FQ: What inspired you to write a story where the main character experiences a rebirth after bodily death with fully intact past life memories?
REYELTS: I've always been interested in reincarnation. There's not a lot of credible writing on this subject but the University of Virginia "Division of Perceptual Studies" has been doing actual scientific-based research on the phenomena of reincarnation for some fifty-five years. The "DOPS" at UVa has documented some three thousand cases where the scientists believe memories from past lives have been verified. The memories usually manifest in children between two to five years of age, then begin to disappear between the ages of 11 and 13. I read many of the case studies from the UVa "DOPS" program and found it fascinating. With those studies in mind, I decided to expand the research beyond fact into fiction, creating a character who retained not just snippets of verifiable memory but the complete memories of a medical scientist's past life.
FQ: The supporting characters are from diverse cultural backgrounds. What led to your decision to pick those specific backgrounds?
REYELTS: Gifted children are found around the world. I wanted to create a diverse group of characters to accurately reflect that special gifts aren't just found in American children but throughout the world. In my book, the headmaster of "The Institute for Gifted and Talented" searches the world looking for children with incredible abilities and makes sure that all such children have the opportunity to grow and understand more about their gifts by offering scholarships and nurturing them with caring teachers and leaders.
FQ: The idea of students with unusual abilities was very interesting. What led you to add this aspect to the story?
REYELTS: Each of the characters' special abilities are also based in fact but go beyond verified abilities into capabilities not yet seen. Some examples of this are Gordon who can find objects and people without following a normal trail or clues that have been left behind. Science calls it "echolocation" and it's the ability to detect objects in one's environment by sensing echoes from those objects, including people. Gordon's ability starts there and goes beyond. Then there's Amir with his incredible gift of psychokinesis, or the ability to psychically influence a physical system without physical interaction. For some time scientists have studied people who can actually bend spoons and move small objects with their minds. Once again I went way beyond reality with Amir's abilities. I also took liberties with scientific facts with Bergin's architectural abilities. Most of us have heard of children who can play musical instruments as virtuosos without studying music. In Bergin, I created a phenom with natural architectural abilities. So once again I moved past fact and expanded joyfully into fiction based on fact! These supporting characters add dimension to the story while providing a platform for my main character's abilities to develop.
FQ: How did you come up with the particular gifts possessed by the students enrolled in a school catering to the development of rare talents?
REYELTS: I chose my characters' gifts based on my particular interests and areas of research. All the special abilities are based on phenomena that I had researched, so as to make the gifts as believable as possible...at least to a point!
FQ: What led you to select Switzerland as the location for the school for gifted individuals? Is there something about the country that intrigues you?
REYELTS: I set "The Institute for Gifted and Talented" in the mountains of Switzerland because I have travelled in that area and found it beautiful, compelling and mystical. I created the castle for the school from a composite of castles I saw in Switzerland when I travelled through the country.
FQ: Is there a reason you picked the University of Virginia as the place for Esme to find out more about reincarnation?
REYELTS: I chose to send Esme to the University of Virginia for further study because of the school's actual, longstanding, recognized, legitimate studies on reincarnation. UVa's "Division of Perceptual Studies" has been around for about five decades and reports that it has verified memories from about three thousand children the scientists have worked with over the years. The program continues today.
FQ: There is some scientific information shared with readers in the story. What sources did you use for it? And how much research was required?
REYELTS: I did a lot of research for this book as I studied what information was available on all my characters' special gifts. But the area in which I did the most research was that of Esme's cancer studies. Once again I took the facts, as I understood them, and moved beyond them into fiction.
According to the National Cancer Institute, the US government’s main agency for cancer research, most cancers begin in an area of damage within the body, i.e. lung cancer in smokers, liver cancer in alcoholics, etc. Cancer cells can then begin to grow in the damaged organ without a signal from the body and then fail to recognize other signals to stop growth. That means cancer cells keep reproducing until they metastasize or move outside the organ in which they began growth and eventually choke out other organs.
I also researched the typical methods for treating cancer. Typically cancer is treated by cutting it out through surgery, burning it out through radiation or poisoning it through chemotherapy.
My main character was looking for an alternative way to deal with cancer. She worked with the body's spontaneous regeneration of cells in damaged organs to suggest that the body was trying to spontaneously develop whole new organs to replace those which are damaged. Her goal was for the body to regenerate a new organ, then surgically remove the damaged organ. As in other parts of my story, I used fact to a point then moved into my own theory of spontaneous regeneration in humans for replacing damaged organs. In theory I believe this could work...but I'm not a doctor.
FQ: Are any of the characters based on real people you know, or are they all from your imagination?
REYELTS: While I used some names of people in my life, my characters are completely fictional, out of my head!
FQ: Are you familiar with the different locations in which the story's events take place from first-hand knowledge, research, or both?
REYELTS: I have been to almost all the locations I referenced in Dying to Live. I find it makes it easier to describe places where I've actually been. Where I hadn't been, like some of the military sites, I depended on researching those locations to make their descriptions as accurate as possible.
FQ: Do you plan on writing a sequel, and, if so, will it include any of the same characters? Would you give our readers a little preview of what they can expect?
REYELTS: My main character's last words were "I will finish the neuron control project next time around!" I wrote that intentionally to set up a sequel. I can foresee my main character having many more lives, in new bodies. I felt my cancer research part of the story was complex enough for one story, so I left Esme's other main focus of research unfinished. She was looking into humans' ability to use more of the electrical synapses in our brains, for more control over our environment. There is a lot of legitimate research into the fact that humans typically utilize only about one percent of our 80 billion brain neurons at any given moment. In my story our scientists find that the gifted students were utilizing hundreds of millions more neurons than the typical brain. Esme and Gerard tried to find out how the gifted students were able to use that many more neurons during their incredible feats, so as to pass that ability on to other humans. But both scientists ran out of time. This author has more time...so that subject may come up in a sequel. If I do write a sequel or a series I would use Esme in my story, but probably not the other characters. And I would probably place Esme in a new body, in a new place, looking at solving new mysteries.