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.


From Passing Gas to Novelist

Becoming a Novelist

As anesthesiologist, I regularly come across situations that seem made for a novel. But how does someone who passes gas for a living start writing? During post-residency fellowship training, I frequently helped colleagues by tinkering with the articles they wanted to submit to medical journals. I always had a fairly easy time writing and found that I enjoyed the process. I started to toy with writing fictitious tales about anesthesia or “passing gas” as we like to joke in my profession. From passing gas to novelist became a natural progression.

Critical from Beginning to End

After I decided on writing about anesthesia tales, I then had to decide on a genre and plot. Like flying, anesthesia is a profession that is critical from beginning to end. From takeoff to landing, or in my case, the start and end of the anesthetic. There is a lot of time in the middle where it’s usually calm and free of turbulence. If one is lucky, trauma and heart surgery is more rare, akin to flying through a storm.

A Novel is Born

Those calm times in the middle leave time for musing and random thoughts, naturally while keeping close track of what’s going on with the patient and the surgery. It was after weeks of intra operative and workout musings that I finally sat down and wrote out the nucleus of the plot and characters for my first novel, “Shell Game.”

To create this fictional medical thriller, I combined the skills I had acquired in writing scientific and medical articles with how I wrote less technical papers in college. The result had me spinning a yarn of a tale, allowing my medical knowledge to weave into my creativity.

However, I discovered that there was a big difference between writing scientific articles and fiction. I had great ideas, but the manner in which I wrote for science didn’t communicate as well for fiction. What was appropriate for a scholarly article was often the wrong thing to write in a fiction thriller.

My initial enthusiasm was tempered by equal amounts of frustration, rewriting, correcting, and sometimes totally trashing my work. I started working on the creative process. I took workshops, classes, and seminars. I read about the craft of writing as if I were back in school. In short, I did what I needed to do to find the bones of the story. From passing gas to novelist wasn’t as smooth a process as I imagined it would be.

An Ongoing Education

Work on the craft of writing, like any art, is an ongoing education — an experiential journey. I’m still doing it now in a variety of areas totally disconnected with fiction writing, but all of which will improve the quality of my work. Critique groups, workshopping pages, friend reads, and even stranger reads all with the intention of getting valuable feedback are part of my process. I was intent to learn what worked and what didn’t.

I also found it invaluable to evaluate other books I loved, and figure out how other authors approach writing. I even asked myself what exactly I enjoyed about their writing. After months and years of hard work, seasoned by time off for contemplation (and frustration) I started making progress.

Becoming a Novelist

I transformed myself from thinking strictly about what I do as a scientist and physician and began to immerse myself in the boundless creativity that writing represents. I took time as well as pleasure in becoming a novelist.

Questions and comments are always welcome. I’m excited to meet you and thank you in advance for showing up to read. I plan to  release excerpts from “Shell Game” so stay tuned and watch this space for the release date. Coming soon!