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Mixing fact and fiction ... but still keeping them separate

Sometimes we mix fact with fiction in pursuing our careers.

If, like I, you're writing medical thrillers and murder mysteries while still practicing medicine fulltime, it's certainly important to keep the two separate.

In an interview article in the April 2011 E-Blizzard published by District VII of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, I candidly answer questions about my work in the ob/gyn field as it relates to my literary career.

Here is a link to the article; however, with permission from the author, the text is reproduced below the link:

From medical practice to medical thrillers: The E-Blizzard interviews novelist Dr. Darden H. North

When attempting to become a novelist, it is said: “Write what you know.” For Darden H. North, MD, of Jackson, MS, that meant reaching beyond 24 years of general ob-gyn practice to delve into cut-throat medical politics, sexual discrimination, arson, stolen frozen human embryos, multiple murder scenarios (some with a mistaken identity twist), and most recently, international terrorism.

Author of three nationally-awarded novels—House Call (2005), Points of Origin (2006), and Fresh Frozen (2008)—Dr. North is near completion of his fourth book Wiggle Room (working title). His most notable book award was an Independent Book Publishers Award in Southern fiction for Points of Origin. Fresh Frozen was adapted as a screenplay, and the film is set for production this summer.

Dr. North has presented at various book festivals and recently taught writing composition and book marketing at the Southern Expressions Authors Conference. He continues to make personal appearances at book clubs and signings and updates readers on his website, Facebook page, and Twitter account about his writing.

The E-Blizzard recently sat down with Dr. North to talk about his second career as an author. Here is what he had to say:

You were active in ACOG in your “younger” days. Tell us about that.

I served as Junior Fellow College Advisory Council (JFCAC) chair (1987–89) after working my way up from representing the Mississippi Section at the District VII Junior Fellow meeting in Wichita, KS, as a third-year resident. Frank O. Page, MD, was chief resident at the University of Mississippi at the time, and he started me on that climb to national office, capitalizing on my taste for politics leftover from my years at the university. Early in my private practice, I was the Mississippi Section secretary-treasurer, and I also served a very short stint as the Fellow advisor to the JFCAC. I met some wonderful peers throughout the Southeast and the US through my work as an ACOG officer. I could not have served without the tireless efforts of Mary Behneman, ACOG director of district and section activities. Incidentally, one of the prerequisites for serving as JFCAC chair was that one could spell “Behneman.”

You donated several items related to your novels to The Pete and Weesie Hollis Educational Endowment Fund auction at the 2009 District VII Annual Meeting. What motivated you to do this?

There is no finer, more sincere physician dedicated to education than Richard “Pete” Hollis, MD. It was my honor to donate some of my novels and the opportunity for a reader to have his or her name used for a character in my upcoming fourth novel. Diana Bratton, a new reader of my novels, was the winner of that item. Most of the character names for this novel are actually derived from auctions at charity fundraisers. However, the similarity between each character and his or her name stops at the name itself. Remember, I’m writing fictional novels with both good and very bad characters.

As a full-time physician, how did you get interested in writing fiction?

Although the state of Mississippi is thought of as illiterate in some circles, we have produced a lot of authors, some extremely well-known. About 20 years ago, I started collecting and reading signed first-edition novels by Mississippians, such as John Grisham, Greg Iles, Martin Hegwood, Donna Tartt, and Nevada Barr. I saw a scarcity of physicians writing fiction, particularly practicing physicians, and none of them were Southern.

We doctors think a lot of ourselves, and I’m no different. First, I decided I could write. Then, my family and friends egged me on. And finally, the 8,000 people who bought my first novel were a sign to keep going. So, I continue to write medical thrillers and mysteries set in the South.

Who most encouraged you to be a writer?

My wife Sally encouraged me the most and, of course, my mother Evelyn. Additionally, I’m encouraged by readers who say, “Can’t wait for your next book!”

With a full-time ob-gyn practice, how do you find time to write, publish, and travel for book signings and conferences?

Fortunately, I am a full-time partner in a soon-to-be 16-member, single specialty ob-gyn group. The physicians I work with all have families and varied outside interests. Everyone likes and gets time off, facilitating call switches and vacations. But instead of playing golf, I go to book signings and teach writing conferences. I still save plenty of time for my family. To celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary, Sally and I travelled in Italy. While abroad, I stole minutes to research and visit bookstores carrying English titles. Being a writer, I can always turn a trip into research, and with a laptop and an iPhone, I can write and make notes anytime.

Do you enjoy book signings and other promotional events?

Writers must network more these days to promote themselves. Authors need to meet their readers and get to know them. Just like a doctor needs to have a great bedside manner, so too does an author need to be personable and likeable, as well as professional and talented. Promotional book events have opened up new avenues for me.

How do your patients and your fellow doctors feel about you writing murder mysteries and medical thrillers?

They know I’m writing fiction and seem very supportive. They read my books and give them as gifts. I think everyone has a book in his or her heart, so when they meet or know someone who has actually written one, there is a desire to become part of the adventure. Also, I cannot ignore that my patient base has given me a jump start with book sales, and I am thankful.

What authors’ writings compare with yours?

James Patterson, Greg Iles, Stuart Woods, and Robin Cook.

Are your three published books meant as a series, or does each novel stand alone?

Each novel has a stand-alone plot, although there are several reoccurring characters in them. Knox Chamblee is one character who has grown throughout each. In House Call, Knox begins as a gullible, attractive, male ob-gyn, who is the victim of sexual discrimination and a potential murder suspect. He then becomes a mentor to a pre-med student in Points of Origin and is a partner in a dubious reproductive medicine clinic in Fresh Frozen. While some readers crave series novels, I think it’s better to have a few central characters that I can tweak and twist without confining the story line. That keeps the writing fresh.

Do you think that readers are drawn to Southern writers?

Some say that Mississippi has produced so many writers because we have so much to explain. Maybe that’s true, but I try to focus on the contemporary South. The wonderful, congenial, loving people who are my friends, family members, patients, and fellow citizens have fought a lot of demons down here and still do. But we try to focus on the positive. Southern culture represents intrigue for those who don’t really know us, and Southern authors can capitalize on this impression—particularly, when you mix in medical drama as I have done.

What’s next for you in your career? Will ACOG be part of a mystery in any of your future novels?

My goal in writing my fourth novel is to construct a non-stop thriller. The male protagonist, Brad Cummins, is a young surgeon who returns from his deployment in Iraq to face a killer. When his look-alike surgeon brother is murdered and other bodies start to pile up around him, Cummins suspects that he is the intended target. Literary agents and publishers are looking for strong female characters in novels, something an ob-gyn writer should be able to produce. Dominate female characters in this novel—such as Diana Bratton, the newest physician in the Cummins’ practice, and Elizabeth Cossar, a nurse who witnesses some incriminating events in Iraq—are at the root of Brad Cummins’ dilemma.

Regarding a future ACOG mystery, maybe Knox Chamblee will become president of ACOG and discover aliens in the national office basement in Washington, DC, or maybe he’ll foil a terrorist plot to assassinate the President. The wheels are turning.


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