September 18, 2014

Out for Blood: an interview with Kira Peikoff, author of "No Time to Die"

About the author: KIRA PEIKOFF is a writer based in New York City. She graduated with high honors from New York University in 2007 with a degree in journalism, after four years of various reporting internships: covering street crime for The Daily News, writing about Capitol Hill for The Orange County Register in Washington, D.C., reporting on business and technology for Newsday, and researching feature stories for New York magazine. After completing her first book, Living Proof, Peikoff worked for several years in the editorial departments at two New York publishing houses, which gave her an invaluable inside look at the publishing process and the rapidly changing industry. Peikoff is working on her third thriller, freelancing for a variety of major media outlets, and attending Columbia University's Master of Science program in Bioethics.

About the novel: Someone is out for blood—Zoe Kincaid’s blood. She’s a 20-year-old trapped in the body of a 14-year-old girl and her DNA could hold the secret of immortality. Could it be the Columbia University researchers who see her as the key to fame and tenure? The shadowy figure, known only as Galileo, who is kidnapping the world’s best researchers? The Justice Department head who seems a little too intent on getting her alone? Or the maniac who just fed a leading scientist to his chimpanzees?

Zoe knows that unlocking the secrets of genome could save her beloved grandfather, a retired physician and former Olympian who grows frailer by the day. Can she trust the rogue physician whose secret lair hides discoveries that might just save her grandfather? Heart-pounding twists just keep coming in Kira Peikoff’s stunning biomedical thriller, NO TIME TO DIE (Kensington Publishing; August 26, 2014.)

Science has barely begun to unlock the secrets written in our DNA. Researchers are relentlessly hunting for the answers to chronic diseases, cancer, rare disorders and the biggest mystery of them all—aging—but at what cost? Bioethicist Peikoff asks the most troubling scientific question of our time in this taut thriller: when does medicine cross the line?


Q: NO TIME TO DIE focuses on a 20 year-old woman who stopped aging at 14 years-old – where did you get this idea?

A: A few years back, I saw a documentary on Discovery Health about a young woman who had inexplicably stopped aging. She was almost 20 years old but had stayed frozen as a toddler her whole life, baffling doctors and scientists alike. The case caught my attention because I've always been interested in medical mysteries, and like many people, I'm also fixated on the promise of eternal youth. Yet staying young forever, as welcome as it might be, could also be a curse. I decided to explore it further in a novel, but I didn't want my protagonist stuck as a toddler without much mental or emotional capacity.  So I decided to trap her in the worst possible page for maximum drama and frustration. What could be worse than 14?

Q: What is Syndrome X?

A: Syndrome X is the name researchers have given to this phenomenon of total stunted development. To date, at least 6 people have been identified.

Q: Why is our culture so interested in defying aging?

A: I think it probably derives from our collective fear of death. It's very painful to face down our own mortality and to grasp how temporary our lives are. Religion may provide people with some measure of comfort, but there remains no scientific consensus on an afterlife. So we're forced to accept that all we really have is the here and now. Defying aging would be the ultimate way to prolong our time and avoid oblivion.

Q: Do you think scientists will find a cure for aging?

A: Some leading researchers believe the end of aging is within reach--perhaps in the next century. One respected scientist, Aubrey de Gray, thinks that the first person who will live to age 1,000 is already alive now.

Q: What are some of the benefits of not aging?

A: On an individual level, endless time--time to spend with family and friends, time to pursue infinite knowledge, passions, careers, hobbies, etc. No longer having to worry about outliving your parents or grandparents. Knowing generations of your own descendants. Living in the prime of life without

Q: You’re studying Bioethics at Columbia University, how did you choose bioethics?

A: I've long been interested in the intersection of cutting-edge biology, politics, and philosophy. Specifically, in the ways that exciting new advancements stand to improve human health, but are also raising unprecedented moral dilemmas. Our very definitions of life and death are being challenged by the latest innovations. It's a thrilling field to study because it's constantly evolving, and no one has all the answers yet.

Q: Your book explores a secret network of scientists – why is it important to regulate what happens in science labs?

A: This is a controversial issue. On one side, you have people asserting that government regulation is necessary to protect vulnerable human subjects from exploitation by unethical researchers--which sadly happened a great deal in the early nineteenth and twentieth centuries, before notions of patient autonomy and informed consent were popularized. On the other side, you have researchers who now feel stifled by the layers of bureaucracy, like IRBs, ethics committees, and the FDA, that they need to bypass to carry out their studies. Many people, including me, are concerned that these protections have been taken too far and actually hurt more than they help, by holding back and even dis-incentivizing innovations that could save lives. In my book, the best and brightest researchers have become so frustrated with the slowness and inefficiency of the system that they form their own secret community to speed up progress. I think it's possible for a group of researchers to self-regulate and still treat human subjects 100% ethically.  

Q: How did you choose the thriller genre?

A: I feel into it by accident. When I started writing fiction, I gravitated toward stories with high stakes, increasing tension, cliffhanger chapters, and a fast pace. I didn't actually intend to write in any genre, but after I wrote my first book, I realized I'd written a thriller.

Q: NO TIME TO DIE – how was the book title chosen?

A: My wonderful late mentor, Michael Palmer, suggested the title to me when I told him I was stuck on a title. (Titles are impossible.) Everyone at the publishing house immediately liked it, so we went with it. It's extra meaningful because Michael died shortly after I turned in the final manuscript. It was one of the last novels he read.

Q: As a writer, how can you explore differently in your works of fiction vs. your non-fiction articles for publications?

A: The threshold for exactness is much looser in fiction. In non-fiction, I am careful to be extremely accurate in my reporting. Accuracy to a journalist is like steadiness to a surgeon. You're useless without it. (You won't accidentally kill anyone--one nice thing about being a writer--but you might damage someone's reputation by misrepresenting a source.) In fiction, there's greater freedom to stray without that kind of accountability. I try to stay as true-to-life still as I can, but I do have to stretch and imagine a lot, which makes it more fun and also a hundred times harder.

Q: NO TIME TO DIE offers some great surprises, twist and turns. Who are your biggest influences in the thrillers and suspense genre?

A: Michael Crichton, Michael Palmer, Lisa Unger, Gillian Flynn. If you want to get old-school, I would add O. Henry and one of my favorite books as a teen: The Scarlet Pimpernel.

Q: What do you hope readers will gain from reading NO TIME TO DIE?

A: First and foremost, that they will be transported on a thrilling and satisfying journey with characters they've become invested in. Then: that they'll possibly think about their own positions on the controversial subjects the book raises, and finally that they will be shocked by the big twist ending.


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