Q&A with Douglas F. Dluzen

Douglas F. Dluzen cites human cleverness’s tendency to run unchecked as the inspiration for his story in our 90th anniversary issue [on sale now]. He took the time to talk to us about his history with the specific strain of cleverness the story examines—genetic research—as well as his histories with Analog and with writing. “Welcome to the New You: Terms and Conditions for the iCRISPR Gene-Editing Kit” is Douglas’s first work of professionally published fiction, and we’re excited to see what he has in store next!


Analog Editor: What is the story behind this piece?

DD: I’ve been rooted in genetics and the ethics related to genetic research most of my life. A few years ago, I submitted my DNA to the genotyping company 23 & Me. I was interested in how accurate and factual the information was that the company was providing back to its customers. I was impressed and surprised by the level of detail 23 & Me provided, but I worried that some of the finer details could be misinterpreted or give people the wrong impressions about what their personal genomes say.

The terms of usage for their product are quite extensive, and I started toying with the idea of writing a tongue-in-cheek version of a genetic test that was rooted in some science, but also clearly fictional and sensationalized.

 

AE: How did this story germinate? Was there a spark of inspiration, or did it come to you slowly?

DD: CRISPR gene-editing will forever change our world. New therapies and applications using CRISPR editing are constantly being developed and much of it will create exciting benefits for us and for the environment. The scope of the technology does scare me, however, and it’s hard for me not to think of GATTACA-like futures now that we’re capable of easily editing our own genomes. There have been several international meetings held to discuss where and when this technology should be used, especially in humans. I think my story was inspired by the fact that our cleverness as a species often remains unchecked. There are so many examples of companies being irresponsible with their products and I can’t think of anything more irresponsible than selling do-it-yourself gene editing kits.

 

AE: What is your history with Analog?

DD: I’ve read a lot of Analog stories over the years and hoped to one day be included in the TOC of an issue. My first sale to Analog was a fact article about genetics and epigenetics in works of science fiction that appeared in the Jan/Feb 2019 issue. This current story is my first fiction sale to Analog, as well as my first professionally published work of fiction. I’m really excited about it and honored to be a contributing author to the magazine!

 

AE: This is Analog’s 90th year—what does that mean to you?

DD: I’m incredibly proud to be included in the 90th anniversary issue and I think it speaks volumes of the magazine to have been publishing works of fiction and fact for almost a century. The genre has evolved so much, and will continue to do so, and I think Analog has an important say in how science fiction continues to expand to new readers and shape their imaginations. As a scientist, I’m also so pleased that Analog, and a handful of other markets, continue to stress the importance of science in science fiction. The fact articles are an incredible resource and perspective to help promote science and interpret its impact on society.

 


Current events in science definitely play a role in the stories I want to write and tell. I’m really concerned about CRISPR and gene-editing and the role genetics plays in all aspects of our society and culture. I draw a lot of ideas from scientific papers I read, as well as the work of science journalists.


 

AE: Who or what are your greatest influences and inspirations?

DD: I don’t think anything has more influence over my love for science fiction and fantasy than Star Wars. I’m obsessed with the movies (the good ones, the bad ones, and the great ones), and I read all of the Expanded Universe books, comics, and Customizable Card Game cards while I was growing up. I also wrote some Star Wars fanfiction, and I think that helped shape and develop my skills in writing.

There are many pillars in the field who have influenced me with their work, including Margaret Atwood, Stephen King, R.L. Stine, J.R.R. Tolkien, Neil Gaiman, Anne McCaffrey, C.S. Lewis, Connie Willis, N.K. Jemisin, and Mary Shelley, to name just a few. I also really like Christopher Moore, Kurt Vonnegut, and Joseph Heller for their wit and charm.

I draw a lot of inspiration my wife and partner, Julia, and from bouncing ideas back and forth with my friends in the Baltimore Writer’s Critique Circle. They’ve all given me great comments and notes on this story. They’re my sounding board and help me whittle down my initial drafts into something that’s palatable and hopefully enjoyable to read!

 

AE: How much or little do current events impact your writing?

DD: Current events in science definitely play a role in the stories I want to write and tell. I’m really concerned about CRISPR and gene-editing and the role genetics plays in all aspects of our society and culture. I draw a lot of ideas from scientific papers I read, as well as the work of science journalists. For example, Sarah Zhang at The Atlantic has done some fantastic writing about modern genetics and society, and her journalism has inspired several ideas.

 

AE: What inspired you to start writing?

DD: Since I can remember, I’ve always liked writing stories. Writing is big in my family, as my mom writes and I recently found out my grandparents did too. I guess it’s in my genes? Ha! I recently found buried in my parent’s basement some very early short stories I wrote in third and fourth grade, which were a blast to reread and laugh about. Those treasure hunts have inspired me to keep anything my kids create in case they desire a dive into old boxes during the holidays.

 

AE: What other projects are you currently working on?

DD: Right now, I’m trying to finish a novella about Uranus.

 

AE: What are you reading right now?

DD: I’m reading The Tangled Tree by David Quammen, and A Song For a New Day by Sarah Pinsker.

 

AE: Many of our Analog authors are interested in science. Do you have any scientific background, and does it impact your fiction?

DD: I have a PhD in Genetics and I study how the social determinants of health, like poverty, influence our immune system. I’d say my interest in science and genetics absolutely influences my fiction.

 

AE: How can our readers follow you and your writing?

DD: I can be found on Twitter @ripplesintime24 and on my blog, Following the Ripples in Time. You can also check out my laboratory website.


Douglas F. Dluzen, PhD, is an Assistant Professor of Biology at Morgan State University in Baltimore, MD. He is a geneticist, and has studied the genetic contributors to aging, cancer, hypertension, and other age-related diseases. Currently, he studies the biology of health disparities and the microbiome in Baltimore City. He teaches evolution, genetics, and scientific thinking. He loves to write science and science fiction while sitting on the couch with his wife and partner Julia, their son Parker, and a dog and cat who take up way more room than they should.

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