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When not inventing drugs, he invents plot twists

“Time in Between,” a short story by Northeastern University scientist Vladimir Torchilin, chronicles the life of a wealthy businessman who abandons his cushy job to live inside international airports all over the world.

The plot, says Torchilin, shares a number of similarities with that of a later Hollywood film that became a $219 million hit.

Some eight years after Torchilin’s tale was published in his second short story collection, Steven Spielberg directed “The Terminal,” a drama-comedy starring Tom Hanks as an Eastern European immigrant who’s stranded at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York.

Torchilin, Distinguished Professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences, and his wife got a kick out of the uncanny similarities between the existential short story and the feel-good film.

“The two are slightly different, but my wife is sure that if one of the film’s crewmembers spoke Russian, he could have read my story,” says Torchilin, who estimates that he’s written more than 100 short stories and novellas in Russian over the last 40 years.

Thousands of readers have stumbled upon his tales, in which plots and characters are shaped by his careful observation of people and places and ideas.

“When you analyze your influences, it might all come back to a certain conversation or a certain book or even something you watched out of the train window,” says Torchilin, who’s fascinated by historical tomes such as Winston Churchill’s six-volume account of World War II.

The majority of his stories focus on the importance of personal identity.

His first short story, a philosophical tale of an animal lover-turned hunter, was published by the Russian literary journal Avrora roughly 30 years ago; a short story about anti-Semitism in Russia won a literary award in an international competition some 20 years ago; and a novella published in the mid-1990s by the international literary journal Continent explored the complex nature of communicating across cultures.

“The more critical you are toward life, philosophical theories or leadership, the better,” says Torchilin, who counts Ivan Bunin, William Faulkner and Haruki Murakami among his favorite authors.

“It’s easy to be deceived, so you have to preserve your self.”

Torchilin, who does most of his writing at his home on Cape Cod, will go for weeks without typing a single sentence. And then he’ll pump out page after page of prose.

“I feel overloaded with an impression . . . and start to write,” he says.