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Specific Gravity

Although I enjoy scientific writing, a part of me always wanted to write fiction. However, I learned quickly that writing fiction is much different than scientific books and articles. I had never actually written fiction before, except for some short stories in high school.

Being a fan of Michael Crichton, Robin Cook, Tom Clancy, and Dan Brown, among others, I knew I wanted to write a techno-thriller, presumably with a medical angle. I wondered what would happen is someone hacked into medical databases and altered records, and figured out a way to kill people under the disguise of "medical errors."

Finding a murder weapon that no one had used was a challenge. My wife helped me out with that one. For a while she was into buying only a specific brand of hard-to-find bottled water. I figured out a way to use bottled water as the murder weapon—in a way so bizarre that it seems impossible.

Specific Gravity is a fun, interesting medical mystery with a variety of puzzles for the protagonists to solve. It is also the story of a man's redemption from his past misdoings, and how he finds happiness with someone that is more than a match for him.

The book is also a philosophical reflection on the impact that medical errors make in the medical field—something that we all need to think long and hard on. With the right tools and education, hospitals have made great strides in minimizing this important problem.


The story follows the life of Dr. Alexander Darkkin—a talented but troubled cancer specialist who suffers from alcoholism and depression, a result of bad choices made in life. He is supremely selfish, a trait he learned from his dysfunctional father, Conrad, a retired nuclear physicist.

Alex is arrogant and self-centered, but has a spark of good inside him. The Nashville-based Alex knows that somehow he needs to turn his life around, and decides to turn to the one person he feels can help him—his sister Wendy, who lives in San Diego.


Wendy is Alex's younger sister by two years. Embittered by their father's alcoholism and treatment of their mother, she left for San Diego State University on a track and field scholarship after high school, changed her name to her mother's maiden name, and never came back to their native Tennessee. Alex had hard feelings at her for leaving, and the two drifted apart, although Wendy always tried to encourage a better relationship.

Wendy, a pediatric rehabilitation specialist, is not as academically talented as Alex, but is a kind and caring person. Her mother, whose favorite childhood character was Peter Pan, named her daughter after Peter's little girlfriend Wendy Darling. But she's no shrinking violet—at 6-1 and 228 pounds, the deep-voiced former champion power athlete is an imposing sight with an attitude to match when the need arises. Married with one child, the garrulous blonde is a gifted organizer and charity fund-raiser, and has eventual political aspirations. The future Surgeon General of the United States, Governor of California, and forty-seventh President of the United States is one person who knows how to get things done.


Bonnie Mendoza is the youngest of three children born to educated, upper-middle class parents in San Diego. Her father, Carlos, is a former police lieutenant who is now a professor of criminology at San Diego State University. Her mother, Elisa Flores, is a mathematics teacher. All members of the family are stellar athletes; her grandfather was a silver medalist in the 400 meters in the 1952 Olympics; her oldest brother, Jaime, was a pro football wide receiver and Super Bowl MVP. Her father and other brother Mike were champion college athletes.

Bonnie is a genius who was able to read, write, and speak English and Spanish at a college level before entering kindergarten. Even more astounding, however, were her mathematical abilities. She inherited from Elisa the rare neurological trait "synesthesia," which means, literally, "union of the senses." She sees numbers and letters as colors, for example. Living humans have unique colors and smells as well. These odd sensory perceptions allow her to easily manipulate words and numbers, the source of her vast lexical and mathematical powers.

Bonnie has many deficiencies in executive function, though, and she falls within the high-functioning "autistic spectrum"—she sometimes seems to lack common sense and makes rash decisions. A byproduct of her autistic spectrum tendencies is that she cannot tell left from right, and has poor direction sense, leading her to get lost easily. She rarely drives her own car, relying on a driver or public transportation. Her strange perception of colors also necessitates that her clothes be picked out and arranged for her by number.

Bonnie's idyllic life changed forever at age 11, when she was stricken with rapidly progressive meningitis. In a coma for over two weeks, she awoke to find that she remembered almost nothing, and barely recognized her parents. In addition, she was completely deaf. She had to learn to walk and master fine motor movements all over again, but never recovered her hearing or lost memories. Remarkably, she retained her synesthetic abilities, and learned to communicate quickly with American Sign Language.

By 13, she was ready to go back to "regular" school. Although her growth and puberty were delayed by the illness, she had by that time reached 5-5 in height, although was still quite thin. It was then that she met San Diego State sophomore Wendy Gallinsworth, who helped her gain physical strength through weight training. Over the years, the two developed a strong relationship, and became best friends.

Bonnie was deemed a suitable candidate for a cochlear implant and received her first one at age 15. Over the years, the technology advanced, and she was eventually able to discern some speech, and did not have to rely on ASL exclusively. She received a second implant at age 26, which greatly improved her "hearing," although she was still not able to enjoy music or "hear" in noisy environments.

By age 18, she had grown to her full height of 5-9, and entered the mathematics and physics program at San Diego State University. She also set records in the heptathlon at SDS, and was encouraged to enter the Deaflympics (the Olympic games for the deaf) by Wendy in 2001. She placed third, and trained vigorously for the 2005 games in Rome. It was there that the 165-pound Bonnie set a new world's record for deaf athletes.

Bonnie wanted a career in law enforcement like her father and brother Mike; banned from being an officer because of her deafness, she earned a master's degree in forensic science and works for the San Diego Police Department.

Bonnie's major hobby is in stark contrast to her regimented, scientific vocation: she is an excellent magician who performs with Wendy at various charity stunts to raise money. "Mendoza the Miraculous" is primarily known for being a superb escape artist and being the featured character on the children's cable access program "Dr. Wendy's Science Squad," a show in which kids are taught various aspects of math and physics in everyday life.

But she has a dark side that few have ever seen. She has a bad temper, is virtually fearless, and can be lethal to anyone who tries to harm her. Her training as a forensic scientist has given her the knowledge on how to use weapons most effectively. She also is a reformed compulsive gambler; in her early twenties, she descended into the abyss of compulsive gambling and learned that she could make a lot of money by using her mathematical skills. Wendy eventually convinced her that this was a waste of her abilities, and she went to a treatment facility for rehab. She no longer engages in games of chance for money.


Originally from New Castle, Indiana, Jim became friends with Alex while they were at Vanderbilt University. Intellectually gifted with a penchant for mischief, Jim is especially adept at computer hacking and is always willing to help his friend Alex out with his latest project.


Rad Darkkin is a brilliant nuclear scientist whose family earned a fortune by distilling whiskey in the Tennessee mountains, and claims to have been named after the discoverer of the x-ray, Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen, although that is just a coincidence. Rad took a different path, and went to Princeton and MIT instead of going into the family business. Rad became director of Oak Ridge National Laboratory where he secretly worked on weapons of mass destruction; indeed, many current nuclear warheads are of his design. His secret life is unknown to his children Alex and Wendy; he is divorced from his wife, Marianne Gallinsworth.

The massive, bizarre Rad is an alcoholic with paranoid delusional disorder who has alienated his family and friends. Wendy despises him and has not seen him for years. He is mentally unstable, yet still a formidable foe of unmatched intellect. Where he goes, trouble usually follows, however. He is often accompanied by strange relatives, such as brother Dusty, and cousin Smiley, whose brain was damaged by smoking a mixture of LSD and erectile dysfunction drugs.


Elisa is Bonnie's mother, and, like her daughter, is mathematically gifted. Bonnie inherited her synesthesia from her; Elisa's mother, Gabriela Flores, was a famous composer and musician. Elisa is a mathematics teacher who has been offered jobs at universities, but has chosen to remain as a high school math teacher, where she teaches gifted students.


Carlos is a former lieutenant for the San Diego Police Department who later earned a Ph.D. in Criminology. He currently is Professor of Criminology at San Diego State University. Carlos, although now in academics, still has a lot of contacts both in local and federal law enforcement.


Mike Mendoza, the middle child of Carlos and Elisa, is a sergeant (lieutenant in Ontario Lacus). Mike, like his father, has no synesthete abilities; his down-to-earth common sense helps keep his mom and two siblings on the straight and narrow.


The flamboyant star athlete known as "Jettin' Jay" was a college football standout who was runner-up for the Heisman Trophy at USC. He gained over 20 pounds of muscle during his senior year, after being taken under the wing, like his sister, by powerlifting champion Wendy Gallinsworth. His relationship with Wendy became more than that, however, and they broke up in a bitter incident where she found him cheating on her.

Jaime was a perennial Pro Bowl selection during his eight years with Green Bay, and he was MVP of Super Bowl XXXI. His career was cut short, unfortunately, by a devastating knee injury.

Jay is one of the Southwest's most eligible bachelors, and dates princesses, exotic supermodels, and actresses. He is a college football coach, and eventually moves on to a career as a sportscaster and pro football head coach.

Like Bonnie, he has synesthete abilities; his are quite different, however. He is very poor at math and science, and is more "artsy"; he seems to have the ability to predict when something bad is going to happen.