One of the best things about having my own blog is that I have the priviledge of introducing my readers to some amazing writers. Richard Mabry is that kind of person. I met Richard and his lovely wife for the first time last September. I was immediately impressed by his kind, gentle spirit, and pleasantly surprised by his sly wit. I know you're going to enjoy this interview and his new book, Code Blue.
Retired physician Richard L. Mabry, MD, now writes Christian fiction and non-fiction, and works fruitlessly on improving his golf game. His book, The Tender Scar: Life After The Death Of A Spouse, was published by Kregel Publications. His work has also appeared in Upper Room, In Touch Magazine, and Christian Communicator. Code Blue, published April 2010 by Abingdon Press, is his first novel.
A CONVERSATION WITH RICHARD MABRY
Q: Code Blue is your first novel, but you've previously published The Tender Scar: Life After the Death of a Spouse. How does writing fiction differ from non-fiction?
A: Let me go back even further. In my thirty-six years in medicine, I wrote or edited eight textbooks and had over one hundred papers published in medical journals…and none of it helped me in non-medical writing. One of my mentors, Randy Ingermanson, a scientist himself, warned me that I’d have to adopt a whole new mindset if I was to write fiction. How right he was.
My non-fiction experience was unique. The Tender Scar is based on the journaling I did after my first wife died, and the hardest thing for me in writing that book was seeing through the tears when I tried to type the words. I read through hundreds of pages of my journaling, picked out the subjects that seemed most relevant, and searched my own experience for the truths I wanted to share. The structure was there. I just had to find it.
But when it comes to fiction, everything changes. In fiction, although I draw on my life experiences and my medical background, they’re only background. For my novel, it was necessary to create a story arc, develop characters, and decide how to put all that into a classic three-act structure. I felt as though I was learning a foreign language, starting from the ground up. Just as with The Tender Scar, I believe God helped me put together the story that became Code Blue, but the process was much more difficult.
Q: On your website, you say you deliver "medical suspense with heart." I love that! How do you weave your faith and medical experience into thrilling fiction?
A: I think Janet Benrey came up with the tagline “medical suspense with heart.” She and I were struggling to find a niche for my writing. It wasn’t romance, it wasn’t suspense, it wasn’t a cozy. We were throwing out ideas, and that tag popped out. I think it totally captures what I try to write.
My desire was, and still is, to craft a novel that combines suspense and romance, set in a medical background, written from a Christian worldview. I can draw on thirty-six years of medical practice, both in the private setting and as a medical school professor, to give readers an inside view of that world. For romance, a combined fifty years of marriage to two wonderful women has provided me a bit of knowledge, and for the rest, I lean on Kay, whom I married two years after Cynthia’s death. She is my first reader, severest critic, and biggest fan. As for my faith, there are no contrived conversion scenes in my novels, and I try to avoid sounding “preachy.” Instead, I focus on the interrelationship of God and my characters. Sometimes they depend on their faith for strength, sometimes they’ve strayed from God, but there’s always a subtle subtext of the God-man relationship in the story, with a take-away message that I hope strengthens the faith of my readers.
A: The second novel in the Prescription For Trouble series, Medical Error, releases in September of 2010. In it, Dr Anna McIntyre learns first-hand that identity theft can be deadly. Her patient died because of an identity mix-up, her medical career is in jeopardy, and her credit is in ruins. She thought things couldn’t get worse, but that was before she opened the envelope.
In the third novel, Cause Of Death, which will be published in the spring of 2011, the medical career of Dr. Allison Perez Williams is in jeopardy as she is accused of ending the life of two critically ill patients, one of whom was her husband. A midnight caller torments her, and she can’t decide whether the people around her are friends or enemies. She only knows that one of them is stalking her.
Q: Your series sounds so exciting! I can tell right now that I'll want to read all three of them. Now, how do you deal with writer’s block?
A: I wish I had a sure-fire cure. My usual solution is to employ what Stephen King calls “the boys in the basement.” I set the problem aside and try to do something else. With my current work-in-progress, I’ve awakened on a couple of occasions with the solution to a problem clear in my mind. If that doesn’t happen, I just start writing, realizing that I may eventually find I’m on the wrong road entirely. That’s when I delete what I’ve done back to the point in question and start again. I guess this is sort of like the way I drive—don’t ask directions, just backtrack and try again if it’s obvious I’m wrong.
Q: How long does it take to complete a novel? How many drafts do you go through?
A: My first novel took somewhere between forever and eternity to “finish.” Seriously, I can finish a novel in six months, and the last few weeks before deadline are total anguish for me. That’s when I think, like every writer in history, “This isn’t good enough.”
My friend and mentor, James Scott Bell, preaches, “Get it down, then get it right.” I tried that, writing a first draft without regard to editing, but that didn’t work for me. So when I start to write, I review the previous chapter or at least the preceding several scenes, and edit them. That tells me where I’ve been and (hopefully) where I’m going, as well as serving to clean up the writing in those areas. After I finish the work, I revise it at least twice before sending it to my agent, Rachelle Gardner, who always has some great ideas for improvement.
Q: Do you plot out your story ahead of time, or do you dream it up as you go?
A: I’m pretty much a “seat of the pants” writer. I know how the story starts, who the main characters will be, the two pillars that bridge the three acts, and the conclusion. Then I turn the characters loose and see where they take me. That’s another reason I like to go back and edit as I go, because sometimes I see that a turn of events or even a character should be deleted or changed. There are times I can hardly wait to get back to writing, because I’m anxious to see how things come out.
Q: After becoming a published author, what surprised you the most?
A: Like Karen Carpenter sang, “It’s only just begun.” Right now I’m sweating a deadline, and my wife, Kay, reminded me that a year ago I was complaining because I didn’t have a contract…or a deadline. Beyond the time constraints, I’m amazed at the amount of work that’s a necessary part of the marketing authors are expected to carry out: participating in blogs (my own and others), arranging book signings, getting endorsements, networking with other authors, etc. It was an eye-opener to discover that publishers, although they do what they can, depend heavily on authors to promote their books.
The other surprise: no one has stopped me on the street to ask for my autograph. Seriously, my family and friends think it’s neat that I’m published, but I’m no Tony Romo. Hey, I’m not even Chad Hutchinson (probably the least well-known Cowboy quarterback in franchise history).
Q: The next time I see you, I'll definitely ask for your autograph :+} What’s the most important piece of advice you could give to a fledgling writer?
A: Every day, ask yourself, “Who am I writing this for?” If you’re doing it because you feel God’s leadership in that direction that’s wonderful. If you’re doing it because you have a message, and the printed word is your pulpit, write on. If you’re doing it because you want to see your name in print, get a copy of the phone book.
Seriously, if you’re writing for the right reasons, then learn the craft. Attend conferences if you can afford them. Study good books on writing craft. Read the work of excellent writers, so you’ll recognize good writing when you see it. And then write, write, write. Have one book going all the time. Keep querying, so when one book garners nothing but rejections, you’ll have another option ready.
One final thought. God will change people with your writing, even if it only changes one person—because writing will change you. Good luck.
What a great final thought! Thanks so much for hanging out with us, Richard.
Visit Richard's website
Watch the trailer for Code Blue on YouTube
ABOUT THE BOOK – Code Blue
Code Blue means more to Dr. Cathy Sewell than the cardiac emergencies she faces. It describes her mental state when she finds that returning to her hometown hasn’t brought her the peace she so desperately needs. Now two men compete for her affection; the town doctors resent the fact that she’s a woman and a newcomer; and the potentially fatal heart problem that results from one of her prescriptions may mean the end of her practice. But a killer doesn’t just want to run her out of town—they want her dead.
WIN THE BOOK
If you’d like to be entered to win a copy of Code Blue, just leave a reply to this blog. I’ll pick a winner at random on April 16th. Please leave an email address so I can contact you if you're the winner. (To prevent spammers from trolling for your email, please use this format with the brackets--you [at] yourmail [dot] com--or something similar.) Good luck!