My ALLi author guest this episode is Millicent Eidson, a retired public health veterinarian and epidemiologist who worked for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention along with state health departments. Now she's the author of the Maya Maguire microbial mystery series, which seeks to make public health and climate change understandable and even entertaining to a general audience, something that is necessary in the age of pandemics.
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Inspirational Indie Author Interview. Millicent EidsonOn the Inspirational Indie Authors Podcast, @howard_lovy features @EidsonMillicent, a retired epidemiologist who writes public health mysteries in the age of COVID. Click To Tweet
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Inspirational Indie Author Interview. Millicent Eidson: About the Author
Millicent Eidson is the author of the alphabetical Maya Maguire microbial mystery series featuring a veterinary medical detective for zoonoses, diseases from animals. Author awards include Best Play in Synkroniciti and Honorable Mention from the Arizona Mystery Writers. Dr. Eidson’s work as a public health veterinarian and epidemiologist began with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and continued at the New Mexico and New York state health departments. She is a public health faculty member at the University at Albany and the University of Vermont, and the author of over a hundred scientific papers, articles, and book chapters. You can find her on her website, Twitter, or Instagram.
About the Host
Howard Lovy has been a journalist for more than 35 years, and now amplifies the voices of independent author-publishers and works with authors as a developmental editor. Howard is also a freelance writer specializing in Jewish issues whose work appears regularly in Publishers Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, and Longreads. Find Howard at howardlovy.com, LinkedIn and Twitter.
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Read the Transcripts: Millicent Eidson
Howard Lovy: My guest this episode is Millicent Eidson, a retired public health veterinarian and epidemiologist who worked for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, along with state health departments.
Now, she's the author of the Maya Maguire Microbial Mystery Microbial Mystery series, which seeks to make public health and climate change understandable, and even entertaining to a general audience, something that is necessary in the age of pandemics.
Millicent Eidson: Hi, I'm Millicent Eidson. I'm retired from full-time work as a public health veterinarian, and currently I translate that knowledge into entertaining and educational mystery stories about the diseases that we get from animals called zoonoses.
I grew up in Southern Arizona in Tucson, and it was a wonderful place to grow up with the mixture of nature and multiple cultures, and so my initial novels are still based back there because it's such a wonderful place.
I decided to, first of all, go to school for social psychology. I really loved research and so I got a Master of Social Psychology at the University of Colorado, and then got inspired to go to veterinary school at Colorado State in Fort Collins, Colorado. I was tossing around a number of different ideas of what to do with my veterinary degree, but again, was really intrigued by research and trying to solve problems.
So, I was fortunate right out of veterinary school to get into a training program with the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
Howard Lovy: Millicent became interested in veterinary medicine because it allowed her to study a broad spectrum of diseases that all interact with one another.
Millicent Eidson: I guess I was interested in veterinary medicine because of its broad approach so that you can learn about all different animals and diseases across all species, and I've always been interested in what's now called the ‘one health concept', which is, how does the environment and animals and people all interact in regard to health.
Howard Lovy: Millicent made a career out of studying public health at the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, and elsewhere.
Millicent Eidson: In CDC, the two-year EIS program, I was based actually at the National Cancer Institute in the Washington DC area, and that was great for learning more about disease researched methodology, epidemiology.
Then when that training program was finished, I was able to get back to the Southwest, which I was missing, by joining the New Mexico Department of Health, and I was there for 12 years as their environmental epidemiologist.
So, studying things about lead poisoning and radiation, and things like that, but also their state public health veterinarian. So, responsible for diseases which are pretty prominent in the southwest, like plague and Hantavirus. After 12 years with New Mexico, then I jumped to the New York State Health Department and was there for 20 years before retirement.
Howard Lovy: Throughout her career, Millicent retained a love for reading and writing.
Millicent Eidson: Like most authors, I've been passionate about reading my entire life. I was always a fanatic reader. I was an editor of an underground newspaper in high school. Just before starting veterinary school, I had the first summer off ever in my lifetime, and I dashed off a romance novel.
But once I went to veterinary school and started my public health career, I didn't have time for creative writing. I did, however, strongly emphasize writing to communicate science. So, I've authored more than a hundred scientific articles and educational documents. So, communicating our science findings has always been important to me.
Howard Lovy: After retirement, Millicent was ready for a new challenge. She wanted to make science and diseases understandable to a general audience, something that is needed these days, in the age of pandemics.
Millicent Eidson: In my retirement, I wanted to explore different creative outlets that I never had time for before. So, I joined a local writer's group here in Burlington, Vermont called, Burlington Writers Workshop, or BWW. I started taking classes at our local universities, the universities are wonderful that they let us older folks take classes for free for audit.
So, I started taking classes both at the University of Vermont and Champlain College on creative writing. My first creative writing class, when we were required to write a short story in a very short period of time, just a month, I thought, well, I should write what I know. So, I wrote about a plague outbreak, and the teacher liked it enough that he thought that these stories really would work better in a novel format. So, that was my first encouragement to try to translate these mystery stories to full length novels.
Well, they're medical thrillers, but they're medical thrillers with a twist. So, they're not cop-type thrillers. So, the main antagonist, of course is the microbe or the organism that's infecting people and animals, and of course I can have human bad guys too, but the structure or skeleton of the novels is around a particular disease that the protagonist and the team are investigating.
Howard Lovy: Millicent is going alphabetically in her microbial mystery series, featuring a main character named Maya Maguire. Right now, she's on the letter C, which of course means coronavirus, one that represents a particular challenge right now.
Millicent Eidson: Definitely the coronavirus one was the most challenging of the three alphabetical ones that I've written so far, just because it is a topic that is affecting people personally, and it's actually a huge topic scientifically. So, my novels tend to be long because these diseases are complex, and so they run about 95,000 words, but coronavirus was particularly complex, and this is not the first coronavirus that we've had to deal with.
A lot of people don't remember that there was the SARS virus back in 2003, that again spread out of China to other countries, particularly to Toronto, Canada, but some cases in the US. Then in 2013, we had the emergence of the MERS virus that's from camels in the Middle East. So, initially I was going to include those variants, those earlier ones, in the book as well, and finally realized I just didn't have enough space to do that. So, I spun those off as short stories. So, yes, the coronavirus outbreak in deciding what to emphasize was definitely challenging.
Howard Lovy: But there's more than just science in these books, they are very much about human interactions and relationships.
Millicent Eidson: Well, first of all, I hope that they're entertained because I try to have really compelling, warm characters who have great interactions with other people. This is a medical thriller/women's fiction/romantic suspense genres.
So, like in real life, the characters have relationships with other people, and although the novels are primarily from the point of view of female characters, particularly female public health veterinarians, I also have male point of view characters too, particularly in my short stories.
So, I want the readers to be entertained, but I also want them to understand that public health and disease investigations are not just pathologists in the lab or physicians, but that veterinarians play a really key role.
Howard Lovy: And of course, Millicent went the indie route when it came to publishing. She launched her own company, Maya Maguire Media.
Millicent Eidson: I really enjoy independent publishing, having control over the process, and Maya Maguire is my lead character. She's an interesting character modelled after my own daughter. We adopted her from China when she was an infant, and so Maya Maguire my character is also an adopted child from China.
That allows some interesting perspectives about othering, the issue of when you look different than your family, what does that lead to?
So, Maya Maguire is my main character, a young public health veterinarian just starting her career, who's dealing with some challenges, some physical and mental health challenges, and so the first book, Anthracis, it's starting her first training job. She's in the EIS training program with CDC, just like I went through.
Howard Lovy: Millicent says these books are necessary now more than ever, with climate change causing high profile disease outbreaks.
Millicent Eidson: Yeah, these issues are certainly timely. When I started this, of course it was before the coronavirus outbreak and nobody knew that it was going to hit, and then at first people were saying, oh we're experiencing it so much that people aren't going to want to read about it. So, that was a mixed bag, the timing of it, but definitely the coronavirus outbreak has shown how things are changing.
Climate change, definitely for a number of these diseases, is playing a part; it allows expansion of the disease into new areas, new geographic areas, and also sometimes leads to an increase in cases through various complex mechanisms. Like right now I'm starting to write the Dengue virus edition, and that's spread by mosquitoes. So, one way it's expanding is of course, with climate change and warming, then these mosquitoes that spread diseases like Dengue virus can get into new areas.
Howard Lovy: Millicent recommends other authors go the indie route, and to try to get involved in groups designed to help you along in the publishing process.
Millicent Eidson: Well, I definitely am a big fan of the independent publishing process. There is a lot of support out there. I belong to groups like ALLi, the Alliance of Independent Authors, which has been incredibly helpful. There are Facebook groups that are wonderful, like Wide for the Win, that give you advice on how to get your book out broadly beyond Amazon. For instance, for the eBook I publish it through Draft2Digital, D2D, which is very helpful.
There are national organizations, like I belong to Sisters in Crime, which has been great both for their national groups, and then they have smaller geographically based groups that have seminars.
My local group, the BWW, Burlington Writers Workshop, I'm the secretary for it, and I'm a workshop leader as well as a workshop participant. So, there's all kinds of ways to learn about being a better author and getting the word about your writing out there to people, but also those same ways are ways to give back and help others along the same journey.