The Joker - A literary thriller by Elena Bruck

 

Talk & book signing at Protein Sciences Corporation

January 13, 2012
Shortly before Christmas I was invited for a talk and book signing of my novel at The Protein Sciences Corporation (PSC), which on its home page describes itself as: “Protein Sciences specializes in vaccine development and protein production. Our mission is our inspiration: to save lives and improve health by effectively responding to the changing world through the creation of innovative vaccines and biopharmaceuticals.

PSC purchased one hundred copies of my book and distributed them to its employees as a holiday gift.

It was interesting to visit a company whose research keeps in check the fantasy of people like me. I must mention that a couple of days before my talk there was a New York Times article about two different labs that created a deadly Avian Flu virus, and the discussion of whether the details of Flu experiments must remain secret for fears of bioterrorism as urged by Homeland Security. In my humble opinion these kinds of experiments may be dangerous since the virus can unintentionally get out the lab while the benefits of creating such a virus are questionable as we already know that a virus like this can easily recombine with the human influenza virus. As for Homeland Security telling scientists and the scientific press what and how to publish, I am generally against any kind of censure but in this case I must defer to the specifics of science which might reveal too much. The bigger and the more hypothetical question is whether any foreign enemy state would actually want to produce a deadly virus of this sort since this could mean the annihilation of their own population. Those countries are poor and it is hard to imagine that they could vaccinate, in secret, their entire population before letting the virus free.

I read about PSC research and their ingenious solution of cloning the antigens – the active parts of the virus - via insects to speed up the production of the vaccine. This approach offers a lot of advantages: The vaccine makers do not have to weaken the live virus and therefore cannot get exposed and sick, and the vaccine production can proceed very quickly since the antigens are already in the database and can be rapidly cloned if required. I suppose this is the kind of a vaccine which I had in mind while writing because the whole process of vaccine development and distribution takes about a month in the novel. In real life, if one were to isolate/multiply and weaken (attenuate) the virus for the vaccine production it would take about a year.

On a more human side, as opposed to the technicalities of vaccines and pandemics, there were a lot of interesting questions and remarks from the readers. Most young women came saying “I have a little son (daughter) and as I was reading your novel I was …” I am glad I have this connection to mothers. I was writing as a mother, and nothing can be more terrifying than fearing for the life of your child. This, curiously, isn’t true for people who don’t have children. The image of Max for them is just another character in the novel, and maybe not the most exciting. Amazing how easily we forget being children ourselves, and feeling for children by identifying with them through our childhood selves.

Several people asked about spirituality, healing and the miraculous: Did Anna have a gift? Do I believe in healing and miracles? Why am I interested in this topic? The short answer is, most of us want to believe in miracles even if we have never encountered anything supernatural in our lives. Even the staunch atheists harbor yearnings like this, and it reflects on our redemption-seeking nature, our fears and our innate spirituality in whatever form it takes. It is certainly true for me as well. And this topic maybe warrants more attention to blog about next time.

Other questions concerned the psychology of the characters, including the minor ones, such as: Here is a doctor who saves lives and risks his own, how can he steal from the dead and seek comfort in sex with an older woman? We, humans, are so complex. Very successful people tend to be vengeful egomaniacs even when their work is highly admirable and selfless. The kindest mothers are often suffocating, wonderful husbands unfaithful, happy children distant, and best friends jealous and withholding. This complexity is also what makes us so human and fascinating, and my profession as a psychiatrist so gratifying.

 

Writing in Russian and English

January 3, 2012
People often ask me when I first started writing. When I think back, it just happened without much though on my part as soon as I learned to write.

As a child, I was awkward and dreamed of greatness that eluded me in life: outrunning kids in my Moscow yard, climbing trees and being a proud boy by the name Andrew. Stories were fascinating. When I was two, Andrew was three, always a little older than me. When I was three he was four. When I was four in a five day daycare (a daycare where we ki...

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Contagion - The Movie

September 12, 2011
I never went to see a movie with such a strange and conflicting feeling. The Joker handles the same topic, the Avian Flu pandemic, and is coming out at the same time.

Is it good or bad for my book? Is The Joker going to be redundant now or is it going to fly?

Contagion entertains a similar idea and is filmed by a brilliant director with a stellar cast of characters. What are my chances now? It is a movie – does it mean that my book will never become one? Will people lose interest to the t...

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My Novel THE JOKER

August 29, 2011
A couple of years ago I began writing a book which is coming out this September under the title The Joker. It is a literary thriller, a story of lives and relationships disrupted by the Avian Flu, and the characters’ survival of the pandemic. The main action happens in Stuyvesant Town, a big apartment building complex in Manhattan where I lived at the time, and which, in its own way, has a secluded feeling about it like a village in a megalopolis.

As I began writing I was mainly interested...

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