Author CJ Zahner’s latest release, “The Suicide Gene,” poses an interesting question. Is there truly a gene — one little gene — that can doom a family to death? She talks about her own personal journey with the topic, and how her own family influenced the novel. Thank you, CJ, for offering this blog post today!
By CJ Zahner
The Suicide Gene is totally fictional and the novel’s idea was inspired mostly by my crazy imagination and a little by my family.
I tend to name a few major and minor characters after family or friends. One main character, Minnie McKinney, was named after my great-great-grandmother. I made her a little crazy because someone said Minnie was the black sheep of our family. Since she was three generations removed, I didn’t think anyone would mind if she wasn’t so sane. A minor character, Sharon the secretary, was named and patterned after the office secretary at my last job. Sharon, the real person, was as sweet, caring, and as mothering as the fictional character. (She was also my first editor and a fantastic influence on the storyline.)
My main inspiration for this story, however, came from my grandfather.
Gifford was my grandfather’s last name and naming one of the characters Gifford was important to me because my grandfather, Frank Gifford (not THE Frank Gifford but Frank Merle Gifford), attempted, unsuccessfully, to commit suicide after his wife died. Because several other members in my family suffered depression and because research showed a connection between depression and genetics, I began to wonder if there was a suicide gene.
The character named for my grandfather, Attorney Gifford John Johnson, was originally intended to play a minor role—be a boyfriend of the main character’s friend. (Giff, by the way, does not suffer depression.) But because my son, Zak, is an attorney, I pattered Giff’s personality after Zak. Big mistake. Zak is good-looking, kind, and has a big personality. He lives in Philadelphia and one month before my books were published, he surprised me by picking me up at the Pittsburgh airport as if he were my chauffeur. (See the picture.)
Need I say more? I couldn’t have him playing second fiddle to any other characters in the book. So, Attorney Giff Johnson slid into a main character box.
Yet, here is something I learned and something I advise other authors: Never base a character after your child or grandchild. Its disconcerting. You can’t bring yourself to write anything bad about that character. (Go ahead and try. I dare you.)
Does a suicide gene exist? I have always wondered.
The idea came from my own life. My grandfather and many before him suffered from depression. My grandfather actually attempted, unsuccessfully, to take his life. He also reminded me of Ernest Hemingway. He was brilliant in his own right.
And now here is a confession. When I was in my teens, twenties, and thirties, I suffered suicidal thoughts. The feelings surfaced three or four times a year and always before my period. Routinely, I told myself to suffer through the next week and I would be all right. These sporadic thoughts continued until I had a total hysterectomy at age forty.
The memories of those frightening thoughts remained fresh in my mind. They are the spark that ignited in my head and developed into a book. I don’t know if I believe there is a suicide gene or not. Scientists and researchers must tackle that question.
My book is totally fiction and includes other anomalies, such as the impossible identical twin gene, but I believe the novel will generate questions about genetic links. Today, people are enamored by genetics. Our DNA secrets seem to be as close as a stroke on our computer keyboard and, what, $99?
We need more research, more compassion, and more funding for mental health issues in our nation. I’m very sure that statement will spark a multitude of pros and cons, but please—save those remarks for our politicians. I simply want to know: Do you believe someday scientists will identify a suicide gene?
What a better world we would live in if we could eliminate this horrid problem that strikes so many.
The Suicide Gene blurb:
She thought they were her siblings. By the time she realized they weren’t, one of them was dead.
Doctor Emma Kerr had no right counseling them. Adopted and her birth records lost, she believed she was born a McKinney. Her face, intelligence, and depression resembled theirs. For years people mistook her for their sister. So, she devised a plan. What begins as a scheme to counsel the McKinney family and determine if they are blood relatives, quickly causes Emma to wonder if she had truly done the manipulating. Is someone following her?
Now Emma clamors to escape the McKinney world of domination and deception.
Is she Mathew McKinney’s sister? She can’t be. Is he in love with her? He can’t be. Then how do he and his sisters know more about her than she knows herself? This is a game to them. Is the game Suicide? Or Murder?
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Barnes and Noble: http://bit.ly/BandNSGene