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Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Interview With Author Alan Froning



The First Days of August


1.  What really inspired you to write your book, to force you from taking an idea or experience and conveying it into a book?
There's a lot of money in science, more and more these days.  On one level, that's great, because it means more scientific discoveries are being generated every day.  But with money comes power, and with money comes corruption. Scientists are people, too.  

I wrote my book as an offshoot of my PhD dissertation at Harvard, which was a study of how the influx of financial support from industry can affect the way scientists do their work.  As I was researching my thesis, over time stories came to me from scientists working in different aspects of academics and also private industry, particularly in biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.  The pressures on individual scientists to produce positive results is a real issue.  At the extreme, and particularly for scientists with less than perfect ethics, there is a potential to shade results.
And we know of many examples of corporations that have taken individual incentives and magnified them into the thousands and millions.  From Enron to Volkswagen, we can see that financial carrots, when writ large enough, can impact the behaviors of whole corporations -- implying that many employees are in on the scandal.

For just a single biotech firm, a positive scientific result may mean hundreds of millions, even billions, in profits.  

This led me to pose the question:

"Given all the money that can be made, what if organized crime took over a biotech lab?  And what if a young doctor, Steve August, found out?"

For fun I started playing with this idea; I'd always wanted to write novels.  So, here it is:  The First Days of August.

2. What is it about and whom do you believe is your targeted reader?
Steve August is a young, brilliant doctor training to be a neurosurgeon at a Boston hospital.  He is assigned to work in a private laboratory run by a scientist-turned-entrepreneur, George MacGregor, to study a wonder-drug called Angiotox, marketed as the cure for brain cancer.   George seems to have high hopes for Steve, yet the more Steve works, the farther he falls behind George’s expectations.  Separated from his girlfriend Morgan, Steve finds himself increasingly isolated and pressured by laboratory co-workers to manipulate his research data.  Then late one night he discovers the lab is cooking the numbers:  the entire project is a sham!  And, not long after that, George realizes Steve knows.

What ensues is an escalating cat-and-mouse game involving George, Steve, Morgan, and George’s evil accomplices (Antonio Calibri, mobster turned financier, Michael Riker, security expert and trained assassin, and Dida Medicia, George’s lover, confidante, and femme fatale).  Steve wants to learn the mystery behind Angiotox, while George’s crew wants to bend Steve to their collective will, and Morgan wants to rescue her one true love.  In the process, Steve learns that George has developed a (nearly) foolproof system for manipulating his laboratory’s data, and that George plans to use his tremendous power to dominate this highly profitable corner of the scientific world.

This book may appeal to many readers.  Anyone who loves a good suspense story may enjoy this book.  

Threads of science and medicine weave throughout its fabric, so readers who enjoy medical mysteries and thrillers should find The First Days of August especially appealing.  Several biomedical scientists who've read the book have commented how much they enjoyed it.  

Also, the book is about a young man and woman growing into maturity, pushed against tough realities that test their trust, ideals, and love.  Young adult readers should especially enjoy this book, given the challenges that Steve and Morgan face -- akin to what all young men and women must wrestle with as they enter the workplace.  Some readers have told me that Morgan is their favorite character, so perhaps this is a particularly appealing book for women, though this is primarily Steve's adventure, so of course there's also much here for men.

Lastly, there's a bit of a philosophical bent to some of the ideas presented in the book, which even the lay reader should enjoy pondering, even if they've never read a word of philosophy.  How do we know what's true?  Does a tree falling in the forest, with no one to hear it, still make a sound?  

3. What do you hope will be the everlasting thoughts for readers who finish your book? What should remain with them long after putting it down?
Science has a very human face.  Some people may be good, and others not -- but all people have multiple dimensions that can lead into paths that run in right directions, or in wrong ones.  As a result, science must always be self-correcting; it can never make claims of "final truth."  In short, ethics and values underpin all our knowledge. Skepticism is healthy, yet faith, values, and trust are essential.  This paradox is core to human life.

4.  What advice or words of wisdom do you have for fellow writers?
Better to write than not to write.   A bad idea is better than no idea.  Much that you write you will discard -- so get it on paper and move on.

For example, when I finished the first draft of The First Days of August, I had more than 60 chapters totaling more than 190,000 words, and that even after some ad hoc editing as I had been going along.  That's just a bit too many words!  Having already crafted so lovingly so much material, I experienced visceral pain editing the book down towards the target of 100,000 words.  And after seven edits, it was still at 110,000.  But nothing more seemed dispensable without harming the bedrock.  So, here it is -- a first novel that's a bit long.  

Having gone through such an editing marathon (which lasted many months -- those 80,000 words did not give up easily), I am certain my next novel will avoid some of the simple mistakes I made at this first pass.  Descriptions will be more brief and vivid.  Dialog will be crisp and direct, channeling the character's voice and manner without undue detail.  Above all, the plot line will weave tightly -- which requires some planning and outlining of ideas.

Yet, no matter how crisp the writing and intelligent the planning, as you write over a period of weeks and months, new ideas and plot twists will occur to you.  Be courageous to take these turns of fate, put them on paper, and be ready to re-write, edit, or discard at a later date. Writing is an organic, dynamic process.  Open yourself up to it, and enjoy it.

5.  What trends in the book world do you see and where do you think the book publishing industry is heading?
Many argue that social media and smartphones have turned leisure time on its proverbial ear.  It is becoming difficult to hear, particularly to hear silence.  People suffer interruptions of their attention more and more frequently, and they are learning to accept these interruptions, and even to welcome them.  The quiet time that a book occupies is more challenging to find than ever before.  Many look at these trends and argue that the place of books, especially the place of novels, in our leisure time and in our lives as a whole is slowly passing away, as the years of the 21st century tick by.

But we do live in a Hegelian world, where every movement generates its countervailing antithesis.  I have great hope in our future generations, who even now are beginning to react against some of the excesses of the current electronic environment.  Books are eternal in ways few other things are -- and that intuition will never die.

Book publishing is changing as people's buying habits are moving on-line.  Marketing to people's tastes and preferences will be driven more and more through analytics of Big Data.  Successful book publishing requires catching the attention of major media, but ultimately it requires an online presence that can easily be shared and promulgated.

Electronic publishing will capture ever larger shares of the market in the years ahead, as people's reading habits focus ever more readily on electronic screens.  "Print on demand" may move directly into people's homes, allowing them access to paper copy of their purchased electronic books.  Copyright and piracy issues will become more pronounced as electronic media increase.  

In all this complexity, I am confident that good books that capture human emotions, ideals, and aspirations -- whether biographies, novels, poems, or plays -- will forever grow.  Books and ideas are what make us human.

6.  What great challenges did you have in writing your book?
There were two great challenges for me.

The first was finding time.  At present I have a day job, working as a physician in a busy clinic in a respected teaching hospital, so time has always been the most precious commodity.  I wish I could tell the reader that, like John Grisham, I rose every day early in the morning to write for an hour before the work day started.  But for me it was not so simple and well-structured.  For me, writing was a matter of catching a few minutes here, or even a few hours there, with my moleskin notebook always close to hand.  

The second was having faith.  Doubting I would have enough to say, I'd write too much.  Doubting the reader's attention, I'd focus too much.  Doubting a dialog was clear, I'd detail too much.  Letting space and silence speak is part of the writer's craft.  These require faith.

7.  If people can only buy one book this month, why should it be yours?
This book is fun yet thoughtful.  It's a fast read, ready to take you out for a drive and then spin you quickly to the end.  

When you've finished, you will likely find yourself pondering certain scenes, characters, and ideas.  You may find yourself thinking deeply about these topics, to the point of engaging with philosophical questions about reality, perception, and life.  Or perhaps you may find yourself thinking about the events in the book, about the decisions of various characters and their consequences -- wondering "what if" a different turn had been taken.  

In any event, likely at the ending you will find yourself faced with a bit of uncertainty, a bittersweet mix of alternatives that may provide you with measures of both sadness and joy.  It's a good read.


Alan Froning is a prominent physician and educator who has worked for more than twenty years in the worlds of academic medicine and the biomedical industry. He has closely studied the relationships between medicine, science, research integrity, and commerce. The “First Days of August” is his first novel. He currently resides in rural New England.  For more info, please consult: http://www.alanfroning.com/


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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at brianfeinblum@gmail.com. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog 2017©. Born and raised in Brooklyn, now resides in Westchester. Named one of the best book marketing blogs by Book Baby http://blog.bookbaby.com/2013/09/the-best-book-marketing-blogs 

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