Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Yes, I'm Still Alive

Just wanted to provide a quick update for my readers who might think I have fallen off the face of the earth. The reason I haven't been around so much these last few months is that I've gone from full-time bench scientist to full-time author to full-time facilities coordinator. Let me explain.

As most of you know, I have been a research scientist since God was a child. I had been working for several years for a major pharmaceutical company. I won't say which one but it starts with a Pf. In February of 2013, said pharma company eliminated my whole biotech subunit, so about a hundred of us were laid off. Some cried. I cheered, because this meant gaining that elusive luxury - time - and a severance package with which to complete The Vesuvius Isotope.

So, I spent an entire year between March, 2013 and February, 2014, as a full-time author. It was awesome. Unfortunately, I learned that sales of a single novel - even though mine were pretty good - don't pay as well as being a full-time scientist and ultimately, noveling couldn't pay the bills. My husband - my knight in shining armor - bravely and brilliantly bore the financial burden for the both of us for a long time. But there came a time when I started to feel guilty about that and frankly, I also missed drug discovery. So I went back to work.

I'm now working at a small biotech, which is much more my style. My colleagues are cool and we're doing some great science with the objective of developing cancer immunotherapies. In the interest of keeping my work and my writing separate, I won't say what the company is, but I'm sure any stalkers on this site who are determined enough can figure it out. I'm heading a brand new lab which I have gotten to build from the ground up (as in, literally selecting the building, signing the lease, hiring the staff, and putting the equipment in place.)

Which is how I've come to refer to myself as the highest paid facilities coordinator in San Diego county. It's amazing what I've learned about the ventilation requirements for a biosafety cabinet, how to connect an ice maker drain that runs overhead, and what triple net means. That's all great, but now I'm ready to do science again and I promise, there will be some great medicines coming out of my lab very soon.

Meanwhile, I am still editing The Death Row Complex in collaboration with the tireless Cyndie Duncan, and I do still hope to release it in the next year-ish.

Thanks to whoever is reading this for your patience, and happy reading.


Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Vesuvius Isotope in San Diego Book Awards Finals!

Hello to all...

First, let me apologize for dropping off in recent months. I am back at work in my "other" career and have been busy building a new laboratory dedicated to molecular discovery of cancer immunotherapies.

But I'm popping back up because The Vesuvius Isotope is a finalist in the San Diego Book Awards Mystery category! Please step on over to the page and check out the other books nominated.

In other news, we are still editing The Death Row Complex and hope to get it out later this year. Thanks to all for your support,

Cheers and happy reading,

Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Dark Side of Science (From a Scientist and an Animal Lover)

I have three dogs. These adorable, goofy, loyal, sweet, trouble-making, unpredictable, intelligent, heart-warming little critters aren't pets to me, they're my family. Family made all the more precious by their devastatingly short lifespans and the knowledge that one day, far too soon, they won't be with me any longer. So as a scientist, it kills me to see things like this, and be reminded of the dark side of what it is we do. Watch the below video, and when you're done bawling your eyes out (I know I did) please read the comments below.

The plea at the end of the video asks us to only buy "cruelty-free" products. I wish it were that simple. Things that were tested on beagles include not only your mascara, but also your heart medication. Are you willing to die so that these dogs may live? Honest answer, please.

I don't have a simple solution. Actually, I do. It's in The Death Row Complex, the forthcoming prequel to The Vesuvius Isotope. But Congress doesn't seem to think much of it. Meanwhile, we still make medicines with animal research.

For the record, it's almost always mice and rats we work on. (And by "we," I mean everyone who works in biotechnology or the pharmaceutical business.) This doesn't bring me any comfort, personally, because I also happen to think mice and rats are adorable and I have owned several as pets. Which actually means family members, as noted above. So I don't feel great knowing that it's mostly mice and rats that are used for animal research. But it gets worse.

Most therapeutics don't make it to market without also going through at least some work in non-human primates as well. That means at least a few monkeys have been killed for every antibiotic, every headache remedy, and every birth control pill or erectile disfunction pill you take in your lifetime. Not to mention the ones you may need for diabetes, for cancer, for cardiovascular disease.

Which brings me back to the dogs. A dog's heart is remarkably similar to a person's. That is why heart research is frequently done in dogs. Beagles are the species for this, every time. A long time ago, I was offered a job in heart research. I even got a scholarship from the American Heart Association. I turned it down when I saw my first (and last) open heart surgery being performed on a captive beagle that would be euthanized shortly thereafter. Choke...

But what's the alternative? As a scientist, I say, there isn't one. As the Mom of three dogs, I would cast my vote for just about anything.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Paradox of Cairo Nightlife

Cairo at Night
I have blogged extensively about the nuances of traveling as a westerner in Egypt, and I think that Cairo exemplifies these nuances. In contrast to the Disney-esque atmosphere of Luxor, you will find a much stricter Muslim tradition in lower Egypt. Few locals wear short sleeves, and nobody wears short pants, despite the blazing temperature of Egypt in the fall. The women in Cairo are much more inclined to cover their hair, the subway features cars strictly for women, and you will see considerably more niqabi in Cairo than in upper Egypt.

Nile Cruise Ships Along the Corniche
So it's quite a surprise when the sun goes down over the Nile that first night, and the atmosphere spontaneously morphs into a more exotic version of Las Vegas. Suddenly, gone is the ubiquitous, beautiful, haunting call to prayer that hangs over Cairo all day with the smog. Instead, the thumping, pulsating beat of techno music blasts through the streets like a massive heartbeat, and it takes a moment to realize that yes, the lyrics are usually in Arabic.

Much of the energy is rippling from cruise ships docked along the Nile. Touts will step off of the ships onto the streets and try to persuade you that their Nile Cruise is the best. They offer belly dancers, sheesha, and yes, even alcohol.

Observing the paradoxical night-life in this 90% Muslim city, you become acutely aware of the conundrum facing the Egyptian people. In a country where tourism is the life-blood for almost everyone, does one stick to one's beliefs and starve to death? Or does one close an eye to the Qaran and entertain the western world? While I can only assume what the choice would be, to anyone actually given a choice, the undulating nightlife in the Cairo streets underscores the reality the Egyptians are entrenched in. Enjoy the atmosphere while you are here, my western friends, but please, tip well. They need it.

Friday, January 31, 2014

The Vesuvius Isotope Photo Tour

Here's The Vesuvius Isotope photo tour, which I'll be showing live at some of my upcoming events. This is literally a trip through the novel from beginning to end, excluding the Black's Beach footage to keep it rated PG. No spoilers here, but I'm hoping that you'll look at these and wonder what the heck all of those pics have to do with the story! Enjoy...

Purchase the novel here!

Friday, January 24, 2014

Discounted! The Vesuvius Isotope

In honor of the upcoming release of Pompeii: The Movie, I've decided to make The Vesuvius Isotope available at a drastically discounted price. Brush up on your Pompeii and Herculaneum history, while also enjoying an action-packed romp through Italy and Egypt, for up to 70% off! That's right. I'm offering the print book for just $9.99 from my website or the Murder Lab site only (a 25% discount) and the e-book from KindleNook, or Kobo for $2.99 (a 70% discount.) These prices will go the way of Pompeii when the movie comes out on February 21.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

A Tour Through Coptic Cairo

Slowly, I stroll through the dusty, crooked streets of the birthplace of Egyptian Christianity. Churches and convents line both sides of the streets. I wander into a church and am greeted by an ornate interior of gold and ivory. An old man is at its altar, lighting candles. I leave him alone and return to the street...

No visit to Cairo is complete without a trip through the ancient walled city of Coptic Cairo. Step off of the Metro at the Mari Girgis Station and cross beneath the archway of the citadel. There, you'll pay a small entrance fee for access to the entire walled city.

Near the entrance to the city are the Church of St. George, the Coptic Museum and the Church of St. Sergius. You'll also see the Roman tower on your right hand side before swinging around toward the Convent of St. George. Because some of these old buildings are still actively used by Cairo's Coptic community, you may see visitors lighting candles or praying. Otherwise, you are free to wander in and out and take photos.

The Coptic Museum is a must-see, featuring art from early Christianity throughout Egypt and the Near East. At the Convent of St George, one can be wrapped in chains like the saint himself.

At the far end of the main street, past the Ben Ezra Synagogue and the Church of St Barbara, are two enormous cemeteries. Historically Greek Catholic and Greek Orthodox, you'll find headstones in a myriad of languages. Some of these are quite ancient and others fairly new. Some are quite modest, others very elaborate. Readers of The Vesuvius Isotope should look for the headstone of Selena Zenobi.

Back near the entrance to the citadel, follow the road along the wall of the citadel to the Hanging Church. Named for nothing that has to do with hanging people, this church is one of the most ornate in the city. Read more about it here.

Follow the trail of the holy journey through Egypt, from Upper Egypt all the way north to Alexandria and across the Sinai peninsula.

Protagonist Katrina Stone races through Coptic Cairo on her quest to solve Cleopatra's last riddle in The Vesuvius Isotope, a novel by Kristen Elise. Purchase The Vesuvius Isotope here.

For more about traveling alone through Coptic Cairo, click here. For more about traveling alone through Egypt, visit whatwouldkatrinado.blogspot.com.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Bloopers! Dioscorides was Greek

It has come to my attention that I published a little fib in The Vesuvius Isotope. Below is an astute e-
mail from reader Zoe:

Hello Dr. Elise -

I am presently reading your great novel 'The Vesuvius Isotope' and I am very much enjoying the history you have incorporated into your story.

Unfortunately I did not make note of what chapter or what page you first mention Dioscorides but if I am not mistaken you indicate that he was a Roman. I, being of Greek descent, immediately realized that that was not a Roman/Italian name because of the ending letters. Dioscorides was a Greek. It may too late to correct that in your printing and you may very well have already had this brought to your attention but being a proud Greek, I felt I had to make this comment to you. I tried in vain to go back to locate where I read the 'Roman' statement but I was unsuccessful. If my memory is serving me incorrectly on having read that description on this then please forgive me.

Once again, thank you for this very informative and adventurous tale.


Zoe: Thank you for the e-mail and for noting a blooper in the novel. You are correct! Dioscorides was of Greek descent, but he practiced in Rome, which is why I referred to him (erroneously) as Roman. You have a great nose for names! It is, indeed, too late to correct the flub in the current printing of Vesuvius, but it can be corrected in future additions. Cheers,

Friday, December 20, 2013

Unlocking the Scrolls of Herculaneum

From BBC News...

The British Museum's 2013 show of artefacts from the Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum, buried in ash during an explosive eruption of Mount Vesuvius, was a sell-out. But could even greater treasures - including lost works of classical literature - still lie underground?
For centuries scholars have been hunting for the lost works of ancient Greek and Latin literature. In the Renaissance, books were found in monastic libraries. In the late 19th Century papyrus scrolls were found in the sands of Egypt. But only in Herculaneum in southern Italy has an entire library from the ancient Mediterranean been discovered in situ.
On the eve of the catastrophe in 79 AD, Herculaneum was a chic resort town on the Bay of Naples, where many of Rome's top families went to rest and recuperate during the hot Italian summers.
It was also a place where Rome's richest engaged in a bit of cultural one-upmanship - none more so than Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus, a politician and father-in-law of Julius Caesar...

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Pompeii! New Movie Coming February 2014

From beneath the ruins of Mt. Vesuvius, a two-thousand-year-old document has been unearthed. It is the only text ever attributed to the secretive, ambitious, and ruthless last pharaoh of Egypt. Protagonist Katrina Stone races through the ruins of Pompeii on her quest to solve Cleopatra's last riddle in The Vesuvius Isotope, a novel by Kristen Elise. Purchase The Vesuvius Isotope here.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Daughters of the Nile, a new novel by Stephanie Dray

Daughters of the Nile slide
From critically acclaimed historical fantasy author, Stephanie Dray comes the long-awaited new tale based on the true story of Cleopatra's daughter.
After years of abuse as the emperor’s captive in Rome, Cleopatra Selene has found a safe harbor. No longer the pitiful orphaned daughter of the despised Egyptian Whore, the twenty year old is now the most powerful queen in the empire, ruling over the kingdom of Mauretania—an exotic land of enchanting possibility where she intends to revive her dynasty. With her husband, King Juba II and the magic of Isis that is her birthright, Selene brings prosperity and peace to a kingdom thirsty for both. But when Augustus Caesar jealously demands that Selene’s children be given over to him to be fostered in Rome, she’s drawn back into the web of imperial plots and intrigues that she vowed to leave behind. Determined and resourceful, Selene must shield her loved ones from the emperor’s wrath, all while vying with ruthless rivals like King Herod. Can she find a way to overcome the threat to her marriage, her kingdom, her family, and her faith? Or will she be the last of her line?
Read the Reviews
"A stirring story of a proud, beautiful, intelligent woman whom a 21st century reader can empathize with. Dray's crisp, lush prose brings Selene and her world to life." ~RT Book Reviews
"The boldest, and most brilliant story arc Dray has penned..." ~Modge Podge Reviews
"If you love historical fiction and magical realism, these books are for you." ~A Bookish Affair
Read an Excerpt
Below me, six black Egyptian cobras dance on their tails, swaying. I watch their scaled hoods spread wide like the uraeus on the crown of Egypt. Even from this height, I'm paralyzed by the sight of the asps, their forked tongues flickering out between deadly fangs. I don't notice that I'm gripping the balustrade until my knuckles have gone white, all my effort concentrated upon not swooning and falling to my death.
And I would swoon if I were not so filled with rage. Someone has arranged for this. Someone who knows what haunts me. Someone who wants to send me a message and make this occasion a moment of dread. My husband, the king must know it, for he calls down, "That's enough. We've seen enough of the snake charmer!"
There is commotion below, some upset at having displeased us. Then Chryssa hisses, "Who could think it a good idea to honor the daughter of Cleopatra by coaxing asps from baskets of figs?"
The story the world tells of my mother's suicide is that she cheated the emperor of his conquest by plunging her hand into a basket where a venomous serpent lay in wait. A legend only, some say, for the serpent was never found. But I was there. I brought her that basket. She was the one bitten but the poison lingers in my blood to this day. I can still remember the scent of figs in my nostrils, lush and sweet. The dark god Anubis was embroidered into the woven reeds of the basket, the weight of death heavy in my arms. I can still see my mother reach her hand into that basket, surrendering her life so that her children might go on without her. And I have gone on without her.
I have survived too much to be terrorized by the emperor's agents or whoever else is responsible for this.
If it is a message, a warning from my enemies, I have already allowed them too much of a victory by showing any reaction at all. So I adopt as serene a mask as possible. My daughter blinks her big blue eyes, seeing past my facade. "Are you frightened, Mother? They cannot bite us from there. The snakes are very far away."
I get my legs under me, bitterness on my tongue. "Oh, but they're never far enough away."
Daughters of the Nile cover
Available now in print and e-book!

Available now in print and e-book!

Stephanie Dray Headshot
STEPHANIE DRAY is a bestselling, multi-published, award-winning author of historical women’s fiction and fantasy set in the ancient world. Her critically acclaimed historical series about Cleopatra’s daughter has been translated into more than six different languages, was nominated for a RITA Award and won the Golden Leaf. Her focus on Ptolemaic Egypt and Augustan Age Rome has given her a unique perspective on the consequences of Egypt's ancient clash with Rome, both in terms of the still-extant tensions between East and West as well as the worldwide decline of female-oriented religion. Before she wrote novels, Stephanie was a lawyer, a game designer, and a teacher. Now she uses the transformative power of magic realism to illuminate the stories of women in history and inspire the young women of today. She remains fascinated by all things Roman or Egyptian and has-to the consternation of her devoted husband-collected a house full of cats and ancient artifacts.