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J.R. Alcyone
J.R. Alcyone Author Interview

The Stars That Govern Us follows a young surgeon who struggles with his own fallibility as many lives hang in the balance. What were some sources that informed this novels development?

When I was working on my first novel, Five Fathoms Beneath, I decided the main character’s father would be a heart surgeon. I ended up doing a lot of research into early pediatric congenital heart surgery as background for that character, but very little of that material actually made it into Five Fathoms Beneath. The story of the development heart-lung machine wouldn’t leave me alone, however. It was such an incredible achievement, and it had every element to make a great drama. I was surprised no one had tried to write a novel about it before.

I ended up settling on creating two fictional surgeons who are best friends (I think the term “bromance” applies to Alec and Pete), building them historically accurate backstories, and fitting them into what was happening in 1956 as realistically as I could.

Alec’s character was intriguing and I enjoyed how you developed him throughout the story. What were some ideals that guided his character development?

Alec is very much an #ownvoices character. An #ownvoices character is a character from a marginalized group who is written by a member of that group (in this case mental health). Characters with mental health issues are typically represented in media and literature as stereotypes — and harmful ones at that, such as those which equate mental illness with violence. With Alec, I hoped to force the reader to reconsider what, exactly, mental illness looks like. I drew heavily off my own experiences in dealing with generalized anxiety disorder and a mood disorder in writing Alec’s character. The thought helixes he experiences, and the crippling self-doubt he feels, are things I wrote from the heart. (Being an author with an anxiety disorder isn’t exactly easy.)

In terms of Alec’s arc in the story, many early cardiothoracic surgeons did leave the field, just as Alec seriously considers doing. These surgeries were incredibly dangerous and many, many children did not survive. For Alec, his inspiration to endure and continue on as a heart surgeon comes from his making peace with the fact that someone must do this work, as difficult and as painful as it is.

I enjoyed the medical drama in the story and found it very compelling. What research did you undertake to ensure things were accurate in your book?

I did a huge amount of research into the medical aspects of the story, to the point that I actually bought a cardiothoracic surgery textbook from the early 1960s to try to get a better understanding of the techniques. I probably read at least two dozen books and articles on everything from surgery to the heart-lung machine to some of the personalities who appear in passing.

Otherwise, this was a place where networking with other authors really paid off. My friend, Dr. Brandon Beaber, author of Resilience in the Face of Multiple Sclerosis, volunteered to read the manuscript for me. Although he is a neurologist not a heart surgeon, Dr. Beaber’s help was invaluable.

What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?

I’m in the planning stages of a novel set in 1962 that is positioned between my first book, Five Fathoms Beneath, and The Stars That Govern Us. It is designed to tie the two stories together. My working title is The Sweetness of Adversity.

Author Links: GoodReads | Twitter | Website

A gifted young surgeon. One of the 20th century’s boldest inventions. And the unconquerable, fragile, and amazing human heart. 
As one of two dozen teams worldwide performing congenital heart surgeries in the middle 1950s, Alec Serafeim and his best friend, Pete O’Neill, excel in an unforgiving field where the line between life and death is eyelash thin. But while Pete is satisfied with all they have accomplished, Alec aches to do more. Desperate to save more children, he also wishes to be remembered for something other than his mental breakdown ten years earlier.
Alec’s opportunity arrives via a chance to join the race to perform Australia’s first open-heart surgery using total cardiopulmonary bypass. Swept up in the competition, with a heart-lung machine cobbled together in the hospital basement, Alec charges ahead with surgery on a gravely ill child over Pete’s misgivings.
But the heart, for all its amazing strength, is a fragile organ. And when events conspire to shatter Alec’s heart, he is left questioning everything. With sick children’s lives hanging in the balance, as well as his career as a surgeon, he must find a way to cope with his fallibility–if he hopes to finish what he started.
Set in a fictionalized version of Perth, Western Australia in 1956, The Stars That Govern Us is a captivating, poignant, and unforgettable medical – historical novel set against the backdrop of the development of the heart-lung machine and the birth of open-heart surgery.

The Stars That Govern Us

The Stars That Govern Us by JR Alcyone is a heart wrenching but beautiful read set in 1956 Western Australia. Alec Serafeim is a congenital heart surgeon who suffers from manic depression. His pediatric patients mean the world to him but are often the reason why he’s distressed. Despite being one of the best heart surgeons of his time, Alec struggles with the fact that he can’t save all his patients. We follow Alec and his surgical partner Pete as they cope with the heartbreaking world around them.

Now, let me tell you why JR Alcyone is a future bestseller! There are so many things I can say about Alcyone’s writing, but let’s first discuss her scene-setting abilities! Alcyone can set a scene flawlessly. Her attention to small details, including surroundings and mannerisms, is what sets this novel apart. Most modern novelists skip over these details, considering them to be fluff. But Alcyone was able to apply just the right amount of detail to help immerse her reader into the scenes. There only two gripes I have with Alcyone’s writing, and one of them is monotony. The beginning of the story felt slow-paced. I felt that it could have been remedied with some editing. Her ability to pack in detail is fantastic, but it can often drone on about one topic. My second gripe is with distinguishing voices. It took me almost a third of the way through to distinguish Alec’s and Pete’s voices. It was not until I learned certain character traits about each of them that I was able to tell the difference. Once Alcyone started adding the character traits, her writing began to soar!

I praise Alcyone for how gracefully she handled the subject of mental illness. She showed how even the most productive and praise-worthy individuals can suffer from mental health problems. The discussion of manic depression and anxiety is partly what made this novel for me!

Author J.R. Alcyone has the foundations to become something extraordinary. The Stars That Govern Us is a must-read for all historical fiction lovers. Fans of medical fiction and dramatic story telling will find plenty to love in J.R. Alcyone’s riveting novel.

Pages: 279 | ASIN:  B08P5KJ9TZ

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