One of the my favorite rewards of writing for ThrillersRockT is the opportunity to discover new authors. Amy Rogers is one of those pleasant surprises, and her debut novel, Petroplague, has earned a spot in the top five on my Best of Twenty-Eleven list. Amy uses her extensive science background and research connections to create an intense thriller (or SciThri borrowing from Forrest J. Ackerman) that balances technology with well defined, likeable and believable characters.
The novel centers on Christina Gonzalez, a doctoral student, researching genetically modified oil-eating bacteria which break down unusable tar sands and produce usable natural gas. After sabotage by an environmental group, the bacteria are released into central LA and bring the city to its knees.
The presentation of the scientific information never resembles a lecture but is an organic development of the plot similar to Crichton or Rollins works. The thriller is elevated above the norm by the wonderful characters that are battling the Petroplague. Christina is a multidimensional woman battling her conscience as well as her bacteria. Her sister, River, is a well-intentioned activist who is also conflicted with feelings of cause and guilt. The novel broaches ideas of family bonds and betrayals, while maintaining the urgency to contain the bacteria and find a solution.
Amy has graciously agreed to answer some questions about herself, her book and her beliefs regarding our nations dependence on fossil fuels. For more information you can go to http://www.amyrogers.com/ or http://www.sciencethrillers.com/. (Preview the first chapter) To purchase Petroplague for half the price of a paperback visit amazon, or barnes and noble.
Tell us a little about yourself. Do you have a scientific background?
I’ve been passionate about science since elementary school; I competed in science fairs every year from 3rd grade on, and wanted to be a scientist for as long as I can remember. I went to Harvard and studied biochemistry as an undergraduate. But that wasn’t enough! I continued my education with the MD/PhD program at Washington University in St. Louis, specializing in immunology.
2. While reading Petroplague I was reminded of Michael Crichton's works. Who were your influences when it comes to writing?
You make my day, putting PETROPLAGUE and the Great One’s name in the same sentence.
Yes, obviously, Michael Crichton is my #1 inspiration. In our novels we both link a high level of scientific accuracy to a sense of how technical achievements can go horribly wrong, even with the best of intentions. While I strive to imitate Crichton’s mastery of suspense on every page, I have my own voice and style. Other writers whose work I try to learn from include Richard Preston (THE HOT ZONE and Crichton’s beyond-the-grave November release MICRO), his brother Douglas Preston (RELIC), James Rollins (Sigma force novels), Jeremy Robinson (Chess team thrillers), CJ Lyons (“thrillers with heart”), and debut novelist Paul McEuen (SPIRAL).
3. Petroplague contains quite a lot of scientificinformation, both chemical and biological. What kind of research did you conduct for this thriller?
Having taught microbiology at the university level, I have an awful lot of technical information in my head already. Most of the rest I get directly from the scientific literature. For PETROPLAGUE, I did have to venture outside my areas of expertise and consulted directly with people from the oil industry.
4. Christina is a doctoral student working on her dissertation in biofuels. When you write, are you putting any of your own characteristic into the protagonist or supporting players, like River, her sister?
Writers synthesize characters from our own personalities and the personalities of people we’ve met, which is not to say that a particular character is ever “based on” a particular real person. In general, I’d say I’m more like Christina than River. Like Christina, I’m a stickler for following the rules; but also like Christina, I’ve learned to recognize the times when breaking the rules is the right thing to do.
5. Petroplague sets up a devastating scenario for a fossil fuel reliant nation. Do you see any hope for America and its dependency on oil? What direction should we be heading?
The research I did on Peak Oil for this book left me in a state of suppressed panic for some time. The consequences of a decline in global oil production are frightening, yet it is inevitable that at some point the decline will come. The hotly debated question is when will the peak occur? And will we be ready for it by having switched to renewable energy sources? Of course no one knows.
The best hope is that we will gradually make the shift away from petroleum before it’s too late to avoid massive economic disruption. That shift may be prompted by a gradual increase in the price of crude oil over time, by mandatory restrictions on carbon emissions, by political events that affect our ability to import oil from foreign countries, or by technological advances that make alternative energy competitive with oil.
Let’s all hope technology is the solution (as it is the least painful), and that it emerges sooner rather than later.
6. You are a member of the ITW. Can you tell us what their function is?
International Thriller Writers is the world’s finest organization for authors, fans, and industry professionals with a stake in writing page-turning stories of suspense. Primarily, ITW supports authors with networking, publicity, and their “summer camp for writers”—ThrillerFest, held every July in New York City. ThrillerFest includes two days of superb instruction in the craft of writing, a chance for aspiring writers to pitch their work to literary agents in person, and the highest density of NYTimes bestselling authors you’ll find anywhere. MrNeil, you were there last summer so you know fans are welcome! [See Photo of me with James Rollins and Steve Berry's arm. I will be there in a greater capacity next July.]
7. What is next for Amy Rogers? Another science thriller or a venture in another direction?
The next (untitled) Amy Rogers science/medical thriller will be released in the fall of 2012. A physician/scientist couple withering in a loveless marriage must relive their greatest tragedy and confront their greatest fears when their gene therapy trial threatens many lives—including their own. Readers can count on plenty of cutting-edge biotechnology, ripped-from-the-headlines events, and fact-based medical science, including the most important medical problem men don’t want to talk about. In the meantime, I’ll continue working to make ScienceThrillers.com the premier destination for fans and authors of thrillers with scientific or medical themes.
Thanks Amy, and we are anxiously awaiting your next SciThri!!