults to senior citizens. It’s a journey of faith and courage that will both leave you in tears and soothe your soul.

As an ex-FBI agent, what made you write this novel? I was inspired to write this story after reading stories in the Bible about the Apostles and other saints who had the ability to heal those who were sick or lame. I wondered how such a gift might be looked upon in the present day. But as with much of my writing, I didn’t shy away from the reality of human nature. I include hardships like crime, addiction, homelessness, etc. Real life is gritty. To ignore that fact would certainly detract from my stories. certainly one that

Do you want to mention many of your other novels? My previous novel, The Year Without Christmas, is an award-winner that chronicles how homeless people survive on the street. It’s a gut-wrenching story about a small town family whose peace is shattered by a tragic accident. The husband disappears as his grandson faces a life-threatening disease. It’s a tale about loss, faith, and the power of love.
 HEALER, is now available on Amazon, or at my publisher’s website: Oak Tree Press.

John Wills's Bio: I served 2 years in the Army, and then 12 years as a Chicago cop. I left the police department to join the FBI and retired after 21 years. I’ve written 10 books and published more than 150 articles on police training. I also write short stories and poetry. I live in Fredericksburg, Virginia with my wife Christine. We’ve been married 44 years and have 3 children and 4 grandchildren.
Note from JL: My new medical thriller Malignancy will be available by the end of October. So look for it on Amazon and more about it on my website

In Malignancy, men disguised as police officers shoot at Sara Almquist twice in one day. The real police suspect Jim Mazzone, a drug czar currently awaiting trial in Albuquerque, will order more hits on Sara. After all, Sara was the key to Mazzone’s capture in Bolivia while she was consulting on public health problems there. Thus when colleagues in the State Department invite Sara to arrange scientific exchanges between the U.S. and Cuba, she jumps at the chance to get out of town. Maybe, she should question their motives.