Originally posted Thursday, October 10, 2013
WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY: Author Louis Kirby, MD
Joyce Strand posted this interview on October 10.
Joyce Strand interviewed me recently and posted her interview on her web site Strand’s Simply Tips. (Louis Kirby Interview). In it she asked some questions I had not been prepared for. Questions like Reviewer after reviewer praises your “heart thumping” action scenes in your medical thriller SHADOW OF EDEN. How do you create such suspense?
How do you define a villain? Are villains relevant in SHADOW OF EDEN?
These and others made me really think about what did I do and how did I do it. In some ways, it is like asking someone how they ride a bike. What is a reflex must be carefully broken down into bits and analyzed and then communicated in a way to achieve understanding. That was really tough! I’ve excerpted some below.
One of the questions was old hat: Why did you write Shadow of Eden. But even simple questions have hidden and unexpected twists and this one actually jumped out and tackled me. As I was writing down the usual explanation, I realized a deeper and ultimately more truthful answer. While there is a message (or three) in every well conceived novel, I realized I had a deeper connection with one message in particular than I had appreciated. And it had to do with being on the front lines of drug development and seeing firsthand what the drug development executives only saw as written reports and statistics.
Want to know more? Read the interview. I think Joyce (an author worth checking out in her own right) did a wonderful job. She is a pro.
She did an amazing job of promoting it through twitter and with a load of retweets. She asked some terrific questions and put together this piece for me. I have excerpted bits of it. The full interview is available on her website Strand’s Simply Tips. By the way, Joyce is an author of her own books, the Jillian Hillcrest series. They are mysteries with clues dropped in to help you figure it out, but red herrings too, so you have to be on your toes. Read more about her books on her author’s website here.
Author Louis Kirby, MD, has writtenSHADOW OF EDEN, a medical thriller described by a reviewer as “a rat-a-tat triangulated tale of medical murder, corporate greed, political complexity, and international intrigue woven seamlessly around Dr. Steve James—an everyday-kind-of-guy.” I confess: that review got to me, and I am looking forward to meeting Dr. Steve James.
Don’t miss the excerpt at the end of his interview – a falling Boeing 747 with no pilot can really get a book off to a fast start!
Q: Reviewer after reviewer praises your “heart thumping” action scenes in your medical thriller SHADOW OF EDEN. How do you create such suspense?
Louis Kirby: I think generating suspense involves a creative interaction between both the reader and writer. As a writer, I respect the reader’s intellect. They can figure things out which gives me the freedom to move the story ahead at a rapid pace, dropping clues and bits of information as I go. I also must create characters that the reader believes and cares about; only then will a tense situation really engage the reader.
If I have succeeded thus far, then I create situations that are credible and populate them with real threats. This can be a dangerous killer sniffing a trail or a political impasse with lives at stake. I also build the basis for the conflict ahead of time so they are anticipated and savored. Lastly, I let the reader believe that anyone is expendable in some fashion. There is no free Get Out of Jail card for any of the characters. Since it is not a series, even the main character is in real peril.
In addition, the antagonists must also be palpably real. They have frustrations, setbacks, challenges, and triumphs like any of us, yet they pose real threats and risks for the protagonists. And I let the reader see these aspects of the antagonists. I believe knowing them at an intimate level makes their actions believable and, consequently, manifestly threatening. So when the action starts, and there is quite a lot sprinkled throughout the book, the reader is fully along for the ride.
Lastly, there is the craft. How do you pace the build up? How do you drop hints as to what is to come? How do you stage the encounter? And can you write in such a way that the writing does not get in the way of the action?
Q: Why do readers accept your character Dr. Steve James, an “everyday-kind-of-guy,” as a plausible hero in a world of intrigue?
Louis Kirby: I am a bit tired reading about these super-trained, super macho, best in their class, special forces bad ass guys who are ex-FBI/CIA/Black ops/Delta Force clones who you expect will prevail in any encounter with another baddie. Where’s interest in that? I certainly cannot relate on a personal level. My interest is in the ordinary guy faced with extraordinary circumstances. Don’t we all wonder how we’d react when confronted with a threat to our family or our lives?
So Dr. James is a guy who likes to mountain bike and teach his kid how to make paper airplanes. Fighting off well-conceived attacks on him and his family is the farthest thing on his mind. Yet confront it he must.
But I don’t turn him into a superhero. He knows when to get help and off he goes to find his ally: a damaged goods private investigator gone to flab who is not sure he wants to take the case. Can they prevail against a hit team that is well financed and trained? That’s an open question.
Q: I’m almost afraid to ask given the topic of SHADOW OF EDEN as a medical thriller involving the world of medicine and our government, but how or where did you conceive of the plot?
Louis Kirby: Like anything else, it was a kernel of an idea that, in a short week, blossomed into a full fledged plot. As a neurologist, I had been doing medical research in Alzheimer’s disease when I realized that most people had little or no understanding of the drug research and development process. The just magically showed up on the pharmacy shelves. The fact that we are able to take a unique molecule and safely introduce it to the body to achieve a measurable benefit is nothing short of amazing. Yet the process can be subverted. It is difficult and it is risky but with the billons of dollars at stake, it is also very tempting. It is a theme that I tell in SHADOW OF EDENbut attempt to make it almost a natural progression from that first questionable ethical lapse to the situation they find themselves in by the time the book starts.
From there, it was a tsunami of “What if…?” questions: What would be the worst side effect you could get (it’s a baddie and worse, it is very real). Who would you most like NOT to get the side effect…but does. And so forth. Then it was a matter of making the characters very real and their motivations very believable plus doing the research to give every aspect the authenticity it deserves.
Q: OK, I have to ask. What made you – a successful neurologist – decide to write a medical thriller?
Louis Kirby: It was a story that had to be told. I have inside information of several drug recalls. When one in particular was announced, we were still doing research on it. I had to call each of my study participants and tell them that the drug was being recalled. On one of those phone calls, I spoke to the wife. Her husband, who had been enrolled in the study, had died the previous week of precisely the condition that triggered the recall. There is real danger in drugs, in sloppy science and in pushing the limits of what is safe.
While I know some of the individuals involved in the decision making process, and they are thoughtful, decent people, the safety aspect nevertheless is abstract, reduced to an exercise trying to genuinely balance out the benefit of a drug against its potential to do harm. How difficult indeed is it to make these decisions! Now let’s add money into the mix and the decision becomes harder still.
SHADOW OF EDEN, in my mind is in some ways my story, told from the front lines of someone that has looked at the dangers at eye level, held the hands of those affected by real side effects yet one who has also seen the amazing good that can be achieved by a new and beneficial drug. I felt the real life consequences of ethical lapses could form the nucleus of a story that could be interesting, entertaining and informative at the same time. Didn’t Michael Crichton spend much of his career calling out the consequences of unchecked scientific hubris?
Q: How do you define a villain? Are villains relevant in SHADOW OF EDEN?
Louis Kirby: Villains drive much of the story. I’ve tried to create really memorable villains, ones you can really hate, but because they are good at what they do, you have to respect them as well. The good guys are flawed and make mistakes as do the bad guys. They come complete with their back stories and understandable motivations. They get mad when things don’t go their way while impressing us with their cunning.
I’ve read enough thrillers to be impatient with cardboard baddies. Somehow being bad is a profession and there is a never ending host of them pouring out of Hell’s gates to rub their hands in cackling glee as they plot their next nefarious deed. Worse, without any explanation, they suddenly show up at the motel where our heroes are holed up. InSHADOW OF EDEN, you’ll know (although maybe not immediately) why and how. The pieces are all picked up or enough clues dropped so you can figure things out.
See the full interview here