Interview with Author of “Taming the Telomeres”

R.N. Shapiro is the author of an incredible new thriller novel titled “Taming the Telomeres.” The book follows a high school girl’s journey to find answers after a mysterious plane crash. The book contains a myriad of twists and turns that you’ll never expect.


I sat down with Mr. Shapiro to discuss the book.


Q:  When you’re asked what “Taming the Telomeres” is about, how do you answer?


Shapiro: It’s a novel focused on overcoming all odds to get to the truth.  The protagonist is Amanda Michaels, a high school senior who is the only survivor of a jet crash. Her parents were on board the doomed flight. Amanda suffered horrible injuries and amnesia from the crash.  It’s all about her search for answers.


Q:        At the beginning, it opens with Amanda’s flashbacks or near-death experiences.  Do her near-death experiences play a big part in the book?


Shapiro: Absolutely. I’m fascinated by near-death experiences because they are not clearly understood by medicine.  That is, the book delves into the mysteries surrounding this type of experience. For example, many children’s near-death experiences have unexplained parts to the memories.  Survivors of near-death experiences swear that they heard doctors talking and had out-of-body experiences.  Medical textbooks can’t explain how this could be true and that’s a part of the story line in the book.


Q:  It’s been called a biological espionage thriller.  What’s the biological part?


Shapiro: Well, the title is “Taming the Telomeres” and telomeres are the tip of our chromosomes. They’re described as like the plastic cover over a shoelace that protects it from fraying.  Biologically, everyone’s telomeres only have a certain number of divisions, and cells die when the telomeres stop being able to divide.  So there’s a lot of biological research on trying to understand them better because they play a part in cell life, and they also play a part in cancer.  I can’t give away anything more because it’s a central part of the plot.


Q:  A part of the story involves a private school, Middleburg Academy.  Does that school exist and why did you pick Middleburg as the setting?


Shapiro:  Middleburg, Virginia is quite an interesting town. I visited it to research the book.  It’s the wealthiest county, per capita, in the United States.  There is some serious money there.  No, Middleburg Academy does not exist but it is based on my familiarity with a few other private schools. There are bits and pieces of those sprinkled into Middleburg Academy.  Some of the book scenes take place at Crossroads Farm in Middleburg, which is based on some of the research I did of horse farms and horse country.


Q:  Tell me about her uncle, Andy Michaels, who is the D.C. trial attorney who sues the airline on her behalf and on behalf of other passenger families.  Did you model him after yourself?


Shapiro:  I’ve never been based in Washington, D.C. like Andy Michaels, but there are things I’ve learned in my practice as a trial attorney that I am sure helped build his persona.  Andy sued the same airline in a previous 9/11-related suit and I thought that gave things an interesting angle – to him going back up against the same airline and same defense attorney, but this time he’s representing his own niece and his brother and sister-in-law.  I wanted to explore what it means to not only be a trial attorney, but to represent your own family members in a tragic situation. 


Q:  There are spying and intelligence agencies involved in the story and I know you won’t give away any details here, but does this Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act secret court that is involved in this book actually exist?


Shapiro:  Absolutely.  Almost everything that is discussed in the book is based on something factual and the FISA courts were set up by Congress.  You’ll see a mention of them in the press once in a while.  The U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice selects the 13 judges from around the country who hear secret intelligence subpoena and other requests from the Department of Justice on behalf usually of intelligence agencies.  But it’s not a court that’s open to the public, it’s one sided – the government presents its request and the judges are all that stands in between citizens and these subpoenas or other activities requested by the intelligence agency such as the CIA or the NSA.  I thought that peeking inside those courts would be an interesting part of the intelligence cat and mouse game inside this story.


Q:  I’ve read that the CIA and our intelligence agencies can’t do any spying inside the USA, only against foreign person who may be suspected of some type of terrorism or that type of thing.  Am I correct?


Shapiro:  No, because spying is allowed in the United States if it is designed to protect us from foreign intelligence agencies or their spying.  It can involve terrorism or counter-intelligence and be covered under the FISA.  And this is something that is a part of Taming the Telomeres so I won’t give away any details here.


Q:  Towards the end of the book there’s some pretty amazing twists involving characters in the story.  One in particular was a big shock.  How did you go about setting that up?


Shapiro:  Well, one thing you can do as an author is you can paint a character’s personality and their traits over a number of chapters.  You are setting the lens of perception on how the reader views that character.  One of these twists came to me all of a sudden after I was in the middle of writing the book.


Q:  Does the CIA really create scenarios and personas like you have in the book?


Shapiro:  Sure.  Sometimes the more elaborate, the more likely the covert operation will succeed.  A recent movie detailed how the CIA sent actual film producers and their staff into Iran pretending that they were shooting a documentary, many of them were actually CIA covert operatives.


Q:  Any particular reason you picked a female and a high school student at that, as your protagonist for this story?


Shapiro:  I wanted to chronicle an underdog who starts out fairly weak and meek and willing to accept what those around her claim to be true.  But she transforms and beat all odds in her search for truth and justice.  Amanda is very unstable through certain parts of the book, but ends up triumphing and that’s the kind of protagonist that I wanted to present with this story.


Taming the Telomeres is available to download for free at R.N. Shapiro’s author site: