Welcome to our Authors Forward series, where our innovative and talented Books Forward authors interview other great, forward-thinking voices in the industry.
Matt Cost interviews Dr. BJ Magnani on her popular thriller series. Her novels, The Queen of All Poisons, The Power of Poison, and A Message in Poison, are extensions of the original, more scientific, short story collection, Lily Robinson and the Art of Secret Poisoning.
“Hidden under a cloak of legitimacy, I have been pressed to deliver extraordinary service for my country. It has been a successful ruse. A premium blend of dark deception with just an aroma of truth.”- Dr. Lily Robinson
BJ Magnani’s fascination with toxicology led her to a career in pathology and laboratory medicine. She is currently Professor of Anatomic and Clinical Pathology Emerita at Tufts University School of Medicine and writes the Dr. Lily Robinson series about a poison-savvy physician recruited by the U.S. government as an assassin.
Give us some background on Lily Robinson and the poison series. What are they about?
Beginning in 2009, I wrote a series of short stories under the nom de plume Lily Robinson for the “Clinical Chemist” section of the scientific journal Clinical Chemistry. The stories were designed to have entertainment and educational value, featuring a fictional character who used poisons to kill, challenging the reader to guess the poison. In the next issue of the journal, in Recollections, the toxin was revealed, and the reader was treated to a tutorial on the subject. This was Lily Robinson’s start; from there, I’ve continued her story in three novels.
My books are inspired by events in the news that could create catastrophic problems for the world if set into motion—mass poisonings, threatening missile launches, and control of geopolitical resources. I find these scenarios much scarier than traditional horror stories because they are in the realm of global possibilities.
How has your career in medicine shaped your writing of the Lily Robinson series?
You write what you know. I’m a clinical chemist (pathologist) with an expertise in toxicology. I’ve always been fascinated with poisons and have used many as part of my work. When doctors write fiction, technical jargon is part of the prose, and descriptions of medical situations are based on authenticity. Dr. Lily Robinson’s medical cases are real, and although her assassinations are pure fiction, the toxins she uses are not. My knowledge of medicine gives Lily nuance.
What can you tell us about your main character, Dr. Lily Robinson?
Driven by guilt over losing her daughter, Lily became entrapped in the government’s plan to use her knowledge of toxins and poisons to eliminate world terrorists. She rationalizes her dual existence with the mantra “the good of the many outweighs the good of the one.” How else could she justify defying the Hippocratic oath?
I admire Lily’s fierce independence and brilliance, but I also understand that for her to survive emotionally with her choices, she hides behind her clinical cloak. It’s a barrier between her and her deepest emotions.
If The Queen of All Poisons were made into a movie, who would you want to play Lily Robinson? And other major characters?
I would ask Natalie Portman to portray the complex Dr. Robinson. Natalie Portman and I graduated from the same high school!
Lily’s lover, John Paul or JP, is a seasoned French operative who’s cool under pressure and the love of Lily’s life. Their chemistry is passionate, and the actor Vincent Cassel would reunite him with his costar, Portman, from Black Swan.
Lily’s enigmatic colleague Dr. John Chi Leigh (“chemistry runs in John Chi’s DNA, forming a double helix with a backbone of genius and base pairs of deception and cunning”) is the part for Tony Leung Chiu-Wai.
Finally, Mads Mikkelsen would be cast as the arch-villain Grigory Markovic whose twisted mind challenges Lily at every turn.
Tell us about what you are working on right now.
I’m working on the fourth book in the Dr. Lily Robinson series. As with all the novels, the action takes place worldwide, and in this story—Australia, Belgium, and South Africa. The plot features sea snakes, climate change, and cloaking devices. There’s also more about Lily’s relationship with her daughter’s father, and the enigmatic assassin Pixie Dust.
Ellen Whitfield is senior publicist at Books Forward, an author publicity and book marketing firm committed to promoting voices from a diverse variety of communities. From book reviews and author events, to social media and digital marketing, we help authors find success and connect with readers.