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.
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Bill Mccausland’s Now It’s Inescapable depicts the psyche of a drug-addicted physician. Through his main character, Glen, he tells a relatable tale of how easy it is to slip into addiction, especially if you’ve lived a life full of adversity.
From the outside, Glen seems to have an incredible life. With his own practice and a beautiful wife, he appears to be the epitome of health and success, a stark contradiction to his real circumstances. As we read from chapter to chapter, his life unravels right before our eyes.
The author doesn’t depict Glen in the best of light. In many ways, he seems to be the villain of the story; reckless and unaffected by the way his addiction impacts those closest to him. On the other hand, his wife Julie is painted as the ever-supportive but highly enabling spouse. However, ultimately it is revealed that the two of them have a dangerous codependency that only births destruction. Interestingly, neither is purely evil nor purely good; each one has their own demons to fight.
This story mirrors real life by attempting to explain the complex multilayered nature of the human soul. By telling the story through the main character’s perspective, the author seems to bring us so intimately into his life. We not only see what Glen does but also why he does it and the mental process that leads to his decisions. Great details are given about all drivers of Glen’s addiction, giving us a fuller understanding of him.
However, the book contains some grammatical errors and inconsistencies that make it hard to get through this otherwise interesting story. There is also a lot of use of grandiose terms and long winded dialogues that don’t feel natural.
That aside, I do acknowledge that the author does a great job of expressing important themes through the book. The outstanding ones are the role that family dynamics play in adult dysfunction and the cyclic nature of life. Ultimately, I do believe that with a little bit of polishing, this story has the potential to be a fan favorite.
Pages: 245 | ASIN: B07GC72TTL
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Dear Emma, written by Kwen Griffeth, is a touching novel that revolves around the life of a family in the hospital waiting for a crucial moment that will equate to life or death. Their story is discovered by a caring man, Roger, who is the chaplain at the Price Hospital.
Lost in his own thoughts about his own personal life, Roger stumbles across Ben Talbet, an architect about to become a grandfather. But instead of it being a joyous occasion, Ben is convinced that he is about to lose everything he cares about- all because of a mysterious letter found on a hospital bedside table. What could this letter say that has Ben convinced he is about to lose it all?
Dear Emma is a heartfelt novel based on the significance of letters written to a woman by the name of Emma. The beginning of the novel walks you through the hospital in the eyes of a chaplain. It is here you meet nurses, doctors, patients and families all experiencing the ins and outs of hospital life. One family, in particular, has several lives on the line, and this is where you meet Ben- a loving father about to become a grandfather.
The story ventures into the past where we learn about Ben and Emma and what lead them to this important moment of their lives. Their past tragedies and losses will be shared and you will find yourself feeling a connection to the characters and their story. As the story progresses, the doubt and questions that are posed by Roger, all assist in creating a strong belief and understanding of things we may not understand.
There is a religious sentiment throughout the story and you feel as though you are involved in a special moment with Ben as he shares a personal story between the Father in Heaven and the chaplain. This interaction provoked thought between life after death and how our lives change after we lose a loved one. Dear Emma respectfully shows how love can be everlasting, and how a love between a mother and daughter is an irreplaceable bond.
The descriptive language used throughout the novel easily paints a picture of the hospital setting, with images such as the chapel, cafeteria and maternity ward easily envisioned. Kwen Griffeth’s language, however, does not take away from the importance of the story and instead compliments the plot line and the characters as they progress through the story. This novel tugged at the heart strings and will feel the reader’s heart with warmth and love. The storyline is always fast paced, and even though it isn’t a typical action novel, it kept me on my toes, eager to learn what happens to the family and the letters.
I would recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys a beautiful, feel good story with a little twist at the end! Dear Emma is a journey of love, life and grief and how love surpasses time, death and life.
Pages: 115 | ASIN: B00770I2HO
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Room 11 is a genre-crossing novel with elements of a suspense, thriller, and medical drama as well. Did you start writing with this in mind, or did this happen organically as you were writing?
I must admit that Room 11 came to life in a strange way. The wife’s chapters, a mixture of yearning dreams and angry nightmare-like rants, were written separately, in an attempt to record the disparate strong emotions I felt during the few days just after I miscarried my third child, but which I had to put away at the time as I was attending a family wedding. On their own, though, these chapters were not enough for a novel, and they were almost impossible to fit in any larger narrative because they felt so mad and enraged. This is when, watching one of my favourite movies ‘Talk to Her’ (by Almodovar), I thought of putting the wife in a coma. I had also recently finished reading ‘A Kind of Intimacy’ (Jenn Ashworth), which gave me further ideas for the nurse, a character coming from a very different place to the wife, tender deep inside, but who would allow me to explore a parallel take on obsession and delusion growing in a pained soul.
Room 11 gives two women’s accounts of the same events via their own dreamlike states; a comatose woman and an increasingly stalker-ish nurse. Why did you choose to tell the story through a dreamlike filter?
I think of my characters as icebergs, living only ten percent of what they dream underwater, which to them feels more real than their everyday lives. My nurse may not get up to much in my novel, neither my wife; but their inner worlds hope to reveal humanity at its most extraordinary.
The characters in this novel, I felt, were intriguing and well developed. Who was your favorite character to write for?
Most readers abhor the wife, but she was definitely my favourite character because of all her viciousness and flaws, and the easiest to write for. I liked the nurse too but found her much more demanding to get right, as if she was flitting between my fingers resisting to be nailed down.
Room 11 is a fantastic suspense novel. Was there anything that happened organically in the story while you were writing? Did it surprise you?
All along I knew how the wife had ended up in a coma and that she would reveal that by then end of the book. But what would the nurse do? I wanted the wife killed … I wanted to pretend that her cynicism could be silenced and her man could have a new start alongside the other woman. But in the end… I just couldn’t. I wonder why…
After an accident leaves a woman in a coma, her husband sits on a hospital chair day-in day-out singing to her. Nobody can pull him away from her as she threads through the dreams that could save her. Meanwhile, a delusional nurse grows her admiration for him into obsessive desire.
‘I am fascinated by the way mari delves so deeply into the personality of the nurse, showing how she gradually comes to believe the man in Room 11 is in love with her, seeing all sort of small indications that may or may not be real,’ A Woman’s Write.
ROOM 11 is a dual narrative by strong, cynical, broken heroines (the nurse and the wife) winding passionately through hope, anger, delusion, obsession, guilt, sacrifice, resignation and eventually forgiveness, to help them re-emerge from their separate tragedies.
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Vera Mortina is a medical fiction novel about a sordid doctor that begins work at a medical practice where strange and deadly things begin to happen. The tag line, ‘when the patient is not the sick one’, is chillingly appropriate. What was your inspiration for Dr. Vera Mortina’s character and her troubled disposition?
I interact with a number of professionals who have rather troubling dispositions, some are physicians, some are nurses, administrators, patients, lawyers and others. How little do we really know about those “difficult” people we have to work with every day? This led to a fictional account developed on the theme of Dangerous Doctors.
There was a lot of time spent crafting the character traits in this novel. What was the most important factor for you to get right in your characters?
The most difficult and yet the most crucial characteristic of Dr Vera Mortina was to convincingly portray how she could function so well as a medical professional and yet be so dangerously disturbed. How she could create such a believable façade that even her partner wanted to get closer to her, and not run away. Her partner was so skilled in his profession, yet he was really blind for a long time, he was drawn to Dr Vera like a moth attracted to the candle light.
I felt that there were a lot of great twists and turns throughout the novel. Did you plan this before writing the novel, or did the twists present themselves as you were writing?
I conceived the general outline and worked on the development as a thought project for a long time before writing it down and developing from an outline. It all revolved around Dr Vera, and she led me to uncover some of the dangerous things she was really up to.
Vera Mortina is a part of your Dangerous Doctors series. What will the next book in that series be about and when will it be published?
At this point, my writing efforts are going to frequently revisiting the writing of the other three Dangerous Doctors, to refine the presentations and address many of the questions you asked above. This includes the theme of excess commercialization of in vitro fertilization clinics in The Surrogate, how the paranoia of aging could effect a physician in Her Charm was Contageous, and the relentless desire for immortality and money in a biotech researcher in BloodBird. Fostering believability is always an issue.
Chosen in a rush, Dr. Vera Mortina joins a small medical group, but without adequate exploration of her rather unusual background. Her sudden arrival is accompanied by acrimony, odd and disturbing idiosyncratic behaviors, and the unexpected deaths of several patients and staff. The closer Dr. Richard Bates looks into Vera, with her violent thoughts and bizarre hobbies, the more imperiled his own life becomes.
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Vera Mortina continues the Dangerous Doctors Series by Dimitri Markov. The story is about Dr. Vera Mortina who has a sordid background. She was chosen to be a part of a medical group, but the staff did not delve into her background to find out more about her. Soon after she starts work at the practice she begins to display odd and troubling behaviors. Patients die in mysterious ways after her arrival. When Dr. Richard Bates begins to look into his partner’s past he discovers thoughts of violent behaviors and savage hobbies. And now he knows too much. His life is in danger.
The idea for this spine-chilling medical fiction is interesting. The character descriptions in this novel were fantastic. Markov’s descriptions are detailed and vivid; one can easily picture the characters and their surroundings. There is a lot of time spent crafting what each character felt and thought about each other. In any fiction story where the character is emotionally disturbed it’s important to have a fully realized character that readers can understand, if not sympathize. Dr. Vera Mortina was very well executed in the characters development and display of odd behaviors.
The story itself is interesting, gripping and holds the reader’s attention throughout the novel. There is a life or death situation or choice to be made at every page turn. I enjoyed the suspense in this novel, I was never sure where the characters would end up and the thrill kept me at the edge of my seat. It is not predictable, honestly I thought it would be when I began the story, but there were moments when I was pleasantly surprised. It is evident that a lot of time and care went into crafting this story, it just needs a few more edits.
Vera Mortina has a lot of potential and could be an exceptional book.
Pages: 419 | ASIN: B01B0MS6DO
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