Richard L. Mabry had a long and successful career as a physician before a personal loss made him turn to journaling as a source of solace. That first experience with writing led to THE TENDER SCAR, a book about coping with grief that is still in print and has helped many people through similar situations. It also gave him the writing bug, and he has gone on to publish a series of medical thrillers that gains new fans with each book.
Richard’s books have been finalists for the Carol Award and Romantic Times Inspirational Book of the Year. LETHAL REMEDY won a 2012 Selah Award from the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference. His medical thriller STRESS TEST garnered rave reviews from LIBRARY JOURNAL and PUBLISHERS WEEKLY, along with endorsements from such authors as Tess Gerritsen and Michael Palmer. His latest novel, HEART FAILURE, was released on October 15.
In HEART FAILURE, Dr. Carrie Markham is recovering from the death of her husband, establishing her medical practice, and finding new happiness in her engagement to paralegal Adam Davidson until a drive-by shooting leads to shocking revelations about her fiancé. With threats against both Adam and Carrie escalating, she faces a wrenching choice between her own safety and the man she loves.
Recently Richard talked about his new novel and his writing life.
What inspired the plot for HEART FAILURE? Did you want to explore a particular theme or human dilemma?
Various things catch my attention and give me plot ideas. In this case, it was a news story about a man living under an assumed identity as part of the Witness Security Program. I wondered what would happen if someone in that situation fell in love. Would he tell his fiancé‚ about his past and risk her leaving him? Would he try to keep it a secret? What if an event forced his hand and he had to confess to her? This is the dilemma facing my protagonist in HEART FAILURE. I didn’t start out wanting to write about that situation—it just developed, which is what happens with most of my plots.
Your medical thrillers about female doctors have great appeal to women readers. Why did you decide to concentrate on female protagonists? What have readers told you about why they enjoy your books?
When I began writing novels, my protagonist was always male. Agents and editors were unimpressed. As one of my medical school professors told us, “You can teach a white mouse in three times.” So, hoping I was smarter than a white mouse, I began writing with female protagonists and began to see a difference in the acceptance of my work.
Eventually I decided to stretch the envelope so STRESS TEST, my novel that released in April, is my first published book with a male protagonist. However, there’s a strong female co-lead alongside him. The same holds true of HEART FAILURE.
As for what my readers enjoy, they seem to like reading a page-turner (sometimes I get complaints about keeping them up all night because they can’t put down the book), but one that contains no profanity, sex, or questionable material. And to those who say you can’t write real life without having some of that, I’ll stipulate that there’s plenty of it around us; my readers just don’t want more when they sit down to enjoy a book.
What led an ear, nose and throat doctor to become a thriller writer? Had you always nurtured a desire to write?
My writing career began with a tragedy. My wife of forty years died suddenly, and I used journaling as a coping tool. At the urging of friends, I decided to try turning that material into a book, but had no idea how to do it. I attended a writers conference, where teachers like James Scott Bell encouraged me to try my hand at fiction. I eventually wrote the book about loss of a spouse, THE TENDER SCAR, and it’s still in print today. But by the time I’d written four novels that garnered forty rejections, I was hooked on writing fiction. Having retired from medicine in the meantime, I kept at it and was eventually successful. HEART FAILURE is my sixth published novel of medical suspense.
Do you see similarities between writing and practicing medicine? Do you find yourself using any of the same skills for both?
Medicine or, at least, the successful practice of medicine requires an eye for detail, an analytical mind, and the ability to juggle and put together numerous facts. All that has served me well in writing thrillers, in which I have to manage a number of characters, events, and clues. However, I have to point out that my medical background does not exempt me from researching clinical points in my stories. Medicine is a constantly changing field, and I’ve discovered that my readers depend on me to get the details right, so I have to do my homework.
Which authors and particular books have inspired you?
I cut my figurative writing teeth on James Scott Bell’s book, PLOT AND STRUCTURE. For an in-depth look at the writing life, I read and re-read Lawrence Block’s TELLING LIES FOR FUN AND PROFIT. I mention these because they’re favorites, but I have a shelf full of books on writing, and I’ve read them all. I also read the novels of other authors, both for enjoyment and to learn about their style. My favorites are those by the late Robert B. Parker.
Many mystery and thriller writers, including those who aren’t actively practicing any religion, say they believe in the existence of evil and describe modern crime novels as morality plays in which good and evil do battle against the backdrop of a violent and often corrupt society. Do you, as a Christian writer, see your stories that way? Are you always conscious of balancing your message of hope and redemption with the pure entertainment of the story?
That s an interesting general perspective. My viewpoint is perhaps a bit more focused. My novels reflect my belief that all of us are a fallen people living in a fallen world. Some of us are at different points in our journey of faith; some haven’t started, some have fallen away, some struggle on. I try to portray all this in my characters. It’s indeed a fine balancing act to do this while providing entertainment for the readers, but that’s exactly what I try to do.
My novels are written from a Christian worldview because I’m a Christian. However, they’re not full of exhortations to repentance, nor is their message heavy-handed. I realize that many non-Christians are turned off by such an approach. What I’d rather do is engage these readers so they will investigate the ideas I present, and I’ve learned of numerous examples where that’s exactly what happens.
You began with a small press, Abingdon, but now you re with Thomas Nelson, an imprint of Harper Collins. What has been the biggest adjustment you’ve had to make because of the change? Will you continue to write the same type of books you always have? Can your readers expect anything new and different down the road?
As an unpublished writer (I believe the politically correct term now is pre-published ), I was quite fortunate when my agent, Rachelle Gardner, made a connection with Barbara Scott, who had been charged with starting a fiction line at Abingdon Press. Abingdon published my first four novels, and I appreciate all they did. When it was time to send proposals for my next book to publishers, I received an offer from Thomas Nelson Publishers that was impossible to turn down, so (with Abingdon s blessing) I moved on. Because Thomas Nelson is a larger publishing house, there were more people involved in the process, including editing, cover design, marketing, and overall planning for my future novels. Otherwise, there’s been no change. I write the same kind of books I’ve written, and don’t foresee doing anything different, no matter the publisher.
Although HEART FAILURE was released in October of this year, writers and publishers must always work ahead. I have another novel of medical suspense, CRITICAL CONDITION, scheduled for publication by Thomas Nelson next spring. That one is already done and edited, and I’m now at work on SURGICAL JUDGMENT, in which an emergency room doctor is confronted by a member of a drug cartel who demands that he save the life of his brother, who’s been shot, or he’ll kill the doctor and his nurse.
Dr. Richard Mabry is a retired physician, the author of six published novels of medical suspense. His books have been finalists in competitions including the Carol Award and Romantic Times’ Inspirational Book of the Year. His novel, LETHAL REMEDY, won a 2012 Selah Award from the Blue Ridge Mountain Writers Conference. His medical thriller, STRESS TEST (Thomas Nelson), garnered rave reviews from LIBRARY JOURNAL and PUBLISHER’S WEEKLY. HEART FAILURE is his latest novel.
To learn more about Richard, please visit his website.