About the author
Before I first set pen to paper as a novelist some twenty years ago, I was a fulltime pediatric surgeon. I completed eight years of surgical training at the Ohio State University and remain an ardent fan. The question I’m asked most often is; how did you find the time to write novels and attend to a busy pediatric surgical practice at the same time? The simple answer is when you spend every waking hour pursuing your life’s passions, you can always find time. But I will admit that having more time now is a luxury that I enthusiastically embrace. It affords me the opportunity to devote more time to writing, and to get more involved with my readers.
Whatever time remains, I spend with family, especially my ten grandchildren, and pursuing my other interests, which include flying, playing tennis, auditing university level courses, and just hanging out with my English Setter, Eliza Doolittle. I hold a black belt in martial arts and particularly enjoy teaching women’s self-defense.
I was born and raised in New York. After completing my undergraduate studies in Ohio, I was fortunate enough to spend two years studying in Paris. The opportunity to absorb another country’s language and culture is one that I will always cherish and one that I have encouraged my own children to pursue. After graduating medical school in Chicago, I completed my training in general and pediatric surgery at the Ohio State University Hospitals and Nationwide Children’s Hospital. After finishing my fellowship in pediatric surgery, I relocated to Hollywood, Florida where I spent my entire professional career, serving as Surgeon-in-Chief of the Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital.
My approach to novel writing has always been to use fiction as a means not only to entertain, but to educate the reader in a particular area of medicine. This is why I go through the same process each time I embark on a new book. First, I select a timely or controversial topic in medicine, and then, using it as a springboard, I weave a story of suspense and conspiracy around it. When an individual reads one of my novels, my great hope is that he or she will not only enjoy the story’s journey but when they are finished, they’re more knowledgeable in a specific area of medicine.
I have found that over the years many of my readers have confessed their aspirations to become an author. I have had the great fortune of spending a considerable amount of time teaching fiction writing. The best advice I can give anybody who seriously aspires to write is to, first, read a lot and write a lot. And secondly, to take the time to learn the craft.
Q & A with Dr. Birken
Q. Are the characters in your novels modeled after people you know?
As a rule, no. But it’s hard to say what demons are at work when you set your imagination free. I’ve had the experience of finishing a manuscript, stepping back from it for a few months and then rereading it. To my surprise, one of the characters, which I assumed I had created from scratch, bears a strange, and sometimes eerie, similarity to somebody I know.
Q. How long does it take you to write a book?
Being a fulltime pediatric surgeon limits my writing time. But, in general, I would say the process takes about two years. What most people might not realize is that after your manuscript is acquired by a publisher, it generally takes at least eighteen months before it hits the bookstores.
Q. Do your friends and colleagues help in the process of writing a novel?
That’s a great question…with two answers. An agent once told me, “Asking your friends to offer an opinion on your manuscript is like asking your mother if you’re good looking.” On the other hand, I have found if you carefully select a few people to read your unfinished work, (and convince them to be honest) they can be extremely helpful with respect to flow, accuracy and “believability” of your fledgling novel.
Q. Have you ever considered reprising one of your characters in a sequel-type novel?
To this point, I have not. But I have decided that following completion of my present manuscript, I am going to do exactly that. Which character and in what setting, I haven’t decided as yet.
Q. Do you ever get writer’s block?
So far, no—thank goodness!!
Q. If I am interested in writing, how do I select a style?
Again—read a lot and write a lot. Problems with style are probably the easiest thing for a reader to notice, but the toughest thing for an author to fix. In general, don’t get carried away with your writing. Your job is not to impress your reader with S.A.T. vocabulary words and complex sentences. Your job is to entertain them. One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was: never allow your writing to interfere with your storytelling.
Q. How come there are no sex scenes in your novels?
That’s an easy one. For me, romance is okay, but sex is out because I have four kids who read my books.
Q. What’s the strangest reaction you’ve ever had from a reader?
Another great question! I suppose all authors are prey to criticism. Most of the jabs turn out to be only flesh wounds. However, one outspoken woman on an Internet site was so upset with my stories she wanted my license to practice medicine suspended. It was her feeling that doctors should have better things to do with their time than writing murder mysteries and medical thrillers. If there were a way to respond, I would have reminded her that novel writing is entertainment and that perhaps she was taking things a little too seriously. I found it interesting that she mentioned she had read all of my books.
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