Ellen King Rice - Thrilling, Creepy Stories About Mushrooms
When she isn't out in the forests, mushroom hunting, Ellen King Rice writes thrillers... about mushrooms. She is fascinated with all forms of life and its workings, so her books tend to turn out not only fun to read, but very educational as well. Want to know more about epigenetics, biology and science while holding your breath in anticipation? Then The EvoAngel might be just the thing for you. In this interview, we chat about how all life forms are Mr. Potato Head kits while Rice explains why she used an elderly woman as a protagonist and how being hospitalized inspired her to start writing.
Please give us a short introduction to The EvoAngel
The EvoAngel is an environmental thriller that features the real life abilities of certain wild fungi to activate human DNA. In this story, an elderly mushroom hunter, Edna Morton, has a feather emerge on her chest. A trip to a health clinic exposes Edna to an aggressive physician who wants to research Edna’s condition and take control of Edna’s life. The EvoAngel is set in the Pacific Northwest and the book includes seventeen pen and ink illustrations of local mushrooms by Olympia artist Duncan Sheffels.
When did you decide to become a writer?
When I was hospitalized after a nasty accident I read many dreadful books from the hospital’s library cart. After yet another Poor Girl goes Down the Creaking Staircase to the Dark Basement to elude the Dastardly Duke and Be Rescued by the Elegant Earl sort of story, I thought I could do better than this. I resolved that my heroines might be overwhelmed but they would never be airheads.
Why did you decide to make your protagonist an elderly woman?
Some of the most observant, toughest and nicest folks on the planet are ladies older than seventy. I salute them all by writing about one who is nimble and pragmatic (and who knows a thing or two about poisonous mushrooms).
Where does your fascination with epigenetics come from?
Epigenetics is the business of the environment provoking responses from our genetic code. Anyone who likes poking stuff with a stick has got to love epigenetics!
To add to the fun, each person has over 37 trillion cells and most cells have five to six feet of DNA. We have a lot of DNA to play with and all of it has the potential to respond to new conditions.
So my fascination comes from realizing all life forms are basically giant Mr. Potato Head kits.
How much do you think does what we consume affect our DNA?
There’s no question that our bodies respond to the quality, quantity and type of foods we consume. Whatever we deliver to our stomach triggers hundreds of responses.
But the really interesting stuff happens once the food is broken down to glucose. Our blood stream has the job of glucose delivery and insulin has the task of opening the glucose gates to our cells. When we sit still for longer than about twenty minutes (ooh, Facebook! Google! Netflix! Augh, Traffic Jam!), our cells begin to shut down their glucose gates so glucose circulating in the blood can’t be delivered.
When we have 37 trillion cells that are hungry because of poor deliveries, we are quickly not feeling so great and we can respond by eating again. That doesn’t help at all because the glucose gates are still closed. The body works to force open the gates with more insulin but the body also dumps the excess glucose into storage (often abdominal fat) or into the urine.
What we eat acts in combination with how frequently we move.
I’m a big fan of mushroom hunting even if one never finds a mushroom because a gentle stroll around the neighborhood boots our glucose gates open.
You use mushrooms as the catalyst in your book. Why?
Fungi are a catalyst in my book because fungi are huge catalysts in real life. Every glass of wine, every loaf of bread, every foamy beer is made possible by single celled fungi called yeast. Other fungi destroy wooden homes, spice elegant foods, generate life saving medicines or make forests and crops possible. The fungi are . . . everywhere. (They are very much in the shower with you. Really creepy.)
Your book contains a lot of science - how did you manage to still make it easy to read for the average person, who doesn't have that background?
I believe most people enjoy learning how things work. My job is to make a description as simple as it can be and still be essentially correct. Then I need to add in a dangerous or sexy context so no yawning ensues. I don’t always get it right but I always start with the recipe of simple, correct and intriguing.
When working on a novel, how do you immerse yourself in the main characters' lives? Do you observe people in a certain culture, or do you try to walk in their shoes?
Ah, no shoe borrowing is involved because I’m special and get to wear some really clunky orthopedic shoes. I am writing about the kinds of people who live in my neighborhood so it is an immersion experience.
What do you hope readers take away from the novel?
I hope readers will see their own bodies, lives and environment as an intertwined and interactive situation. I also hope that the fun and creepy gallop through the Northwest woods will heighten awareness of just how much is going on “out there.” We all live in a happening neighborhood.
Besides writing, what secret skills do you have?
I can make chocolate disappear!
Do you consider yourself a disciplined writer? Do you have a schedule that you stick to, or is it more in the moment?
I am very disciplined. A story just doesn’t get out of bed by itself. It has to be nudged awake, fed great quantities of caffeine and then put through a lengthy grooming process before meeting its public.
Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer to just see where an idea takes you?
I put a character in a pickle and then think about why on earth she got into this mess. After that it’s time to plot her way out of the mushroom patch. I also give men headaches, heartaches and opportunities to be very, very clever.
What are you working on right now?
I am drafting a second “mushroom thriller.” With over 10,000 mushroom species found in North America, I have some good opportunities for more stories.
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
Come join the fun!