surgeons working on a patient

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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