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Monday, January 18, 2010


Inspiration, Free of Charge

In my normal job, I run a daily news service for doctors. In addition to writing, I’m assigning all the stories, which means I have to go through a veritable mountain of information every day, sifting through press releases and medical journals for appropriate stories to write up. Some of these are very dry and scientific, others are downright whacky.

As a writer of science fiction/fantasy, I recognize that at least some of these should serve as perfect launching points for my imagination in coming up with interesting stories.

But they don’t.

Not a single time has an item I reviewed at work spurred my imagination to write a story. I don’t know why, but my brain just doesn’t work that way. All of my ideas, all of the What If questions, have come from non-work related stimuli.

However, that doesn’t mean others can’t benefit from my experience. I did a little experiment. For a few months, in the course of my normal daily work routine, I collected what I thought might be the best story-starter items. Not for me, but somebody, anybody else.

Here they are, with links for further information, and every one of them is a real press release:

Gladstone scientists find first genetic link between reptile and human heart evolution

Turtles and other reptiles offer clues to the development of 4 chambers and to congenital heart disease

Scientists at the Gladstone Institute of Cardiovascular Disease (GICD) have traced the evolution of the four-chambered human heart to a common genetic factor linked to the development of hearts in turtles and other reptiles.

"This is the first genetic link to the evolution of two, rather than one, pumping chamber in the heart, which is a key event in the evolution of becoming warm-blooded," said Gladstone investigator Benoit Bruneau, PhD, who led the study. From an evolutionary standpoint, the reptiles occupy a critical point in heart evolution…. Click for more info.

So somehow over the course of human evolution, our hearts evolved from reptilian to what we have today. Fascinating. Just think about that. What if because of some genetic throwback, people started reverting back into reptiles? First in their hearts, and then elsewhere, even became cold blooded, forked tongues and all? I can see a slow panic as the “condition” spreads, and some previously discredited scientist stumbles across the answer and races to find a cure before he himself succumbs.

Here’s another one:

Extinct, Giant Eagle Was a Fearsome Predator

Before humans colonized New Zealand about 750 years ago, the largest inhabitants of the islands were birds unlike those anywhere else in the world. Giant, flightless birds known as moa were the main plant-eaters. The role of predator, according to a study published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, was filled by a giant, extinct raptor known as Haast’s eagle (Harpagornis moorei).

Although the bones of Haast’s eagle have been known for well over a century, the behavior of these giants has been a point of debate. These eagles weighed up to 40 lbs., larger than any modern eagle.

The results indicated not only that Haast’s eagle was a fearsome predator that probably swooped on its prey from a high mountain perch, but also that it evolved over a relatively short period of time. Haast’s eagle became extinct a mere 500 years ago.….Click for more info.

Whoa, giant eagles like this really existed? Forty pounds is about the size of a 6-year old. What if there were ones that were even bigger? And men used to ride them? That would be a cool idea to write about, a group of eagle riders. Would they be conquerors? Or benevolent? What was the cataclysmic event that caused them to vanish off the earth? Remember, they disappeared only 500 years ago, not some mass dinosaur extinction. Something must’ve happened, right…?

This one’s more fun:

Insectapalooza 2009 Crawls Up Your Sleeve

Dance with dragonflies and tango with tarantulas: It's Insectapalooza 2009 at Comstock Hall on the Cornell University campus, Saturday, Oct. 3, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. It is free and fun for all ages.

Flutter away in the Butterfly Room. Tour the world-class Cornell Insect Collection and see samples of the more than 5 million specimens. Enjoy tropical creatures like the rhinoceros, Hercules and harlequin beetles, and giant Goliath beetles from equatorial Africa. And for the “pepsis” generation: View tarantula hawks, which are giant wasps the size of a man’s hand! They paralyze tarantulas and then use their bodies to raise babies…Click for more info.

I like this as a more YA story. Let’s say you go to Insectapalooza on a high school trip, the insects get loose, naturally. But controlled by a hive mind, they start behaving in a way that no one can figure out. They’re all acting as one, so they clearly have a purpose. It’s up to a small group of high school students and their intrepid science teacher to decipher what the insects are after…The rest writes itself!

And finally, this one:

Scientists cure color blindness in monkeys

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Researchers from the University of Washington and the University of Florida used gene therapy to cure two squirrel monkeys of color blindness — the most common genetic disorder in people.

"We've added red sensitivity to cone cells in animals that are born with a condition that is exactly like human color blindness," said William W. Hauswirth, Ph.D., a professor of ophthalmic molecular genetics at the UF College of Medicine and a member of the UF Genetics Institute and the Powell Gene Therapy Center. "That's extremely encouraging for the development of therapies for human cone diseases that really are blinding."

The finding is also likely to intrigue millions of people around the world who are colorblind, including about 3.5 million people in the United States….Click for more info.

First of all, this was just funny. Monkeys get color blindness? Who knew? But what if after curing color blindness in monkeys, scientists tried it in humans. Maybe it works so perfectly it becomes routine. Until years later when (queue creepy music) a boy starts seeing things, weird creatures and dark, scary places. He’s sent “away” and only a young psychiatrist comes to understand that the boy is actually seeing into a parallel universe, one which is about to…you guessed it…invade!

These are just a few of the items I run across all the time. It’s a shame they don’t do anything for me creativity wise, but that shouldn’t stop you. Go forth, write, take these little nuggets and invent fantastical stories. Let inspiration be your guide.

Jason Kahn lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn, with all the other young families who fled Manhattan for more space. By day, he runs a news service for a New York-based cardiology research foundation. Jason's hobbies include rooting for his University of Michigan Wolverines and chasing after two mischievous gnomes who claim to be his children.

Jason's most recent fiction, The Dark InSpectre series, is currently running courtesy of Abandoned Towers Magazine, and his short story, "The Killer Within", was just released as an e-book by Damnation Books. Other stories of his can be found in various places including Baen’s Universe, Gryphonwood, the anthology Strange Stories of Sand and Sea, and Abandoned Towers Magazine (May, 2010).

Feel free to check out his website, blog, or facebook page for more info., or just to say hi.


Kim Richards said...

Hi Jason! You've got lots of interesting stuff there with sci-fi potential. What inspired you to write The Killer Within?

jason kahn said...

Thanks Kim.

The inspiration for The Killer Within came from just a chance occurrence. I was sitting in a cab in downtown Manhattan, listening to the news on the radio. There was a report about some random killing, the kind you unfortunately hear about every day. I don't know how or why, but it triggered this big WHAT IF question in my head: What if the killer didn't have any choice about it? What if through either a drug or brainwashing, he had been programmed to do what he did, without even knowing why? And then that led to a lot of other interesting questions that started to form a hardboiled crime story in my head. I hadn't written anything in that genre before, so I was very excited to give it a try. It was whole lot of fun to write.

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