FIG1 When my patients discover I
write crime fiction, thrillers in particular, they get a funny look. Why is
their psychiatrist interested in crime, especially murder? Are they about to
become fodder for the next novel? Should they leave now?
The truth about why I've diversified in my professional life has a lot to
do with striking a balance between medicine and the arts. It's a well-traveled
road, from physician novelists like Somerset Maugham and Arthur Conan Doyle to
modern-day best-selling authors like Robin Cook, F. Paul Wilson, and Michael
But for anyone who has written a book and then had it published—or
for anyone who would like to do that—it's important to understand the
difference between the art of writing and the business of publishing.
As physicians, we're especially equipped for this duality, as we're used to
the magic of bedside manner in one minute and then documenting for Medicare in
Years back, when I published my first novel, I wondered whether I was
paving a road that would lead away from medicine. The fantasies at that time
included truckloads of cash that would back up to my front door and frequent
guest spots on "Oprah." Well, the trucks were smaller than
expected, and Oprah has yet to return my call—I guess she's happy with
I quickly learned that publishing is a business and that being a doc helps
quite a bit. In fact, some agents and publishers actually prefer to work with
physicians and other professionals. Once you get involved with the world of
books, it's easy to see why.
We bring good stuff to the table. For starters, we work hard. We'd have
never made it through pre-med, med, internship, and on and on if we couldn't
keep our noses to the grindstone. Publishers have no tolerance for missed
deadlines and sloppy work, especially when a book is scheduled to be released.
The timeframes and turnarounds are tight. It's not uncommon for me to get a
manuscript to proof and have about a week to make it through 400 pages. Hey,
piece of cake—Remember being an intern and having to work up a patient
at 3 a.m., research their condition, pull an article, and be prepared to
present with all the lab work by 7 that morning?
Next, people are fascinated by what I do. Whether writing fiction or
nonfiction, we've got a leg up on the "write what you know"
chestnut. A quick flip around the television dial reveals endless medically
based shows, everything from reality plastic surgery to "CSI" to"
ER," and the daytime soaps couldn't function without new and
incurable diseases. And a scan of the best-seller racks almost always reveals
a few docs smiling back from the covers of their latest diet or self-help
books. Our expertise is widely sought.
The only negatives I've heard about some docs in the publishing
world—and this is probably true of new authors in general—are
unrealistic expectations, such as truckloads of cash and appearing on"
Oprah," and naivete about the amount of publicity that must be
done by an author if a book is ever going to take off.
I recently had an e-mail conversation with another physician author who
bemoaned the lack of publicity for his book. It's a familiar theme, and unless
you're already a best-seller, much of the responsibility for whether your baby
takes off rests with you. In some ways it's just like opening a practice. If
people don't know you're there, you'll have no business.
Now, as I prepare to hit the marketing trail with my third novel—a
horrific tale of love, murder, and revenge—I'm gearing up months in
advance. But what's interesting this time, as I sit with reporters and answer
questions that have been asked many times before, is that I find my responses
have changed. As I become more successful as an author, the thought of leaving
medicine becomes more remote. And it's not that medicine has become less
stressful; it's something else. It's finding in medicine a similar balance to
what I find with writing and publishing. It's the beauty of crafting fiction
and the magic of sitting with a patient and then realizing how lucky I am to
have these two things that I love, which at the end of the day also pay my