In THE JANUS LEGACY, Lisa von Biela has done it again. As in THE GENESIS CODE, she tells a great story while at the same time raising questions about the implications of technology on the human race, weaving challenging ethical themes within fast-paced narration, precision-tooled plotting, and deep characterization.
Here’s the jacket description:
“THE JANUS LEGACY—is it a gift or a curse? Does it bring life or death? Is it a miraculous new beginning for the human race or a step closer to the end of everything?
Some doors should never be opened …
Jeremy Magnusson’s life changes forever when his estranged father, the renowned physician Ivan Magnusson, is killed in a plane crash.
Recently dumped by his girlfriend and suffering from a serious, likely fatal disease, Jeremy faces a choice: take over SomaGene, Ivan’s highly successful custom organ cultivation and transplant operation, and inherit all his wealth.
Or turn the job down and inherit nothing.
Only later, once he’s assumed the position, does Jeremy realize his father left him more than the company.
He’s left Jeremy a special gift.
A gift with the power to bring him everything he wants in life, but one that comes at a horrible cost, with repercussions and consequences he could never imagine. It could very well change not only his life, but the lives and deaths of millions across the globe.”
Dealing with social justice and individual rights comes naturally to Lisa von Biela, who gave up a dynamic career in information technology to study law. She graduated magna cum laude and is a legal services attorney specializing in foreclosure prevention.
After successfully writing thought-provoking short fiction that dealt with dark ethical questions, she decided to write full length fiction. And she succeeded again.
Lisa agreed to answer some questions for THE BIG THRILL.
Tell us a little about your personal life.
Yes, but first I’d like to thank you for taking the time to interview me!
So, let’s see, where to start? Some of my background might help explain a few things, so let’s start there. I grew up in Los Angeles. When I was nine years old or so, I decided I wanted more than anything to be a veterinarian. I love animals, always have. There was only one problem—the sight of blood made me queasy. So later on, in high school, I volunteered at a nearby hospital and tried to overcome my queasiness by watching blood draws in the lab. Not the best idea. I usually had to make a quick exit to get some cold water and put my head down to keep from passing out. Then I worked for a vet in Beverly Hills through the rest of high school, all through college, and into grad school. On my first day there, I ran outside and threw up. I majored in biology/pre-vet at UCLA, but did not go on to vet school. At any rate, this explains my science/medical background. And yes, the sight of blood still makes me queasy.
Long story short, I went on to earn an MBA, wound up in IT for 25 years, moved to the Minneapolis area in the mid-90s, then in 2006 decided to “retire” from IT and attend law school full time. My Significant Other and I relocated to the Seattle area shortly after I graduated in 2009. We live here with Waldo the Parrot (who has been with me since 1983) and Sonja the Cockatiel.
How do a crack IT specialist, a high-powered lawyer, horror story writer, techno-thriller writer, and now a medical thriller writer cohabit in comfort?
It sounds kind of scary when you put it that way! Well, I think I do a good job of compartmentalizing when necessary and cross-pollinating when useful and appropriate. During the week, my legal work takes up the bulk of my time, energy, and attention. On the weekend, I shift into writer mode and focus on whatever writing projects I’m working on at the time—and because weekends are so darned short, I have to be very productive when I sit down to write. That said, I have noticed cross-benefits to both worlds. Because I must write my fiction quickly and efficiently, my legal writing has become faster and better focused. Also, the analytical discipline required for my legal writing helps me sharpen and edit my fiction. And of course, all my various backgrounds help in coming up with plotlines.
You’ve said that you enjoy reading thrillers so much that you want to create the same experience for your readers. Please elaborate.
Oh, yes. I’ve been an avid reader ever since I was a small child. Reading has brought me so many hours of enjoyment, has taken me to all sorts of worlds (some I would want to live in and some I’d just as soon avoid!). I wanted to see if I could write something that would give readers that same sort of ride, to grab ‘em by the collar and tell ‘em a story, as Stephen King likes to say. A reader told me he started THE GENESIS CODE at midnight and couldn’t stop until he finished it—at 5am. That made me quite happy, to be responsible for someone’s sleepless night like that.
Which writers have inspired you to pick up the pen and seek their company?
Oh, so many. Stephen King, Richard Matheson, David Morrell, Robin Cook, Michael Crichton, just to name a few in the thriller/horror genre. I’d have to say that, at the time I decided to start writing in earnest, Stephen King was my most direct influence. Now I read with different eyes. I read for pleasure, of course. But now I also read with a writer’s eye, and I will notice how another writer handles a particular thing and I learn from that. So now, it’s not a matter of who inspires me to write, but who inspires me to write better and better. Different writers have different strengths to learn from. Greg F. Gifune is the master of mood. Allan Leverone writes breakneck-paced suspense, yet very economically creates three-dimensional characters—even when a character isn’t going to last long in the plot. Ray Bradbury’s descriptions blow me away. The opening paragraphs of FAHRENHEIT 451 are just amazingly written.
Is there a novel you’d like to write a sequel to?
I hadn’t actually thought of doing such a thing until you asked. I think if a novel is really, really excellent, it’s best not to tamper with it. For example, I think TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD is a tremendous novel on so many levels. So much so that anything I could attempt in a sequel could only pale in comparison. I have thought of writing a sequel to THE GENESIS CODE someday (I deliberately left a hook in it for just that purpose), but I’d like to write about new and different things first.
At what age did you start thinking of writing?
I recall several junctures when I started thinking of writing, the first couple of which fell by the wayside for lack of direction. I remember just pounding out stories on the typewriter one summer in high school. Never did anything with them. They were undoubtedly junk, with no craft to them whatsoever. Then around the mid-80s, I recall working on some ideas, but I didn’t know how to proceed to the next stage, so that effort fizzled. I got started in earnest in the late 90s. The Internet was upon us then, and I somehow decided that I would write short stories in the dark fiction genre and hunt for small press magazines to submit them to. That is how I finally got the traction to really get started.
What would you like readers to remember THE JANUS LEGACY for?
I would like readers to remember two aspects. First, I would like them to remember a good story with interesting characters that entertained them, that kept them turning the pages. Second, though, I would like them to think about cloning and transplants and the sort of related technologies we might eventually develop—and about the possible consequences if we’re not careful and things go too far.
Did you deliberately set out to craft that or did it just emerge from the writing?
I very deliberately crafted it that way. My first novel, THE GENESIS CODE, had a similar sort of theme and approach. On the one hand, I aimed for a fast-paced thriller to keep the reader from getting any sleep. On the other hand, I presented a technology that had a beneficial use, as well as a tremendous potential for very dangerous misuse. This is an obsession I have. I just completed the manuscript for a third novel, and, while the technology at issue is different, it has that same underlying message: technology is great, until it’s misused. Then look out!
Is there a common theme in your writing?
For my technothrillers, the theme is pretty consistent, as I just described. For my horror works, it tends to vary more, although I do have some recurrent themes, as well as a few other obsessions. Notions of fairness and justice make regular appearances. Also, I find myself returning to the concept of time as a commodity, how to buy it, how to hoard it, the potential for immortality. Motels fascinate me. They hold a sort of mystery, how snippets of different people’s lives play out within their walls. Brain function and the nature of consciousness also work their way into a lot of my writing, one way or another. It’s great fun to take these things and treat them in different ways in different works.
With regard to your writing, what, if any, conflicts of interest do you have to face? And how do you manage them?
I don’t think I have any particular conflicts of interest to face. My biggest problem is finding enough time in the day to give my writing the time it needs and deserves and still manage the rest of my life and work, etc.
Do you write to an outline, does the story compel you to write, or both?
The concept of the story will typically come to me first. Then yes, absolutely, I am an outliner and a planner. For one thing, I’m just that kind of person. I am a bit compulsive about details. Also, when working with a novel-length work (or even novella-length), there are a lot of words to wrangle. With technothrillers in particular, there are a lot of details to get right and consistent. That’s why I’d much rather work through kinks in the plot with an outline before actually writing the prose. Far more efficient. And further, because of my work schedule, sometimes I don’t touch a manuscript for a full week. My outline enables me to pick up where I left off pretty quickly. This is critical for me.
What can your readers expect from you?
I am really, really detail-oriented, and obsessive about continuity. However, I balance the amount of detail with a fast pace. While I’m not Hemingway, I tend to write pretty crisply and don’t have a lot of fat in my sentences. Yet my writing is very visual—I want the reader to have a vivid experience.
Under what kind of conditions do you write best?
I like to write in silence. I don’t have music playing, for example. I have limited time to get what I need to do done, and so I need to be very, very focused and efficient when I sit down to write. I am very visual, so when I’m really “in the zone” in my writing, I will actually see the action play out in my mind’s eye. When that happens, it’s just wonderful, and I type furiously to keep up, then edit later.
Would you like to share some of your experience as a legal services attorney specializing in foreclosure prevention?
Yes, I practice foreclosure defense and prevention, and the work varies depending on the nature of the case. In some cases, there is sufficient wrongdoing that we litigate. In other cases, it’s not so much about wrongdoing as it is about helping the homeowner navigate the various programs and systems to modify the loan and retain the home. And other times, the home cannot be saved, and I must counsel and advise clients on their remaining rights and what to expect in the foreclosure process. Often, the homeowners we see have experienced traumatic life events that have damaged their finances—death of a spouse, disability, job loss, and so forth. Of course, it’s great when I can help save a home and let a family get on with their lives. At other times, the best I can do is to help someone let go and move on. It’s very important work, but it’s definitely not easy work.
And what do you do when you’re not writing or involved in related activities?
Photography! Our favorite sort of vacation is a road trip with much photography. We’ve recently converted to all digital (we were long-time film holdouts) and it’s a total blast. I’ve actually sold a few microstock photo images, which is cool. I also enjoy cooking, sewing and knitting. I play the ocarina and recorder as time permits. And, of course…I read!
Lisa von Biela worked in Information Technology for 25 years, then dropped out to attend the University of Minnesota Law School, graduating magna cum laude in 2009. She now practices law in Seattle, Washington.
Lisa’s first short story appeared in The Edge in 2002. She went on to publish a number of short works in various small press venues, including Gothic.net, Twilight Times, Dark Animus, AfterburnSF, and more.
She is the author of the technothriller novels THE GENESIS CODE and THE JANUS LEGACY, as well as the noir horror novella ASH AND BONE.
To learn more about Lisa, please visit her website.