Jennifer Brown is one of those fascinating people you meet just by chance online, LinkedIn in this case. After looking at her understated accomplishments, in a world of overstatement, her blog was very simple, but very well done and connected. There was more to her and her writing than I had realized.
Her books Death and the Dream and Vector a Modern Love Story speak for themselves, not every talented scientist can write like Poe, simple stories with a steady feel of unease in one case or intrigue in another. Stories that ever so gently make you think about what is happening in the world we live in and the deep currents in it. Very much like science unravels subtle meaning in everyday things. Jenifer has also added a book of poetry to her list of published work, Natural Supernatural Love.
Jenifer has just released her latest gripping novel – about fracking and what happens to one little town in only one day: Brindle 24.
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1. First, how did you become a scientist? It seems to be a male dominated profession, still?
I fell into science because of all the subjects I enjoyed. Genetics came most naturally and easily to me. It was the path of least resistance, an area where I was always offered jobs regardless of being a woman, from the age of about 19. I planned to go into medicine when I was very young, but found I was no good at the prerequisites at all. First because I couldn’t memorize what I didn’t understand, Chemistry, and second because the training involved cruelty to animals, Biology. Instead, I chose a broad liberal arts undergraduate education, avoided the hard sciences, and graduated with a Bachelors of Arts in Biology. Dealing with the brutality and risks of research laboratory experiences is an area I explored in some of my short stories much later.
Genetics was a focus for my graduate work. I was exceptionally fortunate to train with Nobel Laureate, Dr. Barbara McClintock. I had written to her asking a few questions about my research when I worked on corn genetics at DuPont, and she invited me to Cold Spring Harbor in New York, where I completed a PhD. She was a revolutionary in science, and a perfect example of female success in a male-dominated world, which science is to this day. If a woman is good at science and keeps going, men won’t keep her out of science. It’s not possible.
2. What is it about science that interests you? Or, would it be better to say “fascinates” you?
I’m curious about how natural things function, where they come from and where they go to. I think about things like that every time I see something beautiful and alive: Where did it originate, where is it going to end? And so I’m fascinated by things from molecules like DNA to galaxies like ours. I worked in Molecular Biology and Genetics, but many areas of science are equally interesting to me. Science is also about invention and excellence, and I’m attracted to that too, to the creativity and hard work that goes into it. The best part about science has to be the many ways that understanding the natural world can potentially help us lead healthier or happier lives. Science is a hammer, really, it is a powerful tool. When science is put to use for profit or war, I have to say I find it tragic and disgusting.
3. In a technology world of computers and machines, what drew you to a biological science?
The beauty of living things, from tiny diatoms that live in the water unseen by the naked eye, to magnificent trees, this beauty is a magnet for my imagination. My scientific work was always with living things; sequencing their DNA, cloning genes, creating transgenic animals, and so it became very technical but was always grounded in Genetics. Because I grew up with a heavy work ethic, work had to be about the “greater good”. I sought out projects I thought would be helpful down the road, like creating better crops when I worked with corn, or curing diseases when I worked with human viruses and cancer cells. For me, computers and technical machinery were essential to all of my laboratory work as tools, but not the object of study. It had to be something alive. And living things are so beautiful.
4. Did you become interested in writing or science first?
Writing and storytelling, without a doubt, were interests of mine from as early as I can remember. I had to tell stories, in order to describe my thoughts and my little childhood world to my busy family. Every communication with another human being is a kind of storytelling, and each of us lives the life we write for ourselves and tell about ourselves. I respected authors so much as a child, and still do today. And so I’m a scientist by profession and education, but a storyteller by nature. In science, effective writing is essential to success. From grant writing, to recording experiments, to drafting papers for publication, science requires good writing. And so writing and science go hand in hand for me as ways to understand and record my world. In my fiction writing, I look more closely at the human face of science and medicine. Many of my fictional characters are scientists, or doctors, or dealing with mental or physical illness in the drama of their lives.
5. With a demanding profession, family, and the other pressures of life, what do you do to find time to write?
It is as easy to find time to write, as it is to find time to breathe. Did I breathe today? Yes, and then unless I was very sick, I also told myself a few stories. I don’t have time to write them all down, because of work and family responsibilities, but I write whenever I can. Sometimes it is even only on a scrap of paper. I have at least 2 dozen on my desk right now. The most upsetting thing in my day-to-day life is when I’ve forgotten to bring any kind of method of writing thoughts down with me, and then a story runs through my head and right back out again. Writing is not about perfection, to me, it is about storytelling. And so I derive a lot of pleasure from writing new stories, even if they are not perfect ones. Often I write early in the morning, all day most weekends, and whenever I have vacation time. For the last few years, I have planned all my vacation time around writing projects, and have finished the published works in that way.
6. Many people “have a book” that they want to write or are writing. What got you started to publishing you books, stories, and poetry?
I had been writing stories and poems all my life, really dozens, but without publishing them. When I had lived a half a century, I looked up at my bookshelves and saw pile upon pile of writing from childhood until that moment, all collected there handwritten on lined pages. I thought, this has to change. It is kind of insane to have these messy shelves with all these stories and poems here, unfinished. And so I decided to collect and rewrite my favorite short stories written over a span of about 30 years, and they became “Death and the Dream”. Then I worked on what I felt was my best long story, and it became “Vector a Modern Love Story”. The poetry was more difficult to let go of and publish, because I so often rewrite poems as my experiences and understanding change. Now I will just have to write new poems and move on with time.
7. You live in New York City, why didn’t you just go directly to publishers there?
Traditional publishing seems to me to be a model where authors are disadvantaged for the most part, and publishers are quite profitable. This seems outdated, and so I embraced the independent publishing model. I researched a bit, and discussed publishing with successful authors who shared their experiences. Hearing their views, I decided the independent part of publishing was not to be lightly given away. I formed a small business where I live in NYC as a publisher, in order to maintain the highest level of freedom. I did not submit to other publishers.
8. Do you enjoy building the marketing platform that books need? Things like social media, networking, speaking? Is that part difficult?
Book marketing is an interesting challenge for independent authors and publishers, and for me. I had never participated in social media prior to becoming a fiction author, but joined when I decided to begin publishing my fiction work. It is a kind of intellectual playground, and free, so I definitely enjoy social media. It is more play than work. I usually communicate about my books, other new books, authors or scientists I respect, share quotes and experiences. Among the social media sites, I go to Twitter most for mind candy and fresh perspectives on news. Social media is publishing, but in a faster and more interactive way than some authors find comfortable, I think. But through these sites and my WordPress blog, it is rewarding and fascinating to meet people and share views. I’ve met other scientist authors through Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and I learn about writing watching authors on YouTube, Stephen King for example gives a great interview.
9. Do you have any advice for other busy writers like yourself who want to publish their literary work?
Writing thoughts about story lines and recording dreams are wonderful practices no matter how busy a person is. This can help an author understand themselves too, and develop respect for their own creativity. About the craft of writing, the best advice I received was from South African poet Dennis Brutus, who told me to make every single word count. My science advisor, Dr. Barbara McClintock told me that while I could write, I needed an editor. She told me she needed an editor, that everyone does. And the best advice about publishing, I think, is to place final edited pieces with distribution companies who won’t restrict your marketing, rights or ownership. Everyone has a story, and publishing as a wonderful way to share the story with others now, and in the future.
10. What’s next? Any interesting works in the pipeline?
I’m nearly finished with a new long story, about an artist who inherits a family castle. It should be coming out this summer. Another project that is well underway is a collection of short stories tied together as dreams, focused on the moral dilemmas in the medical profession. I look forward to sharing these with readers soon.
11. Thank You Jennifer.
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- Death and the Dream, 14 short stories, 2011.
- Vector a Modern Love Story, a novel, 2011.
- Natural Supernatural Love, poems, 2012.
- Desire of Cerberus and Last Birthday, in the short story collection Cassandra’s Roadhouse.
Author website, J.J.Brown Author at http://jjbrownauthor.weebly.com/index.html
- 1996 Viral Oncology Fellow, Albert Einstein Med College
- 1993 Doctorate of Philosophy in Genetics, SUNY Stony Brook, NY
- 1983 University Fellow, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia
- 1982 Bachelors of Arts in Biology, SUNY Albany, NY
- 1978 Undergraduate studies at Duke University, Durham, NC
- 2007-current Scientific Director, Medscape WebMD, NYC
- 2005-2007 Medical Education Manager, Roche, NJ
- 2004-2005 Medical Director, Quintiles, Hawthorne, NY
- 2003-2004 Medical Writer, Quintiles, Parsipanny, NJ
- 2000-2003 Scientific Advisor, Kalow & Springut LLP, NYC
- 1999-2000 Faculty, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, NY
- 1996-2000 Scientific Consultant, Enzo Biochem Inc., NYC
- 1993-1999 Research Fellow, Albert Einstein College, Bronx
- 1989-present Parent, very, very busy parent from 1989-1993
- 1987-1989 Research Assistant, Cold Spring Harbor Labs, NY
- Improving Safe Use of Medication through Internet Education for Healthcare Providers: A Case-Controlled Study. Published in CE Measure. April 20, 2011. Authors: J.J.Brown, G. Salinas, M. Cohen, J.K. Jones, B. L. Olson, A. Vaida, D.W.Bates.
- Assessment of Core Competencies in Childhood Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder ADHD Practice. Published in Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology. Feb 2, 2011. Authors: J.J.Brown, J.L. Hertzer, R.L.Findling.
- Evidence-based choices of physicians: a comparative analysis of physicians participating in internet CME and nonparticipants. Published in BMC Medical Education, June 10, 2010. Authors: Linda Casebeer, Jennifer Brown, Nancy Roepke et al.
- A long-term hepatitis B viremia model generated by transplanting nontumorigenic immortalized human hepatocytes. Published in Hepatology, January 31, 2000. Authors: Jennifer Brown, Parashar B., Moshage H. et al.
- Genetic study of Mutator activity and intragenic recombination in Zea mays. Ph.D. Dissertation, 1993. SUNY Stony Brook, NY. Author: Jennifer Brown.
- Genetic study of the loss and restoration of mutator transposon activity in maize. Published in Genetics, April 1992. Authors: Jennifer Brown, Sundaresan V.
- A recombination hotspot in the maize A1 intragenic region. Published in Theoretical and Applied Genetics 1991;81:185-188. Authors: Jennifer Brown, Sundaresan V.