Truth is Stranger than Fiction

As they say, “Truth is stranger than fiction.” I’ve often wondered why I have been blessed or perhaps cursed with odd experiences. Add to that wonderment, the fact that I work in the world of anesthesia and my experiences become compounded. If I had to point to a reason for my unusual experiences, it must be to give me a wealth of material for my books.

Writing from Reality

Much of my writing  material has happened in one form or another. I like to write about the underside and back rooms of the glossy and polished for public consumption side of medicine. It is frequently not pretty or nice, and many times, a rosy, neat ending doesn’t occur. But within those messy endings is a universe of themes and characters to be explored and excavated.

I’ve found the reluctant heroine, the ruthless antagonist, the helpful sidekick — all with their own stories of consequence. My own life adventures and misadventures find a way into my stories and help to create my characters. Naturally, I want to frame them in the context of current day topics and situations to which people can relate.

My Process

I get to create a world of my choosing filled with people in all of their flawed, messy glory. How do I keep all my characters and their quirks straight? I write about them extensively in documents that never see the light of day. These are my “character bibles” — detailed analyses of every quirk, tick, and habit. The process of writing and conducting research to help me flesh out my characters, create their backstories, and find their motivations is both fun and fascinating. 

My quirky habit of traversing the internet rabbit hole in search of factoids, is finally coming in handy! People are far from monolithic and typical. Tropes and stereotypes are easy to write about, and, in my eyes, boring.  I strive to present characters who remind me of real people, in all of their foibles, weaknesses, and strengths. 

Taryn and Blake were fun and relatively easy to create and write about. Now, I’m on to the next challenge — my next protagonist. Who is… well, that’s a mystery writer for you.


Everyone has an Opinion

Perhaps the most difficult aspect of being a writer is handling negative reviews. Everyone has an opinion. We can’t please everyone or write a book that will illicit the same response from every person who reads it. As much as we hope for good reviews, the fact that we all have varied opinions means that not everybody likes every book. Therefore, the occasional negative review may be valid. But when readers give damaging critiques without constructive feedback, a writer has little means to improve.

Focus on the Positive

When you are brand new to the field of publishing, it is easy to be steamrolled or overwhelmed by what you don’t know. Too often, it’s easy to focus on the people who emphasize what you did wrong over what you may have done really well. I again credit the editor who read my first draft and provided an honest, constructive critique of both content and style in order to help me improve my plot, characters, and dialogue. 

I also attended workshops and classes, and learned to apply the techniques presented to my work and writing. One of my biggest takeaways was the realization that in art, there is always room for different perspectives and opinions. Since experiences are likewise widely variable, those points should be considered when examining the validity and worthiness of critiques. 

Surround Yourself with Support

It’s unfortunate, but trolls and dour naysayers exist everywhere. This is why it’s so important to find a writer’s community and friends who are readers. They aren’t there to agree with bad writing or stylistic habits, but to provide support. I go by an old medical resident adage that is sad, but true: “When you swim with sharks and get bitten, it’s helpful not to bleed.” 

When someone provides an opinion in a forum that is unhelpful or downright painful, commiserate with friends and avoid challenging people who are hurtful or malicious. Learning from constructive critiques about content, style, or outright errors is one thing. Being harassed or demoralized by negative individuals who say or offer damaging assessments of your efforts is another. 

Go Forth and Be Productive

One has to grow a thick skin. You also must realize that this is part of the process of becoming an author. Thoughtful and carefully presented critiques will lead to your continued growth as a writer. Hurtful reviews without useful feedback should not weigh on your mind.


Ginsburg’s Legend: Success and Perseverance

Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her trailblazing work made an indelible and lasting mark on my life and career. She tore down irrelevant barriers affecting women, and for that, I will always see her as a hero. Using logic, the power of persuasion, and downright courage, Ginsburg opened doors for women to occupy a space that had been previously denied.

Part of Ginsburg’s legend is a story of when the dean of Harvard Law School asked the women who had been admitted how they justified taking a place away from a man. This dialogue was distasteful in itself, but even more surprising that it occurred at a dinner party meant to celebrate the students. Other future indignities occurred. Among them, at one of Ginsburg’s 1993 Senate confirmation hearings, she was turned away from a library at Harvard because it didn’t allow women inside.

I’m sure there were many other competent women back then and even now that have heard similar sentiments. I know this to be true because it occurred to me while in medical school. It became personal when a man, who was also pursuing anesthesiology, suggested the exact same mindset to me. Yet, whether it is medical school, law school, or flying fighter jets, that mindset  — the one that tries to hold women back — must end. We cannot live in a world where 50% of the population is not able to pursue the career and life of their dreams and choosing.

Justice Ginsburg was denied jobs upon graduation from law school because of her gender. And yet, she ended her career as a Supreme Court Justice. This accomplishment occurred after the earlier successful career as an academician and litigator. I believe that nothing beats down bias like showing them they are wrong. Ginsburg’s Legend: Success and Perseverance. It is a life and lesson to remember.

Like the inexorable power of water dripping on rock and cutting its own path, life and the course of rivers change with time. Lasting change is often slow with each inch hard fought. Sentiment, opinions, and biases create barriers to progress for many people in many fields. Unfortunately, there is no way to totally eliminate implicit bias in work or the arts, writing especially included. There’s even a hashtag about it: #ThingsOnlyWomenWritersHear. Although the posts were jaw dropping, the knowledge of them did not stop me from pursuing my passion to write. Nor did I stop my pursuit to practice medicine and anesthesiology. 

It’s a matter of being creative, and most importantly, persistent. I also had to learn to be my own loudest cheerleader, and find others willing to do the same for me. My goal remains to live my truth, write about it, and in the process make it easier for the next woman or nonconformist to do the same.

We fight on, push forward, tear down barriers, gain allies, and just maybe… have some fun in the process. It reminds me of one of my favorite RBG quotes: “Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”



Series Books Create a Bond

When I originally developed the premise for Shell Game, I knew I didn’t want it to be a stand-alone book. I’ve always loved getting comfortable with a character, knowing their inner most thoughts and traveling a path with them. To me, one book is just the introduction to this special relationship. What I wanted most was to write multiple books about the same character. In my mind, series books create a bond that stays with myself and my readers.

Life Experiences Drive Characters

The “coming of age” theme that made the young adult Harry Potter series so popular was genius, but not exactly the right fit for my adult characters. I knew that their life experiences would be a driving motivation for many of their actions. I wanted to give my characters a satisfying arc and watch them develop. I also knew how I wanted each book to end and where my character’s journey would take them.

What I wasn’t prepared for was to experience a strong desire show my character’s backstory. This would provide the dramatic and thematic impetus for future Taryn Series books. But in reality, I see this not as simply a series, but a constellation of books and interwoven stories.  Surprise on me and my planning!

An Unpredictable Thrill Ride

While my female protagonist, Taryn Pirelli, is the driving factor in these books, other characters began to intrigue my imagination and demand their place in the spotlight. One of the cool things about writing thrillers is that they are just that — an unpredictable thrill ride with twists in action from one near miss to the next.

The changes in direction are also true in this case for the sequencing of other books in the world of Taryn Pirelli. Contrary to our “timelines” on social media, when it comes to series books, one can jump forward or back in time. I look forward to showing my readers what has made Taryn the woman she is today.

More “Taryn” to Come

I have early readers who have asked for “the next Taryn book”… in one case, a good natured threat was cast and compelled me to get on with it (nods and winks to my bud, SSI)!  Rest assured, the next book is well underway as is the research behind it. I’m sure it will unfold and take both myself and my readers on an unexpected trajectory. Trust me when I say there’s a necessary detour on the way. 

As one of the lines early in Shell Game references, this is going to be a journey, rather than a straight out run from start to finish. I’m already enjoying the process, and hope you choose to join me on that unpredictable journey into the void of possibilities!


How I Banish Writer’s Block

Writer’s block is a condition, primarily associated with writing, in which an author loses the ability to produce new work or experiences a creative slow-down. This loss of ability to write and produce new work is not a result of commitment problems or the lack of writing skills. Wikipedia

How I Banish Writer’s Block

I’m going to share how I banish writer’s block. In fact, I’m going to blow the concept of “writer’s block” out of my perceptual universe. In my opinion, it doesn’t exist. I am back to writing and blogging after a short, but necessary break following an incredibly busy and challenging period at my primary job (you know, giving people drugs that make them unable to breathe for themselves and safely managing them while they have surgery).  Regardless that I have a driving motivation to write, I’m not at my most creative when I’m tired.  Instead of looking at this time as a period of writing failure or writer’s block, I choose to see it as time to think about my experiences and how challenges relate not only to my writing, but to my characters as well.

What Would Taryn Do?

If I’ve had a particularly long day, I ask myself how my protagonist, Taryn, from Shell Game, would handle it. Would she go for a hike in the woods of Seattle? Would she call her new love interest, Blake? Maybe she would simply have some quality time with her pooch, Maxx. Stay tuned for teasers about Taryn’s adventures. In the meantime, thinking of what she would do to banish writer’s block actually helps me succeed as well.

Perspective is one of those absolutely golden words and concepts when it comes to writing. Magic happens when you combine perspective in the optimal proportions with point of view, which has to do with first person, second person, third person…lots of writing technical stuff.  The bottom line is that I chose to use the experiences and perspective I gained during a daunting work period to better imagine the world of my characters as I plan my next story.  There are lots of crossover challenges that I experience and can now call upon to enrich the setting and experiences found within my books. In retrospect, it’s actually pretty cool.

Take Time to Breathe

I’ve also come to understand that a short pause in productivity is as necessary to the quality and importance of the work as breath is to life. I’ve come to understand that a period of “not writing” should not be viewed as a barrier or evidence of incapability, but as a necessary pause in action.  Regardless of where I am in the actual process of writing, of creating words and content, I am a writer. To my fellow writers, remember that there is a rich vein of value and information to be gained by mining every life experience on the writing path.

Obstacles do not block the path; they are the path. — Zen Proverb


The Power of a Writer’s Community

One of the first, surprising things I realized when I began to write was how isolating and lonely it can be. I loved living in the world I was creating. Imagining my characters’ emotions made me feel alive. However, I discovered that the creative process of writing required, perhaps even demanded, a degree of isolation. I needed the power of a writer’s community.

Honor Your Muse

The isolation is necessary to let you find your voice, develop it, and honor your muse. This is how creativity begins. I don’t mean to imply that you must crawl into a hole and disappear. Frankly, creativity is always sparked by like creativity. While writing, I read extensively in genres similar to mine. I dove into thrillers of all flavors, mysteries, biographies, even non-fiction, paranormal, and romance.

I read for fun as well as my own education. While reading, I analyze how other authors create their settings. I derive information from non-fiction books and articles, even conversations and interviews with authorities on my subject. I’m curious to see how other writers accomplish their goals while entertaining their readers.

The Power of a Writer’s Community

I learned that developing a community of writer-friends was just as vital. It was important to converse with people who understood firsthand the process of becoming a better writer, and the challenges of writing. Through conferences and small writing groups, I developed a community of like-minded writers to laugh with, commiserate with, learn from, and support them as they supported me.

My writer’s community also bonded on a curiously common finding. Many of our friends, family, and co-workers outside of our writing circle were sometimes less than positive about the idea of writing a book. Go figure? I heard every negative argument in the book. You will never succeed. You will never get published. You will never make money.

But instead of taking their criticism to heart, I filed it in the category of “Your opinion…everyone has one” and forged on.

I’m pretty sure that every writer, visionary, inventor and revolutionary thinker has heard these arguments. I am just as sure that those visionaries also had the determination to continue pursuing their dreams. They (writers, inventors, tech geniuses) continued to push forward and follow their dreams and Muse. They had that passion and willingness to put in the hard work to create their dreams. I say ONWARD! And, it also helps to have the encouragement and support from some like minded dreamers and friends.

Find your community and tribe, and move forward!


How to Switch On Your ‘Right’ Brain

After I solved the logistical and technical aspects of learning how to write fiction (it’s still very much a Work in Progress), it was time to figure out the when. The crazy hours associated with my medical practice make it challenging to carve out creative time for my writing. Although I frequently scribble notes that I hope to  expand upon after my time in the OR, time for plot development usually gets pushed to a new day. It can be hard to switch off the technical left brain. Even harder is learning how to switch on your creative ‘right’ brain.

Writing Means Rewriting

I had to accept that rather than the go-to-work and do-anesthesia routine, writing was a beast of its own schedule. Just because I had the time and the inclination, didn’t mean I could produce the type of material that I deemed to be quality. I learned quickly that the old adage of ‘killing my darlings’ was very true. As they say, the writing is in the rewriting.

Sometimes, I came up with a scene that popped. It was easy to write, the dialogue flowed, and everything just worked. That is, until I realized that my “perfect” scene contributed nothing towards the advancement of the plot. Many scenes that I loved writing and in truth, loved to read, ended up in the discard pile. As I self-edited and had professionals read and edit my material, suggestions were made and inevitably material was deleted.

Plot Pacing is Crucial

In order to keep a reader hooked, the advancement of the plot is crucial. The characters might decide to take over the plot and go on a detour. In some instances, it might work with the over pace of the plot. But then there are times when one finds they’ve written a tangent and headed down a meandering path. As a writer, one must look at their work with critical eyes and know when it’s important to get back on the main road.

When the Muses Speak…

The primary thing that I learn was that just because I planned on writing X number of pages in chapter Y,  I had to respect the creative muse that said, “Let’s write about this today instead.”  My writing schedule became much more fluid and productive as I became more responsive to the writing muse. Sensitivity to when I had the mechanics and structure of a scene just right was also a critical skill development. Those elements contributed toward effective creative writing.

From Expert to Rookie

I also had to learn how to accept constructive critiques and criticism. Just because I’m a subject expert in the field of anesthesia didn’t necessarily mean I could write about that subject in a fiction manner. From expert to rookie, I was learning a new skill — how to convey information effectively, but creatively.

With time it has gotten easier to enter into my creative mind about my highly technical field. Like medicine, the craft of writing is something I can easily foresee myself continuing to learn as I continue to write and publish. I never forget that to work in medicine is still called, ‘the practice of medicine.”  The art and craft of writing is no different. Artistry and creativity can truly be where you choose to see it.


What Music Inspires You?

Even writers have off days. Sometimes, the words don’t flow easily or the ideas are blocked. This can be true for me when I try to write on the same day that I’m in medical practice. To tap into my creativity, I have to put my technical mind to rest. To do so, I search for inspiration through music.What music inspires you?

For me, combining time outdoors with music gets a big thumbs. When I add a physical activity, then I’m on a roll. With earbuds in place, I set out. Walking my dog or plain just walking, hiking, or swimming, those are the ways I find creativity. In fact, I wrote this blogpost outside, under an umbrella. It didn’t matter that it was raining, I was inspired.

Mood Music

Of course, my earbuds were secure and the music was blasting. Once I get into my writing zone, I find myself seeking a song to fit the scene I’m writing. I can physically be anywhere — my home, a coffeeshop, by a pool — as long as I have my “writing music” on, I find what inspires me. Music helps me create my characters, and it’s a method used by other authors too.

Shell Game Playlist

I comprised several playlists while writing Shell Game since I had a wide range of characters with distinct personalities and interests. For me, the right song can solve dialogue and behavior roadblocks. A prime example is the character of Blake Myers. I knew that I wanted my strong female protagonist to have an equally strong male protagonist that would lead towards something more than a business partnership. Nevertheless, I found it difficult to create a person to fit with my female lead, Taryn, without superseding her personality. I also wanted someone whose character and voice would evolve as he and Taryn got to know each other’s attributes and faults. Maintaining this dynamic tension would be integral to Shell Game and subsequent books in the series. Creating believable, multidimensional characters would only enhance the medical suspense and thriller tale I would weave.

Classical to Country

I am a musical polyglot. I enjoy listening to everything from classical to country, rap to rock, electronica to reggae, and yes, even grunge. Putting my music library on shuffle can end up with some interesting selections back to back. The shuffle play action is how I ended up with music that helped me write about and learn Blake Myers. The song “Real Good Man” by Tim McGraw sealed the deal. I heard that song on a day when I had written and discarded more pages than I care to admit. I was trying to figure out how Taryn and Blake met and instantly came into conflict. With that song, everything about Blake clicked and the writing flowed. Soon after, I made a Blake playlist to go with my Taryn playlist. 

Some of my ‘Taryn’ songs included:

  • “Good as it Gets” by Beth Hart.
  • “Beautiful Stranger” by Madonna
  • “Freedom” by Beyonce

To find the right mindset to create intrigue, spying, and crazy characters came from:

  • “Furious Angels” by Rob Dougan
  • “Saladin” by Hybrid
  • “Mumbai Power” by Skrillex
  • “I’m on Everything” by Bad Meets Evil 

The right music can transport me and help me see my characters and plot with clarity. My personal writing soundtrack changed as I perfected my manuscript, and was as fun to curate as the book was to write.


A Radically Different Career Path

Although my writing is fiction, much of it is reality. I was involved in a worrying clinical experience and a rapid shuffling out the door after I saw too much. I was ready for a change. I launched into a year of non-clinical research that made full use of my training as an anesthesiologist. During that year, I took time to decide my next steps and launched into a radically different career path.

A New Direction

My new direction was based on an independent anesthesia medical practice I established.  My guiding principle was to use my knowledge, experience and compassion to help patients navigate their medical care journey while providing my best version of medical care. I have been fortunate to discover institutions and groups that allowed me to achieve my goals and make a living. I have met some truly amazing human beings in the process.

Write What You Know

I also wanted to tap into my creative nature with an additional, non-traditional career.  I sought something I enjoyed which also allowed me to mine my experiences in the medical field. Writing fiction allows me to create something unique and in keeping with my values. 

“Write what you know” is something writers hear, because it’s true. My career has provided fertile grounds to harvest both stories and characters. The virtues as well as vices that I have seen are universal. I want to share glimpses into my medical world by creating works of fiction based strongly in fact. To a degree, I want to demystify this world while I embark on a second career path as writer.

After all, we all need to grab a little corner, a piece of joy, and happiness in the midst of confusion and pain. If I can provide someone escapism through my writing along with entertainment and food for thought, I’ve accomplished something worthwhile.


D.J. Lee on D.J. Lee

A pen name, also called a nom de plume (French: [nɔ̃ də plym]) or a literary double, is a pseudonym (or, in some cases, a variant form of a real name) adopted by an author and printed on the title page or by-line of their works in place of their real name. Wikipedia

While the main facts of my bio (practicing anesthesiologist, Pacific Northwest resident) are true, D.J. Lee is indeed a pen name. So why the subterfuge? It would be easy for me to simply answer, “Why not?” but like a poorly written novel, that would leave you unsatisfied. In the spirit of full disclosure, I use a pen name because I also work as an anesthesiologist. Let me provide more information about myself here, or as I like to say, D.J. Lee on D.J. Lee.

When a Doctor Writes Thrillers

When I began to plot my medical thriller, I wanted my writing to be realistic. I gathered my ideas from my real life work situations. As you can imagine, people might get nervous if they discovered that their doctor writes about creepy medical situations. They would naturally wonder if these events occurred at the hospital they were about to go to for a procedure. They might be concerned that as their doctor I would be administering medicines to make them go to sleep. In short, how close does my anesthesia reality come to the imaginative one that I write?

Privacy over Fame

A pen name also gives me a bit of personal privacy in a profession that, despite the antics of Grey’s Anatomy and House, is very traditional, hierarchical, and even staid in nature. I’ve been an anesthesiologist for years, and I like doing my job. I wouldn’t want someone that I work with wondering if they were going to become my next fictitious villain. I usually wait a few years before the caricatures and parodies of people I work with end up in print (wink, wink). Also, nothing about the life of famous people makes me want to find myself in the news, easily recognized, or infamous.

The Best of Both Worlds

‘D.J. Lee’ gives me the freedom to explore another persona as a writer while continuing my regular career. I also enjoy having a different voice and viewpoint with D.J. than I express in real life. As I toyed with the idea of using my actual name, and all of the people who told me about the ego boost I’d get seeing my name in the proverbial bright lights, I realized that I would be happier behind the scenes. I value my privacy and my ‘day’ job. I want to serve me patients and my readers. Will I ever reveal? For now, like a good thriller or mystery, the ending is unknown.