In Resistant (Sparkpress, Oct.), microbiologist Sparks writes of a near future ravaged by an unstoppable disease.
What was the transition from technical scientific writing to fiction like for you?
Before this career, I worked with tissue transplants. It’s a wild world. It’s kind of 24/7 and exhausting, but it was so fascinating to be in, because you just meet people from every walk of life. You hear so many amazing stories. It really builds your empathy skills and your listening skills. So when I’m trying to learn what a new character is like and what their motivations are, all those wonderful people I met would inform a little bit of the character. Getting to write fiction meant getting to tell more stories that were in my head, and do dialogue, and write setting, which of course technical writing is pretty bland on. It was a fun transition. It was like getting a big breath of fresh air.
Rory, your heroine, is competent and smart, feminine and empathetic. What inspired her?
I figured that I wanted my heroine to be impressive, but I really didn’t want her to be perfect. Sometimes, when I was writing her, I would realize that I didn’t like her because she was a little too nice, or a little too smart, or making the right decisions every time. So I would scratch a chapter and start again. I wanted her to be a full-fledged adult who was responsible for her own decisions. When she made a bad decision, I wanted it to be upon her to fix it. But I wanted her to be young enough to be flexible and still learning about who she wanted to be and where life was going to take her.
How did your science background help you tell this story?
My college thesis was about resistant bacteria. I got to see it in real life—both literally, in the bodies of people who passed away, and throughout many medical charts. We use so many antibiotics for so many things we ought not to, in human health care, but also in agriculture. We have just no concept of how far gone we are in terms of not having antibiotics when we need them. There is a really good chance that we’re going to be in a situation of having Civil War medicine—your last resort will be an amputation. I think that we don’t really give it enough attention because it’s kind of an abstract problem and scientifically complex to explain. So it was really important to me to try to try to fold a good translation into the story. There are ways to comprehend it, and we need to comprehend it. I think if a good fiction story leaves you with thoughts about something like that, then I won.