Friday, February 10, 2012
Interview With Author Dr. Michael Palmer
Dr. Michael Palmer is a man of many talents. He’s the author of sixteen novels of medical suspense, all of them international bestsellers. He is active in the International Thriller Writers organization and teaches courses for writers.
Michael is a specialty-trained physician who spent twenty years as a full-time practitioner of internal and emergency medicine. Currently, he’s Associate Director of the Massachusetts Medical Society’s physician health program. He is also a seasoned SCUBA diver and a bronze life master in bridge.
In addition to wearing all these hats, Michael is a devoted father, one of whose sons—Daniel Palmer—is now a multi-published author.
I’ve persuaded Michael to give us a bit of his time to answer a few questions. I think you’ll enjoy getting to meet him.
RM: Michael, you’re Associate Director of the Physician Health Services of the Massachusetts Medical Society. People may be unaware that all states have such committees or groups to assist physicians with mental illness, physical illness, behavioral issues and chemical dependency. It’s apparent through reading your novels that you have a heart for physicians troubled by these problems. How did you get into this work, and exactly what do you do to assist these physicians?
MP: Many years ago, my own dependence on alcohol surfaced. Caring doctors came to my rescue, and soon after I became sober, I began to devote myself to the same cause. Physician Health Services has a number of mandates in addition to educating doctors and the public. (1) Help physicians come to grips with the fact that they are sick and need to get well. (2) Design a treatment program to fit the doctor. If in-patient treatment is necessary, we arrange that. We do not do therapy, but we will match a doc with an appropriate therapist. (3) Where it is necessary, we will sign the doctor to a legally binding monitoring contract, and then supervise the monitoring.
RM: You and Dr. Tess Gerritsen teach a course for physicians who want to write. I first met you in cyberspace in connection with this course and a contest connected to it. What motivates busy professional people to steal the time necessary for writing? And what was your own impetus to tackle medical suspense fiction?
MP: The desire to express oneself in words is a strong one. I love to solve puzzles, and writing fiction, every sentence.....every word, even, is a problem to solve. I often take on challenges such as bridge and SCUBA and music. I decided to try writing after reading Robin Cook's Coma. The first book wasn't nearly as hard as all the ones that have come after it.
RM: You’re a proud father, and I know you always seem to make time for your sons. Daniel is now a multi-published author, and his novels are garnering great reviews. Was his getting into writing something you encouraged?
MP: I have always encouraged and supported anything my three sons want to do. Remaining non-judgmental and supportive is perhaps the most difficult aspect of parenting. I am proud of all the boys and the choices they are making. Daniel's success is absolutely thrilling, but in no means surprising. The kid has talent and drive and the willingness to be fearless..
RM: In a recent interview in Romantic Times Book Reviews, Daniel asked you a very important question for any writer. I liked your answer. Would you share it with my readers?
MP: That joint interview with Daniel was just great fun. Here is his question and my response:
Daniel: You’re working on your 18th book and I’m only on my 3rd. Is the passion to write still there, or is it now all about the money?
Michael: Nicely worded! You of all people know that I have never been able to motivate myself to do anything for money. Lack of money, on the other hand, is a different story. But back in 1978 when I started working on a book I titled The Corey Prescription, I had been in medical practice for five years and was doing okay. Believe it or not, the passion to write came well after I cashed my first royalty check. Before that I had a deep passion for doctoring, as well as for tennis, and SCUBA, and bridge. I went to Wesleyan in Connecticut with Robin Cook, and later trained at Mass General Hospital at the same time as he did. My writing was a hobby, born of reading Robin’s Coma and wondering if I could write a book half as good. Initially, I was driven by my obstinance and supported by the bedrock of my discipline. I never had even the wisp of the dream of being published. The passion to write settled in over a number of years, although it was almost always a pleasure and a diversion.
RM: Your recent novels have managed to combine medicine and politics. In Oath of Office, you add a third element, one that most of us never think about, and frankly—now that I’ve read the book—one that scares me. Would you give my readers a preview of the book, and anything you’d like to share about genetically altered food?
MP: The idea for OoO (as my publishers and I refer to the book) came at my high school reunion in Springfield, MA, where some of my former classmates were discussing the Oscar-winning documentary, Food, Inc., dealing with corporate influences in the food industry and the use of genetically modified seeds and livestock treatments. I watched the film and became fascinated. Alas, it wasn't too difficult to construct a very frightening thriller based on the subject. In the case of OoO, productivity of corn is modified by combining its DNA with that if the highly fecund flesh-eating African termite, Macroterminus bellicosus.
RM: And, as we wind this up, what is the best advice you’ve ever received, and what do you think is the best advice you’ve passed on to your sons?
MP: What I was taught in my early years is the same I try to pass on to my sons, the oldest of whom has written an as-yet unpublished novel, and the youngest who has written several screenplays, Never forget that writing fiction is hard!!! If it were easy, everyone would be doing it. And above all, be fearless when you write. Don't fear criticism or reviews or the feeling that you will never get the story or the words right.
Thanks for inviting me onto your blog, Doctor Richard.
Michael, it's always a pleasure to have you. Let me remind my readers that I'll choose one name at random from the comments left about this interview or the book review of Oath of Office I posted three days ago, and the winner will receive a signed copy of the book.
Oh, and in case my mentions of Michael's son, Daniel, intrigued you, stay tuned. I'll be interviewing him a week from today. You won't want to miss it.