Damn double ‘geneticists’

So I entered Nathan Bransford’s The Surprisingly Essential First Page Challenge for the first 500 words of your manuscript. When Mr. Bransford announced the contest, I got to work. Over the last two nights, I diligently edited the 500 words; over and over. As a result, the handshake, the first snapshot, the initial whiff of the book is tighter, cleaner, edgier.

Here’s the thing: I’m a senior writer at an interactive marketing agency; I’m used to deadlines. (I had three today besides Mr. Bransford’s). I’m also used to working right up to the deadline. So when I pasted the 500 words into the little dialog box, the first sentence read like a train wreck. The line break really, really bothered me. It was the placement of the word ‘geneticists.’ It looked kludgey sitting there.

On the fly, I reworked the first sentence…and then promptly forgot to take out the part that was driving me nuts. I just found it. It’s a single word, but…aw shucks, see for yourself:

In December 2003, a team of geneticists from the University of California – Berkeley geneticists studying the latent mechanism of tuberculosis accidentally created a more lethal, resilient, and rapidly reproducing pathogen.

Fart. Fart. Fart. I was headed into a meeting; I was worried I wouldn’t get another opportunity to submit before the deadline. I didn’t check…


There’s a lesson for y’all. I am bummed. I spent a bunch of time getting it right, and at the wire, I farted on it. Anyway, since I’ve shot myself in the foot, here’s the whole 500, including the damn double ‘geneticists.’

Strain – Post-pandemic Thriller – 92,000 words

In December 2003, a team of geneticists from the University of California – Berkeley geneticists studying the latent mechanism of tuberculosis accidentally created a more lethal, resilient, and rapidly reproducing pathogen.

“These findings come as a complete surprise to us,” said Professor Lee Riley, the study lead.

“One of the very few hypervirulent organisms ever created,” said Dr. Lisa Morici, later adding, “there are several other virulent organisms out there that are easier to manipulate than TB.”


The pathogen, dubbed Flip Switch, was bioengineered from a multi-drug resistant strain of mycobacterium tuberculosis (MDR M.TB) and divided approximately every 110 seconds. Overnight, it became the fastest reproducing and deadliest bacteria known to man.

On Thursday, January 8, 2004, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) delivered the Top-Secret/SCI National Security Council Flip Switch Assessment to a special, joint session of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees and the executive branch. The report hit like a hammer.

The Flip Switch Assessment detailed the effects of a likely hyperviral doomsday scenario. The stark assessment punctuated the accelerated rate of reproduction, resiliency to antibiotics, ease of transmission, and lethality of the new pathogen. A shockwave of genuine fear tore through the executive and legislative branches.

On Friday, January 16, 2004, the top-secret Executive Order 13149 – Flip Switch Special Access Program was signed on a countertop in the kitchen of the president’s personal residence. Six people were present: the president, his chief of staff, the chairpersons of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the National Security Advisor. EO 13149 claimed unprecedented power for the executive and centralized authority outside Constitutional parameters in the event of a hypervirulent pandemic in the interests of national security.

Bolstered the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002 (BPARA), the real function of EO 13149 established the framework for decentralized and fastidiously compartmentalized preparations to respond to a hyperviral outbreak. In addition to quarantine protocols, EO 13149 granted authority to exercise immediate condemnation via eminent domain and authorized the use of force with extreme prejudice to contain any outbreak.
In a separate Executive action, an additional $2 billion in funding was earmarked to expand the genetic bioengineering research at 24 sites and 409 support facilities across the country. The appropriation’s introduction, presented as new NIAID funding, was paired with the administration’s reaction to House Resolution 2264 authorizing the Congo Basin Forest Partnership.

On August 17, 2004, while on a re-election campaign stop, the senior senator on Ways and Means announced the construction of the newest NIAID Level 4 biosecure research facility – with its $125 million price tag, 200 new construction jobs, and influx of additional monies for local infrastructure.

A small town on the verge of sliding unnoticed into history became a momentary celebrity in the regional news cycle. Chosen for its plausible proximity to a state university with a respected genetic research program, the site was…


2 Responses to “Damn double ‘geneticists’”

  1. Christine Says:

    Hi, I’m an instructor at Misque, a small writer’s retreat. I read a lot of writer’s blogs, and when I see somebody who seems pretty good, I invite them to consider applying to Misque. Enrollement is juried and limited to twenty people. Summer Misque 2008 is Aug-11-15, and is being held at a 5-star resort in Hawaii, room and meals included. The writers must have a complete or nearly complete novel and be prepared to work hard–our goal is for you to have your query packet ready to send out to a list of agents or editors the day after you leave. Based on your non-fiction writing experience what I’ve seen of your book “Strain” I would love to see you attend. Feel free to email me or visit the website and give it some thought. If you’re interested, you email the first chapter of your manuscript.

    Misque Coordinator

  2. peterosborne Says:

    Hi Christine,

    Thanks for stopping by and for the invitation. We’re on vacation for the first two weeks of August on another island with our New Hampshire friends.

    Till next time,


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