Author Interview: Richard L. Mabry
Writer Richard L. Mabry’s debut novel, Code Blue, opens with an accident. His main character
Dr. Cathy Sewell—swerves to avoid an oncoming car and finds her world turned upside down. This accident is followed by other accidents as life batters Cathy until the last pages of this well-written novel It is a story of a woman struggling with the past while trying to find her place in a small rural town in Texas. It is a story of survival.
Richard Mabry, M.D., has taken a lifetime of experiences in the medical field—physician and medical school professor—to create this medical thriller that seems timely given our nation’s current battle over health care. Code Blue is just what the doctor ordered. Readers can learn more about Richard from his web site and his blog, Random Jottings.
Aspiring authors might want to pay heed to Richard as he shares with us his experiences and journey to be published in this article.
MARK: Thanks for joining us today, Richard. Tell us what kind of story readers will encounter when they pick up a copy of Code Blue?
RICHARD: My tagline is “medical suspense with heart,” and Code Blue hews to that line. There’s a medical setting, because that’s my background. There’s suspense, but not the kind that makes you sleep with the light on. And, just as in much of life, there’s a bit of romance.
MARK: In Code Blue, your main character, Dr. Cathy Sewell, returns to her hometown after a stint in the big city. What is Sewell’s motivation and what kind of obstacles does she face in this small town?
RICHARD: Cathy is devastated when her fiancé breaks their engagement. This isn’t the first relationship that’s gone wrong for her. She can’t face the memories associated with the city where she trained and fell in love, so she flees. Cathy hopes to start over, establishing her practice in her hometown, where her late father was a respected surgeon. However, she soon finds that not everyone in town is on her side. As a matter of fact, it appears that someone doesn’t just want her gone, they want her dead. To further complicate matters, although her heart is still broken from her experiences, two men compete for her affection.
MARK: Where is this novel located? Can you tell us a little about the town and people?
RICHARD: Dainger, Texas, is a purely fictional composite of several cities in North Texas with which I’m familiar. It has the characteristics of a small town, yet is large enough to have a modern medical community. The doctors in town have all the virtues and failings of any group of physicians, and the people in Dainger display a full spectrum of emotions and character traits, good and bad, just as in any town or city in the country.
MARK: Your story is ripe with opportunities for accidents in the practice of medicine. In this novel, there are several ‘mistakes’ in the prescription and handling of medicine. You make it very believable. How prevalent are these kinds of incidents? How easy would it be for someone to tamper with medications?
RICHARD: Obviously, the incidents to which you refer are contrived, but in medicine—as in all walks of life—mistakes can happen. Because the consequences of such a mistake can be disastrous, the medical and ancillary professions have a number of fail-safe measures in place, many of which the public doesn’t realize. Again, because Dainger is my own creation, I could set up scenarios that one wouldn’t expect to encounter in real life.
MARK: As a nation, we’ve just endured intense debate over the cost of national health care. Without renewing those arguments, what kind of financial difficulties do doctors struggle over as they try to start up a new practice like Dr. Sewell in Code Blue?
RICHARD: A physician’s income comes from services provided to patients. Cathy encounters a whispering campaign and opposition from a few local doctors, making it difficult for her to build a practice. No patients, no income. Big problem.
Then comes the difficulty of getting paid for services. Cathy’s constant struggle with third party payers—delays in payment, requirements for resubmission of claims, etc.—is a real one for physicians. As the solo practitioner vanishes from the scene, doctors are often unaware of this, because the billing operations manager of their group practice fights these battles, but they’re all too real.
MARK: Tell us about your writing journey. Before this current novel, you authored one non-fiction book, Tender Scar, and a number of magazine articles.
RICHARD: The Tender Scar: Life After The Death Of A Spouse stemmed from the journaling I did for two years after the death of my first wife, Cynthia. Because I attended a couple of writer’s conferences as I tried to learn the craft, I was also encouraged to write for periodicals, and have had numerous meditations appear in The Upper Room, as well as articles in In Touch, Christian Communicator, and Grief Digest.
At that first conference, Alton Gansky and James Scott Bell got me interested in writing fiction. However, after four novels and forty rejections, I decided to give up. Apparently, God had other plans, and I was eventually signed by agent Rachelle Gardner and given a contract by Barbara Scott at Abingdon Press. It’s been a difficult journey, but never a dull one.
MARK: Is fiction something that you always wanted to do or is this a more recent development in your over-all writing efforts?
RICHARD: I had over a hundred professional papers published and wrote or edited eight textbooks before my retirement from medicine, but never aspired to write outside the medical world. I tackled the non-fiction book because I desperately wanted something good to come from Cynthia’s death. The fiction writing was sort of an afterthought, but now it’s taken on a life of its own.
MARK: Your website suggests there is more about you than the “M.D.” title covers. Share a little about your experiences outside of the medical profession, like your stint as a semi-pro baseball player.
RICHARD: Not nearly as romantic as it sounds. My college (North Texas State—now the University of North Texas) didn’t have a baseball team, but I’d played in high school and loved the game. I hooked up with a local semi-pro team and played some during college. I was a pitcher, and this was before the days of the designated hitter. Since I could throw a curve ball but couldn’t hit one, I gave up baseball when I started med school.
I have had the opportunity to attend a number of major league fantasy camps, playing alongside Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, Maury Wills, Juan Marichal, Brooks Robinson, and a number of other stars.
I also have had a lifelong interest in music, although my training is only rudimentary. While in college, I stepped in as interim music director for a few Sundays when my home church needed one. Then, while in the Azores with the Air Force, I served for three years as music minister of a small Baptist congregation that we formed there. Finally, when Cynthia and I were members of a fledgling congregation in the Dallas area, I led the music and organized our first choir.
There’s been some other stuff in my life, because I always wanted to be more than just a doctor. For example, I coached both my sons in baseball and judged speech events when my daughter was doing that in high school. Life is the sum of everything we do, not just what we do for a living.
MARK: Who is the greatest baseball player to ever play the game?
RICHARD: Depends on who you ask, I guess. My vote goes to Ted Williams. He wasn’t always “Mr. Personality,” but, in my opinion, he could hit a baseball better than any player before or since.
MARK: What are some things you’ve learned about the publishing industry other writers might need to know about? What were some of the surprises you encountered along the way?
RICHARD: When I started, I had absolutely no idea how books got published. I thought you took your manuscript onto a street corner and waved down an editor the way you flag a taxi. I’ve since learned that it’s tough to get published, and even if you do there’s no guarantee people will buy or read your books. Once an author is under contract, the process has just begun, moving alternately with the speed of a glacier and a speeding bullet.
MARK: What are some of the books on your shelf to be read in the near future?
RICHARD: I’m currently reading the latest book by Lee Child. He and the late Robert B. Parker are two of my models because of the way they can carry a story line along and make every word count.
MARK: What are some books and writers that had an impact on your writing?
RICHARD: Definitely Jim Bell’s Plot and Structure and Lawrence Block’s Telling Lies For Fun And Profit. I’ve also learned a lot from a little-known book, The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler. I don’t read Stephen King (too dark) but I have a lot of respect for his book, On Writing. I have a three-foot shelf filled with books on writing, and I’ve read and reread them all. Now if I could just consistently apply what I’ve learned to my own writing.
MARK: Do you have any of advice for aspiring novelists and writers?
RICHARD: Don’t be discouraged if you can’t write every day. I started out as what Block calls a “Sunday writer.” Try constantly to improve your craft. And if a completed novel gets rejected repeatedly, consign it to a niche on your hard drive and start over. Consider the prior novel a practice work, sort of like the first waffle, one that you throw away.
MARK: Where do you go from here, Richard? What projects are you considering for the future, or is this a topic you rather leave for the future?
RICHARD: Since I’ve completed all three novels in the Prescription For Trouble series (although there’ll be some editing on the third one), I’m thinking about my next novel. It’s not under contract as yet, but I’m almost ready to pitch it to editors. It will feature a doctor fighting to discover critical information about a new drug, information hidden by the original researcher but now necessary to save lives at risk from a late complication of the medicine.
MARK: What did it feel like to see your first novel on the shelves of bookstores?
RICHARD: The thrill begins when you open that box with your author’s copies of the book. Then you see it listed by online booksellers. Finally the book appears on the shelves of a bookstore. For me, each of these experiences made me think, “I can’t believe this.” God has blessed me so richly with so many things, this was just the cherry on top of the sundae.
Of course, right after experiencing that thrill, I began to worry about whether this book would sell. Then, because I had been fortunate enough to receive a multi-book contract, I wondered if the second book could possibly be any good. Then I worried about marketing it. After that… In other words, the thrill is transient.
I suppose it’s like a football team winning a big game. You enjoy it for a day or two. Then it’s time to buckle down and work toward the next one.
MARK: Any last words for your readers?
RICHARD: I hope you like Code Blue. If you do, watch for the second novel in the Prescription For Trouble series, when Medical Error is published in September, 2010. There’s a different cast of characters and a different setting—the medical school in Dallas where Cathy trained—but, like Code Blue, it features a young female doctor in trouble. I “close the loop” with the final book in the series, Diagnosis Death, due out in April 2011, where a doctor from the medical center is forced out of Dallas and comes to Dainger to practice with Cathy.
June 28: Greg Snider, recently retired FBI agent, just returned from war-torn Iraqi where he was embedded with military units for the past year and half. His job—to assist military commanders in their investigations into the manufacture and detonation of Improvised Explosive Devices (IODs). We will continue with the last installment of a three-part interview next Monday, as Greg shares his experiences about how he and others searched to identify and arrest terrorists responsible for these acts.
July 5: Novelist Shawn Grady’s second novel, Tomorrow We Die, will be released in July, a story of a paramedic struggling to save lives while trying to solve a deadly mystery. Shawn, a real-life fireman and EMT, brings his on-the-job experiences to the written page in this fast-paced story set in Reno, Nevada, where he currently works in emergency services. Shawn’s debut novel, Through the Fire, was released last year.