Custom Made Disease: Geeking Out About Mutants With William C. Dietz

This week, New York Times bestselling science fiction author William C. Dietz joins us to tell us about what made him geek out while writing his Mutant Files trilogy!

Image: Ace/Roc Books
Image: Ace/Roc Books

Geeking Out is a natural part of writing science fiction, and vice versa. So when I wrote Graveyard, which is the third volume in the Mutant Files trilogy, I was in the full-on geek mode.

The book’s main character is a Los Angeles police detective named Cassandra Lee. The story takes place in 2069, a time when the entire world had been divided up into a patchwork quilt of green zones (where the norms live,) and red zones (where the mutants live.)

That’s the McGuffin, and to justify it I knew that it would be necessary to get some science on. The mutants had to come from somewhere, right?

The most logical reason for widespread mutations (to my mind anyway) was some sort of out of control disease. But what sort of disease? I’m no scientist, but my eldest daughter has a degree in microbiology, and she’s susceptible to parental guilt trips! The perfect combo.

Image: Ace/Roc Books
Image: Ace/Roc Books

After pointing out that her mother and I paid for college, and we aren’t getting any younger, I convinced Allison to invent the disease I needed. But first she had to understand the how the disease came to be: In 2038 a terrorist who called himself Al Mumit (the taker of life), turned a bioengineered bacteria loose on the world. It was delivered to the Kaffar (unbelievers) by seven-hundred and eighty-six shaheed, or martyrs. Some were elderly couples, some were students, and some were infants. All of them had been chosen because they had spotless records, looked western, or were clearly innocent. Like the babies.

The results were what Al Mumit had hoped for. The disease spread, thousands fell ill, and unknowingly communicated the disease to others. Hundreds of thousands of people were infected in a matter of weeks–and they swarmed hospitals everywhere looking for a cure that didn’t exist.

It wasn’t long before societies broke down. And while millions died, some people underwent physical changes, and were labeled as mutants. And because the disease was contagious the “Norms” forced them out of some areas and into others which became known as Redzones.

With that McGuffin in mind, Allison went to work and came up with a fully customized disease. Here’s a sample of what my little geek delivered:

“In microbiology speak, we would talk about it as being in the Bacillus genus (Bacillus = rod-shaped), that they are Gram positive (a basic stain that differentiates kinds of bacteria – Bacillus are Gram positive, and therefore stain purple – Gram negative bacteria are pink) and Bacillus nosilla is going to be “spore-forming. A famous Bacillus species with similar characteristics is Bacillus anthracis (Anthrax) but many Bacillus species are normal soil bacteria. Their ability to form spores makes them suited to surviving harsh conditions in the soil for extended periods of time.

Because it is spore-forming, it could be spread like Anthrax as a bio weapon – initial use as a weapon involves dispersing the spore (probably as a powder), which infects individuals through inhalation or infection into wounds. Spores can last up to 20 years, areas that were initially “bombed” with the bio weapon may still be highly infectious.”

And so on and so on. Finally! I was receiving a return on investment for that college education… And that felt good. Very good. So good that I agreed to let Allison name the disease Bacillus nosilla. Which is why it’s called nosilla, which is “Allison” spelled backwards!

Image: Ace/Roc Books
Image: Ace/Roc Books

Now, having subcontracted some of the geekery to my daughter, I was ready to write. The first book is called Deadeye, because Lee is an extremely good shot, the second is called Redzone, because she has to venture into mutant territory to find her mother, and the third is called Graveyard–because, well that would be a spoiler.

However here’s what it says on my website: “LAPD detective Cassandra Lee is known for her single-mindedness, and right now, she’s got only one goal–and that’s to find the Bonebreaker, the serial killer who murdered her father.

But Lee’s quest for justice is put on hold when the Aztec Empire attacks the city of Los Angeles. The Aztecs are mutants, they occupy the huge red zone that used to be Mexico, and they’re determined to capture the territories that their ancestors ruled.

Suddenly caught in the middle of a war–Lee must try to keep her city safe, while unearthing the political secrets of LA’s shady mayor, even as the Bonebreaker tries to kill her.  Meanwhile, the man she loves stands accused of a murder he didn’t commit.”

The first two books are available in all of the usual places, and Graveyard will be released on January 26th.

Photo: Joseph Walsh Photography
Photo: Joseph Walsh Photography

New York Times bestselling author William C. Dietz has published more than fifty novels some of which have been translated into German, French, Russian, Korean and Japanese. Dietz also wrote the script for the Legion of the Damned game (i-Phone, i-Touch, & i-Pad) based on his book of the same name–and co-wrote SONY’s Resistance: Burning Skies game for the PS Vita.

Dietz grew up in the Seattle area, spent time with the Navy and Marine Corps as a medic, graduated from the University of Washington, lived in Africa for half a year, and has traveled to six continents.

Dietz has been employed as a surgical technician, college instructor, news writer, television producer and Director of Public Relations and Marketing for an international telephone company. Dietz is a member of the Writer’s Guild and the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers.

He and his wife live near Gig Harbor Washington where they enjoy traveling, kayaking, and reading books. For more information about William C. Dietz and his work visit: williamcdietz.com

Melanie R. Meadors is the author of fantasy and science fiction stories where heroes don’t always carry swords and knights in shining armor often lose to nerds who study their weaknesses. She’s been known to befriend wandering garden gnomes, do battle with metal-eating squirrels, and has been called a superhero on more than one occasion. Her work has been published in Circle Magazine, The Wheel, and Prick of the Spindle, and she was a finalist in the 2014 Jim Baen Memorial Science Fiction Contest. Melanie is also a freelance author publicist and publicity/marketing coordinator for both Ragnarok Publications and Mechanical Muse. She blogs regularly for GeekMom and The Once and Future Podcast. Her short story “A Whole-Hearted Halfling” is in the anthology Champions of Aetaltis, available April 12, 2016.