Wednesday, July 9, 2014

ThrillerFest Debut Authors of 2013-2014: Interview with Kelly Parsons, MD, Author of Doing Harm


ThrillerFest IX is going on from July 8-12, 2014 in NYC. Sponsored by International Thriller Writers (ITW), ThrillerFest starts out with writing seminars (CraftFest) and a chance to meet with agents (PitchFest) and leads into discussions about writing, books, trends (ThrillerFest) and a chance to meet and socialize with famous authors, aspiring writers, industry professionals, agents and fans of the genre. On Saturday mornings, ITW hosts a special Debut Authors Breakfast to recognize, celebrate and introduce the newest members of that year's class of published authors.  

For those of us who love reading thrillers, the chance to hear some of our favorite writers talk about their craft and what moves them is a wonderful experience. My favorite part of ThrillerFest is the Debut Authors Breakfast. A morning dedicated to hearing the stories of newly published authors and of their journeys to publication and seeing the warmth and generosity with which the more senior and authors try to encourage and help them navigate the pitfalls of publishing, what's not to love? 

This year, through the help of ThrillerFest organizer Kimberly Howe, Anthony Franze, and Jenny Milchman, I was able to interview a few of the authors in the ITW's debut class of 2013-2014.
First up is Dr. Kelly Parsons whose thriller Doing Harm was released last Feb. 4, 2014.

Doing Harm by Kelly Parsons
ISBN  978-1-250-03347-5  Hardcover $25.99
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press (February 4, 2014), 368 pages.

The blurb:
Chief Resident Steve Mitchell is the quintessential surgeon:  ambitious, intelligent, confident.  Charged with molding a group of medical trainees into doctors, and in line for a coveted job, Steve has a bright future.  But then a patient mysteriously dies, and it quickly becomes clear that a killer is loose in his hospital.  A killer set on playing a deadly game with Steve.  A killer holding information that could ruin his career and his marriage. Now, alone and under a cloud of suspicion, Steve must discover a way to outsmart his opponent and save the killer's next victim before the cycle repeats itself again and again....

The book opens with
"My patient is dying.
And it's all my fault." 

We follow as Steve Mitchell describes the scene as the code team tries to unsuccessfully revive the patient. One of the top surgical residents faces what seems to be his first patient death.   Prior to this, he'd been a rising star at the hospital and may be offered a permanent post.  

Steve's more of a doctor's doctor - he doesn't empathize with patients and dislikes having to interact with them but if you were faced an operation, you'd want him to be in charge.  The patient death rattles him and leads to an internal investigation.   One thing follows another and somehow a life that seemed so orderly and perfect is ready to implode. Steve Mitchell's quick decline and loss of prospects is unnerving.  

Parsons puts Steve Mitchell through the wringer so well, it reminded me of Scott Turow's writing.  You have a highly paid and well respected professional at the top of his game suddenly undone by a seemingly unlucky chain of events.  During Walter Walker's talk on Writing From the Professions yesterday, someone mentioned that they were drawn to medical and legal thrillers because she felt that aside from the mystery and suspense aspect, she felt that she was learning something from these books as well.  In  Doing Harm Kelly Parson weaves in a larger point of view that goes beyond the story of Dr. Steve Mitchell.  I'm not the only one that thinks that Doing Harm stands out among medical thrillers, author Stephen King tweeted:

DOING HARM, by Kelly Parsons: best damn medical thriller I've read in 25 years. Terrifying OR scenes, characters with real texture.

How's that for a recommendation?

I'd like to share my interview with author Kelly Parsons, MD:

Q: You must be very busy with your work as professor of surgery at UC San Diego and with your young family.  How did carve out the time to write?  How long have you been writing?

KP:  I work at a university hospital as medical school faculty.  At a university, you work very hard but you have a bit more flexibility in structuring your time and dividing up your responsibilities during the day.  In terms of finding the time to do write, it’s not something I stopped to think about until I published the book.  

KP:  Writing's a passion - I'd find time and make time. It usually means getting up at 5 am, writing before everyone else gets up and gets going,  weekends, and whenever I have a spare moment. I write during vacations.  So, really, I write anytime I can find the time to squeeze it in. There’s more time than we think it is.   I’m passionate about writing.

KP:  I’ve been writing since I was a kid. As a resident I started taking notes and writing the material that became the book which took 6 years.   I f
ound an agent and took 2 years to sell the book.  

Q: Had you heard of ITW before you’d become an author?  

KP: I didn’t know about it. It would have been nice to have known about the community.  

KP: After I had sold the manuscript, my agent told me about ITW.  I joined.  There's another level as a debut author.  Once the book came out I changed your status.

KP: I’ve just become part of the community. It’s great to be part of this community of similar interests, who give support and feedback, and share common passions.  I’m looking forward to meeting a lot persons during ThrillerFest.

Q: Who have been influences or inspiration?  Who are you reading?

KP: Scott Turow a practicing attorney even as he was a writer.  I get inspiration from the fact that Michael Crichton practiced medicine.   John Grisham is a practicing attorney.  I’d like to speak with him.  

KP: In terms of who I read, I try to read everybody and everything I can get my hands on. I’m always striving to make myself better and to become a better writer.  Only by reading different genres and types of prose and narrative structures do I get that exposure that can make me a better writer.  

Dr Sleep by Stephen KingAmerican Gods by Neil GaimenCryptonomicon and Snow Crash by Neil Stephenson  Snowcrash cyberpunk is clearly known for being a writer in that genre.  Steel crash.  Fusion of historical fiction and thriller.  WWII and presentThe Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

KP:  For nonfiction, I just finished Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink.  I'm about to read Michael Lewis's Flash Boys.   You have to try to expose yourself to different writing. 

Q: What are you working on now?  Will steve mitchell be back? 

KP:  I'm working on my second novel.  I've a two-book deal with St. Martin's.  It’s also medical thriller. Set in a hospital in San Diego and involves biotech.

Q:  Independent bookstores have been described as germinating nurseries for writers.  Do you go on book tours?   Blog interviews?

KP:  All of the above.  As a debut author, it’s very hard to break in and to have your work noticed by a very crowded marketplace. I go to independent bookstores in the west coast and some panels and compliments of ITW I participated in a panel on "The Birth of a Thriller" in April in Florida. That was wonderful, a great opportunity.

KP:  If you love reading, please support your local independent bookstore.  They  are such an important part of the community. Not just for book lovers but for communities in general.  I was at my local independent recently and there was a group of teenage girls just sitting in a circle in the YA section.  Sitting quietly talking.  That’s exactly what a bookstore is about.  Kids sitting, sharing ideas and hanging out.  

Q: Last words for aspiring writers?

KP:  Keep writing.  Follow your passion.  Write when you can.  Read when you can.  I hadn’t imagined that it would come this far.  I wrote because I  had to write.  I had an inner voice to write and am glad I did it. 

KP: A plug for ITW, I wish I had known about the community earlier in the process.  I am thrilled to have the opportunity to meet and gather with them.  I’m looking to ThrillerFest.

Thank you to Kelly Parsons for taking the time to talk and for sharing your insights.  Congratulations on Doing Harm!  

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