Thursday, June 10, 2010
I am a surgeon, as are most of my protagonists. Most of my protagonists like the same food that I do (shrimp, steak, hushpuppies and diet Coke). The way my protagonists talk to their patients mimics conversations that I have had with mine.
What is the quirkiest thing you have ever done?
I entered a pinewood derby a few years ago (and won!). I carved a “Fiction Theme” car. It had an open Bible for an engine (I lacquered the passage where Jesus answers his disciples’ question about why he talked in story so that it would be visible on the open page). The exhausts coming out on both sides ended in real scalpel blades (showing that the Bible is what “drives” a story that finds its expression through medical themes. It was cool. It was the second fastest car in its category and won an award for creativity.
My family disagrees with my answer. They say the way I raise and lower my eyebrows when I’m writing is quirky!
My husband tells me that writers "think weird." When did you first discover that you were a writer?
I didn’t start writing stories until I was in surgery residency. I started outlining my first novel on the back of an operative note at the Veteran’s Administration Hospital in Lexington, KY.
I'm really glad you kept at it. Tell us the range of the kinds of books you enjoy reading.
I love novels. My first real interest with inspirational fiction was stimulated by Frank Peretti’s early novels including This Present Darkness. Now, I read a variety of fiction (Steven King, Grisham, Jerry B. Jenkins) and non-fiction (John Piper, Francis Chan). I just finished A Hole in Our Gospel by Richard Stearns. Excellent. Challenging. One of my favorites is a classic, The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life by Hannah Smith. I bet I’ve read that book twenty times.
I also loved Peretti's early novels. What other books have you written, whether published or not?
I wrote a contemporary series dealing with a surgery resident who finds out her father has Huntington’s Disease (an inherited problem) that began with Could I Have this Dance? (the “Dance” is the crazy dancelike movements seen in Huntington’s Disease patients). My first novels were more medical thrillers and included Lethal Mercy, Fated Genes, The Stain, and Stainless Steal Hearts. The Chairman tells the story of a quadriplegic man who sees life from his wheelchair and learns that human performance doesn’t determine human worth. Salty Like Blood was released last year. I’ve just completed a novel (seeking a contract) that grew out of my experience working as a surgeon in Africa (and deals with a surgeon starting an open heart program). I’ve named it Open Heart. We’ll see if that title sticks with the publisher.
How do you keep your sanity in our run, run, run world?
Honestly, my wife is the detail person in our duo. I’m the visionary. There are days (and weeks) that I feel I’ve got a rocket strapped to my feet. My wife has her feet firmly planted on terra firma. She pays the bills and keeps my schedule straight.
How do you choose your characters’ names?
What is the accomplishment that you are most proud of?
You know, I’m really stoked about my first non-fiction book, Breathing Grace: What You Need More Than Your Next Breath. The best thing about writing about grace is that you can’t stand up and pat yourself on the back about it….otherwise I just wouldn’t be getting the concept of grace, would I? I am also very happy (I can’t quite admit to pride, maybe I’m hung up over that, Christians shouldn’t be proud when they realize it’s all God, right?) about an ongoing medical and teaching work I helped establish in northern Somalia, working along side Muslim medical colleagues.
That sounds very interesting. If you were an animal, which one would you be, and why?
Silly question, but one I’ve actually thought about. I’d love to fly, so being an eagle would be cool, but I love diving and sushi, so maybe being a porpoise would be the bomb!
What is your favorite food?
Wow. There are so many. I really love a tender ribeye grilled with a hot pink center.
I'm with you on that one. Maybe we can find one together when we're at conference next time. What is the problem with writing that was your greatest roadblock, and how did you overcome it?
Writer’s block is every writer’s nemesis, but I just “back-burner” a plot problem and go about my work. Invariably, when I’ve got my hands in some patient’s warm, moist innards, the solution will present itself. (Actually, the answer comes at any odd time when I’ve taken the mental pressure off and am not really focusing on the plot problem).
I've gotten some of my best solutions in the shower. God often talks to me there. What advice would you give to an author just starting out?
Study the craft! Get your hands on writing books by Donald Maass, James Scott Bell, and Sol Stein and read about how the pros do it.
Tell us about the featured book?
The Six-Liter Club tells the story of an African-American female trauma surgeon fighting to find her place in a white man’s world. She faces prejudice, a crisis of personal faith, and elusive whispers of dark events from her childhood in the Congo. There is a strong suspense and romantic element to the storyline. Without giving away the ending, just let me say that my protagonist, Camille Weller, has spent many years trying to be one of “the boys.” Over the course of the novel, she undergoes significant emotional growth to the point where she sees that she brings something special to her role as a surgeon as a woman.
My copy just came. I can hardly wait to read it. Please give us the first page of the book.
MEDICAL COLLEGE OF VIRGINIA, 1984
MY HEART BEAT with the exhilaration of knowing I hid in enemy territory—a woman in a men‟s bathroom. Moments before, I had blown in to make a poignant statement about this sexist university, but right now, I felt a bit short-winded, like I needed to recover an ounce of the passion that had fueled my daily survival in this hospital for the greater part of the past decade.
There were trite metaphors to describe what I had just done. Threw down the gauntlet. Drew a line in the sand. Aunt Jeanine would have called it career suicide, but I never did give much for her opinion of my actions.
Thirty seconds before, I had thought my statement was precisely what this stodgy establishment needed. But at this moment, on the day I had become the first woman surgeon to join the prestigious Six-Liter Club, I cowered in a stall of the men’s bathroom, desperate to find the fire that had emboldened me to barge into this inner sanctum of testosterone. I peered through a crack looking into the doctors’ locker room, appreciating only a small vertical slice of the room at a time. It was much like the nurses’, except larger, and it smelled a bit like my sweat socks after a run in the Virginia heat. I leaned forward until my forehead touched the cool surface of the metal door, tuning my ear to the voice of Dr. Bransford, my mentor and the chief of general surgery.
I closed my eyes and began to gloat in near euphoria. The Six-Liter Club! It wasn‟t exactly where I had expected to be on this first day as a surgery attending, but a coveted milestone nonetheless. I knew graying surgeons who, respected and dignified as they were, would never know the thrill of successfully pulling a patient back from so far over the precipice during his plunge into the next world. Oh, they’d often snatched patients back from the edge, made some “good saves,” but rarely from six liters of blood loss—a hemorrhage of more than the circulating blood volume of medicine’s prototypical normal human. “Normal” in the medical literature meant male, probably white, seventy kilograms, three-fourths fluid, five liters blood, one brain, one heart, and two testicles.
What emotion! Really pulled us in. How can readers find you on the Internet?
Thank you, Harry, for this visit.
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