Interview: Pat MacEwen on “Home Sweet Bi’Ome”
- Tell us a bit about the story. What’s it about?
A woman who lives in complete isolation because of hyperallergic syndrome – her immune system overreacts when she’s exposed to anything synthetic, and that includes most of the modern world. Her isolation is shattered, however, when her refuge, a living house grown from her own stem cells, somehow catches the chicken pox.
- Most authors say their stories are personal. If that’s true for you, in what way is this story personal?
I lived it, in a way. It came to me as dream – a story/dream in which I was the woman experiencing the symptoms of the disease afflicting my house. A few details concerning cause and effect were missing (dreams aren’t known for their strict adherence to logic), but everything else is simply what happened. When I woke up, I wrote down the bones of the tale. Then, some months later, on a long boring drive back from Orycon, I fought off highway hypnosis by working out the dialogue and scribbling furiously in a notebook at various rest stops and gas stations.
- What kind of research did you have to do for “Home Sweet Bi’Ome?” And how much of the biotech shown in the story is scientifically plausible?
I’ve always been a science geek, so I already had a fair idea of what’s going on in biotech, especially the exciting stuff in genetics, embryology and development. The way FOXP genes work, for example, is becoming clearer day by day. We can already tweak them and tell fruit flies where to grow various limbs and appendages, and how many of each. We can insert fluorescence genes and use them to turn on enzyme regulators or make neurons fire off messages. We can insert complete chloroplasts, and make organic LEDs, and we’re learning to build whole organs from scaffolding seeded with human stem cells, so I think the biotech side of it is totally doable.
Hyperallergic syndrome was tougher, since no one really understands it and some people think it’s a psychosomatic condition. But a friend of mine has a daughter who lives on the slopes of Mt. Shasta because of it. Seeing her stripped-down lifestyle first-hand, and then hearing about her experiences has been… well, enlightening. Oddly enough, the one thing I really had to look into was the one I experienced in real life – the chicken pox! I caught it back in the days before vaccines were available, and an 8-year-old doesn’t pay much attention to anything but the infernal itching, that and being repeatedly thwarted by your mother when you need to go out and play!
- Did the writing of this story present you with any significant challenges or difficulties?
Only the usual – I’m apt to leave promising projects unfinished while I go haring off after a new idea. Or I’ll finish a first draft of something and put it aside until I have time to revise and polish, and then find that months, even years, have gone by because life intervened. As a result, completing the various stages of this story took about 18 months, altogether. Lately, though, I’ve been trying to follow Heinlein’s Rules of Writing: (1) Finish it. (2) Send it out. (3) Keep sending it out until somebody buys it.
- What are you working on now?
A hard sf/noir mystery novel entitled Hardbitten. It’s a monster. I’ve been calling it my kitchen sink novel, since it includes everything from a serial killer to global warming and cannibal cults, and from cloning to cryogenics, Hawaiian shark gods and split personality syndrome.
- Anything else you’d like to add?
Only that I think a Bi’ome up in the mountains would be a terrific place to live, so long as you aren’t cutting yourself off from everyone else in the process.
*“Home Sweet Bi’Ome” appears in the Jan./Feb. 2011 issue.
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