Meet the PhD Biodefense Student and Counterproliferation Advisor Who Writes Sci-Fi and Spy Thrillers

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Laura Denlinger in a two-toned pixie haircut smiles at the camera.
Sci-fi and espionage romance novelist Laura Denlinger

Fiction writers are often asked what inspires their ideas. In the case of this important plot point, in the new book Interstellar Angel (An Astral Heat Romance) by Laura Navarre, the light-bulb moment for the story came during a real-life biodefense PhD class about genetically modified pathogens. That’s where she cooked up in her mind the fictional Valyrensis novicida, which, in the story, eradicates exactly 88 percent of the Valyrians, who are the galaxy's leading race. The ensuing turmoil across the galaxy causes a pangalactic race war.

The novel, the first of a series, debuted on Amazon’s LGBTQ+ Science Fiction bestseller list when it was released in October. In a bit of apparent family competitiveness, Laura’s “sinister twin sister” Nikki has published The Russian Obsession, one of a trio of espionage thrillers rooted in the realities of high-tech intelligence.

Interesting family, yes?

But wait: There’s a twist. Laura and Nikki Navarre are actually one and the same. Those are the noms de plume of Laura Schmidt Denlinger, a senior counterproliferation advisor and a PhD student at the Schar School of Policy and Government’s groundbreaking biodefense program.

By day, Denlinger is a Department of Energy National Laboratories employee on a long-term rotation to a sister U.S. government agency where she advances cutting-edge cooperative threat reduction work. Once you know what she does for a living, the idea of wiping out 88 percent of a galaxy’s population as detailed in her fiction isn’t so far-fetched.

Denlinger is deputy team chief of a unit “that does capacity building for foreign partners that are looking to do all sorts of things—counter North Korean [weapons of mass destruction] proliferation, keep ballistic missiles out of the hands of Iran, strengthen chemical security around the world; and then also there's a nuclear security program that I manage.”

She came to the Schar School once she learned from program director Gregory Koblentz that the biodefense program aligned with her strong interest in cyber threats. It was in one of her subsequent Schar School classes that she came up with the pivotal plot for her next book.

“I got the idea for Interstellar Angel in Dr. [Katalin] Kiss’ microbiology class in the fall of 2019 when she was talking about genetically modified pathogens,” Denlinger said. “That gave me the idea for the virus that wipes out a galaxy’s leading race.”

Does it surprise anyone that Denlinger’s PhD thesis will be “taking models and paradigms from biological and nonproliferation and applying them to counter state sponsored cyber threats from Russia. Basically, lessons learned from biological non-pro[liferation] for cyber.”

Being two authors, a PhD student, and a vital cog in the protection of the country, if not all humanity, Denlinger’s days are somewhat busy. She has good things to say about the Schar School and its professors when it comes to supporting flexibility in schedules. Still, she sometimes found herself “studying for microbiology exams on a plane at two in the morning with my little light on while everybody around me slept,” she said. But all in all, “I’ve managed to keep those balls in the air.”

An avid writer since fourth grade, Denlinger finally published her first book in 2009 “after 50 rejections,” she said. But once she sold one, she sold a second within the month with the help of an agent. “That was very exciting,” she said.

Her work has been published by romance powerhouse Harlequin Enterprises and other major publishers but now, 10 books into her duplicate career(s), she’s regained the rights to many of her manuscripts and, with her memoirist and nonfiction author husband Steven, is reissuing some of the titles under her own Ascendant Press. So in addition to everything else, she’s president and treasurer of a publishing house.

The next chapters of the Angel saga, which she describes as “Star Wars meets Hunger Games but racy,” come out later this year and early next: Renegade Angel on December 1 and Atomic Angel in February. Information about all the Navarre titles is here: