Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Author Interview ~ Dr. Frank J. Edwards

Hi everyone,

What an exciting day for Mystery Writers Unite because I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Dr. Frank J. Edwards author of the medical thriller Final Mercy, who has also written a collection of poetry and short stories called It’ll Ease The Pain, and two books of nonfiction on medical issues, Medical Malpractice and The M&M Files. (see below).

Dr. Edwards continues to write, teach and practice emergency medicine.  He and his beloved wife Mary Ann, an emergency nurse, live on the shore of Lake Ontario.

--- Interview

MWU: Wow! I spent some time looking over your website and have to say I was humbled. You are such a busy, busy man and yet you still find time to write and give back to others; very impressive. Tell me, at what point and why did you decide to divert from nonfiction writing to a fictional story?

Dr. Edwards:  First of all, please accept a huge thanks for inviting me to this interview, and don’t feel humbled by my resume.  I appreciate the compliment, but like anything else in life, if really you want to do something, you’ll always find the time.  Like all of us with the writing urge, I fell in love with stories early on and nothing seemed more wonderful than being able to create my own.  I started writing fiction seriously when I was knee-high to an intern, and the truth is that I diverted from fiction to non-fiction for awhile, not the other way around.  But a few years ago I finally managed to take a novel from start to finish.  Final Mercy is the result, and I’m not going back.

MWU: What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk is (e.g. do you need total silence or prefer background noise, do you have a special place to write or something you have to wear to be inspired)? 

Dr. Edwards:  When the juice is flowing I can write anywhere anytime.  I love writing in coffee shops and airports when I’m travelling.  When my imagination slows down at home, I’ll move to another location in the house for a while.  The only kind of distraction I can’t abide for some reason is the sound of a television.  It’s like nails on the blackboard.  I think the most useful trick I’ve found whether I’m writing fiction or poetry is to do a little free-writing exercise for five or ten minutes to warm the spirit.

MWU: What books or authors have influenced your writing?

Dr. Edwards:  I’m a reading omnivore.  It just has to be good—the story heartfelt and the writing clean and clear.  I love Billy Collin’s poetry.  His wit, humanity, accessibility and playfulness free me up whenever I read him.  I also love the prose of another physician writer, Richard Seltzer.  The carefully observant way he examines his subjects and his restrained lyricism and ability to reach into his own heart leaves me awestruck and full of the desire create.  I still love Hemingway at his best, the way he trimmed away everything but what matters in a story.  And I love the historical suspense novels of Richard Harris—like Fatherland and Pompeii.  They show you how to turn research into brilliant tales.

MWU: This is a question I always just have to ask. Do you ever experience writer’s block? If so, how do you cope with it?

Dr. Edwards:  We all hit the wall from time to time.  I used to teach my writing students—and firmly believe it myself—that there are two main sources of writer’s block.  One is when our internal censor gets the upper hand and wants to keep us away from the really interesting stuff deep inside.  The cure for this is free writing exercises where you just write without stopping or conscious thought, and it also helps to remind yourself, as Anne Lamott says, that it’s okay to write “shitty” first drafts.  The second source of writer’s block is when the well runs dry.  That’s when you need to take a break, go for a walk, hug someone, laugh, exercise and so on.

MWU: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing and how do you overcome the challenge?

Dr. Edwards:  There’s nothing worse than getting a hundred pages or so into a draft and suddenly loosing interest in the story.  Is it because you didn’t have enough story there to begin with?  Or is it because you’ve reached a plateau and simply need to rest and regroup before climbing up the next stretch of mountain?  I’ve come to this place many times and find it helpful to break away and sketch out other story ideas.  When you return to the original manuscript the next day, you’ll know. 

MWU: If there were a room of new writers here, what advice would you give them?

Dr. Edwards:  Never believe for a minute that you don’t have great stories to tell.  If you dream—and we all dream—they are there.  It’s just a matter of discovering how to reach them.  Once you reach the stories inside and bring them to the surface, it then becomes a matter of craft, and craft can be learned if you have the patience and desire.
MWU: In your medical thriller, are any of the scenes true to life or are they true to life medical issues that have been given a fictional twist?

Dr. Edwards:  Many of the scenes in Final Mercy involving medical events in the emergency department are very true to my own experiences.  Names and places changed to protect the innocent.  I wanted to put readers inside the minds of ED care givers so they can feel what it’s like—the excitement, the challenges, the fears and satisfactions.

MWU: Did you learn anything from writing Final Mercy and how was it different compared to writing non-fiction?

Dr. Edwards:  Everything we write, I think, teaches us something about the craft of writing and ourselves.  As much as anything, Final Mercy taught me all the steps involved in writing a novel.  It begins with pulling together imaginary characters and events into a rather shapeless blog called a rough draft.  Then, you must make many passes over this material until it becomes shapely and elegant, all the while trying to remove the braces and scaffolding you originally put up to make it stick together.  Towards the very end of the process, the final polishing stage, it becomes, at least in my experience, very much like writing non-fiction where you mainly have to focus on clear coating the prose.  

MWU: What was the hardest part about writing Final Mercy?

Dr. Edwards:  After I’d written two drafts of this novel, I wasn’t sure how good it was, so I enlisted the help of a professional editor, who essentially tore it to shreds, or so it felt.  It took me months to stop bleeding, during which time I worked on other things.  Then one day, I picked Final Mercy back up again, fell in love with the first paragraph and used much of the editor’s advice to make it a better book.

MWU: I haven’t met many writers that have jumped from one writing platform to another and it intrigues me that you have written non-fiction, fiction and poetry. I simply love poetry and have a huge collection of poems that I have written. I was wondering if your poetry is dark or uplifting. Also, have you ever gone to a poetry slam? If so, how was that?

Dr. Edwards:  Never been to a poetry slam, but it sure sounds like fun.  I have given a few formal poetry readings and loved it.  All poets should do that.  The feeling of connecting with people, of hearing and seeing their reactions, is really what it’s all about.  I wish you the best of luck with your work.

MWU: Medical malpractice is something every doctor must fear. Can you tell readers what that is like from the doctor’s point of view (e.g. what is involved, do they still practice while the suit is pending, who covers the cost, etc.)

Dr. Edwards:  If any reader is really interested in delving deeper into the subject, I’d recommend my book Medical Malpractice: Solving the Crisis.  It was published in the late 1980’s but can still be found on Amazon.  I say this only because it delves deeply into the human side of the situation from the perspective of patients and doctors, looking at all sides of the equation in the context of several very interesting cases.  In essence, though, doctors are human and humans make mistakes.  Negative things will happen from time to time.  Ask any doctor who’s been sued or threatened with a suit—and most will these days—and they will tell you how painful it is, whether the suit is frivolous or real.  Malpractice suits drag on for more years than you’d believe.  It’s not uncommon for the trial or settlement to not occur for five or more years after the event, during which time the doctor continues to practice, though many report suffering from depression over the situation.  The physician’s malpractice insurance covers the cost of legal representation and pays any judgments or settlements, though in the majority of cases, the doctor wins the suit.  Ultimately, though, doctors carry malpractice insurance because patients who are truly injured in a medical mishap are going to need compensation, and sometimes a great deal of compensation.  It’s just that our current system is slow, tedious, wasteful and very expensive.  The only folks who consistently gain from it are the attorneys. 

MWU: What are you working on now and when can your readers expect to see it?

Dr. Edwards:  I’ve just finished the rough draft of a sequel to Final Mercy, another medical suspense story I’m calling Bedside at this point.  I’m planning to have the character Dr. Jack Forester appear in one more novel after this.

MWU: Is there anything you would like to say to your readers?

Dr. Edwards: Just to say many thanks for the interview and best of luck to everyone with their writing projects.  Any readers who might have feedback regarding Final Mercy, I’d love to hear from them. 

---- Dr. Frank J. Edwards Books

Poetry and Short Stories:

Dr. Frank Edwards poetry has been published along with several of his short stories in the volume, It’ll Ease The Pain. He has also had a number of poems published in literary journals including The Virginia Quarterly Review.

Amazon (UK): It'll Ease the Pain
Amazon (US): It'll Ease the Pain


In addition to being an active writer of fiction and poetry, the author of the medical thriller Final Mercy is an active emergency physician who currently serves as Medical Director of Delphi Emergency Physicians.

His many years of medical practice have led Dr. Edwards to write nonfiction books and papers on medical issues, in particular two outstanding nonfiction publications, Medical Malpractice: Solving the Crisis and The M&M Files: Morbidity and Mortality Rounds in Emergency Medicine.

Amazon (US): The M&M Files: Mortality & Morbidity Rounds in Emergency Medicine and
Medical malpractice: Solving the crisis


Synopsis of Final Mercy:

Dr. Jack Forester, director of the New Canterbury University Hospital emergency department, is about to win an ongoing battle to modernize the Emergency Department when he’s stymied by the power-hungry dean, Bryson Witner.
Then someone tries to murder the former dean, Jack’s mentor, and makes it look like suicide.

Bit by bit, Jack uncovers facts that suggest several other recent tragic accidents may not have been in the least accidental.

The deeper he digs, the more riveting the suspense and danger, till the words “life or death” begins to take on a new and very personal meaning.

Amazon (UK): Final Mercy
Amazon (US): Final Mercy

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