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In Conversation With Jenna Podjasek, MD, Author of Particles in the Air
Norm Goldman --  BookPleasures.com Norm Goldman -- BookPleasures.com
Montreal, QC
Tuesday, November 1, 2022

Dr Jenna Podjasek

Bookpleasures.com welcomes as our guest Jenna Podjasek, MD, author of Particles in the Air.

Jenna underwent internal medical training at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, followed by a two-year clinical and research fellowship in Allergy and Immunology. She lives with her husband, two children, and numerous pets in the suburbs of Chicago. 

Particles in the Air is her first novel.

Norm: Good day Jenna and thanks for taking part in our interview.

Why did you decide to specialize in Allergy and Immunology medicine?


Jenna:  Thanks so much for having me.  A biochemistry class during college opened my eyes to the complexities of the human body.  

The immune system is extremely intricate and reliant on specialized cells to ward off microbes we encounter every day.  

As seen in Particles in the Air, when a single cell line of the immune system is targeted, disastrous consequences can occur. 

Norm: What motivated you to write Particles in the Air, and what do you hope will be the everlasting thoughts for readers who finish your book? 

Jenna:  Particles in the Air was written for two reasons: It was meant to entertain, but also, to present a cautionary tale. 

For years before COVID, epidemiologists had warned that a global pandemic was only a matter of time. Now, as technology becomes more and more accessible via the internet, bioterrorism is rapidly becoming an unfortunate real-life probability.

A virus doesn't need to be stolen from an ultra-secure lab but manufactured in a homemade one.  No further technology needs to be invented or discovered for a catastrophic event to occur.  

In writing Particles, I hope to raise awareness of this possibility.

Norm: How did you go about creating the character of Dr Mallory Hayes? Is there much of you in the character?

Jenna:  I drew from many of my own personal experiences in the formation of Mallory's character—particularly my experiences in medicine.  

As is the case in many fields, medicine remains firmly male-dominated.  It is my hope that women may find Mallory's determination and ingenuity inspiring.

Norm: What was the most difficult part of writing this book?

Jenna:  The first chapter was the most challenging.  For some reason, I find sitting down and starting the writing process to be the hardest part. 

Before starting, I completed a detailed outline, so I knew the general direction I was going to take. 

After getting the first few chapters down, the characters really came alive, and the story flowed naturally from there.  

Norm: Did you write your novel more by logic or intuition, or some combination of the two?  Please summarize your writing process.  

Jenna:  I'm a big proponent of planning and research.  Before I began writing, I spent many hours scouring the internet, fact-checking and pinning down setting details.  

I studied google maps and reviewed immunology textbooks.  I made sure my outline was complete before I began.  

Several things changed while writing based on my intuition, but the main plot points stayed the same.

Norm: Do you agree that to have good drama there must be an emotional charge that usually comes from the individual squaring off against antagonists either out in the world or within himself or herself?

If so, please elaborate and how does it fit into your novel? 

Jenna:  That's an interesting question.  I can't recall a book I enjoyed that didn't have some sort of exterior or interior conflict.  Many complex characters are battling both forces. 

Mallory, although highly educated and driven, struggles with anxiety and ends up as a survivor of domestic violence.

Norm: In fiction as well as in non-fiction, writers very often take liberties with their material to tell a good story or make a point. 

But how much is too much? As a follow up, how believable is the plot of your novel, and is it possible to transmit a deadly disease through a non-infectious adenovirus, one of several viruses that cause the common cold?

Jenna:  I'm so glad you asked this question.  I couldn't have written Particles in the Air without my medical expertise. 

Adenovirus is actually extremely infectious between people, it's one of the most common viruses to cause a cold (or viral upper respiratory infection) in humans today.  

The gene editing described in the book (which allowed the deleterious gene to be inserted into healthy genes), is based on a true-life revolutionary editing tool, known as CRISPR (pronounced "crisper"). 

A safe and typical way to use a virus in gene therapy is to use an inactivated one. 

Inactivated adenovirus is the virus most often used in the lab.  It's a vector (or vehicle) used to place the gene in the right spot of the sequence. 

The difference in Particles is the virus wasn't inactive, it was active, thus making it transmissible to others. 

Every step of the way, I wanted to be sure that my story was realistic and scientifically plausible.  

My training gave me the ability to remain true-to-science, from the illness descriptions to lab abnormalities, to the disastrous effects of what a manufactured, contagious virus can do to the human immune system.

Norm: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?  

Jenna:  As I touched on, I came to think of this book as a cautionary tale of what could happen. 

I've found that the technology exists and is available to those that want to exploit it. 

In general, as a nation, we should educate ourselves on the risks and possibilities of bioterrorism and take all precautions.

Norm: Are there vocabulary words or concepts in your book that may be new to readers?  Define some of those.  

Jenna: As mentioned, the fictional Lutase-2 has close parallels to real-life CRISPR DNA genetic engineering technology.  

This technology has revolutionized gene editing, making the process extremely precise and efficient.  

The implications for the treatment of diseases like cancer, Alzheimer's, and congenital disorders (to name a few) are endless.

Norm: It is said that writers should write what they know. Were there any elements of the book that forced you to step out of your comfort zone, and if so, how did you approach this part of the writing? 

Jenna:  Something that stands out for me was understanding the mindset of one of the main protagonists, Erik. 

It's difficult for people who have empathy and the ability to feel guilt to truly think like a psychopath. 

For help with this, I researched the subject and drew on what I learned as a psychology undergrad major.

Norm: What is the likelihood of another pandemic and are we prepared for it?

Jenna:  Another pandemic is not only possible but probable. The question is when - that's the part that's hard to predict.  It could be next month or in fifty years. 

The good news is I think we are more prepared both on a personal and societal level.

Norm: Where can our readers find out more about you and Particles in the Air?

Jenna:  Particles in the Air is available for purchase at BANCROFT PRESS or AMAZON.  Readers can follow me on Instagram or TWITTER  or visit my WEBSITE

Norm: What is next for Jenna Podjasek, MD?

Jenna:  I'm currently in the midst of writing another medical thriller featuring none other than Dr. Mallory Hayes.  Sign up for my newsletter to get new book release information at my WEBSITE

Norm: As this interview comes to an end, if people can only buy one book this month, why should it be yours?  

Jenna:  I don't have any formal or informal training in creative writing, but I've read countless thrillers and mysteries. Being essentially "self-taught" has resulted in an uncommon marriage of the right and left sides of the brain. 

For me, Particles really came together and resulted in something that I haven't read before.  

The medical details, including the immunodeficiency signs, symptoms, and diagnoses, are wholly unique in that they are real descriptions of plausible medical scenarios woven into the story. 

Norm: Thanks again and good luck with all of your future endeavors.

Follow Here To Read Norm's Review of Particles in the Air

 Norm Goldman of Bookpleasures.com

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Name: Norm Goldman
Title: Book Reviewer
Group: bookpleasures.com
Dateline: Montreal, QC Canada
Direct Phone: 514-486-8018
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