Wednesday, February 04, 2009
Interview With Dr. Michael Palmer
A few years ago, an editor told me, "I want to see you writing medical suspense like Michael Palmer." To that point, I'd never read any of Michael's books, but you can bet that I hastened to remedy that deficiency. After that I was hooked.
I can never hope to write as well as Michael, but I have been fortunate enough to develop a cyber-friendship with him. Today I'm pleased to present this interview with Dr. Michael Palmer. He is a man of many talents, and I admire the way he balances writing, medicine, and family. His latest book, Second Opinion, hits the bookstores this month, following on the success of his last novel, First Patient.
RM: Michael, I’m looking forward to reading Second Opinion. You seem to turn out about a book a year. Is that your best writing speed, or is that all the time you can spare to write?
MP: Neither. The publishing business has changed. It began with Grisham, I think, though I am not sure. A book-a-year has become the minimal standard. Some heavyweights are no longer bound to this, but most successful fiction writers are. In many cases, it’s write a book-a-year, or don’t get paid. I assume the publishers have figured out that the reading public responds to this with more sales. It also allows them to have a soft cover in the stores (and on the best seller lists) while the hard cover is about to come out. They can put advance chapters of the next book at the back of the last one. The Second Opinion is the last of a three-books-in-three-years contract. I am now on The Last Surgeon – first of a four-book contract. My best speed would be a book every two years. I can “spare” as much time to write as it takes to get the book done well. It’s what I do.
RM: In Second Opinion, you focus on Asperger’s Syndrome. That’s something that most people don’t know much about, although it’s a serious problem. What made you choose this disorder for inclusion in the book?
MP: Here’s the introduction to the author’s note at the end of The Second Opinion. It pretty much explains everything.
“Fourteen years ago, my wife and I sat numbly in the office of a child development specialist and listened to him tell us that our beautiful four-year-old son had Asperger syndrome, a form of autism. He said much, much more, but as you might suspect, the only word we really heard that day was AUTISM.
“We did not know it at the time, but we were on the edge of what was about to be an explosion in the field of so-called autism spectrum disorders, as well as an alphabet soup of related diagnoses such as ADD (attention deficit disorder), ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), PDD (pervasive developmental disorder), PDD-NOS (not otherwise specified), NVLD (non-verbal learning disabilities), and others.
“Now, after years of groups, therapies too numerous to mention here, specialists, and intense parental involvement, Luke is a witty, creative, sensitive, kind, insightful, and utterly interesting young man, who has been a joy to be around, and has a boundless future. There are and always will be situations that are challenging for him, but the same is true for all of us.
“Having raised the issue of adult Asperger syndrome in this novel, I want to answer some questions for those who are interested in learning more. To that end I have enlisted the help of wonderful Dania Jekel, executive director of the Asperger Association of New England, and talented, dedicated Nomi Kaim, also from that office.”
RM: You’ve had twelve best-selling novels published, something about which most authors can only dream. Yet you continue your “day job” with the Massachusetts Medical Society. What drives you to keep two careers going?
MP: I love taking care of people and being a doc. If money wasn’t an issue and I didn’t have a kid going into college, I might choose to do medicine full time. But I also love writing and we have little of “managed care” in writing (although see question #1 above) Right now I love the balance I have in my life.
RM: You mentioned that you’ve just signed a contract for a four-book deal with your publisher, St. Martin’s Press. Does that make you feel more secure, or just keep you awake nights worrying about thinking up new plots and meeting deadlines?
MP: I do my life a-day-at-a-time, around the principle that I can only do what I can do. Your readers who don’t believe that should try and implement it.
RM: As a physician, do you get inquiries from other authors with medical questions to which they need answers for their own novels? And, if so, how do you handle it?
MP: Not really in terms of medical questions, but I get many inquiries about getting published and finding an agent. I refer most of those to my web site. People with medical questions I refer to the Internet, where I go to validate even medical questions to which I know the answer.
RM: I’ve heard you say that you always have time for your son, and I admire you for that. How do you manage to balance writing, work, and family?
MP: Family always comes first no matter what. I had two sons when I was a medical student and missed a lot of their youth. When Luke was born, I was old enough to have most of what I wanted out of life, so I pledged myself to missing none of his, and I don’t think I have. I love the old adage about not finding a tombstone that reads “I WISH I HAD SPENT MORE TIME AT THE OFFICE.”
RM: And, as always, any last words for my readers?
MP: The book business is on shaky grounds. Numbers are way down. Electronic publishing is a big unknown. It is essential for readers to support their favorite authors more than ever, and to take chances on new ones. Buying a book – even a hardcover one, is such a cheap form of entertainment compared to tickets to things. In addition, when you are done with a book, you can share it with your friends, and when they are done, you are left with a rather nice piece of furniture that can entertain you again for hours in the future.
Thanks for dropping by, Michael.
For the writers in my audience, please note the tab on Michael's web site with helpful information for writers. And for anyone who enjoys suspense fiction, especially medical suspense, pick up one of his books. You won't regret it.