Interviewer: E.E. Kennedy
Dr. Richard Mabry is a prolific writer of medical mysteries whom I admire very much. He is a retired physician, now writing “medical mysteries with heart.” He is the author of one non-fiction book, four novellas, and eleven published novels. His novels have been finalists for the Carol Award, the Inspirational Reader’s Choice Award, the Reviewer’s Choice Award, the Selah Award, and others. He and his wife live in north Texas. In addition to regular efforts (thus far unsuccessful) to improve his golf game, he spends much of his time trying to convince his family that sitting at his desk staring into space does indeed represent work.
SS: Richard, thank you for doing this interview. I have just finished Doctor’s Dilemma. The “dilemma” mentioned in the title reminded me a lot of the one in Grisham’s The Firm. Well done! I understand you self-published it. Is this your first foray into self-publishing? What has been your experience in doing it? Will you be doing it again?
RM: I won’t go into my reasoning for indie-publishing—let’s just say that my contract with a traditional publisher (two, actually) blew up, so I fell back on agent-assisted publishing (where I had already dipped my pen with the publication of three novellas). Agent-assisted publishing, by the way, is basically indie-publishing with the agency taking a percentage of sales, but also their representative furnishing assistance along the way. I selected my own cover designer and my editor (and I’d encourage everyone who chooses indie-publishing to do this; otherwise, they’re going to get lost in the thousands of books introduced each day). My experience so far has been mixed—good, because I’m in charge; bad, because it’s all up to me. Would I do it again? If a publishing house doesn’t offer me a contract, I plan to keep putting the books out myself. If a contract is waved in front of me…we’ll see.
SS: I understand your first book was non-fiction, and very personal. How did you end up making the switch to fiction?
RM: I wrote or edited eight texts while in practice, but never thought about non-medical writing. My first venture into that area came about after the death of my first wife. I read lots of books about the craft, but nothing came together until I attended a Christian writers’ conference. That book, The Tender Scar: Life After The Death Of A Spouse, was published by Kregel in 2006, and it’s still ministering to those in need a decade later. At that conference, two well-known Christian authors (Jim Bell and Alton Gansky) suggested I try my hand at writing fiction. After four years spent writing and revising four novels and garnering forty rejections, I got my first fiction contract. I’ve now published eleven novels and four novellas, so I suppose it was a good suggestion.
SS: Have you thought about writing in other genres? Science fiction? Romance? (Though there are elements of romance in your books.) Children’s books?
RM: I call what I write “medical mystery with heart.” My books have just enough romance to keep my female readers interested but not so much that my male readers throw up. I considered writing in another genre, but I’ve been advised by people who are familiar with my work not to make the change. So, I guess I’ll stick with what works. (If it ain’t broke…)
SS: After having read Doctor’s Dilemma, I have one burning question: Would you explain why and how a doctor would have “boxer’s fractures” in his hands?
RM: My protagonist (who’d completed a general surgery residency, including time in the ER) had seen a few cases of this type of fracture, and remembered the phenomenon. Because the head of the metacarpal bones (the bones of the hand between the finger and wrist) form the knuckle of the closed fist, punching may result in a break of this area, and this type of fracture most commonly involves the metacarpal of the little finger. Remembering that, the protagonist chooses (wisely) to hit the man’s head with his forearm instead of a closed fist. Lee Child, on the other hand, has his protagonist, Jack Reacher, head-butt villains. That always gives me a headache.
SS: What do you like to do to relax?
RM: Since I’m retired from medicine, I suppose the question is “Relax from what?” Actually, in addition to writing (which is sort of an outlet for me), I have a standing date, weather and circumstances permitting, to play golf once a week with a friend. We don’t keep score, which makes it even more enjoyable. My wife and I like to watch recorded programs in the evening, most often sitcoms, although I’m also partial to Blue Bloods. And I enjoy reading (until I fall asleep with the book open on my chest).
SS: What is your writer’s day like?
RM: As a retiree I discovered that, when you can finally sleep late, you find you can’t sleep late. We’re up early, have coffee, watch the recorded news from the evening before (it doesn’t change much), have breakfast while we watch one of our shows, and then I shuffle off to my office. After checking email and blogs, I usually try to write. I don’t have a target number of words per day, and since I’m now indie-publishing my deadlines are self-imposed. Some days I don’t write at all, sometimes the words just seem to flow freely. I suppose other writers have that happen as well, although I don’t read a lot about it.
SS: And here’s a favorite question: Where do you get your plot ideas?
RM: Like all authors, I get this question a lot, as I’m sure you do. I used to say I get them from “ideas.com,” but I had to stop doing that when I discovered there was such a site. The truth is that my ideas come from observation and experience. As you know, ideas aren’t the problem. The writing is. People often say, “I have a great idea for you.” They then give me a one- or two- sentence hook (which may or may not be any good). My response is usually, “Great. Get with me after you have 70,000 more words written.”
RM: Any situations I use are primarily fictional, although I may borrow from the experiences of colleagues. I sometimes use characteristics of a person, but I’ve learned not to include people while using their real names.
SS: How does your Christian faith affect your writing?
RM: I’ve been asked that before, and don’t really have a good answer. Rather than some of the books out there that lean heavily on Scripture and prayer, I prefer to show how God deals with each of us: the Believer, the Unbeliever, and the Seeker. When the reader puts down the book, I want them to think of their own relationship to the Lord, and make any adjustments that are needed.
SS: Some doctors—and books about doctors—give them a god-like stature. Your characters are more down to earth, three-dimensional, even flawed people. How did you avoid the “doctor as god” trap?
RM: Although doctors often talk about their “Jehovah complex,” I don’t think I’ve ever suffered from one, although I’ve encountered physicians who do. I may have included an individual or two with such a character flaw, but never one of my protagonists. Why? I wouldn’t know how to write it.
SS: What kinds of books do you like to read for enjoyment? Any recommendations?
RM: In addition to current books (and everyone is going to have their favorites), when I truly want to relax I find myself going to the bookshelf in my home where I keep the tried-and-true mystery/suspense novels of some of my favorite authors—Robert B. Parker, Ross Thomas, John Grisham, Donald Westlake, and others. I’ve read them before, so I usually remember how they come out, but I take pleasure in once again reading the way they tell the story…and wish I could do the same.
SS: Please tell us about your newest book and where and how we can find it.
RM: My latest book is a novella, Surgeon’s Choice, and because I’m using agent-assisted publishing I refer potential readers to Amazon.com for the Kindle format of the book. It’s also available (or soon will be) in print format from the major online booksellers. Here’s a bit more about it:
Dr. Ben Merrick and his fiancé, Rachel Gardner, can’t get her divorced parents to stay in the same room, much less attend their wedding together. He is also looking over his shoulder expecting more trouble from a very senior surgeon who has shown he is still smarting from a previous dust-up. Ben doesn’t know if a series of mishaps and accidents are caused by a disgruntled patient’s relatives or represent more from the older surgeon.
Then his prospective father-in-law approaches him, needing money for reasons Ben can’t fathom. Rachel has an idea about the cause of the request, but she doesn’t want to accept it. Then, when the deaths begin, Ben and Rachel begin to wonder if they can escape unscathed…and alive.
You could possibly win an e-copy of Richard Mabrys latest book! Just leave a comment (along with your EMAIL address) below to put your name in the hat.