"It sure didn't take me long to scoot to the Primer as I read Chapter 1."
"That's just the thing; you leave it as an option and then repeatedly remind people it exists.
"I also repeated information, intentionally, from chapter to chapter. When I pick up a book that has as many little discrete chapters and stories as this one does, I'm not going to read it straight through. I'll read a section then look at the next section and decide. So, I needed to repeat some of the technical aspects so that readers could understand the various sections independently. I didn't expect anybody to remember from one chapter to the next.
"If I were going to spend another few months on it, I would spend more time working with my mother to include more illustrations. There are so many more we could have done had my brain been wrapped around the idea. Originally, I thought about using images from scientists, but they were too off-putting. My mom does watercolors, so I thought it was a good idea."
"Does your mom have a background in the sciences?"
"No, she's a theater major."
"How did you explain things to her in such a way that she was able to illustrate them?"
"First, I would give her the long description, taking her step by step. She would ask, 'What is the most important part of all this? What are we trying to show?' As we talked, the picture came clearer. Fortunately, I communicate well with my mother."
"I have to ask, did you ever have to send her back to the drawing board?
"Yes. It was fine, because she is remarkably fast. At one point I flew her down for two weeks. Of course, at that point, there was a granddaughter involved, so it was pretty easy to get her to come down."
"In what ways were you encouraged, as a girl and a young woman, to pursue an interest in the sciences?"
"I was always expected to do well in school. There was never any doubt. I was just expected to, and it didn't really matter what the subject was. Because there was that expectation, and I was not a particularly confrontational or contrary child, I wanted to do well.
"Every family has their stories. My grandfather's father died very young. He was a veterinarian and was killed by a horse. Because of that, and a number of other circumstances, my grandfather was unable to go to college, even though he had received a partial scholarship. Because his father couldn't go to school, it became a terrifically important thing, when my father was growing up, that he and his sisters go to school. Going to college was very important in my family as well, because my grandfather didn't get to go."
Suddenly, there is a click on the line, and Lisa's daughter, fresh from her shower, chimes in with a series of distinct syllables, "Ray, me, me, me." As Dad whisks Anya off, I reflect on how much I enjoyed my own daughters at that age. "Once they learn to speak, they have opinions, and it's not quite as fun." I muse.
"She's beginning to have opinions already. She's a very early talker. She's 20 months old and she speaks in sentences. You can hear her coming down the stairs."
"How important are genetics in something like early verbal ability?"
"Language has been one of those difficult things to pin down. So far they seem to have identified just one gene related to it. If you have a mutation in that gene, you have problems with actual speaking and with syntax and all sorts of verbal abilities. Other than that, they really don't know what is involved in language acquisition and skills. Knowing about the one gene gives you a place to look for others that have a smaller effect.
"My mother says that I was also an early talker. So, perhaps there is some genetic component to it."
"How did you go about selecting the human stories you use to illustrate the effect of genetic disorders?"
"The story about fish odor syndrome, from which my book takes its title, made a splash in local newspapers and magazines when it was first identified. There have, in fact, been two symposia on the disorder. I went to one, and so was already familiar with the story prior to starting the book.
"Since the 1960s there has been speculation that Abraham Lincoln had Marfan Syndrome. I knew that women's volleyball legend Flo Hyman had also suffered from Marfan Syndrome. I thought that because she was such an important volleyball player, and was so important for women's sports in the 1980s, that this would be a good one to start with.
"Marfan's is an interesting gene because it has so many potential effects. The specific genetic disorder interferes with a very important and widely used protein, so it can manifest itself in any number of ways. You can have problems with the arches of your feet, the main blood vessels of your heart, or the lenses of your eyes. It can also cause you to have lengthy bones and to be very flexible. Marfan Syndrome is a great way to explain the notion of pleiotrophy -- the concept that one gene ends up having myriad effects because it involves such a basic process.
"I've always been personally interested in Marfan because I'm an extremely short human being, but my father's father (the veterinarian) was 6'8". He married a woman who was 4'8", and we've been short ever since. One of the interesting things about him, though, was that he sat short. When he sat down he looked to be the same size as everyone else, but when he stood up he was all legs and arms. Looking at him, I have to wonder if he had Marfan Syndrome. And, if so, had he not been killed by that horse, would he have died an early death anyway? Maybe he would have had a weak aorta."