By Karen Billing
Carmel Valley resident Douglas E. Richards left behind the biotech world and is enjoying the second draft of his life as a techno-thriller author.
His first book, “WIRED,” gained popularity as an e-book, ending 2011 as the #1 Kindle book in two categories.
The book spent time on the New York Times Best Seller list and, despite having been out for two years, it’s still among the top five in Amazon’s techno-thrillers and science fiction categories, and still sells about 100 books a day.
The online success of “WIRED” led to a book deal with Tor-Forge, an imprint of MacMillan Publishers. Richards' latest book, “The Cure,” was released on Sept. 17 — its shiny, embossed jacket on a printed hard cover was extremely exciting for Richards to see.
“The Cure” is a science fiction, techno-thriller mix that tells the story of Erin Palmer, a graduate student who goes into prisons to research psychopaths and possibly find a way to reverse their condition. The “fast-paced, breathless” novel takes place over one week.
“It’s been really, really fun. Also, I’m nervous because you never know…it’s always very stressful until the first 100 people read the book,” Richards said. “You can write a good book that you’re passionate about, but that’s not enough. You have to get lucky. I don’t know what the magic is but let’s hope I continue to get lucky.”
A book signing for “The Cure” will be held at the Del Mar Highlands Town Center’s Barnes & Noble on Sept. 29 from noon to 2 p.m.
Originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, Richards has lived in Carmel Valley since 1998.
He attended Ohio State to get his undergraduate degree in microbiology and then attended the University of Wisconsin where he earned his master’s degree in genetic engineering.
“I enjoyed analyzing data and I like to read the results of five years of research, but I didn’t want to be the one in the lab spilling stuff on myself, I don’t have the patience,” Richards said.
To change the direction of his career, Richards went on to earn his MBA at the University of Chicago and began working at the Eli Lilly IVAC medical devices company Bristol-Myers Squibb as the director of biotech licensing. He eventually moved to San Diego where he worked as the vice president of business development at Signal Pharmaceuticals and Acadia Pharmaceuticals.
Richards credits his kids for inspiring him to become a writer.
“I love to read, I was always reading and what really started my writing off was when I wanted to find science fiction for my kids,” Richards said.
He had found that for seventh and eighth graders there weren’t a lot of good options so he wrote a series of science fiction books for middle schoolers called “The Prometheus Project.” The series did quite well online and he was even invited to be a panelist at Comic-Con in 2010.
His books caught the eye of National Geographic Kids Magazine, who tapped him to write articles. The articles have now been translated into 12 different languages.
Richards finally decided to take on adult techno-thrillers in the vein of Michael Crichton, focusing his plots on the science and tech field where he knew he could tell stories that would not only be interesting but accurate.
Richards said it’s harder than ever to break into the publishing industry and with “WIRED” he tried for years without an agent and couldn’t get a publisher.
“I put it in a drawer and ultimately decided to go back to biotech,” said Richards, noting he admitted to himself it was time to “concede the effort and return to reality.”
Six months back into working in biotech as a consultant, he started learning more about e-books.
“I thought, ‘I’ll throw it up there and see what happens’ and if I could get 10 people to read it that will be cool. Well, it went viral,” he said.
In less than three months it hit the New York Times Best Seller list, as well as the USA Today Best Seller list. It stayed on the Times’ list for five weeks.
“It is impossible to describe. I had given up and then it was just…surreal doesn’t even begin to describe it,” said Richards of being on the Best Seller list. “It brought a tear to my eye, it was incredible. They can never take that away.”
With the attention from “WIRED” he was able to get a “high-powered” New York agent and decided to try to work with one of the big five publishers. He was able to secure a six-figure offer from Tor-Forge.
Over the summer he was invited to ThrillerFest in New York with authors such as Michael Connelly and R.L. Stine, an experience he said was like fantasyland to get to meet all these superstars of the genre who happen to be nice, friendly and ego-free.
He said one of the ThrillerFest speakers, author Anne Rice, talked about how brutal the business is and recalled crying when getting the offer to publish “Interview with a Vampire.” He said R.L. Stine said that in today’s world he wasn’t even sure he would make it if he were just starting out.
“It’s so tough that everybody who has become a superstar feels like they won the lottery,” Richards said. “The result is they don’t get a big ego because they feel so lucky to do what they love.”
He said he knows there’s a lot of great books out there and, for some reason, lightning strikes the lucky few.
The idea behind “The Cure” stemmed from an article Richards was reading about the difference in brain physiology between psychopaths and normal folk.
A professor at the University of Wisconsin was doing MRIs on psychopathic prisoners and exploring the fascinating science of psychopathy — people who are totally ruthless, selfish, brilliant liars, with no shame and no fear, representing about 1 percent of the population.
Richards called the professor who does the MRIs on prisoners and had a 90-minute conversation about how the professor sets up a semi-trailer with an MRI in the prison yards and psychopaths come in, not chained or restrained and with no guards.
“I was incredulous, ‘Are you kidding me?’ I couldn’t believe the guts of this guy,” Richards said.
After his conversation, Richards knew he had to write this book and developed the character of Erin Palmer, the young student who had an encounter with a psychopath as a young girl that motivates her to study and try to “eradicate these monsters off the earth.”
Richards said he is close to finishing his fourth book, which he feels could be his best yet. For now, pick up “The Cure” at any book seller or on Amazon.com. To learn more visit tor-forge.com.