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Blogs, Interviews and Reviews

Interview: Q&A with Donna's Book Blog

(as originally appeared Sept 16, 2015 on Donna's Book Blog)

DBB: What is the book’s genre/category?

MR: It’s essentially a biomedical mystery / thriller but its classified officially as a “Medical Thriller”. Which works well for me, as it puts me in the company of all the very original authors I read in my early days who inspired me to believe that as a scientist I could also write a novel…authors of great distinction like Michael Crichton, Patricia Cornwell, Michael Palmer, Robin Cook, Tess Gerritsen and others. It’s amazing to see my book

DBB: Briefly, what led up to this book?

MR: The actual piece of scientific data that literally led to this book was made known to me when I read a scientific article in the journal Science, which had identified a key genetic difference significantly influencing incarceration rates in boys from troubled backgrounds…boys who lacked the gene were more likely to exhibit antisocial behavior than those who had a normal copy. The gene in question was MAO or monoamine oxidase…also known as ‘the warrior gene’… a catalytic enzyme responsible for synthesizing several key neurotransmitters in the brain. When this gene is repressed, levels go down and individuals are typically not able to repress aggression to the same extent that “normal” individuals (persons with normal copies of MAO) can. It was a seminal report that finally helped scientists (in part) understand why there’s undoubtedly a genetic component to the tendency for violence.

I knew that we would eventually be sequencing whole human genomes, so I asked myself after reading that article in 2002… what if we ultimately discover a panel of genetic variants that are highly over-represented in serial killers (we haven’t by the way). Would an FBI profiler be able to combine DNA information on an uncaptured serial killer along with behavioral profiling to come up with a more robust picture of the at-large offender? It still may come to pass but we are not there yet, and it’s certainly not clear what kind of DNA variation (polymorphisms, copy number variants, epigenetic modifications, other alterations) might be responsible either.

DBB: Best piece(s) of writing advice we haven’t discussed?

MR: “Strength, Dammit!” - Christian Slater’s character to Wynona Ryder’s in the movie “Heathers”. Because for me, it was all about perseverance. If someone had told me that more than a decade would pass before the novel in my head at the time would ultimately be published when I started writing, I may have thrown in the towel then and there. It seems like a long time, but now that I’m here, it was worth it.

DBB: Something personal about you people may be surprised to know?

MR: I took the MCAT and was accepted to medical school on a full scholarship, but turned it down so I could be a scientist (and eventually, a writer). I’ve lived, studied and worked in a lot of great places including Mississippi, Idaho, London, Philadelphia, Switzerland, Boston, and New Jersey. But I’m a Southern boy at heart, and always will be.

DBB: What’s next?

MR: I am currently working on a literary mystery and coming-of-age novel set in northern Mississippi in the 1980’s, and a biomedical thriller tentatively entitled "Mythological Genomics, Incorporated"
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