Tuesday, November 08, 2011

"Why Do You Write Medical Suspense?"

When I started writing fiction, I was advised to “write what you know,” so I crafted a novel about a doctor who failed as a professional baseball player before going to medical school (pretty much my story except that it was semi-pro baseball while I was in college). I thought it was interesting, because it had lots of inside information about both the sport and the profession. It had a male protagonist, a strong female lead, and a charming cast of characters. Editors liked it, but their response was always the same: “It won’t sell.”
Fast forward through two more unsuccessful novels. That’s when I was urged to try my hand at writing a cozy mystery. In a cozy mystery, the protagonist is usually female and often an older one. There’s one central story arc, centering on a mystery (generally a crime) that must be solved. These books are typically short, and an “easy read.” I tried writing a cozy mystery. I failed. But, in so doing, I learned some things. (Of course, I also quit writing—but that’s another story for another time).
When I got back to writing again, I revisited the “write what you know” philosophy, but by this time I was a bit wiser about the industry. I knew medicine, but realized it was best to just sprinkle it throughout the manuscript, not make it the focus of the writing. I’d been reading suspense novels for years and knew what I liked about them, so I decided to incorporate that element into my work. And I’d become convinced that there should be a love interest in my novels, in order to appeal to the women who make up 85% of the readership of Christian fiction (so I’d been told). Thus, my next novel was “medical romantic suspense.”
By now I’d also learned more about the craft. The cozy mystery failed experiment taught me about keeping one central theme, without taking too many side trips. And I wrote without trying to conform to a specific genre, simply incorporating the elements that seemed to fall naturally into my stories.
The resulting novel, originally titled Run Away Home, was no overnight success, but it wasn’t long before my agent, Rachelle Gardner, called me with some good news. The book had sold to Abingdon Press, where it was given the title Code Blue. The launch date was April 1, and it was followed at six-month intervals by three other novels in the Prescription For Trouble series: Medical Error, Diagnosis Death, and my latest, Lethal Remedy.
That's my journey. For writers still looking to "find their voice," my advice is to first learn the craft (obviously), but after that, write what you know and/or love, do the best job possible, and worry about assigning a genre afterward. Write on.


Ramona Richards said...

I'm honored to have been a small part of your journey. I hope you continue to grow and succeed with your books.

Richard Mabry said...

Ramona, I'll always be grateful to you, Barbara Scott, and all the other folks at Abingdon who've been so helpful and supportive.
I appreciate your comment. Thanks.

Erica Vetsch said...

I tried out some contemporary romance, but I kept going back to my default setting, Historical Romance.

What mystery or suspense authors do you like to read best?

Richard Mabry said...

Erica, I cut my teeth reading writers like Lawrence Block, Robert B Parker, Donald Westlake, Michael Connolly, and John Grisham.
Now there are a number of excellent mystery/suspense writers in the CBA market, and I enjoy many of them. My favorites are probably James Scott Bell's Ty Buchanan novels.
Thanks for asking.

Denise said...

Dr. Mabry, I just finished reading Lethal Remedy and felt compelled to seek out your blog. I am a Christian and have been an avid reader since childhood. I love Christian suspense novels and recently went to the bookstore with a gift card looking for a new book to read. There were no new books stocked by my usual authors, so I decided to be adventurous and look for a new author. Your book, Lethal Remedy, immediately jumped out. I have a strong interest in the medical field and a Christian medical suspense author was like my dream come true! They didn't have any of your previous books so I was a bit hesitant to pick up the fourth book in a series, but I was so intrigued, I went ahead and picked it up anyway. It did not disappoint. I was glad to see it was a stand alone novel where I hadn't missed anything about the characters from prior books. The story was absolutely excellent, and a perfect blend of genres. Thanks so much for writing these books. I hope to be able to get the other three books in the series soon. As a side note, I review books from publishers on my blog, and I plan to write a review of this book on my blog even though it was a book I purchased as opposed to a review copy because I was so impressed with it. Thanks again, and keep up the good work! I'll be bookmarking your blog.

Richard Mabry said...

Denise, Thanks for your kind words about Lethal Remedy. Glad you enjoyed it, and hope you enjoy my other novels as well. And I appreciate your intent to post a review. Readers sometimes don't realize how important reviews are to authors. Word-of-mouth is still the best advertising in the world.

Carrie Padgett said...

I still love "More Than A Game" and I want to see it in print someday!

Richard Mabry said...

Carrie, When I wrote about the adventures of Dr. Ben Merrick, I don't think I could even spell "hook," much less craft a decent one. But I still may see if I can do a significant facelift on that one someday. Thanks for your support.