Rabbit in the Moon by Deborah and Joel Shlian

About the Book:
San Francisco, 1989: Forty years after Mao and his People's Liberation Army set poised to change China forever, Dr. Lili Quan prepares for a journey that will change her life forever. To honor her mother's dying wish that Lili "return home," Lili reluctantly sets out for China.
For Lili, a passionate idealist, this will be an extraordinary trip filled with remarkable discoveries - from meeting and falling in love with Chi-Wen Zhou, a victim of the Cutural Revolution and zealous Taoist, to finding Dr. Ni-Fu Cheng, the grandfather Lili believed had died years ago. But Dr. Cheng has made the most remarkable discovery of all: he's discovered the secret to long life.
As Dr. Cheng's only relative, Lili's life is in jeopardy. As greedy and unscrupulous men vie for control of the most earth-shattering discovery of the century, Lili Quan could become a pawn in a deadly and dangerous international game.

Before Lili can hold the key to the future, she must unlock the deadly secrets of the past.
I was lucky enough to get Deborah to agree to an interview. This is what she had to say:
Could you please tell us a little about your book?

Rabbit in the Moon is the story of strong-willed Dr. Lili Quan, American born Chinese and medical resident in Los Angeles,. When she challenges her chief of medicine and risks losing a coveted fellowship, she decides to accept an invitation to study medicine for a few months in China. It’s an impulsive decision partly based on a promise she made to her dying mother – that she would someday visit the home of her ancestors. Little does she know that she will become a pawn in a deadly international conspiracy as greedy and ambitious men vie to gain control of her grandfather's discovery of the secret of longevity.

Since finding the secret to long life is a significant part of our story and because it takes place in China, we decided to use a title based on Chinese folklore. According to legend, there is said to be a rabbit in the moon pounding on the elixir of life.

What is the inspiration behind this book?

In writing Rabbit in the Moon, we started with a what if premise What if someone had found a way to make people live well beyond the normal human lifespan. From that came two obvious questions: who would want such a discovery and what might they do to get their hands on it.
In our story, we explore the various motivations of a host of characters- who will do just about anything for this secret.

After deciding on the premise, we needed a setting for the story..

The backdrop we chose is probably the most tumultuous seven weeks in recent Chinese history- from the rise of the Democracy movement in April 1989 until its fall with the Tiananmen massacre on June 4th.

We chose 1989 and the period around the student democracy movement for two reasons: first it was dramatic. Anyone who read the newspapers or watched CNN at the time can hardly forget the image of the young man holding up his arm to stop the tank from rolling over him.

But we also chose this backdrop because after our first trip to China in 1985 we returned to Los Angeles and became a host family for over 10 years for students from the mainland who were studying at UCLA. During those weeks in 1989 many of the students were communicating with friends and family back in China. In talking with them, it was clear that at least from their perspective, the conflict was a generational struggle between the very old leaders, many of whom marched with Mao and who were desperate to hang onto power (and therefore for our plot would want to get their hands on an elixir that could significantly prolong their lifespan), and the younger generation anxious for reforms.

Did something specific happen to prompt you to write this book?
A number of different events that occurred over a several years and a number of different issues that interested us and that we felt we could weave into the novel. This book, more than the other two required extensive research.

While working at UCLA as a physician, I met Roy Wolford, a leader in aging and longevity research. He was a member of the team that spent a year in the Biosphere. He is also known for his trademark shaved head. Roy is certain that an individual’s lifespan can be extended well beyond the allotted three score and ten (70). Today’s average lifespan is close to 80 compared to age 47 for a typical American living in 1900. The fastest growing group today is centenarians (people over 100). Joel and I found this concept exciting and have tried to keep up with the latest genetic and pharmaceutical approaches to tackling the mystery of longevity. The premise that someone living in China in 1989 had finally perfected this secret became the basis for our story.

What cause are you most passionate about and why?

We are very passionate about an organization called Remote Area Medicine (RAM) and in fact, are donating all the royalties from Rabbit in the Moon to RAM. RAM is a not for profit charity featured on 60 Minutes February, 2008: http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2008/02/28/60minutes/main3889496.shtmlRemote Area medicine provides free healthcare for uninsured and underinsured Americans.

Who is your biggest supporter?

My husband has always been my biggest supporter in everything I have done - professionally and with my avocations. We know we’re an unusual couple. We’ve been total partners in almost everything we do since we married thirty-seven years ago (six weeks after we met). We’re extremely lucky that our relationship seems to enhance the other rather than create conflict. For years before we started writing fiction we worked together as physicians in the same multipsecialty group. During that time we teamed up on several clinical research projects which we published in scientific journals like JAMA. We also co-wrote a consumer health guide for national Blue Cross/ Blue Shield. In 1988 we returned to school together. After completing the MBA program at UCLA, we became partners in a national health care consulting and recruiting business. So when we had our first idea for a novel, it was only natural that we’d take on that challenge together as well.

Your biggest critic?

I think I am. I have always tried to hold myself up to the highest standard in everything I have done. That’s probably why I was hesitant to send my first novel off to a "real publisher". It would mean that I was representing myself as a professional writer and therefore would have to be able to measure up to those who were recognized by their peers and readers as serious writers. I did not want to be considered a dilettante.

Do you have any rituals you follow when finishing a piece of work?

Because all three of our novels have been written while my husband and I were still involved in medicine, we generally write very early in the morning and/or very late at night, On weekends we often write at a 6 hour stretch,

What is the most important thing in your life right now?

Right now I am taking care of my parents. My dad will be 90 years old next week and I want to spend as much time with them as I can.

What are you currently working on?

I have just finished the second novel in a series featuring Sammy Greene, a 20-something radio talk show host who becomes an amateur sleuth. The first book, Dead Air will be out December, 09. The second, titled Devil Wind, will be released in early 2011. This series I am co writing with a physician friend in Los Angeles named Linda Reid. Linda and I will be writing a third in the series while Joel and I would like to start a sequel for Rabbit in the Moon.

Do you have any advice for writers or readers?

In terms of advice to budding novelists starting out at any age, I would say developing discipline is key – being willing to sit down in front of a blank page and just write for at least an hour or two each day –getting into a rhythm. Joining or even starting a writing group can be helpful in terms of sharing idea and providing support. If possible, find a mentor with experience. They can be very valuable and save career missteps. Finally, be prepared for rejection, but don’t give up. Also, don’t be afraid to re-write.

Is there an author that inspired you to write?

Certainly Robin Cook was initially a big influence on me. As a physician, he was able to tell a story that incorporated issues about the healthcare delivery system that might not otherwise have been heard. For instance, in Coma, which I think is a really good example of the medical mystery genre, Cook alerted us to the fact that we need to be vigilant when entering a hospital as a patient. Bad things can happen if no one monitors outcomes properly--and that was in the 1970's. For a while there I couldn't wait for the next Robin Cook novel. Now I don't read them because all the plots run together. The doctor/author whom I really admired was Michael Crichton (who sadly, died recently) because he tried to tackle new territory with each book. He was interested in exploring the effects of new technology--such as in Jurassic Park--or new ideas--such as sexual harassment turned on its ear in Disclosure. His forte might not have been character development, or even writing, but his story lines were compelling. In terms of literary writers, I think Hemingway is my model. My journalism teacher in high school used him as an example of "less is more" i.e. writing short, crisp sentences. It’s a style I try to emulate.

What do you feel sets this book apart from others in the same genre?

Rabbit in the Moon is the third novel I have co-written with my husband and also our most ambitious book. It’s an international suspense/thriller that takes place in China, Macao, Hong Kong, Korea, Los Angeles and Washington, DC – all places we’ve either lived in or traveled to many times. The novel contains at least three main stories:

First, it is the story of Dr. Ni-Fu Cheng, a Chinese physician who has spent his entire career searching for the secret of longevity only to finally face the fact that not only may his discovery NOT save the world, but it could possibly destroy it.

Second it is the story Ni-Fu’s grand daughter- strong-willed Dr. Lili Quan, American born Chinese and medical resident in Los Angeles, who has spent her 28 years fighting against her Chinese identity. When the story begins, her life seems to be coming apart – her mother has terminal cancer; she’s challenged her chief of medicine whose recommendation she needs for a coveted geriatrics fellowship. On impulse, she accepts an invitation to study in China -ostensibly to fulfill her mother's dying wish. But in fact, she’s been lured there by various bad actors who want to obtain grandfather's discovery.

And third, it is the story of Chi-Wen Zhou, a young man close in age to Lili, but worlds apart in terms of culture and how they each view the world.

Within the novel, Lili and Ni-Fu and Chi-Wen meet and ultimately change each other’s lives.
Lastly, as I mentioned. Our story is set against the short-lived student democracy movement in China, 1989.

Because of the various themes and the backdrop. Rabbit in the Moon is not a typical thriller. It really lends itself to in depth discussion. And happily, reading groups have been selecting it for their monthly reads. We have reading group uestions on our website. DearReader.com, an online book club with 300,000 members has selected our book for their Thriller Book Club for the week of May 18, 2009.

You know the scenario – you’re stuck on an island. What book would you bring with you and why?

That’s hard one. I think I would bring a Kindle (the Amazon e-book reader) and hope that the island was not so out of the way that I could wirelessly download any of the now 15,000 books the new Kindle can hold!
What is the most important lesson you have learned from life so far?

If you are lucky enough to find a life partner to share the highs and lows, then add a few close friends, you have it all.

Is there anything you regret doing/not doing?

I probably wish I had started writing fiction when I was younger because I enjoy it so much.

What is your favorite past-time?
I have a few: I love to read, watch TV (The Closer, The Wire-miss it, Law & Order, ER- will miss it, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, etc), play tennis, and learn photography

What do you feel has been your greatest achievement as an author?

Getting published was my first big achievement. Winning the Florida Book Award for Rabbit in the Moon has been a real high primarily because the other authors in contention are such stars.

About the Authors:
Deborah and Joel practiced medicine together for years before trying their hand at fiction. Their first novel, Double Illusion, won rave reviews from the LA Times and was optioned for film. Their second book, Wednesday's Child, was compared to Mary Higgins Clark and was nominated for an Edgar Award. Their latest novel, Rabbit in the Moon is in hardback and on Kindle.

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P.W. Dowdy said...

I am a big, big fan now that you've explained Rabbit In The Moon as a novel. That history is involved as a subplot promises a delightful read.

You characters seem strong, yet sensitive. Some insightful film producer shall inevitably stumble across the work, and then later take home an Oscar.

Best wishes to you both on this very fine effort.