Q: Going from academic writing to fiction is quite the journey. What inspired you?

A: I have read science fiction for years. What fascinates me about it are the endless possibilities and the need to suspend one’s own beliefs to embrace the “what ifs?” with an open mind. I approach my story-telling as a “what if” exercise. As the characters evolve, they take on lives of their own and dictate their own paths, according to their needs and desires. My job is to follow their leads and guide them in the direction they take. I put myself into each of their heads and ask, “What if I were in that position? How would I deal with it? How would I feel? How would I act? Could I do something out of my comfort zone? Think outside the box? Are the outcomes possible?”

Q: How did you choose the backgrounds for your three protagonists? Are any of them inspired by people in your life?

A: I specifically chose three characters with disparate socioeconomic backgrounds, religions and family makeups, to show that poor self-esteem can come from very different life experiences. I don’t know another Mark or Joseph, but as I said, Jenny shares my upbringing and religion.

Q: Why did you choose the rainforest as a focus of the book?

A: It chose me. Jenny’s need to serve humanity and make a difference was the genesis of Joseph’s idea of the medical mission cruise. The rest flowed logically (my logic, of course) from the grateful patient’s gift, to the research they funded in the hopes of finding a new antibiotic, to the serendipity that changed the direction of the research.

Q: Why are rainforests critical to medical research and discovery?

A: They are an abundant and untapped resource of undiscovered new chemicals with unknown properties.

Q: How important is biodiversity to medical breakthroughs?

A: Very important. The more options the better.

Q: Can't many of the benefits of rainforests simply come from lab-based research?

A: Each native plant has different bioactive chemicals. Once they are detected, purified and studied, they might be able to be synthesized in a lab, but the original must be identified first. Not all native compounds are able to be synthesized.