Sunday, June 24, 2012

Indie Spotlight: Anne Marie Ruff

What happens when a journalist takes her personal experience with researching how our health is tied to the health of the environment and puts it into writing?

Anne Marie Ruff calls it "fact-based fiction".

In the below spotlight, Ruff explains how her debut novel Through These Veins, which has been referred to as "a character-oriented Constant Gardener set in the world of AIDS/HIV research featureing two strong women in pursuit of a long-awaited cure", came to be:

I call myself a recovering journalist these days, and I call my novel, Through These Veins, fact-based fiction.  Here is how the story opens: In the coffee-growing highlands of Ethiopia, an Italian scientist on a plant collecting expedition discovers a local medicine man dispensing an apparent cure for AIDS.

Fact or fiction?

The specifics of this particular situation are a fiction. But the story that unfurls from this fiction is studded with facts, real scientists, and events mirroring real life situations.  I gathered my sources and research for this novel at first unknowingly, while I worked as a journalist based in Bangkok, Thailand and then in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates.  Later, once I had the idea for a novel, I sought out more research for the novel, under the guise of journalism. 

I didn’t set out to write fiction, which seems so contrary to the ‘just the facts ma’am’ axiom we associate with journalism.  My intention was to shine a light on unreported or underreported environmental stories. The medical reporting I did was not really my passion, as much as a byproduct of living in Bangkok; a hub for HIV/AIDS research and activism. After a year of telling gloom and doom stories about the destruction of forests, or coral reefs, or traditional agricultural varieties, I felt like even I was becoming desensitized to my deeply held belief that our collective health is inextricably linked to the health of our environment.

When, in the course of my reporting, I met a charismatic Italian scientist who approached plant collecting and conservation as if it were an adventure worthy of Indiana Jones. I had a shazaam moment. He ignited an idea for a new approach, a fictional story centered on a character like him. He could carry readers around the world, and inspire in others the passion he felt for the richness of life on the planet. He could articulate the imperative to conserve it for the health and well being of this and future generations.

I met this man, Stefano Padulosi, in Malaysia at a scientific conference focused on agricultural biodiversity and the promotion of traditional and medicinal crop plants. I interviewed Stefano about his work, and he told me adventure stories about traveling across a dozen African countries in search of…hold your breath here…unusual varieties of beans.

The beans seemed like a sideshow to me, but I knew I had to hear more about Stefano. During the conference he had told me that he was planning a trip to Turkmenistan a few months later to study – what was at the time – the world’s largest collection of pomegranate varieties. So a week after the conference, I asked him if I could join the expedition to the mountain orchards of Turkmenistan. He said yes. Three months later I was there, peppering my notes for magazine stories with little tidbits about Stefano’s character.

But I needed more drama to make a compelling narrative.

As I worked on outlining my fictional story, my reporting on drug development and HIV/AIDS revealed itself as not only relevant, but integral to my story about the value of biodiversity, and one of its prime values as a source of medicines.  

I spent the next several years continuing my research and finally writing and revising (and revising and revising) the novel.

I contacted Stefano three years ago, nine years after the trip to Turkmenistan, letting him know what I had been writing. I was apprehensive that he could have felt somehow manipulated. But just like my character, the real Stefano has a more expansive heart than that. I was delighted at his effusive response to my email that I had written a novel that included him. He replied “The idea of the novel sounds fantastic!” I got goose bumps when I read the word fantastic, since my fictional Stefano uses the word frequently in the story. So I figured I had remembered his character accurately. Though of course, the fictional Stefano Geotti makes a lot of questionable decisions that cannot in any way be attributed to the non-fictional Stefano Padulosi. Even after reading the full draft (he said he translated much of it into Italian, so his mother could also know the book) he was still enthusiastic about the story – though pained at what some of his fictional version had to endure.

I am grateful for that conference in Malaysia and the chance meeting with Stefano, for it allowed me to marry my different reporting interests and use everything I learned and more in a novel way.  So facts support my fiction, and hopefully, my fiction will serve the facts.

All profits from the sale of Through These Veins are distributed to the Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines of Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders and the Institute of Biodiversity Conservation in Ethiopia.

Anne Marie Ruff has reported on AIDS research, drug development, biodiversity conservation, and agriculture from Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and East Africa. Her work has been broadcast by National Public Radio, Public Radio International, the British Broadcasting Corporation, and PBS TV. Her articles have appeared in Time, Christian Science Monitor, and Saveur among other publications.

Anne Marie and her publicist have agreed to giveaway one copy of 
Through These Veins 
to our readers.  

The giveaway is opened internationally!
(US/Canada winner will get - paperback)
(International winner will get- PDF)

If you are interested in winning a copy of this book:

1 - Leave a comment stating why you would like to win a copy.

2 - Agree to post a review on goodreads and Amazon after you have read the book.

3 - Your comment must have a way to contact you (email is preferred). AND you must state which country you are in. 

The winner will be chosen on June 30th 
and notified here and through email. 

Good luck!


  1. I would very much like to read this book. I have read accounts of the struggles in Ethiopia with HIV/AIDS and the lack of drug treatment history. My interest in this subject was peaked with the memoirs by Melissa Greene. I also have a pen pal, a young girl who lives in Ethiopia so the topic of AIDS research in other countries interests me greatly. I am happy to post reviews as I have done so many times. I am in the USA and my e-mail is

  2. Well, Lynne, you ask and you shall receive! Thanks for the interest :) Email headed your way!