Richard L. Mabry has published four novels of medical suspense: Code Blue--a semifinalist for best first novel from International Thriller Writers;Medical Error--a finalist for book-of-the-year in its genre, by American Christian Fiction Writers; Diagnosis Death--a finalist for RT Book Reviews Readers Choice in its genre; and Lethal Remedy, winner of the Selah award from Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference.
Richard, how would you categorize your novels and what motivated you to write your series?
My tagline is “Medical suspense with heart,” by which I mean that the novels have a medical setting or feature medical personnel, there is an element of danger or uncertainty that threatens the protagonists, and the story line contains a certain amount of romance. Although the books bear the label of the “Prescription For Trouble” series, bound together by some aspect of therapy that causes the conflict, they are freestanding, rather than having the same cast of characters.
Because my background includes thirty-six years in practice, the last ten as a medical school professor, I felt competent to write about doctors and medicine. However, I must confess that I still have to research all the medical aspects of my books carefully, lest I slip up. I’ve learned by experience that there’s always someone among my readers who knows enough to catch my mistakes.
Each of the books began by my asking the question, “What if?” For instance, in the first one I wondered, “What if a doctor fled to her hometown when her life was falling apart, only to find that some of the people there didn’t want her back, and one of them wanted her dead?”
Tell us about your recent release, Lethal Remedy.Lethal Remedy addresses the question, “What if a wonder drug proves more dangerous than the disease it’s supposed to cure?” On rare occasions, I read in professional journals retractions of published data, and wondered what would happen if someone—a researcher, a pharmaceutical company, some person or entity—falsified research data to emphasize the great potential of a drug while hiding severe side effects, in this case, possibly lethal ones. And lest my readers throw away all their prescription bottles, I’ll hasten to add that in all my years of performing clinical research and serving as a consultant to various pharmaceutical companies, I have never personally encountered the manipulation of data I describe in Lethal Remedy.
How do you balance the thriller and Christian aspects of your work?
I don’t see these as mutually exclusive goals. Those with deep faith, those who have fallen away from their faith, those with none are all subject to problems. I simply try to weave the make-up of my characters in regard to their relationship with God into the fabric of the story. I don’t have altar calls and conversion scenes in my works, but do try to show how faith is demonstrated by some characters and rejected by others. Situations in which the characters are put in danger—and that’s the backbone of thrillers—are ideal for doing this.
Why did you decide to make your protagonist female?
My first four (unsuccessful) novels featured a male protagonist. As one of my medical school professors told us, “Hey, you can teach a white mouse in three times.” After I found that the vast majority of readers of Christian fiction are female, and most of them identify with female protagonists, I wrote a novel whose lead character was a female doctor. It clicked with a publisher, so I continued the practice with the next three. I have to quickly give credit to my wife, Kay, who is my first reader, for helping me write authentically from a female standpoint. Without her input, I’d be lost.
I am departing from this practice with my next novel, Stress Test, due for release by Thomas Nelson Publishers next spring. In it, a male doctor is kidnapped, escapes at the cost of a head injury that requires emergency surgery, and awakens to find he’s charged with murder. Of course, I’m hedging my bet, with a female co-protagonist, a fiery redheaded attorney who has just declared herself through with doctors forever when she gets the call to defend him.
You’ve received some great reviews. Which means the most to you?
I suppose I’m most pleased by the 4 ½ stars given my novels by RT Book Reviews, mainly because these are objective ratings by seasoned reviewers. I’ve also been fortunate enough to have rather glowing endorsements from some well-known authors, and this means a lot to me as well. However, probably the ones that count the most are the reviews that come from readers, because they are my true audience.
How do you react to undeserved one-star reviews?
I was fortunate enough to avoid one-star reviews for a while, but, as happens with every author, they eventually popped up. Most of these have been from people who took advantage of free e-book downloads of one of my books made available by my publishers, and their complaint was almost universally that there was a Christian element to my writing. I took those for what they represented—people who had no idea what the book was about, but were happy to get it free.
That having been said, if I see one or two low ratings that mention something in my writing that wasn’t up to par, I make a special effort to address that area in subsequent novels. No writer is perfect, and I think we all strive to get better with each book. If I defend myself against criticism instead of listening to it, I’m never going to improve.
And are you retired or still practicing medicine?
I retired from active practice almost ten years ago, but still maintain my license and work to keep up with the field. My practice was in the field of ear, nose, and throat and related allergic disorders, but my training before that was in both medicine and surgery, so I have an understanding of the broad field of medicine. Some of the scenarios I describe are loosely based on experiences of mine or my colleagues, some are products of my imagination as I wonder “what if?” but all are feasible.
Advice to fledgling authors.
Learn, write, revise, learn, write, revise, lather, rinse, repeat. I’ve read various statements that it takes a writer three books to “get it,” that writers have to put so many thousand words on paper to learn the craft, and I tend to agree. Beyond learning the basics of the craft, practice, based on valid critiques, remains the best way to improve. In my own case, it took me four years, writing four unsuccessful novels that garnered forty rejections before I got my first contract. During that time, I read books on writing, attended conferences and classes, but the most important thing I did was write, have my work critiqued by someone knowledgeable in the area, revise, write some more, and on and on.
The ease of publishing e-books has tempted many unpublished writers to rush their work into publication this way. I would encourage them to resist the temptation. Make sure the work is the best you can do. And if you choose to self-publish, get a professional to edit the work and another to do a book cover. If it’s going to carry your name, do it right.