Young adult mystery Death Spiral is working double duty: It introduces the Poisoned Pencil, the new YA mystery imprint of Poisoned Pen Press, and kicks off the Faith Flores Science Mysteries.
Death Spiral might be intended for teen readers, but this science thriller tackles some dark stuff. Sixteen-year-old Faith Flores wants to go to college and study science, but she has a lot to overcome. When her junkie mom dies, Faith doesn’t believe it was an overdose, and she begins a dangerous search for the truth that takes her from the drug houses of North Philadelphia to the labs of the pharmaceutical industry.
Author Janie Chodosh is a "scientist wannabe and a naturalist." Chodosh shares 10 fascinating tidbits on the science behind her debut:
Death Spiral: A Faith Flores Science Mystery is a genetics-based mystery. Check out this list of interesting genetics facts that inspired the story of Faith Flores and her quest to find the true cause of her mother’s death from a supposed heroin overdose.
1) The human genome consists of approximately 3 billion chemical base pairs and about 21,000 protein-coding genes. There are probably thousands more genes. Despite so many base pairs, any pair of humans is 99.9% identical in DNA.
2) Many genes play a role in addiction. For example, The A1 allele of the dopamine receptor gene DRD2 is more common in people addicted to alcohol or cocaine.
3) Although no mice were tested on to write this book, with the help of mouse studies, scientists have identified many genes that play roles in addiction. The reason mice are so helpful in studying addiction is because the reward pathway in our brains functions in much the same way in mice as it does in people. (If you want to know about mice and their addiction issues, read the subpoints; if rodent addiction is not of interest to you, move on to #4.)
a) Mice lacking the serotonin receptor gene Htr1b are more attracted to cocaine and alcohol.
b) Mice bred to lack the β2 subunit of nicotinic cholinergic receptors have a reduced reward response to cocaine.
c) Mice with low levels of neuropeptide Y drink more alcohol, whereas those with higher levels tend to abstain.
4) Gene therapy is a set of methods that uses genes to treat or prevent disease by inserting genes into a patient’s cells. There are three approaches to gene therapy: replacing a disease-causing gene with a healthy copy of the gene; inactivating a mutated gene; or introducing a new gene to help fight a disease.
5) When many people, including yours truly, think of patents, they think of things like curling irons and doodads that make cars work. In fact, the U.S. Patent and Trade Office has been issuing patents on genetic material since 1982. There are currently 3,000 to 5,000 patents on human genes in the United States.
6) However, (see #5) on June 13, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that human genes could not be patented.
7) Opponents of genetic patents worry about the financial aspect of gene patenting. What about this: If just one company is allowed to patent a particular genetic test or treatment, they will have a monopoly for the term of the patent and can charge whatever they like for it, limiting access to people who cannot afford to pay. Or this: Without any competition from other researchers, the company who owns the patent wouldn't necessarily have to respond to consumer feedback.
8) Myriad Genetics filed several patents for BRCA1 and BRCA2, genes associated with breast and ovarian cancer. In March 2010, a U.S. District Court ruled that the company's patent claims were invalid because genetic material was, in fact, a product of nature.
9) The age of personal genomic medicine is here. Whereas it used to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to get a genome sequenced, the cost has gone as low as $1,000 and will continue to get cheaper. However, getting the meaning out of the data might cost you a lot more. Plus, where are you going to keep that valuable information?
10) We can find now find out if we are carriers for thousands of different diseases with a genetic component—things like Alzheimer’s Disease, Schizophrenia and Huntington’s Disease. Now, the question is, do we want to know? And if you know, it might have an impact on your siblings and children.
Thanks, Janie! Readers, Death Spiral is out now.
More and more often we're hearing about self-published e-book sensations that go viral and eventually get scooped up by traditional publishers. With more than 150,000 e-books sold in the U.S. (not to mention the weeks it has spent on the New York Times bestseller list), Tammara Webber's Easy definitely fits into that category. Penguin took over the rights in October, and Berkley published a trade paperback edition on November 6. Many readers are already hooked on this story of a 19-year-old who deals with tough issues in college—from sexual assault to falling in love again.
However, there's an interesting "trend" angle to this novel that makes it unique. Easy is part of an emerging subgenre called "New Adult" literature. NA books are appropriate for older teens and adults, and they typically feature characters who are transitioning from teendom to adulthood. Webber is very passionate about writing stories that explore this life stage. In a guest blog post she tells us what "New Adult" means—and why it's important.
New Adult—or just new marketing?
By Tammara Webber
I confess, my initial reaction to the term “New Adult” was lukewarm, because I thought it was a seriously dumb label for a literary category. Who wants to be called a new adult? When I was a college student, a bookstore couldn’t have paid me to walk down an aisle with that designation at the head of it.
What intrigued me, though, was the concept behind the harebrained title. A long-standing decree from publishers warned agents (and therefore, authors) against submitting manuscripts with main characters older than 18 or younger than mid-20s. The justification? They won’t sell.
Enter the birth of digital self-publishing, the rapid growth of the e-reader market, and more recently, widespread apps that turn any smart phone into an e-reader. Those college-aged protagonists no one wanted to read about? Indie authors offered those stories to readers directly. Lo and behold, the previously nonexistent audience appeared.
Shocking? Not really. Much of the “NA” audience is just an extension of the YA audience, as well as a natural progression from it. Is an 18-year-old—who is a legal adult—an adult in every sense of the word? Not until she’s financially independent. Until then, she’s on the same coming-of-age path she was before—she’s just closer to her goal. A professor friend told me that she hadn’t realized how young her students were until her own sons were in college. “They have adult bodies and more advanced language skills, but their thought processes and reasoning haven’t quite caught up,” she said.
This leads me to confession number two: I’m not convinced publishing needs a new category. Heck yeah, I slapped a “New Adult” tag on each of my “Mature YA” books, because I’m not stupid. If everyone is going to say I’m writing “NA,” and that tag helps readers find my books, then by all means, I’ll add it. But what needed to happen has happened: Authors are writing and selling novels with characters in the college age range, without benefit of a distinct category.
Where those books should be “shelved” is something brick-and-mortar retailers will have to figure out. The idea that these stories can be edgier because the protagonists are 18 and up is unnecessary. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that plenty of YA books are edgy—they contain swearing, drinking, drugs and sex. In other words, reality.
If by edgy one means tackling tough topics—well, anyone who reads YA on even the most intermittent basis knows that’s been done and done well: Speak, Thirteen Reasons Why, The Sky is Everywhere, Looking for Alaska, Some Girls Are, Shine, I Know It’s Over . . . No one needs to look for a New Adult designation to find edgy, or dark, or titillating literature—and thank God for that.
Lest you question my credentials for welcoming edgy content to YA, I have an incontestable qualification: I’m the parent of three children between the ages of 17 to 23. I love that my son brought Going Bovine into my room at 2 a.m. with tears on his face and said, “Read this.” I love that my daughter and I could discuss and contrast Alex Fuentes (from Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles) with “real boys.” I’m a parent who welcomed the edgy stuff, and recognized the importance of it for creating dialogue with my kids. It wasn't about what I wanted to talk about—because I can do that without assistance from literature or celebrity-endorsed commercials, thanks—but about what they wanted to talk about.
I’ve heard that NA seeks to appeal to readers “18 to 35.” Or 34. Or 30. Or starting at 17. Again, unnecessary. The elimination of the weird dearth of characters in the 19-23 year-old age range was the essential thing. The placement of those stories should be based on content, not the ages of the protagonists. If a book has a YA voice, if it speaks to serious issues as archetypal YA does, then it should be categorized as YA, and perhaps given a “mature” label to let the parents of 14-year-olds know that this book should be parentally-guided. Books like Easy and Slammed fall into that category. As for those 20-somethings (and older) being able to find them? We already read YA. We’ll find them just fine.
As a self-published author, I found enough readers to put Easy on the NYT bestseller list for nine weeks—three of those on the combined and the e-book lists. The audience is there. Now let’s publish for them.
Readers: What do you think of the "New Adult" designation? Do you like to read about protagonists who are in that stage between living at home and being a full-on adult?